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  • Jaspal Kahlon

Bike trip to Spiti in Winters of 2020

I was anxious at work. I had a series of meetings to attend and assign tasks to my teammates before leaving work for a week. I managed to leave early from the office. But rains played a spoilsport.

I was entirely drenched in rains to pick up the GoPro. Vikas and Aditya, my two co-riders, had started from Delhi. Vikas started later than Aditya and was better off hiring a cab. Aditya was on his Bullet 350CC with limited rain protection gear. Ashish, my fellow trekker from Chadar Trek, had backed out due to his daughter's illness. I was ready with both my bikes; Himalayan and Interceptor. But with Ashish dropping out and Vikas preferring to be a pillion, I needed just one of my bikes for the trip.

Spiti valley, located in Himachal Pradesh, is a popular destination for trekkers and bikers. In winters, the whole of Spiti valley, especially all villages around Kaza, is covered in snow. And an eight trip is good enough while using the Shimla route to Kaza.

Both Vikas and Aditya are in their early thirties. Vikas taller of the two is slim but with a visible paunch. Aditya is 5 feet 6 inches and weighs 85 kg as much as Vikas, and I weigh for our height of 5 feet 10 inches. Vikas enjoys socializing, has a traveling job, and is a trekker. While Aditya is a more private person and has an office job. Aditya and I have made three bike trips together, one each in each of the last three years. Vikas and I became friends during Chadar Trek in January 2016 when we shared the same tent for a week-long adventure. After completing the Sach pass circuit in August 2019, Aditya and I planned to do winter ride to Spiti as well. We had been to Spiti in summers in the past. Vikas had decided to be a pillion but agreed to be part of the trip.

Aditya and Vikas stayed at my place for the night. With my wife deciding to leave for her Mom's home, Aditya and Vikas used the other bedroom. The living room's sofas, chairs, and tables had wet clothes, bags, and shoes spread over. Vikas wanted to start early, around 4 am. but I was doubtful if we will be able to leave sooner than 6 am.

The visuals of the forthcoming trip playing on my mind the whole night, and I could have a sound sleep. However, wheezing sounds came from the other bedroom, meaning both Aditya and Vikas enjoying their rest.

We had our tea and spent one hour to repack the bags using polythene bags for our clothes. Waking up at 4 am helped us, and we could leave by 6 am.

Day 1- Winter Spiti

Our first halt was near Kumarhatti, some 50 km from Chandigarh. Riding further, we crossed Kufri, which is 25 km ahead of Shimla by 10 am. It was sunny in Kufri, but roads were wet from the snowfall a couple of days back.

Vikas had a proper cushion to comfort him while the straps of the saddlebags hung over the seat. We took frequent halts during the day, and Vikas used the moment to stretch his legs. It was going to the longest bike ride to date for him, and he needed to adjust well as a pillion.

Our night halt happened at Jheori. Vikas has used his connections to book our stay at a Government guest house.

Day 2- Winter Spiti

After taking a few shots of surroundings with the drone, we headed onwards to Nako. Nako is a village with a lake, better called a pond. The landscape had changed into hilly terrain with narrow patchy roads, unlike up to Jheori. But we were yet to see snow-covered mountains. Usually, by the end of February every year, the snowfall is scarce in low lying areas of Himalayas.

Despite being sunny, it was cold, and we had covered our faces with mufflers. Vikas's handphone had access to network unlike ours, and he read out the message about Kaza town being closed for tourists. When we left Chandigarh, there were no restrictions on travel, though precautions were advised by the Government. Reaching first of the two checkpoints at Akpa, a policeman responsible for registering our details showed us the news clipping. He suggested we cancel our trip, but we managed to convince him and moved ahead.

The landscape had changed after crossing Spillow, a village en route. Driving up to Nako is a steady rise in altitude. The mountains that are green with trees turn barren as we drive towards Nako. The highway widening work is underway, and laborers, wearing a yellow helmet, looked overwhelmed by the difficult task of cutting the mountains. Some wore masks and sunglasses, but others were without any of the protective gear. They were in no hurry and waited for the orders to end the day's work.

