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

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If Stanley Kubrick made Star Wars, Hampi is where he would choose to shoot at. 

Sitting in an auto for the half an hour ride from Hospet station, as I entered Hampi, the words ‘Wow’ leapt out of me. My jaw dropped and I sensed the feeling of wonder swell up inside me. The scenery before me was surreal - a vast area of land showered with huge boulders and ruins which still looked magnificent in every direction your eye could see. I was awestruck at the scenery and I don’t remember any other place having such a strong effect on me at first look. It was something completely other-worldly.

A friend of mine had told me, “Hampi is not a place to just travel to, it is a place to live in”. Naturally, I went there with high expectations. And, I wasn’t disappointed. Many centuries ago, Hampi was the seat of the Vijaynagara kingdom and the ruins of the grand empire are what remain today. The river Tunghabhadra separates the two sides of Hampi with the majority of temples on one side and most of the ruins on the other. A boat carries you to and fro across the river. The place is pretty much a tourist-only destination. I presume that all the industries that exist there are meant to cater to the tourists - the numerous cafes, bike rental shops, guest houses and the numerous grocery stores. Phones don’t work too well so if you plan to split up from your friends, it is advisable to decide on a common meeting ground and time. Food is an important aspect when I travel, and I am happy to report that Hampi served us delicious food. 

I stayed on the temple side of the river in a guest house at the edge of the river, overlooking the flowing stream. The sound of the rushing and gushing of water was such a joy to the overworked mind and ears. The place has a very good vibe about it - relaxing and chilled out. People seemed nice and friendly. The best way to explore the place would be to hire a moped and roam around. The 'hippie' area is on the other side of the river if you care to know. Although, some might argue that you can build your own hippie haven wherever you are depending on whom you are with. 

During my stay, I climbed up the ruins/mountains whenever I got a chance. On the hike up the runis, you could relax in the shades of what might have been temples long time ago. I went in one such temple and there was a sadhu of some sort who sat there contemplating. He wasn’t praying but just sitting there casually in complete darkness. I joined him and sat there in silence. At this point, you probably expect that I got some life-changing insight. I did not. But, it was good to just be quiet for a while and feel that the whole world is just a small place inside that dark temple ruin consisting of two people who are sitting silently contemplating on their own lives. 

Another time, as I was writing in my journal, under the shade of one such temple, I had a brilliant scenery all around me. The Tungabhadra separated me from the coconut trees in the distance. In the horizon, I could see huge boulders sprinkled like oregano on top of your pizza. A small climb awaited me on my left beyond which another one of these many temples peeked out at me. On the right, downhill, were some more stone structures and I wonder how they were made. To top it off, the cool breeze in hot sun was a godsend. 

While writing, a small kid came up to me to sell me maps and other souvenirs. I struck up a conversation and one of the first things he asked me was my mother's name. That's not something I expected. I mean, I don't go around asking people their mother's name as a conversation starter. But, for this little kid, I guess it was pretty normal. He told me his name was 'BaSaVaraJa' and his mother's name 'KaNaKatna' - that is how he wrote it in my diary. Meanwhile, a Spanish couple collected memories in their cameras and we exchanged a few pleasantries in my primitive Spanish. 

I made friends with an Englishman, Jasper and we went riding on our mopeds together. We stopped to hike up some mountains. And we kept climbing higher and higher. The thing with mountain climbing, we discussed, is that once you start, you just want to keep on climbing up. We eventually did find a spot to rest. In our 360 degree view, we could’t see a single other soul. We sat together talking about life and sharing stories. He was traveling in India for quite some time and had worked in a Kerala guest house for 3 weeks in exchange for a place to sleep and 3 meals a day. This, I feel is a good arrangement. You can do it too, there is a site for that: Workaway - this is available in many countries and it seems like a great way to travel and explore other cultures. 

We met a french dude who had bought a dog during his travel in India and was carrying it around wherever he went. The dog was called Singham. Often he would run away and after coming back, people would shout "Singham returns" - I don't think he ever got the joke. He spoke like there was no tomorrow and told me a story as to how he got the money to travel. He had had a motorbike accident and the insurance company paid him some money. The exchange rate did the rest. An economics dropout, he was going to go back and study art. 

I stayed in Hampi for only a day and looking back I feel I did so much in that one day. But, never for a moment did I feel that I am rushing through things. Would I go back? Umm…maybe. Would I want to climb those ruins on which stood many centuries ago the empire of a major South Indian kingdom? Hell yeah!


