By Team EarPeace
Spiti is a high-altitude cold desert region of the Himalayas, located in the north-eastern part of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The name "Spiti" means "The middle land", i.e. the land between Tibet and India. It is a motorcyclist's dream to ride the Spiti circuit from Shimla to Manali, and this is my account of the same.
On Day 1, I’m up early, super excited, yet nervous. We (me and Eskimo, a Royal Enfield Himalayan) will ride out of the city soon, taking breaks occasionally. Orange juice by the Delhi-Chandigarh highway acts as good fuel for the body. Around 2:30 pm, we entered the mist and very light rain. Shimla isn’t too far now, and I reach my friend’s place around 4 pm. Back at his place after 11 years—how time flies. The evening follows with momos, beer, and home-cooked food to end the day. A good start to the ride.
The next day, I leave Shimla at 6:30 a.m. and head straight for Kalpa. The roads are quite nice, so we can maintain a steady pace. We reach the gas pump before the detour for Rekong Peo, and now Eskimo won’t start. The ignition wire is loose, and it snaps off whenever I twist the handlebar. I ended up getting help from another motorcycle group’s recovery van. After getting a quick fix, we move up towards Kalpa. There’s a traffic light in the middle of nowhere, and I end up missing it and getting fined Rs. 500 by the cops.
The next morning, I end up spending more time getting a permanent fix for Eskimo, which leads to a lot of delays before I finally get to leave Kalpa after noon. I decide to head straight to Kaza, bypassing the popular Nako and Tabo villages. We stopped for lunch at 4:20 pm at a standalone dhaba with a group of bikers from Bangalore who were resting at Nako for the day. Their group leader tells me Kaza is impossible to reach tonight, as it’s too far. But instead of backing down, I made up my mind for Kaza: it has to be done now. We cross Tabo around 6:30–7 pm, and then we say hello to the rain.
We rode together in the rain, me and three KTMs. Rocks are falling from the slopes; it’s quite dangerous, to be honest. But riding with the bikers makes it easier since there’s company. We leave the KTMs behind and head towards Kaza now. Around 7:15 pm, the lights are failing, but I’m riding next to the Spiti River, which is shimmering blue in the night sky. Kaza is just a short while away, maybe an hour or so, so I stop and take as many pictures as I can.
Finally, I reach Kaza at 8:30 p.m.; the first building on the left has several Royal Enfields parked outside, so I stop there, just to find out that it’s a motorcycle service centre with an adjoining hostel. Rohit—the super-friendly owner of the hostel—promptly gets me a bunk bed. I’m fortunate enough to reach the hostel on a night when they are having a bonfire while singing songs under a starry sky, bringing in one of their friends' birthdays.
After resting for a day at Kaza, I woke up early the next day to leave for ChandraTal Lake. Riding via Key, we reach Kibber in no time. There’s a huge crowd at Chicham Bridge, with a lot of people taking pictures. So I stop and take out my Indian flag (it’s Independence Day) and try getting pictures with the flag at the bridge.
We move on, the tarmac roads end, and we start riding on sand, gravel, and stones (my favourite). There’s no sitting down now. Standing upright, we rip across the trails. Push hard for a couple of hours and reach a point where everyone is taking a break.
After passing a couple of water crossings, I finally reached the ChandraTal campsite around 2:30 p.m. Bali Bhai is kind enough to get me one last tent. While drying my drenched boots, I met three boys, Shivam, Rishabh, and Akshit, from Patna and Jaipur. These guys are super chilled out and have an extra spot in their cab, so I hitch a ride with them up to the lake as I'm tired of riding for the day.
The next morning, I left the campsite by 4:30 am, as the roads ahead were the most treacherous of the entire ride. Smooth initially, with small water crossings that serve as warnings as to what lies ahead. My boots are soaked after the first 30 minutes of the ride. Our pace is good, and we hit the first water crossing around 8 a.m. The most important part of this day is to get clear of the water crossings before 10 a.m. Why? Because the flow of water increases considerably later in the day.
There are bikes and cars parked on the sides—everyone is waiting to take the first steps. I’m nervous, but I don’t think twice before plunging into the water. There is another rider in front of me, and we end up riding through the water together and crossing over to the other side. Leaving our bikes on the other side, we struggle through knee-deep water to help the other bikers who are slipping and sliding their way through; most of the non-Himalayans have trouble in the water and need a push. Eventually, everyone makes it through, and we end up becoming one huge group of riders tackling every water crossing together, helping each other out.
After the water crossings, we reach the Rohtang Pass, one of the most beautiful roads to ride on in the country. The roads are well done, with brilliant views and the clouds drifting in and out. I reach my final destination, Manali, by the evening and check into a hotel promptly. After a quick nap, I venture out towards Old Manali, where I head for the most popular bar for a quick beer. It feels strange to be surrounded by so many people, yet no one talks to you or even looks at you as a fact—everyone’s busy on their phones or getting wasted.
Welcome back to civilization!
Meneenja loves the outdoors and exploring uncharted territories on his trusted motorcycle - Eskimo.
Follow him on Instagram: @meneenja