Cresting the Kunzum La (4551 m) then joyfully motoring around a stupa for good luck, I pick up the Spiti river, and a rear puncture flat while riding off the rugged road for a better view of the river. An overhanging sign announced that I’d reached Spiti, a valley following its river namesake. Without a capable lever to pry the cold rubber from the spoked rim and growing dark, I’ll give up with bloody knuckles, stash my heavy tools bag behind a stone wall and done my backpack and start walking for Losar, a godsend that its only 6 km ahead.
After Graphu but before the summit and chortens atop Kuunzum La (4551), some switchbacks that make me think I’ve started the climb and am looking back. From Gramphu along the Chenab (Chandra) River, then crossing to the its north side, the going got so tough I nearly cried as I straddle pushed the motorbike between frame outs atop boulders in steeply climbing, running water covered ‘path’. I understood why two people had advised me not to come this way, that they had heard the road was in really bad condition (even by Indian mountain standards!).
Reaching the Spiti river at last, it is wide and vastly empty country.
Within a km of reaching the Spiti river, I pause to take in the nice reds and lowering light of day. Ahead another 100 meters, i’ll pull down nice and close to the rocky edge of the river, really just an infinite number of river stones with a handful of channels running past. My front tire hits a brisket shaped stone with a tapered point facing up and the gas strut shutters and grounds out; the back bounces over and I think I am so lucky. Another km later I hear the wobble of empty punctured rubber as my rear tire goes flat some 6 km from Losar.
Somewhere post Kunzun La, I believe, I pass under a erected sign spanning the road, welcoming me to Spiti.
Places visited in the Spiti Vally include:
Ki (Kye or Key)
Dhankar (Dankar or Dankhar)
Overlooking Losar, a small village in the Spiti valley.
One of three guesthouses in Losar, the young man in the background was very helpful and kind, hosting me despite it being very late in the season, sharing tupa with his wife, father-in-law and young son. With the local bus having already stopped for the season, two private transports roll through mid morning. I take a taxi back the 6km for bike’s rear tire, and here two very kind gentlemen from Shimla help to repair, even carrying me back to help set it back on.
Kaza & Kibber
Kaza sits in the shadows on the east bank of the Spiti river. Isolated, and end of season too, few folks travel out this far.
Tracking a road that continues north east of Kaza for Kibber, I’ve left my gear at the guesthouse and am traveling light, which feels great!
A view of Rangrik, a town north of Kaza and on the other side of the Spiti through which I passed coming into Kaza coming from Losar. Here, I am quite a bit north of Kaza among several switchbacks, making my climb up to the even higher Kibber at 4205m.
Kibber, about 20 km north of kaza on the east side of the Spiti River. The towering Shilla in the background, a 7027m peak in the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary. Motoring down into the town, I become nearly stuck and burn a lot of clutch getting up, even on the load-free bike; a young man watches, and I kinda wave, embarrassed.
The modern, big bright Budda at Kibber sits on a hill overlooking the valley and Spiti far beyond and even below, likely facing west.
Motoring away Kibber, I first tramp through the Wildlife Sancturary with faded signs of the various animals to spot; I only watch a raptor hunt. The one or two roads manage to wind even further back and up, passing ice covered streams and wet rolling hills. At some point I give up, but still manage to find the nearby towns of Komic and then Hikkim. Komic and Hikkim
The village of Komic, to the right, and Hikkim to the left. Further left, a gorge that takes the breath away begins to open up to the Spiti and Kaza nearly directly below; the road continues along the high sides with the occasional turret of mountain mixed in with the occasional absence (and thus stacked stones) of mountain.
An “enhanced” image of Hikkim and Komic and the small terraced fields that the families work, similar to those at Nako, another small village a few hundred km south of here.
Hikkim, above Kaza with the gorge in the background. Its likely that this is where I pulled down on my motorbike to almost become stuck.
The gorge at Hikkim, the Spiti in the background, the road following it around on the right. Some sections of the road up here within a half km of town were poured with concrete so you could have roller skated on it, though Im not even sure this is the primary means of ingress and egress; I came in the back way.
Passing Hikkim and Komic so high above the town of Kaza and then following a gorge brings me to this edge, where once again I can see Kaza and its handful of small bridges below.
