Himalayas had been calling, and I awaited for the right time to leave behind the sweltering heat of Gujarat. Excitement kicked in when on behalf of Rushlane, I was going to participate in the first Bajaj Avenger F.L.G ride this season. Destination – Spiti Valley.
The ride to Spiti Valley was an eight day ride starting from Delhi and culminating in Delhi. Riders had a choice of joining the ride from Chandigarh too. We started off from Delhi. Below is a detailed report.
Day 1 – Delhi to Chandigarh
The ride was flagged of at the Bajaj dealership (Bagga link) in Karol Bagh. Riders gathered amidst much fanfare, and the excitement was writ large across their face. Following flag-off, we headed towards Chandigarh, an odd 250 kms straight along the highway. A mechanic, doctor, backup vehicle and supplies for all emergencies were provided.
We started with 7 bikes in the morning with 2 more bikes joining us at Chandigarh. Despite an energised start, momentum was immediately thwarted with Delhi traffic playing spoilsport. Manoeuvring through the traffic in that heat prompted us to stop almost immediately after the traffic thinned to group together again for the customary first chai sutta of the day. The next stop was the NH1 Food Garage at Murthal for breakfast. Here we had the opportunity to exchange niceties, and get introduced to one another. Smooth sailing to Chandigarh for the rest of the ride as we continued ahead.
Day 2 – Chandigarh to Narkanda
It was the day we were waiting for. It’s quite something to head into the hills, lean into the curves and let the Himalayas welcome us. 3 riders joined us in Chandigarh in the morning, and we got on our way. Today’s destination was Narkanda, beyond Shimla, which meant we were to ride for about 180 kms. The turns showed up soon enough, and the Avenger with its low centre of gravity instantly revelled in its leaning prowess with utmost ease.
The unavoidable heat of Delhi slowly dissipated, providing much relief as we climbed higher and higher into the laps of Himalayas. Being a weekend, we were exposed to traffic today too. The throng of tourists thinned beyond Shimla. The spectacular road from Shimla to Narkanda was a picture of stunning vistas surrounding us. Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. As soon as we reached, it started raining. It was time to be immersed in the fresh mountain air.
Day 3 – Narkanda to Kalpa
180 kms to cover today in the hills, so, we decided to start early. The mountains however had a different plan. We woke up thinking the physical drowsiness had made everything around blurry, but slowly realized the dense fog around us had crept inside the room. We waited for the sun to shine stronger, and no surprise there, it started raining heavily. A slow breakfast, and whiling our time, a little later, when we thought there was no other option but to start the ride wet today, the weather turned a bit merciful.
With fog along the mountains, clouds resting low in the valley, the Satluj river flowing beside us, and the slightly damp curves made the ride all the more enjoyable. We filled petrol at Tapri, which is the last petrol pump for 240 kms before Kaza since the Reckong Peo petrol pump was shut down.
Kalpa is up a hill from Reckong Peo and a slight detour from the main Spiti Circuit route but worth visiting just for the views it affords.
Day 4 – Kalpa to Kaza
This is where things really started to get interesting. As we would find out later, lady luck was really on our side for the entire ride.
It was all smooth sailing until Kalpa, but things were going to take a turn. As we climbed down from Kalpa, and resumed on the main highway to Kaza, roads started disappearing. It was just loose stones on dirt passing through the ridges. We knew our speed was going to be substantially reduced today, and we started early to compensate. We were entering the greater Himalayas, and the first sight of snow on a far-off mountain was motivation.
Photographs and poses later, we continued. This stretch of the road is what you see, when you search Spiti Valley on Google. Narrow dirt tracks, the mountain cut in a way that it hovers above you, small cut tunnels and the river flowing beside you all along the ride.
The beauty surrounding us amplified every km we treaded deeper into Spiti. The views Nako Valley and Tabo Valley have to offer need to be experienced first-hand. As we were entering Kaza, we learnt that fuel had not been supplied since the last two days, and about 300 bikers were stuck at Kaza.