A couple of weeks back, I took a weekend trip to the pink city, Jaipur with a couple of my friends. It turned out to be one of the most relaxing and fulfilling trips I’ve had. And this was a sentiment shared by my friends as well. For a man who has lived in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi for the last 3 years, Jaipur’s slow pace was a breath of fresh air. The place seems relaxed, running at its own pace and has a nonchalant charm about it.  

This is a short account of what I experienced. All the information is based on what the locals there told me and intentionally not verified from any other source. Excuse the quality of pictures, the three of us are noob photographers. 

1. Jal Mahal, The Lake Palace:


This is a beautiful, glowing palace in the middle of a lake. What amazes me is that the place was so deserted. You know how many people were there except the three of us — 5. And three of them were street food and ice cream vendors. If  this was somewhere in Mumbai, it would be perennially crowded. Marine drive in South Bombay, for example, has a pretty similar feel minus the quiet. 

2. The climb up the hill 


Rajasthan is known for its forts. And jaipur being the capital at the time, has some of the most amazing ones. The route, like all hills, is pretty awesome and makes for a pretty comfortable ride. We stopped at a place on the way where we clicked this. The big glowing thing is the Lake Palace. And the best part, there was absolutely no one else there which is crazy and immensely relaxing. This lack of crowd and being able to just be was a constant theme on the trip. The peace and the quiet was almost overwhelming.

3. Nahargarh fort:


Goofy friends: Mohit and Nishit

On the way up the forts, we had an option of going to Amer or Nahargarh. We chose Nahargarh and man was it worth it. I was so surprised by the fact that the place was still open at night at 10. Again, there were not too many people, just one small group of 4. And guess what, the open air cafe served beer! For a token entry fees of 50 bucks, we got some refreshments as well. The whole city is obviously visible from the fort and looks beautiful.

4. Choolgiri, The Jain temple


View from the top

Most of the cities in Rajasthan are surrounded by mountains. So, the roads are often made by cutting out a part of the mountains as you can see in this. This place is a pretty steep climb with some sharp turns. And it is usually hot so even though you can walk, I’d recommend taking a car up to the temple. The temple itself is pretty much what you’d expect from a Jain temple if you’ve ever been to one.


Tunnels shaped in royal arches


New ride

5. Prem Pan Bhandar


Mouthful of happiness

The happiest guy you would see is right in that picture, behind the two of us in that photo frame. Who wouldn’t eat at that shop after that picture. This place had the most delicious paans ever and we made it a point to go there both the nights. 

 6. Lassiwala 


Out of stock at 3 in the afternoon

I wish I had a close up picture of this place. Lassiwala is supposed to be the best lassi place in Jaipur. When we arrived there at 3 in the afternoon, his stock had finished up, all the instruments packed and the shop owner was still sitting there doing absolutely nothing, smiling at us as if saying, “Yes, I am that good”. Like any good thing, this shop also has its share of copycats who have opened up shops next to it where we eventually had mediocre lassis. They still have to slog through the day while the guy next to them finishes up a day’s worth of business in the first few hours.

8. City Palace


The City Palace was an extensive tour of almost 3 hours. The yellowish palace is the actual current residence of the king who happens to be 15 years old and studies at Mayo. The flag hoisted is the official flag of the kingdom. Whenever the king is in the palace, an additional blue flag goes up. The rest of the place is open to public viewing. We got to see old pictures, robes, courtyards, weapons and lot of interesting stuff. The kings of Jaipur are called ‘Sawai’ - translated literally it means one and a half. They were known to be extremely strong and could take on more than one man in a duel, hence the name.

Other places we visited:

Food was a major part of the trip. Here are some other places we went to.

Rawat Kachoriwala - Started the trip with the must haves onion kachoris at probably the most popular mithai shop in Jaipur

Tapri: A very chilled out teafe serving good tea.

100% Rock: I wasn’t expecting much from Jaipur’s pubs which was a wise decision. This place played the same songs you’d hear over and over again in most places. And I think they were trying to copy Hard Rock Cafe but did so with much less taste - they had crappy pictures of guitars instead of real guitars hanging on the walls.

Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar:  Even though I am a Marwari, I am not a big fan of Dal Baati, unlike my friends. And according to them, the daal baatis they had here were some of the best.

Another kachori shop: They used to serve the kachoris in Raj Mandir,  Jaipur’s oldest movie theater.