It's been called a world within a world. A natural theme park. The place where Ibex balance on cliff tops, and snow leopards occasionally kill livestock. Located just south of Kashmir in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, Spiti Valley attracts adventure seekers and nature lovers to its scenic landscapes every summer. Why only the summer you might ask? Because the road into Spiti Valley is closed over 7 months of the year due to heavy snowfall.
The city of Manali is the main hub for travelers to begin their northern Indian motorcycle adventure. However I rented my Bajaj Avenger 220 in Karol Bagh, New Delhi for 330 rupees ($5) per a day. Renting a Royal Enfield in Manali would cost closer to 1,200 rupees a day. While it seems that it is almost a requirement to get a Royal Enfield in India, I think the Avenger is a great reliable alternative.
Himachal Pradesh translates to "The abode of the Gods"
Let me backtrack for a moment...My two month visit to India was purposely not strictly planned because as you travel you talk to people, and get a lot of advice on where to go and what to do during your trip. On my third day here I was sitting on a patio in Varanasi overlooking the Ganges river. I met a German expat named Jan who has been working in India for 10 years. My friend and I told him our ideas for our 60 days in India and mentioned getting motorcycles in Delhi and driving north. Jan told us about Spiti Valley. I think it was his nostalgic exhale after he said Spiti Valley that sold me on doing further research into this place.
The road up to Rohtang. It's kind of a nightmare at first because there's 800 vehicles lined up at the checkpost. After that the traffic thins out until you get to the very top. Then there's another jam. But that's India.
To get to Spiti Valley or Leh from Manali, you have to drive over the Rohtang pass. Rohtang translates to "Pile of corpses" I kid you not. Although the road quality was great, it was still a bit disconcerting having this in the back of my head. Only a thousand vehicles are allowed to drive over the pass from the Manali side a day. I got my permit online a couple days before for a 50 rupee fee.
The last remnants of the previously snow covered road. There's a slim window from when the road opens in early June and the rainy season starts later in the month. Unfortunately the rain came early this year and almost derailed my plans.
Here's the turnoff to Batal and Spiti Valley. I sat there for 10 minutes contemplating if I should still go or turn back. It had been raining for a week straight and I had been told the first two days were the most dangerous. I talked to an Israeli who just came from there and he told me it would be a bad idea to enter Spiti from Manali. His friend slid out on a turn and his bike tumbled down the mountain at least a thousand feet. But once I saw a truck coming from that direction I knew the road must still be open so I entered the mud.
It was the most challenging day of riding I've ever had. Luckily the rained stopped late in the afternoon.
Ahhh...no more rain.
Then came the water crossings.
That's ice cold snow melt. Not your normal waterfall.
Now my shoes and socks were soaking wet from planting my feet down to stabilize my bike.
As you're riding you stop and talk to other people coming from the other direction to get info on the upcoming road conditions. I reached Batal around dark and had probably 20 water crossings when it was all said and done. 3-4 serious ones over a foot deep, 8 or so medium difficulty, and the rest no problem. Common logic is that as the day goes on the more the snow melts. So it'd be best to hit this section early in the day. But my bike made it, and the hard part was over.
I loved this couple running the rest house in Batal. They were so welcoming and had a genuine friendly spirit that is always a pleasure to interact with.
The food and chai were excellent too. I paid $2 for a futon on the floor of a big dormitory room that night.
The next day I put on my still wet shoes and drove over the Kunzum Pass. (4,950m, 15,060ft.)
I was officially in the high desert.
The road was gradually getting better. Still not paved but I could average a little better time on the second day.
A rider heading towards Leh with extra gas in order to reach the next petrol station in Keylong.
The scenery was rapidly improving as I approached Spiti.
Around 20 kilometers west of Kaza the road becomes paved. It's never felt so good driving at just 80 kmph after two days of dodging rocks at low speeds.
Yes, those are my dirty wet socks.
Once I reached Kaza I stayed the night at Hotel Deyzor. It's conveniently located next to the government office where you need to apply for your inner line permit required to drive past Sumdo.
The following day I unpacked my bag and set out on a day trip around Kaza to soak in the beauty of Spiti. There's a perfect loop you can make from Kaza--Key--Kibber--Langza--Komic--Hikkim--Back down to Kaza. And that's exactly what I did.
GoPro check 1 2, 1 2.
Key Monastery. It's been attacked by the Mongols more than once.
The day after that, I drove to the Kungri Monastery in Pin Valley. I was greeted by Monks and asked if I was hungry. I was actually starving and accepted their invitation to eat with them. I walked back to their kitchen and they made me this vegetarian lunch. For the record, if you ever want to disappear for a while, you can go live in these monasteries like Ace Ventura.
After I left Pin Valley I started driving toward Tabo. I made good time and decided to keep driving. I was in the zone and made it all the way to Puh.
The Tibetan village of Nako. The road leading here had some of the best mountain views.
Sunset in Puh.
I spent the night in Puh and hit the road again at 6am. This section is called the Tibet Highway and is considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Notice the boulder indentations on the guardrail.
I ended up driving from Kaza back to Delhi in three days. (Not recommended) I had to return my bike on July 5th and I already did a lot of driving the past month so I was ready to get off it and relax for a couple days. With that being said, there are many things that I missed. If I had a few more days I would've taken my time after Kaza and driven through Kinnaur and Sangla Valleys. Most people that do this loop hit Kalpa and Chitkul. Not to mention the mummy visit in Gue Village. Plus a homestay and a night in a monastery would be a unique experience too.
Despite that, I feel like I've unlocked a new hidden level in this life on Earth by discovering Spiti Valley. This magical place has been maintained by it's elusiveness but I think you should see it too.