Motorbiking Two Up In North India: Tabo to Kaza

Another gorgeous day of riding in the foothills of the Himalayas

Rob: Tabo to Kaza which we will use as a home base for a few days.

We took the time for a photo op on the way to Kaza at the gates entrance to Dhankargompa.  We wanted to ride the switchbacks to the top, but without having a rear brake it was simply too dangerous.

The same elevation we gained in the last 10km into Tabo, we quickly lost in the first 5km we road down the other side of the mountain still edging along the river. I mis-use the word mountain here because we have been riding between 10,000 – 13,000 ft for the last several days which in most of my lifelong orientation is a mountain but here with 25,000ft tall peaks above me, we are still really in the foothills of the giant Himalayas.

It was a rough road, but not dangerous since the elevation changes were steady, corners navigable and the rocks relatively flattened into the dirt by traffic to form a mountain cobblestone. Still, mid 3rd gear was about as much as we could muster over the bumps.

We arrived in Kaza some 2 1/2 hours later at 12,300ft after the continual climb along side the down rushing Spiti River. We never really gained a lot of elevation in any single climb at once and since we were constantly watching the river and the high snow covered mountains that framed the river valley 95% of the time I just didn’t notice the gain until we were here.

Riding in the high desert of the Himalayan foothills prompted me time reconsider how I protected my face on the bike.  I was using an SPF bandana on my lower face to protect from sun, dust and diesel, but feeling the increasing power of the sun of the remaining exposed parts of my face I opted for this new set up with a full SPF shawl I had with me.  Genius! Wish I would have been doing this from the start.

We arrive to the town and aim for the Travelers Shed since it is a landmark for Bikers, WiFi, good rooms and has an integrated Royal Enfield mechanic shop on the ground floor. We sorely needed some brake fixes and just a little connectivity to stay in touch with the world back home. Well… Then… The shop was closed, no rooms at the Inn, no electricity means no WiFi and we scrambled to make alternative plans.

Lacy secured us a simple room even in a touristy area about 200m away for just 1,200 Rupees per night with a balcony overlooking the village, the monastery, valley and up to the mountains. Perfect!

View to the left from our balcony

These words and face are on the mountain above, visible from far away.  We are not sure if it etched, burned, made of stones or something else.

I set out to fill the gas tank from the “Highest Petrol Station in the World” and find a mechanic. On my second try I found Lobzy’s tiny shop. A dirt and rock steep entry way lead to a 2m wide and 3m deep roll up metal doorway enclosing a small concrete pad enveloped in all his tools and spare parts. A half wall of which was piled with deformed and detonated engines ‘a la the scene from “Worlds Fastest Indian”. (A movie you need to see if you are a motorcycle person!)

The diagnosis was a rear brake line rubbed totally through and no brake fluid as I had suspected. We had lived and struggled with this issue since day 2 or 3 of our journey. He found a suitable replacement part and 4 hours later I was back on the road full of rear brake fluid, grip, stopping power and confidence.

While waiting for the repair, an older guy hanging around the micro-shop lended some of his advice and experience. “Half of locals crash. All foreigners crash.” was the general theme of our chat as he advised me on some things to remember about the conditions on the roads from his seat in the middle of a dozen mangled motorbikes being utilized for spare parts. It was reinforcing advice after our already difficult experiences and the many, many safety signs posted all along the roads proclaiming this “The most treacherous roadway on earth.”

Celebrating our arrival to Kaza with momos, masala papad, cold beers and a stunning view

It’s amazing to be here in Kaza above 12,000ft and still staring straight up at the surrounding snow capped mountains and mini glaciers. Kaza has been one of our big milestone goals to reach since we began planning this trip several months before now and setting off some 3 weeks ago.

With the new moon still hiding outside of the mountains, a million stars and the milky way are a regular part of our evening view.

Later the following day we made it back to the Travelers Shed for some Seabuckthorn Berry Juice to mix with the local Arak (moonshine) we had delivered to our room by our hotel guys. We also went from meeting no 2-Up couples to 2 couples who were on a quick trip to Kaza from Rishikesh which is about 3 full days ride each way. Way further than our typical daily Kms covered.

Our hotel had two dogs. I called this cutie “our puppy”  because he would always sleep outside our door and come running to me.

