The exploits from our journey across Spiti Valley from the enchanting Chitkul Valley through the quaint village of Nako to the district headquarters, Kaza.
Read about my adventures at Chitkul in Part I of my ‘Tales of Spiti’ series here.
DAY 2: Chitkul-Nako (150 kms)
The second day of our Spiti expedition was a stark contrast to the previous one as the cold chilly morning soon turned into the hottest of days with the sun blaring upon us by the time we descended our way back down to Karcham from Chitkul. I remember stripping myself of all the winter clothing I had on in the middle of the road as I was being roasted alive inside of them. Add to that the condition of the roads took a turn for the worse as they were covered with sharp, loose stones and gravel that made riding over them a nightmare. All through this stretch, I was praying to all the Gods I knew to save our motorcycles from getting a puncture.
Hopefully in a couple of years the entire valley would be connected through impeccable roads thanks to the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and that was already in process but for now progress was painfully slow and the occasional road signs declaring we were riding through the most treacherous roads in the world did more damage to our spirits than good.
Our bodies and bikes shaken to the core from all the rattling and further delayed by a couple of landslides along the way, finally made their way to Khab, which is the confluence point of Spiti and Sutluj Rivers. You can also get a glimpse of the glorious Leo Purygal Peak from the Khab Bridge. From here, it’s an uphill ascend all the way to Nako.
This is also from where you can witness a dramatic change in landscape both in terrain and altitude, as you make your way through some of the mightiest mountain ranges that are truly humbling and are sure to leave you in awe. Loose stones and gravel now gave way to impeccable roads that made the journey even more enjoyable.
By evening we made our way to Nako, a quaint little village hidden away in the mountains at an elevation of 3800 meters and which was known for a monastery and the Nako Lake. It is usually a one night stop for travelers either entering or exiting Spiti.
From the monastery also known as a ‘Gompa’, in order to reach the lake one has to walk through the village in between mud houses along its narrow alleyways from where you get a glimpse into the lives of the people living here. Surviving on just the necessities, they lead a simple life and are more than happy to help you find your way in case you get lost and get lost we did, more than once as those alleys can get quite confusing at times. But the actual lake itself was quite disappointing to say the least, in terms of size and in appearance.
However it was at this lake that we met a group of three travelers all of whom had met and became friends on the road – an avid backpacker from Mumbai and two bikers from Gujarat, one on a 125cc TVS Phoenix and the other on a Thunderbird, all headed for Spiti Valley. Me and Anand were caught in a dilemma regarding our choice of stay for the night when we met them- whether to stay in Nako itself or to move ahead towards Tabo which was another 60 kms. Our chances of getting a place to stay in between these villages were pretty slim and driving on these roads after sunset was close to suicidal. But in hopes of reaching Kaza a bit earlier the next day, we bid our goodbyes and decided to push on.
But not long after we got on our bikes, out of nowhere I was hit with a sudden realization of the unnecessary level of risk that we were about to take on. We hit the brakes and turned back and that turned out to be the best decision ever! We found ourselves a comfy little room right at the entrance of Nako village with walls and ceiling made of corrugated metal sheets attached to a tea shop. For INR 200 a night plus extra for hot water, that was all the luxury we wanted.
Dumped our luggage in the room and headed to the village where we bumped into those three travelers again. We were soon joined by another crazy duo from Hyderabad riding a Duke and a RX 100! I’m not sure if it’s the remoteness of places like these or the cold, but for some reason all of us instantly clicked and before we knew it, we were on somebody’s rooftop sitting around a bonfire sharing amazing travel stories and singing our hearts out. Anand even gave those poor lads a taste of his own version of a few Malayalam classics. Soon out of nowhere another gang of bikers joined us with one of them holding a guitar in his hand and our little gathering turned into an outright party under the stars with live music and unlimited fun.
Everything that had happened that day uptill then, whether it be us running into those three at the lake or me deciding to head back to Nako and even the tea shop with the metal rooms all seemed to have led us to this point in time, sitting under the beautiful night sky around a bonfire on a rooftop with some amazing company made up of an assortment of individuals from across the country and some great music. Seriously, what were the odds of that?