"We only going till Nako." A few kilometers before Nako, we missed seeing a patch of muddy road with thick black ice between the deep grooves made by heavy vehicles. It was our first-hand experience driving on black ice, and we skid. Aditya, a few meters behind, also lost his control and fell. We escaped unhurt as our speed was slow.

Nako village had a deserted look, with most of the homestays closed. My guess, every fifth house has a homestay in Nako. We could not see any local moving around in the narrow lanes of the village. We saw mud houses, the ones we saw in 2015, replaced with cement ones; a good sign of progress and mainly due to tourism. The snow lay on edges of narrow lanes and turned into ice.

We had reached Nako just before it was dark. By the time we finalized our stay at the Lake View Hote, it was 6 pm, and the temperature had fallen to minus 10 degrees. The Lake view hotel is the best location to stay at Nako since it overlooks the Nako lake (better considered a pond). The pond was frozen.

Aditya was feeling feverish and had nasal congestion also. He was advised by Vikas to take a nap after taking a paracetamol tablet. While Aditya was sleeping, Vikas made calls to his family from the Jio network. My airtel phone was nonfunctional, and Vikas gave access to his phone's hotspot. Back home, I learned all were doing great, and my wife was keener on whether I was enjoying the trip.

Day 3- Winter Spiti

Quite surprisingly, Aditya woke up with a smile and ready to go with us for a walk around the village. At 6am, the Sun was yet to rise above the mountains on the left side of the Nako village. We took a walk around and clicked some pics. We had mostly given up on the idea of moving ahead. We did not even want to try driving 34 km further to reconfirm at the second police check post.

The cab driver who brought a group some 6 tourists had convinced them to return back to Shimla. Vikas made calls to his classmate, who agreed to let us past the Sumdo check post but did not assure us about any support in Kaza. Banking on me for the final call, we decided to go ahead and give it a try. I believed to convince the policeman at the Sumdo check post in case he did not let us get past.

By 10 am, we were at the Sumdo police check post, and the policeman simply made an entry about our vehicle and personal details and let us move forward. All of us were excited, and we drove our bikes through a beautiful landscape. Aditya fixed his GoPro as well. I took a few shots using the drone.

We had the best time driving towards Kaza despite the roads being patchy with loose gravel and dry sand. By 3 pm, we were just 25 km away from Kaza. I suggested to take the detour towards Dhankar village instead of driving to Kaza. It turned out to be the right decision. We not only got to see Dhankar village but also managed to stay at a beautiful home at Dhankar.

After having Maggi for a late lunch, we took a nap for 2 hours, shivering since we had just one blanket for each one of us. In the evening, the weather turned chillier while taking a stroll on the main road of the Dhankar village. We experienced breathlessness climbing stairs at the homestay.

The day came to an end, but the night was troubling due to lack of oxygen.

Day 4- Winter Spiti

We reached Kaza after driving for an hour. The town was shut, but there were no barricades or check posts that stopped us from entering. We had lunch at the single restaurant open and then got the bikes refueled. We drove towards Langza for some 5 km but could not drive further due to vast stretches of black ice on the road. Returning back, we reached Chango and got an excellent hotel to stay in. We were offered hot water for bathing as well. Our first bath in the last three days. The room was warm and we had a good sleep.

Day 5- Winter Spiti

We drove further towards Rampur Bushahr. We had given up on halting to take pics. It was a 220 km drive to Rampur Bushahr and ended the day well in time before the rains. The Bushahr residency is a suitable property managed by Himachal Tourism. We had tasty north Indian food for dinner. Vikas was fasting, so he opted to satiate his hunger with bananas we bought from Kaza.

The next day we drove to Chandigarh. Vikas and Aditya decide to drive to Delhi straight. I was home by 5 pm while Aditya and Vikas reached their respective homes in Delhi by midnight.

Another short but successful bike trip came to an end.

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