Updated: Apr 22, 2020
It was somewhere around the end of July perhaps when I remember shutting my laptop and stepping outside my office cubicle to light up a joint. I was on call with my friends, calling them out on cancelling a long pending Goa trip that we had been planning for almost a year.“What a waste of time”, I said to myself as I sat there watching the wind slowly blow the smoke away from my joint. That’s when I decided to go to the Himalayas on my own. This is how my journey started.
Himalayas it was – my first ever solo trip. From sorting locations to figuring out where my bike could go, to getting random suggestions from people who don’t usually travel solo; it got a little overwhelming and challenging to begin with. So, as a backup I downloaded an offline map of Himachal from Google in case I got stuck in a remote location and also, got a BSNL connection along with it even though it hardly worked. All I decided was, I was leaving Gurgaon on the 10th of August. Destination was still a question I was eager to find out. However, as an occasional rider I was ready with all my gear and equipment for this Himalayan escapade.So, a day before I started my journey, I filled the tank and went off to sleep still a bit unsure about leaving in the morning since the weather was a little off.
10th August: Delhi-Shimla
I was not in a hurry next morning since I could leave whenever I wanted to. So, by 10 am I managed to hit the roads. The weather was cloudy before leaving Delhi with intermittent rains throughout my journey. In between I had to halt for 30 minutes before I reached Chandigarh around 2:30 pm where I met an old friend. After a quick lunch at KFC, I left around 3:30 pm and on my way, as I approached the hills, it started raining again. I had to halt too many times before I finally reached Shimla around 8 pm. I was all soaked up and extremely tired. I got myself a hotel room, went to Mall road to grab a quick bite, came back and slept through the night. My next day’s big plan was to go to Chitkul, the last village of India. Finally, I had named my immediate destination.
11th August: Shimla to Chitkul
By 8 in the morning, I was ready to hit the road again. I left from Shimla at once without any breakfast. Around 10, I reached Narkanda, had breakfast there and got going again. After riding for about an hour, my map showed a road towards the village called Kumarsain. The road was so narrow that only one car could pass at a time. Everyone driving by National Highway sort of overlooked it and passed by. But since I had a bike and a lot of time in hand, I went straight in and as soon as I took the first turn I was pleasantly surprised. I could see luscious apple trees, loaded with ripe, juicy apples on either side of the road greedily staring back at me. I had never seen such real scenic beauty in my life before. Believe me when I say, the visual will be etched in my memory forever. It was a mixed feeling of joy, thrill and wonder altogether. This was the highlight of my Solo trip to Shimla. Isn’t travelling all about such bountiful surprises anyway? I stopped my bike, picked some apples from a tree and ate them sitting right there on the road. The sky was clear, with the wind accompanying me as I sat there happily eating my apples. Some days, I still feel the wind on my cheeks.
Got back on the highway again, the ride took me through Rampur, then Saharan where there were roads carved from in between mountains, accompanied by the river Sujata silently gliding along like music that acted as a preface for the rest of my journey. While I was crossing Sangla Valley around 6 pm, it was already getting dark with no street lights. Just when I began contemplating where to stay for the night, two other riders came in and asked me to join them. I gladly tagged along with my co-biker and reached Chitkul around 8 pm. Somehow, I managed to find a room, had dinner and slept off for the night.
12th August: Chitkul to Nako (150 Km)
Next morning I woke up with the beautiful sun shining brightly at my window and the cold breeze brushing over my face.It came from the Baspa River flowing nearby. I could hear the birds chirping - the morning couldn’t have been more blissful.
After breakfast, I went up to the banks of the Baspa River and sat there for good one and a half hour. It was so relaxing that I almost lost track of time until someone called out me, asking to keep a safe distance since the waves could turn aggressive anytime.
After that, I took my bike and made my way towards Spiti Valley, my next destination, at around 10:45 am. I found the bikers who accompanied me before and since they were also headed towards Spiti Valley, they kept company for a little while longer.
From there I kept riding non-stop for the next 3 hours. During this time I crossed the beautiful Kinnaur Valley and made my way to Pooh were I took a halt to have lunch. From there I again started at around 3-4 pm and reached ‘Khab’ from where I caught the first glimpse of the mystic Spiti River.