After one disappointing Tourist dinner we choose to find a totally local place to eat dinner on our second night in Kaza. We narrowed it down to two places along the Main Bazaar pedestrian road. Behind a nondescript storefront and behind a flag/banner doorway we made our way into a dimly lit room with 4 small tables, no view but a great savory aroma blowing in from the kitchen. No menus here but tonight everything was Mutton-based from Momos to a Tali plate. 2 Mutton Tali plates please!! Shortly later, our plates arrived with steaming rice, fresh cut cucumbers, whole chilis, chopped red onion and the Mother-of-all slow braised mutton with a very generous helping of heavy pan gravy. The ‘House of Mutton’ became the place’s quick nickname. 260 Rupees later we were in awe of the great quality of food for what equals about $3.60 US. Compare this to 500 Rupees for snacks earlier that day on a popular balcony or the same 500 for our previous Backpacker Special mixed veg dinner that wasn’t really very good at another popular place. BTW – All of names of these places are purposely withheld to protect the places we don’t care for but if any reader would like the directions to our favorites, don’t hesitate to write us!! Hotel Zangchuk where we stayed for five nights has a great staff lead by Manager, Ravinder and was really a great location… and we are happy to promote!

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Two huge smiles after realizing that we stumbled into one of our best meals in India.  We dubbed this place ‘House of Mutton (lamb).’

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Maybe not the best photo, but it represents our second night at ‘House of Mutton’ really well.   Giz watched on as I ran my fresh hot chappati through Mutton gravy.  Fresh onion, chili and cucumber accompany rice and chunks of meat.  All evidenced on this deck of cards that is looking worse for wear as it travels around the world with us.

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View tiny the right from our balcony with the monastery pointed out.  More photos of this colorful and beautiful building below.

Sunday morning we listened to the chanting and music drifting down from the Tibetan Buddhist Temple near us. It is so calming and peaceful here. It’s one of the few times in my life when my body and mind can completely come to a restful place.

Kaza Monastery as shown in the photos above.

View out from the monastery with prayer flags flying in the breeze.

Lacy: As Rob mentioned, reaching Kaza was a big accomplishment. It’s a landmark city for bikers in the Himalaya region as they complete the Spiti Valley loop. Since Kunzum Pass, the highest part of the loop we need to traverse in order to complete the circle, is still closed due to record snow this year we will not be making a full loop. It could be weeks before it opens. Instead, we used Kaza as a hub to take unbelievably gorgeous day trips around the area. We have two posts to follow this that are dedicated to each day’s ride. The ride to Langza was my FAVORITE of the entire trip.

I love the juxtaposition of this colorful stupa against the brown desert mountain.

Kaza is a nice town surrounded by the snow peaked Himalayas. It is 100% a tourist destination crammed with hotels of all levels, shops selling shawls and trinkets and restaurants advertising western food. What you won’t find is cell service for more than phone calls. And honestly, Rob and I have no use for phone calls here so we were pretty disconnected. Actually, we had been out of touch since we left Pooh. The Shed has unreliable WiFi that did nothing more than connect to WhatsApp and occasionally Facebook or Messenger. No ability to load any webpages and it was probably for the best. While we couldn’t stay up to date on the blog, it was nice to have a break from our phones. The intermittent electricity that is provided to the Himalayan area didn’t bother us either as we didn’t have much need for it except the occasional warm shower in the evening and charging the camera battery when we could. Mostly we just soaked in the scenery that we had so tirelessly been riding towards day after day.

We love to see what elevation we are in as we climb through the mountains.  At 12,330ft we are still 4,400 ft lower than the highest that we have ever been.  That was when we hiked across Tharong La Pass on the Annapurna Circuit last year.

By the time we reached Kaza we had really hit our stride again and were enjoying our time flying through the mountains of India on a Royal Enfield and fulfilling dreams for each of us. I was snapping tons of photos off the back of the bike and cracking jokes with Rob as we rode. We were passing more fully geared up bikers like ourselves on the roads and sharing thumbs up and waves as we rode by one another, spreading encouragement.

I went into the market one morning and bought Rob a gift to thank him for all his hard work on the motorcycle, even through being injured, and keeping us safe. He was completely surprised and loved the acknowledgement.

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