The Spiti Valley Circuit is a great place to experience India’s natural beauty and northern culture, it isn’t too tourist filled and it takes you through rural India. Dont forget to check out Part 2!
One of the most epic adventures of my life, and greatest in India, has been touring Northern India by Motorbike. My adventure started with a chance meeting at breakfast. Johnny, an Italian, and I exchanged the normal traveler small talk: past, present, and future. At the time my future plans had fallen apart and he told me about his plans to tour all of Northern India by motorcycle. He invited me to join him and two days later on a whim I purchased a Hero Impulse Cross bike. Once the papers were in line my adventure began.
With the northern section road still closed from winter we started the Spiti Valley Circuit driving south from Manali. On our first day riding we aimed to make a “Big Day” and make it to Rampur, I would be able to purchase the remainder of my spare parts. In the afternoon we were caught in a hail storm just past Banjar, as we neared the first mountain pass. We were fortunate, when the hail storm started we were just 10 meters past a small dhaba, a roadside restaurant normally serving just a few items of local cuisine. The dhaba was a simple double garage: one side a simple two table restaurant, the other side was mostly empty and used for storage. The owner, an Indian man about our age, let us pull our bikes in the garage so we wouldn’t have to unload our gear. While it hailed and rained we had some chais and played cards. As it started to get later we convinced our gracious host to let us sleep in the empty garage with our bikes loaded, so we could take off early and make up the time we lost to the storm. Our meals consisted of Maggi Instant Noodles(now off the market due to high mercury levels) and the best Dal(Lentils in a butter sauce) and Rice I have eaten. At night the weather cleared to reveal a beautiful starry sky. I stayed up late and took the opportunity to teach myself astrophotography. The hail storm turned the first night into one of my most iconic moments of the trip. In the morning he didn’t want to accept any money from us, for chai, food, or staying. After much encouragement from us, he graciously accepted some money for his hospitality.
The next day we made it to Rampur, which didn’t have the parts, and then back tracked to Shimla arriving after 9pm. Once we arrived in the city Johnny and his bike were t-boned by a driver not paying attention. We spent hours driving around trying to find an affordable guesthouse our nerves were shot by this point. Everyone wanted 1000-2000 INR for a room. Then we met a friendly slightly inebriated Indian man and he offered to let us sleep at his place, the other man with him didn’t seem to encourage this. He suggested we follow him to a guest house he knows. It was one that wanted 1500INR, he went to talk to them and came back with 800INR for the night. Not caring much for Shimla we woke early split up and did what needed to be done and were on our way again by mid-day.
We drove till dusk and the rain started, we stopped for food and then drove a bit further to find a place to pitch a tent. I had some minor bike problems and we ended up stuck on a dirt road next to an apple orchard and set up camp for the night.
The ride to Sangla was a pleasant incident free ride, with one big detour up and down a mountain due to road construction. My favorite part of the drive was once we entered the Baspa Valley driving uphill until we reached Sangla. The valley is filled with beautiful views of snow capped Himalayan Mountains and the Baspa river running through the valley. We checked out several guest houses and determined that Shruti Guesthouse, SGH, was the best value for us. One of the cheaper places outside of town with our room opening up to a garden and a Full Power View (Above).
We took a day trip without luggage to Chitkul(Above Photo), a small village at the end of the valley road nearing the Indo-Tibetan/Chinese Border. We drove a bit further but the road was a new development, rough, and ended with an impassable hole before it led us anywhere. After turning back we left Chitkul and drove halfway back to Sangla stopping for a break in Saturang. Saturang is a quiet village definitely deserving of a quiet walk around the temple and homes. I spent some time on one family’s porch watching a man make rugs with his hand-loom.
On the way back to Sangla I wrecked while trying to pass a SUV on the way back. Patients is key while driving in India, unfortunately I didn’t have any while trying to pass. The SUV swerved and I hit both brakes too hard, this is where experience might have helped. I flew over the handle bars and the bike went down skidding on the road. As I flew through the air I started flipping forwards feet over head. I see the road disappear from beneath me as I stretched my arms out trying to grab the road or anything within grasp. I was going down and I had no idea how far, fortunately it all happened so fast. I hit the ground 5 meters below the road, I think I landed on all fours but I can’t be sure.Johnny nearly laid down his bike stopping and jumping off of it. He thought I was dead. I hear him yelling “Tim, Tim, Tim…”, this is only my legal name I never go by it, I answer better to TJ. I yell “I’m Fine” and quickly scrambled up the cliff. We check me out for injuries: A few very minor abrasions/bruises and the visor on my helmet had a small scratch. I went off the road in one of the few places you could survive. The road followed a cliff up the valley and most of it was a death fall. We made it back to the guesthouse, calmed our nerves with some chillums and then laughed about it in a sense of shock. The next day we did nothing and stayed off the bikes, it was time to come to terms with the adventure I had signed up for.
From Sangla we went to Rekong Peo. In Rekong Peo you will need to obtain a permit to continue driving to Spiti Valley. It is also the last stop for fuel and WiFi until Kaza, and the last cell reception until Manali, which is good people tend to spend too much time on “being connected”. If you are driving an Enfield it is a good idea to carry 5L of extra fuel, you can also can find Black Market Fuel throughout India for 100 rupees/liter, about a 50% inflated price. We arrived in Rekong Peo on a Friday afternoon. I find it hard to keep track of the days, and this time it costs us. We were unable to get the permit needed to continue until Monday. It wasn’t such a big deal, Rekong Peo is a nice place if you head uphill from the city center. Also, we were not trying to keep a schedule and the road to Manali was still closed from the winter. So we spent a few days there and got the permits on Monday morning. While there we mostly ate at the couple restaurants on the way to the temples and recreation area, they served Chowmein(stir-fry noodles), Momos(steamed or fried dumplings), and Thukpa(noodle soup). This was our main diet for the entire trip. The wooden temples and recreation area offer great views of the opposing mountains and sunset. To get the permits for Spiti Valley you drop off your documents in the morning at a tourist agent, go to the government office with them and have a picture taken and then pick up the permit and your documents a few hours later. This process took us about half a day.
The Adventure continues: Spiti Valley Circuit By Motorcycle Part 2
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