DAY 3: Nako-Tabo-Dhankar-Kaza (130 kms)
Although the rest of that night remains a blur to most of us, we left Nako the next day with hopes of meeting each other again somewhere along the way. This day was also special in the sense that we’d cross Sumdo, the check post from where Spiti Valley officially starts.
We would also be making a quick stop at Tabo, the second largest town of Spiti Valley that has developed itself around the Tabo Monastery (a UNESCO world heritage site) before heading towards Dhankar.
The roads now intermittent with good and bad patches yet far better than what we had experienced the day before helped us make good progress and we soon caught up with Utkarsh, our Gujarati friend with the Thunderbird from last night. Together the three of us headed towards the picturesque Dhankar Monastery located on a cliff overlooking the confluence of the Spiti and Pin Rivers at an elevation of over 3800 meters.
Apart from the monastery, a lesser known attraction of this place is the Dhankar Lake that required us to take a “short uphill trek” in the words of a local. This high altitude steep trek that the three of us began soon turned into a test of body and mind thanks to the extremely thin air and the unforgiving afternoon Sun and the lake soon started to seem like a mirage, almost too good to be true. It took us close to two hours to complete this two km trek.
This pristine holy lake, located at an elevation of 4136 meters was a sight to behold and a Gompa located nearby only added to the overall charm and tranquility of this place. Its freezing cold waters however foiled our plans to take a dip in it so we took a nap on its shore instead.
It was here that we were joined by Urmez, one of the crazy guys from Hyderabad with the Duke. We made quick work of the descend downhill which was obviously far easier than the climb, before getting back onto our bikes and heading towards Kaza, where we once again met Pranav, the other crazy dude from Hyderabad and his RX 100.
Kaza, the district headquarters of Spiti was a full-fledged town made for tourists, by tourists with a couple of functional ATM’s, a petrol pump, accommodation of all ranges and shops selling everything that a traveler could need around these parts. It even had a mini Decathlon! Since it was already getting dark by the time we reached the place, we wasted no time finding ourselves a decent room on the edge of town for the best deal, thanks to Pranav’s outstanding bargaining skills. The five of us shared two rooms that night which not only brought us closer together but also was a prelude to many unforgettable moments that we’d share in the coming days.
- After Sangla, fill petrol at Powari or Reckong Peo as the next petrol pump is only at Kaza, 200 kms away.
- Foreign nationals are required to get inner line permits for visiting Kinnaur-Spiti Valleys from the DM (District Magistrate) office located in Reckong Peo.
- Carry clothes which can be worn in layers as it helps you adjust to the fluctuating temperatures in sun and shades.
- A Puncture Kit and knowledge of how to use it is a must if you’re travelling in your own car/two-wheeler.
- Carry spare food and water with you at all times as you’ll be coming across restaurants only at the major tourist spots that are located quite far from each other.
- Apart from Nako and Tabo, Sumdo (28 kms before Tabo) is the only place in between these two villages that offers limited accommodation facilities. Plan accordingly.
- Try Tibetan bread from Nako, its fulfilling and cheap.
- The Dhankar Lake trek is a 2 km high altitude uphill trek (above 4000 meters) that normally takes around 30 minutes one way. If possible, attempt the trek early in the morning and carry sufficient amounts of water and sun protection as the Sun can get dangerously rough and there is no escaping the heat in the arid landscape.
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST:
- Kalpa – Kalpa is a small town in the Sutlej river valley, above Recong Peo famous for its apple orchards and majestic views of the Kinner Kailash.
- Shipki La – A high altitude pass (5669 meter) connecting India to Tibet and also the very place from where the Sutluj River enters into India. The entry to Shipki La is highly restricted and special permit is required to be obtained from DC office, Rekong Peo. It requires a 30 km uphill detour from Khab.
- Gue Village – Houses India’s only known naturally preserved mummy and requires a 15-20 km deviation from Sumdo.
- Pin Valley and Mudh Village – Pin valley is the base for Pin Valley National Park which is the natural habitat of the Snow Leopard and Himalayan Ibex. Mudh Village requires a 30-40 km deviation from Attargo, near Dhankar.
The adventure continues, read on about our journey to the 1000 year old Key monastery and some of the world’s highest villages in Part III of my Tales of Spiti Series here!