This area is completely dry and yet spectacular to look at. Everywhere you look around, you only see rocks and stones and dry desert. I planned to reach Nako before it got dark but it took me 2 hours because the road was uneven. But I made the most of my time by taking lots of pictures. By the time I reached Nako, my fellow riders were already there and we lodged in to a homestay
Interestingly, here, I got to attend a local wedding. It was there I learnt that when there’s a wedding in the village, the food is on the family and everyone from the locality is invited! Needless to say, I too, was one of the invitees and honestly, I had a ball! We celebrated in unison, a fantastic experience complete with music, dance and food. I even grooved to the local beats with newly learnt local steps! Miles away from city life, I spent the happiest moments of my life at a stranger’s wedding!
The next morning, I came across a group of doctors from Mumbai, and befriended them. There was no network connection, only the camera worked in my phone. So, we had real conversations with each other, instead of deep diving into social media. We told each other our experiences and at that time, listening to those stories meant a lot more than posting Instagram stories.
13th August: Nako to Kaza
I got a little sick after driving for around 3 days and also maybe a bit because of the altitude. My plan was to stay in Nako a little longer like for 2 hours more but one of the friends from the group wanted to take a ride on my bike so I left with him. I realized, how even on my solo trip, I was not really alone.
We headed towards the Tabo Monastery and on the way we visited the Gue Mummy Lama Temple. Sometime later, we reached the Tabo Monastery, saw the place and had our lunch there. Post that, we started for Dhankhar village. We reached there around 2 and went to another monastery which was uniquely made inside a cage. It was quite a masterpiece!
From there, at around 3:30 I started off for Kaza. The wonderful stretch of Spiti Valley was not only a visual spectacle but food for the soul. I enjoyed every bit of that ride and reached Kaza at around 6. Booked a hotel for myself and went to ‘The Himalayan Café’- the most famous café in Kaza.
14th August: Kaza
Here in Kaza, I decided to explore the village on foot. I met the locals, talked to the villagers, and experienced their cuisines. Also, met some new people at ‘The Himalayan Café. One was a solo rider like me from Manali. I did not go to the usual touristy places or the popular ones, I just kept walking on my own and it turned out to be a really good experience. In fact, I would recommend everyone to keep one day free to simply walk around Kaza. I will reserve my visits to the famous spots for my next visit.
15th August: Kaza to Manali (200 Km)
Okay, so this was the final and the most awaited phase of my journey. This whole 200 km stretch from Kaza to Manali is one of the most dangerous roads in India. There are no functional roads here, only river beds after river beds crossing rocky mountains in between until you make your way to the other side. For this expedition, I had to carry extra petrol with me as this stretch is completely deserted and cut off from the other places. But I was excited so I got up early, filled my tanks and got going.
Despite the lack of inhabitants, what I saw there was breathtaking. I was making my way in between hills and hidden alleys and I felt like a curious child exploring something entirely new.
After some time, I reached Kunzum, the highest pass (15,060 ft) of this stretch. This place is all covered in snow and most popularly known for the beautiful Kunzum Devi Temple. I took a halt here, grabbed some snacks and kept going, relishing the view in my mind.
At around 12 pm I reached my first water crossing. I might have crossed around 6-7, or even more of them, I am not sure. But the big ones were mostly between Batal to Chhatru. I had stopped at many of the crossings since I got busy helping people who wanted to cross the water. People were very helpful and cooperative. Everyone took their time to make sure they crossed the river safely and successfully.
After almost 2 hours of this rigorous activity, I finally arrived at Chhatru all tired, wet, hungry and also a bit proud of myself for making my way through one of the toughest roads in India.
And this also made me realize why people would prefer to go to Ladakh instead of Spiti Valley, because the road is too difficult here to ride on. For almost 100 km there is practically no road at all.
But I was content, so I took a halt at a dhaba nearby, ate Maggie, changed into fresh clothes, took rest and made my way for Manali, which was 80 kms from there. On my way, away from the snow covered mountains, I could see some greenery now, birds chirping again and even horses riding! While riding along with the flow of the wind, I was pleasantly reminiscing my new experiences from the trip, and before I could realize, I reached Rotang Pass.
The weather here was cloudy and rainy. I had to ride at 20 km/hr. At around 7 pm I finally reached Manali. I could see the difference in people’s faces. It felt like I had left something behind. On the day of India’s independence, I experienced my true freedom. It was as if there was a whole new ‘me’ who was alive every moment.