An Elaborate Guide to Spiti Valley - Part 3

In the third week of August this year, 6 of us embarked on a trip to the less popular, but equally surreal cousin of Ladakh: Spiti Valley. We drove about 1200 kms on motorbikes plus 800 kms by car to and from Gurgaon. What follows is an attempt to create a guide to Spiti with a generous topping of my experiences sprinkled over it.

This is the 3rd and final part in the series. 

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

All pictures in this post can be clicked on to open an expanded version.



After a slow, elaborate breakfast, we loaded our bags on the bikes and left for Chandratal lake. Upto this point, the roads weren't great but manageable. The scenery was what you would come to expect of Spiti - huge, barren mountains highlighted by a single snow capped peak and wide open fields all the way with the river lining the side.

Our first stop was at Losar. There, you should halt for lunch at the first shop on your left as you enter the small town. They serve delicious home made food. As we were chilling outside the cafe, soaking in the warm sun, we chit-chatted with a biker returning from Chandratal. He said that Losar was the first sign of a road he had found since Gramphoo (which is on the way to Manali). This should have been our first hint of what kind of route lay ahead of us.

Human flag at Kunzum Pass

It was a difficult ride up to the Kunzum pass which stands at a height of 4551 metres. The wind will be quite strong, so more layers are recommended, even in the scorching sun. In our exhausted state, it seemed like a non event to cross one of the most sought after bikers' milestone in India. We clicked a few mandatory pictures and rode our way down the trail.


After a long, gruelling and the toughest ride thus far, we reached here at the last stroke of sunlight. At an altitude of 4300 metres, life here can get difficult. Chandratal Lake isn’t exactly where you would pitch tents. But, there is a vast sprawl of flatland 3 kms away where you would see a small tent-town which would serve as your resting place for the night. 

On the way to Chandratal. Your camps would appear in one such flatland to your left

We stayed at Parasol Camps which is the most reputed and popular tent around. The people at Deyzor can help you get a place there so you don’t need to worry about it once you get there. The caretakers are jovial folks, much like most of the locals we found on our way. When questioned that whether 6 in the evening (which is when we had arrived) was a good time to go see the lake, Bishan (the chief over there), answered that the sun dried up the lake yesterday. Some of us weren’t attuned to that kind of humour. Suffice to say, the lake wasn’t dry, it is never dry, it will never be, and we now have one less joke to fall victim to.

At the camps

There would be a lot of bikers and car-riders at the camp. You would chill with them at the common tent area where you would all huddle together for hours around a heat source since it would be so cold outside. There would be booze, music, good food, nice stories and stuff from all over Himachal that people have brought along with them. It would be fun.

Having traveled so far, and only a 3km hike away, next morning, we decided not to see Chandratal against our wishes. Don’t raise your brows, our schedule (damn you schedule), didn’t allow us that. I still have a little regret left from it. Additionally, the high altitude wasn’t helping. At any time, at least 2 amongst us had headaches, shortness of breath, dizziness and a general sense of discomfort.

Breakfast is served, you bid goodbye to the nice folks and they wish you smooth journey ahead as if they meant that we might need it (or was it just me who understood it that way?). Those few words from them should have been our second hint.

7th Leg: Chandratal to Kasol


Via: Kunzum, Gramphoo, Rohtang, Manali, Kullu


Leave early in the morning from Chandratal. It would be a long ride to Manali and beyond. The roads ahead are the worst you would have ever set a wheel upon. Hold on. Allow me to rephrase. There are no roads. All that you would find is a narrow trail of stones, boulders, nallahs climbing down and up all the way to Gramphoo. The scenery around you will be surreal but you would hardly have enough spare attention to look at it. 

On this route, we covered about 60kms in 6 hours. You could go for a run and outpace the bikes. It’s not just that the roads were bad. They were also unpredictable, constantly rising and falling, twisting and turning, and we had to be extremely alert while riding. It was miserable. We don’t often hear people acknowledging that a part of their trip was less than perfect. Personally, I think there is no shame in accepting that this route was bad. In hindsight, like all things, I look at only the positives - how it tested our riding skills, the adventure it presented, the immense feeling of solitude. But, in those moments, we really were on the edge. Luckily Chandra Dhaba came soon enough on our left where we halted for refreshments, some shopping and to relax our nerves. 