To give you a perspective, Kaza can host about 200 people comfortably. There was a scramble all around for accommodation, and if our hotel was not booked beforehand, we would have faced the same situation. Adding to that, we had already travelled 240 km and there was no chance of fuel being available the next day too. The next fuel station is at Manali, about 200 kms away. We put on our thinking caps to find a way out of this conundrum.
We came to know later, the road we did today, Kalpa to Kaza had broken down, and about 200 bikers were stuck at Kalpa. We avoided disaster by 2 hrs.
Day 5 – Kaza to Chandertaal
Even though we had less fuel, we woke up at first light to visit Ki Monastery, which is a 12 km detour. Ki Monastery has become a symbol of Spiti Valley, and you can understand why, once you visit. being low on fuel, we decided to ride pillion, and returning to the hotel to find a solution. Some street smartness, some flattery, and some begging with the hotel guy, and we managed to empty his old Gypsy, which gave us roughly 30 ltrs of precious liquid gold. This was distributed among us and, we were able to continue onward to Chandertaal.
Although we only had to cover roughly 90 kms today, we had some tough terrains ahead. The first pass of the journey – Kunzum La (15060 ft) was a tough climb and an even tougher descent. The weather was colder today with chilly rapid winds. Some riders started experiencing symptoms of AMS because of the thin air. The road to Chandertaal is 14 km off the main highway.
These 14 kms are one of the toughest to be ridden by any rider with rocks, deep water crossings, extremely thin strip of road if you can call it that, and a drop deep enough to be enough. But as they say, the tougher it is, the more you appreciate it. Chandertaal is probably the best thing Spiti Valley has to offer, and it is not to be missed.
Since Chandertaal is a eco sensitive region, nobody is allowed to stay right near the lake. Accommodation is setup 2 km before the lake. There is an option of either trekking to Chandertaal which is 1.5 kms away, or taking the bike for 2 km and trekking for half a km. Since we reached a bit late, we decided to visit the lake early in the morning before leaving for Manali.
Day 6 – Chandertaal to Manali
We woke up early to visit Chandertaal. We decided to go on our bikes for 2 kms and trek/hike and trek for a half a km. Being at a height, the air is quite thin. Lack of oxygen results in more effort exuded for any task. The trek took the living daylights out of us but once we reached Chandertaal, all tiredness left our thoughts, and we were stood enveloped in bliss. Himalayas has a way to humble with its beauty and might. All you can do is bow to its magnificence.
The road from Chandertaal to Manali is 124 kms of pure hellish offroad till you hit the Manali-Leh highway at Gramphoo. We contested tough water crossings, deep slush, mud, rocks, and even huge boulders. All my prejudices about the Avenger’s low ground clearance was proven wrong. The bike handld everything with ease.
We realized we were finally back to civilization when we climbed Rohtang Pass and started descending towards crowded Manali. We felt sadness impending the inevitable goodbye we’d have to bid the Himalayas the next day. I wish the number of days were more and we could have explored more of Spiti venturing to Chitkul, Mud, Pin Valley, Kibber, etc.
Lady luck never left us, as we would find out that this route was broken for two days after we left. This was around the same time of the cloudburst at Zing Zing Bar.
Day 7 & 8 – Manali to Chandigarh to Delhi
We were back amongst the crowd, traffic, pollution and noise. We made our way to Manali to bid adieu to the 3 riders who had joined us in Chandigarh. Spending even 7 days on the road together creates a lifelong bond. An uneventful ride to Delhi with occasional rains culminated our fantastic ride to Spiti Valley.
Bajaj started organizing Avenger F.L.G (Feel Like God) rides in 2016 but this season, they are going aggressive with the rides. In addition to this, these rides are extremely affordable. Bajaj only charged INR 8,000 per person, including food, stay, support vehicle, etc. Riders were to bring their own bike, and take care of fuel expense.
Bajaj is making efforts to increase riding opportunities for customers with wanderlust, and is soon organising rides, specific to Dominar. The idea is to inculcate riding culture, and promote safe riding.
As many as 40 rides have been planned for this year. You can find more details by heading to their official website here.