Rob: Our last 2 days of riding have consisted of about 4 to 4 1/2 hours of hard-seat, bumpy road time each day. Leaving Shimla’s elevation of 7,400 we climbed to Narkanda at 8,900 ft and then spent over 2 hours coming down through the pine trees and cherry orchards to reach Rampur’s river valley at just 3,300 ft. Next it was a 3,600 ft,, 17 km climb up to the Bhimakali Temple and straight back down to the main road that parallels the Sutlej River and then back up through pine and apple orchards to Kalpa at 9,700 ft. It has been a beautiful and stunning ride with glimpses of snow covered peaks in between spells of mist and rain.
The muddy roads here are pretty slick because the mud is silt and clay. I’m sure it would make great pottery, but to any vehicle it is a little like a carpet of banana peels. We can also add massive Military trucks and an entire herd of cute furry mountain goats to the on-the-road list of obstacles previously mentioned plus a major landslide being cleared by dump trucks, big backhoes and bulldozers. Fortunately, our delay for that was pretty minimal since motorcycles can ride all the way to the front of the backup.
We also checked the box for our first of many stream crossings today. In my book, up to 2 or so inches of water is just a very wet road but when I have to lift my feet up high and putt-putt through running water, it counts as a stream ford.
I have become used to aggressively driven busses and trucks using most of the road, but several times today the biggest trucks were not even giving me an inch of road forcing us into the very rough shoulder. Often, motorcycles do use quite a bit of shoulder, but up here in the mountains it’s really not drivable in most places.
Brakes are at a premium above even power on some of these roads. Early in the day today, we lost our rear brakes for some reason. I think the simple hydraulic connector seems to have failed. Hopefully we can find a motorcycle shop in the coming days for a quick fix.
As we traveled along the river valley to our first night’s stop on this segment of our route, the view reminded us of our way back down from the highest points during our Annapurna Circuit trek in Nepal. Our simple, but nice government sponsored hotel is along the river where we could have a nice traditional vegetarian dinner, watch the monkeys play like children in the trees outside our bay windows and listen to the rapids at night with our windows wide open. For some couples a romantic evening is dinner by candlelight. It is for us too, but it is also quite romantic for us to lounge in bed with maps and make plans for our next few days of adventures.
We have some miniature prayer flags flying from the mirrors of the Royal Beast that contain the powerful Buddhist mantra for compassion and love, Om Mani Padme Hum, translating to, “The jewel is in the lotus.” It can be interpreted as a beautiful lotus flower emerging from the mud. This has literally been the case as we are greeted with amazing sights around every winding road. We visited a beautiful carved Hindi temple built for Bhima in a Tibetian style of craftsmanship and architecture that has intricate wood carvings that cover all of the outside walls and bas relief doors made of pewter, copper and brass that are even more intricate. Inside we climbed the 3 levels of narrow staircases and low doorways to receive a blessing and remind ourselves that we are so very fortunate to be here in this experience.
In the mist and cold rain at the end of the day we ascended and ascended the high road to Kalpa. On the way we only had sneak peeks of the snow covered Kinnar Kailash mountain, the tallest mountain in this region at 21,320 ft, sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. Then, after checking into Hotel Apple Pie (yes, that’s it’s real name) the rain clouds cleared and Kinnar Kailash, the home of Shiva came out in full glory.
Lacy is so excited she is like a little kid. Big camera. Little camera. Up stairs. Down stairs. It’s awesome to watch her.
She is to the moon over the surprise full moonrise we witnessed while we were just staring at the sunset going down on the tops of the mountains. The big round white moon came up right in front of us over the crest of the 20,000 ft tall ridge line across the valley. What a great reward for a long day on the bike.
We have traded the sweat and heat of Delhi for down jackets in Kalpa. Our bed has massively thick padded blankets to keep us warm tonight. Well, that and a little 007 style “shared bodily warmth”.
When we hiked in big elevation changes in the Himalayas last year we would spend a half day going up and then same down. On the bike for the last 2 days we have followed the same formula, but covered 10 x the km / miles for the day. I’m not sure what I prefer, but enjoy both methods so very much and just feels so at peace being back in the land of giants. We sit at 9,300 ft. with the 20,000 ft. peaks looming outside our front door made all the more dramatic by the steep valley in between.
For dinner we sat down for tea and a Thali plate. The Hotel’s new house dog, a tiny white blond puppy, is curled up in and on my feet for warmth and comfort. She is from further up in the highest elevations of the Spiti Valley and is probably going to grow up to be a huge fuzzy lover. I wonder who is most comforted, her or my feet right now? I hope I see her all grown up someday to see if I was right.
What we frustratingly refer to as the great Shimla Inner-line Permit runaround – vs – the simplicity of getting our ILP in the small city of Reckong Peo. In Shimla we attempted to gain our Inner-line Permit so we can travel near the China and Tibetan boarders in the coming weeks. We were thwarted at every turn and told several times that “you just won’t be able to get one” by some of the rudest people using any and every excuse to not help us. A shame because we have found most Indians so welcoming and helpful. I felt confused and gut punched, but we chanced traveling further north anyway hoping for better luck in the last town possible to apply for the permit. A little cottage industry has popped up fueled by the difficulty of registering for a free permit to enter the Spiti Valley. Travel agents in Reckong Pep charge 200-400 Rupees per permit to walk everything through the system while you just hand over your passport and pose for a picture at the District Commissioners office. Our permit was $5.72 well invested dollars for an hour’s rest in a warm office. Thankfully, or luckily, we made it into town before the end of the business day and before a two day holiday combination of a Buddhist holy day and the National Election Day for this area of the country. (India’s population is so large that the voting process is spread across 7 days dedicating a specific day to different regions of the country). After dinner tonight we learned from the owner that in Shimla the official office for the ILP can’t make a little money off the tourists like the agencies here Reckong Peo. The response has been that that office refuses to even bother with the process anymore thereby sending foreigners away with nothing. The travel agents in PEO have upped their prices slightly but we and they become the benefactors of a still broken but swift system here of greasing the wheels.
My 3 month old previously broken leg still remains a hinderance causing me to slow us down when we explore on foot. About two awkward, painful and hobbling miles a day wipes me out. It actually feels much much better to be riding on the motorcycle than walking. Inclines are the worst to walk up or down. The fibula bone above my ankle seems to have healed very well but the severe swelling and pain below the break feels like I’m walking on a terribly sprained ankle and fractured upper foot. The X-rays prior to leaving on our trip showed the break healed properly so I just call all the stairs and climbs therapy and try to push through it hoping it really is healing under there.