Approaching Gramphoo

As you approach Gramphoo, the scenery would change drastically. The bare, rocky mountains would be replaced by lush green peaks with signs of life in the form of shepherds, sheep, goats and sheep-dogs. A massive traffic jam caused by these cute creatures would make you chuckle and irritate at the same time. 

Gramphoo is a non-existent signboard of a town where we couldn’t even find a place to eat. Not that we tried very hard. We were in rush to move on. A gang of 15 American bikers, who had ridden along side us thus far, bade us goodbye here as they turned right for Ladakh and we took a left towards Manali. 

Unlike yesteryears, the traffic on Gramphoo to Manali route is minimal. Once you get closer to Rohtang pass, you would find dirty snow hanging over the ledges of the roads. The pass itself is unremarkable (or perhaps this judgement was caused by exhaustion). I mean there is a vantage point but we passed through it without stopping. I am told that a few years back it used to be alive with tea stalls and various shops, but now it’s blank save for a few parked vehicles and people clicking pictures. The roads were finally strong, reliable concrete and we made good speed to a highway eating joint. My feet were wet to the core on account of having traversed many nallahs and balancing the bike on my feet across them. Shivering and teeth chattering, I took the shoes off and laid them out in the feeble sunlight in hopes of drying them. It didn’t work too well.

Resuming our journey, we crossed the pine-tree rich mountains that overlooked the Manali Valley. I had not been to Manali earlier, so I was thoroughly surprised by the massive commercialisation that had eaten up the valley in the form of endless hotels and cafes on both sides of the roads. Perhaps it was just me, but there was a distinguishable, even if faint, smell of marijuana in the air. This is Himachal after all. So, don’t be surprised to find Marijuana plants on your way all along the route. 

Some dude paragliding around Rohtang

Next stop was a cool bike repair workshop in Kullu. We refilled our food supplies and headed to Kasol. It was a day before full moon. The moonlight bathed the streets in gentle white light. The small huts we saw along the roads resembled a ghostly town. It was a good ride. 

Entering the Parvati Valley, the loud roar of the flowing river to the left of us, a smile crept out of me under my helmet. We still couldn’t see it, but the feeling of finally approaching our destination late at night was brewing inside. 


I had fantasised about reaching Kasol all day long. Two of our friends (not on this trip), planned to visit Kasol around the same time we did. I imagined entering Kasol, roaring on our bikes, and our friends welcoming us outside Evergreen Cafe. Hugs, smiles and happiness. I imagined going into the cafe to chill before checking into a hotel. And that’s exactly what happened.

This was my second visit to Kasol. The first one happened at a very different time in my life. Luckily, I had written a post about my trip. Here’s where you can read it. 



Nothing remarkable to report here except that driving back from Kasol to Shimla late at night was a little spooky. I wouldn't recommend it - way too many trucks ply on this route, much safer to leave early from Kasol and arrive at Shimla in the late evening. 




Traveling, going on adventures, seeing new things, meeting interesting people - all this is fine. But, few people talk about what happens when you come back to the reality of everyday life in the big city.  The fixed schedule with 5 days of work and a weekend of drinking. Well, I’ll tell you - life becomes boring.

Boring, not in your regular definition of the word. But, boring in a way that constantly nags you to do something extraordinary again. The comfort of your bed becomes suffocating, the monotony of daily grind becomes a veiled attempt at living life. This is what I call Travel Withdrawal Syndrome or TWS.

Common symptoms of TWS:

  1. Soon after your return, even before the expenses of the trip have been detailed out and money owed returned, plans of a new trip begin taking shape.
  2. The number of work related tabs on your browser shrink to a small percentage, the majority being taken up by blogs of people describing beautiful new places and experiences.
  3. You start wondering how to travel full-time without having to beg for food and accommodation.
  4. At least once, you seriously consider quitting your job and doing something more interesting.
  5. At least once, you seriously consider moving permanently to the place you just returned from and opening up a cafe.
  6. You start dissociating yourself from all the others around you who are not doing something similar.
  7. You think of taking up another activity along with your work seriously - biking, photography, travel blogging.