Rangrik across the way
Another view of Rangrik during descent from Hikkim, rejoining the road that initially led me up towards Kibber (and on the ascent, looked quite dreadful; happy to have found it ok for coming down.) Back to Kaza
Approaching Kaza from the high road north of town that led me away to Kibber a few hours earlier.
Happy Halloween! A pumpkin inspired sweet from a shop near the bus station on the south side of the creek that divides the town into halves (old town and new kaza). Old Town had an powerless internet cafe (too few tourists to bother turning the generators on), a metal shop, an automotive shop, bus stands and another large grocery type bazar.
From the bus station, the main artery through the old town just seems to wind and tapper as rises uphill, and at some point running into one of the two bridges in town (which I never crossed). Another works downhill where a guesthouse stands at the end of the road but was closed. A restaurant with lamb tupa was open, thankfully, and I met a nice german cyclist whom had riden from Shimla, though rock falls beginning near Rekong Peo encouraged him to hop on a bus for the leg to Tabo. So old town had more services for this time of year it seems, though there was the most helpful gentleman with a guesthouse on the new side with whom I likely should have stayed with; it was freezing here at night with little for blankets, sleeping in all my clothes and bearing to wash only my feet. Dankar
After providing a tour, a lone monk returns to preparing the packed earth roof of Dhankar monastery ahead of the coming winter in the Spiti Valley.
Dhankar village, “the former capital of the Nono kings of Spiti” (Lonely Planet). I first tried reaching the gompa from below, and tipped over unceremoniously onto my side among the quite hamlet of houses below the craggy gompa. Motoring around behind the large yellow museum/school, I finally reached the precarious wedged placed. A monk working on the roof had been expecting me, having watched my fall, and subsequent backtracking. He showed me around the prayer chamber and up the ladder to the roof, where he returned to work while the rest of the monastery was away.
Clearly, there was some utility is creating a path across this section of air that induced the monks to pack earth over willow crossed timbers, unsupported along the hypotenuse. I took care to stay away from all edges, here realizing once across that it was most apt at Dhankar Gompa (LP) or Dankhar Gompa at Dankar village (NGeo).
Having left Kaza in the morning, I had aplenty of time to explore Dhankar, perhaps 10km off of the main and only artery seasonally traversing the Spiti valley. A stand of deciduous trees pique my spirit with the feel of fall, but mostly it is treeless high altitude desert; solo and unsupported well past any tourist season, it is extra-planetary. Tabo
The monsterific figures adorning the pre chamber walls of this 1000 year old prayer chamber ward off evil spirits, and inside the stillness of Tabo Gompa, the whole scene is a bit trippy even if you’re not an evil spirit.
A guesthouse in Tabo. It is outside of any tourist season and cold inside the house at night with a VERY cold shower. A long term european with an interest in the prayer chamber had been here since the summer started, and we take espresso together when I arrive in the warm afternoon. I am able to eat nearby. The tiny streets are busy in the morning with high school aged kids on their way to school as I take honey porridge.
Road building is common policy throughout the Indian himalayas. A new structure has been built at Giu to house the 500 year old mummified remains of a buddist monk unearthed only recently; whether the road led to the discovery or the discovery led to a road, I can’t recall. Typically, large stones are split into two halves using a hammer and chisel by a man sitting on his hunches. The two halves are then split further, ad continuum, until, well, they look like the ones in the sections of retaining walls and this road.
1 of 4. Road workers, including a handful of women, remove dirt using shovels and a bag. I tease here that ‘America helps build roads’, a play on the nickname of America as called by the German in Leh. They two use two people to help lift the shovel, and the process had a cadence to it so that in frame 4 I throw dirt back where I took it from in a hypnotic swing.
2 of 4.
3 of 4.
4 of 4
What will house the remains of the mummified monk once it is completed. Currently, a small structure nearby which locked (a village woman working with the road crew has the key) and inside is the mummy within a glass case.
The mechanic in the town just a few km north of the turn off for Giu is away, and I am having motorbike issue; I’ve had to limp back to the last town through which I passed, with Dykstra logic that a move back of any value is better that an assumed infinite distance ahead. This gentleman and a handful of others including an army man posted across the street help to tighten the bikes rear tire into the dropouts, but the sound of metal on metal continued. It will turn out in Jeoti (Jeori) in Kinnaur Valley some several hundred km ahead that the screw holding together the clutch plate assembly sheared a nut head, and the bit of metal is resting in fluid, by then mostly ground away.