How to cure TWS?
The answer lies in the last symptom. After a rush of adrenalin on your trip, there is a lot of residual energy in you. Channel it in learning something new. Acquire new skills by investing time in not just doing them but studying their deep lying concepts. Immerse yourself in it as you did with your travel. Say, for example, you were to take up photography. Watch some YouTube lessons, join a common class, do a small day photography trip. 

This allows you to not only grow intellectually, but also, gives you a reality check on how passionate you are about something. Especially if you considering an alternate vocation, this helps to answer the question of whether it is just a passing fad or something that you could seriously consider.

And write. Seriously. Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, just noting those experiences down in your private diary helps.


There’s not a lot to do in Spiti if you don’t count chilling as something. You see beautiful places, get a lot of time to be on your own. Read a book, look at the scenery, talk to friends, talk to the locals. Meet fellow traveler, share stories.  Your travel would be often and taxing. So, be prepared to be very tired throughout the trip unless you take proper rest. Drink lots of water, it’ll help with acclimatisation. The novelty of the scenery might fade off just a little bit, the adventure will not. Don’t go there with a constricted schedule. Go with some time on your hands. 

Finally, here are some vanity pictures. And Spiti in 10 bullet points.


Spiti in 10 bullets:

1. Landscape is surreal. Looks like a painting.
2. Altitude sickness is a real thing.
3. Roads are tough. Horrible even.
4. Food is slow but delicious.
5. You’d be constantly amazed by how fit the locals are.
6. There are bikers all around you and you share a genuine feeling of being in a community.
7. The locals are funny people.
8. With time, the landscape becomes so common that you stop noticing it.
9. Your plans will go haywire on account of unexpected changes in the road condition.
10. Many times, there will be no one around you for hours. Absolute solitude.

Hope these series of posts was helpful ( Read earlier posts: Part 1 and Part 2). Have a great trip yourself!

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Apathy is worse than criticism for a writer, thus I would love to hear what you thought of it - leave a comment below or email mj at mayankja.in

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An Elaborate Guide To Spiti Valley - Part 2

In the third week of August this year, 6 of us embarked on a trip to the less popular, but equally surreal cousin of Ladakh: Spiti Valley. We drove about 1200 kms on motorbikes plus 800 kms by car to and from Gurgaon. What follows is an attempt to create a guide to Spiti with a generous topping of my experiences sprinkled over it.

This is the 2nd part in the series. By the end of the first part, we had laid down the basics. This, Part 2, is where we immerse ourselves completely in the journey. There are tons of beautiful pictures too. 

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 3 here



Suggested Route: RAMPUR to KALPA

Again, the distance isn’t much, but the roads get very tricky at the fag end of this route. Since this would be the first day of your trip when you tread a difficult mountainous course, doing smaller distances is recommended.

Roads for the first half of this leg are solid tarmac and predictable. Good to ride on

Another hour after this natural tunnel, less friendly roads await

For most parts, you will find concrete roads, reasonable traffic and you would traverse at good pace. We led the group ahead and and took a few minutes break to wait for the rest to arrive. That spot was about 30-40 kms before Reckong Peo which in turn is about 10 kms from Kalpa. It took us close to 3.5 hours to cover that distance.

Chilling is important

A stream to your left before Reckong Peo provides an opportune moment to take a small rest

The concrete roads gave way to rock laden pieces of land which we call roads. Thick mud lined the roads. Our overloaded bikes squelched and squealed as we navigated our way through it at a cautious pace. The pillion kept mum lest they distract the rider. The bikes' lower-sides took the majority of the brunt of the stones scattered by the wheels. We narrowly missed two shooting stones which shot down from the hills just a few feet ahead of us.

A scissor appears on the road here, one leading to Kalpa, other to Nako

At Reckong Peo, climbing up to Kalpa

Eventually, it got better. We climbed mountains and then came back down again, only to climb up again into Kalpa. Slow moving trucks ahead of us threatened to slip back down. Sharp turns, overlooking the steep drop into the valley below, waited for us longingly. Young school kids waved us goodbyes with a smile on their chubby cheeks. 

A river to our left was a welcome sight. We relieved ourselves of the dirt with the cool, refreshing water, took a status check, and went on ahead to Reckong Peo and further ahead to Kalpa.



Kalpa is located at a height of 2960 metres. Height is important throughout this journey because we climb high enough to cause altitude sickness in the city-dwellers that we are. 

Like most hill-towns, it is remote and not easily accessible. However, it is still untouched by the mass commercialisation that you find creeping in most hill stations. Our navigation for most of the journey (at least till our cell phones worked), was a friend who had stayed back in Gurgaon, fondly named Chunnu - the one who knows it all. Chunnupedia told us that the best place to stay would be Kinner Kailash, a Himachal Tourism guest house named after the mountain it overlooks, and boy was he right.

Kinner Kailash is at the dead end of Kalpa. Seriously. There is nothing beyond it. Thus, it provided us with an uninterrupted view of the imperious mountain ranges. The Kinnaur Kailash mountain stood tall, majestic and wore a white snow cap which was partially visible through the clouds engulfing it.

The view at the cottage

The guest house has spacious wooden cottages which we negotiated down to 3000 bucks for a company of 6 (2 cottages). The host is a chirpy, good-natured middle aged man with one glass eye. His hospitality was genuine and warm. At night, when he came out in his monkey cap and pyjamas, he looked liked a caretaker of a Dak Bungalow from a scene in a dark Bollywood movie about snakes and rebirths.

The food is delicious. They have a nicely placed garden where you can rest your tired asses and talk with fellow travellers. Just sitting there filled us with energy. And what do you do when you are filled with lots of energy without anywhere to let it out? You drink. A word of caution though, you won’t find any thekas near the guest house. You would have to climb down 10kms, to find the first sign of a market. Thus, be well stocked. 

What not to miss: Sitting outside your cottage at night, looking at the well-lit starry sky, soaking in the light reflecting from the mighty mountain snow-cap. Talking about your little place in the Universe is also recommended. 



Distance: 150 km
Time taken: 7 hrs (including multiple stops for rest, food, and a long stop at a beautiful lake just before Tabo)
Via - Pooh, Nako

Make sure to get your petrol cans, and bike tanks filled up at Reckong Peo since this would be your last petrol pump before Kaza. Moving out of Kalpa, the roads improve at Pooh and are lovely to drive all the way to Nako and then some. 

The landscape changed quickly from light vegetation to completely bare mountains

You can stop to eat at Pooh at a small dhaba. It is closed on Tuesdays and guess which day we went there - yes, Tuesday. But, we found the lady who runs the place walking nearby. And she was kind enough to make Chowmein and Parathas for us. You can also get your water refrigerated at her shop since you are going to be driving in scorching heat. But, if you have reached Pooh, you would have realised it by now.

Some pictures of the route

Some people also stay at Nako lake camps. But, we overlooked that even though it was on our itinerary. One reason was that we were short of time and secondly, that place isn’t that great anyway. 

So, we went straight to Tabo.

The river

What not to miss: A few kilometres before Tabo, you would find a river to your left. Park your bikes on the side of the road, and walk down the hundred metres to the lake. The water is cold and clear. The surrounding mountains are smoothed by years of flowing water and the rushing winds. It is a good spot to chill for a while. 




Suggested: Spend a full day in Tabo

You know what, Kalpa, Pooh, Nako are all fine. They are all great places, no complaints. But, the careless abandon of travel that you unknowingly long for would present itself to you, for the first time, in Tabo. 

You should enter the hard to miss, huge Monastery gate on your left to find a rest for the night. The first place you find to park your vehicles would be your resting place. That would be Tiger's Den Guest House.  

Tiger Den Guest House

The moment we arrived there, we didn’t even unload our bikes to keep the bags in our rooms. Straight up, we headed to a theka nearby to buy some Beers. Then, we pitched ourselves in the Tiger's Den cafeteria.

It was evening and the faint light of the overhanging bulbs reflected against our oily, dirty and happy faces. There were smiling faces. Or maybe it was just me. But, the point is, it felt great to be there. The beers were opened, the food was served, and the conversations resumed. 

What not to miss: Visit the monastery. Lounge around the garden for hours at length. Meet the fellow travelers who stop by at Tabo in their journey to nowhere. 



Next is a short 3 hour ride from Tabo to arrive at Kaza. You will be climbing down into the valley for most part. Here are some pictures. 



You have arrived. The first big town, or, the only relatively big town in Spiti Valley. This would be your base for the next 3 days. A lot of places to visit nearby, good places to stay, and great food all around makes this a perfect place for you to pitch base.

As you enter Kaza, the Spiti river will run along your side. The roads leading up to the town have a lot of trustworthy straights that you can race your bike on. The river bed would make you want to climb down off the road and lie there for hours at a stretch. And sure enough, one amongst us did do that in spite of the searing heat of the afternoon. 

The local market welcomes you inside with its narrow lanes, lined on both sides with sundry shops, cafes and hotels. We stayed at Hotel Deyzor which is quite popular among the travellers. The free WiFi probably has something to do with it. 

A word of caution: Everything about Deyzor is cool, except the food. No, I don’t mean that it’s bad. Rather, it is quite delicious. But the slow service is a pain in the ass. And your abdomen. We had not ridden a long distance but had alighted on our bikes with a light breakfast. So, we were super hungry by the time we reached there. Upon reaching Deyzor, we left our bags on the bike and went straight to their garden cafe. But, the service was so damn slow. It didn’t help that the altitude was high enough to cause headaches in some of us. Sadly, this trend remained for the rest of our stay at the hotel. So, just be sure to not be hungry to the point of becoming cranky. Your food will arrive in its own due time.

You would meet a lot of interesting folks at Deyzor. Some who organise bicycle tours, others who go on bicycle tours, writers, an Israeli group with a guitarist among them (not stereotypical at all), a military trained dog, a group of high school Australian graduates traveling the world and riding bikes in Spiti when only one of them actually knew how-to, and the rest of them learning as they go - on only the most treacherous roads in the world. Weird world. 

What to do in Kaza:

Key Monastery

En route to Key Monastery

Your first excursion from Kaza should be to Key Monastery. It is about an hour’s drive from the hotel and the route is picturesque. Literally. I mean this route inspired my intro to this series of posts (ref: Part 1). I found myself lost in the surroundings even as I was driving. It is so easy for that to happen to you. And if you try to bring your focus back on the road, which you should, your head spins around itself. Luckily, the roads are predictable and smooth winding up to the monastery. 

Key Monastery is situated at a height of 4166 metres. I wonder why they make monasteries so high up. Last one I went to was in Paro, Bhutan which we reached to after a particularly taxing hike of 2 and a half hours. You don’t really do anything in such places. Just soak in the peace and the quiet. Have a chat with the monks, get some water into the system. Sit inside the prayer hall and watch the monks do their preparations. It doesn’t sound much, but trust me, it is a lot. My friends had to pull me out of the trance to ask me to go back to base. 

This is where you will again have one of those - ‘What’s this life for?’, ‘Why do we work so hard to make money’, ‘What should we do with our lives?, ‘Let’s quit our jobs and settle in a monastery’ - moments. I’ve been told that the food inside the restaurant adjacent to the monastery is particularly fulfilling. You might want to give it a try. 


Kibber is a tiny village close to Key. Ride into the village, go as high up as you can and then park yourself in the restaurant there. Have tea in their cafe, look around as you see small houses you can count on your fingers, and people which you cannot since there won’t be any. Seriously, there was not a single soul to be seen when we arrived there. Only after some time did we see a few people milling about, probably coming out of a conference since they all appeared from the same corner in a beeline. 

There isn’t much to do in Kibber (sleeping in the wide open fields is a recommendation which comes from a friend) , which itself is quite a nice thing to have on a vacation. But, it can get old soon, so you can come back by the evening. Here, I would like to highlight that driving at night isn’t a good idea anywhere in Spiti. They call these roads the world’s most treacherous ones and not without good reason. 

Couple of other places that we couldn’t go to were Hikkim (apparently, India’s highest post office, send your loved ones postcards from here) and Gue Monastery (where a 600 year old Mummy of a monk resides; legend has it that it still grows its hair). Google will tell you more about it than I can.

End of Part 2

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 3 here

In the next and final part, we look at the journey back from Spiti valley via Kunzum and Rohtang Pass. We also made a 2 day stop over at Kasol.

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Apathy is worse than criticism for a writer, thus I would love to hear what you thought of it - leave a comment below or email mj at mayankja.in