Motorbiking Two Up In North India: Kaza to Pinn Valley

Himalayan sunset in Pinn Valley

Lacy: We attempted to leave Kaza the day after we rode to Langza, spending our first five hours of the day waiting at the one petrol station in town because they ran out the night before. Surprisingly, this didn’t really bother us. Having had such a great time enjoying the town of Kaza over the past few days, the surrounding scenery and the people in it we just hung out with one another and made the best of it. We queued up in line to top off the tank before heading to Pinn Valley. This was a record snow year and Kunzum Pass isn’t open yet. For every five people you ask you get seven responses as to when it will open. At 15,000+ft the Border Roads Organization who maintains the road says there is simply still too much snow to allow vehicles to pass through. That being the case we need to retrace our steps south as it’s the only other way out of this region. Fortunately, it’s a beautiful ride and we have a rear brake now so we can go some places we simply couldn’t ride before with the condition of the bike. There were moments of sheer panic and fear riding without a rear brake and being unable to have it fixed without traveling further to find a mechanic who had the right parts. Believe me, we tried. Thank god that’s over.

Somewhere around 5:30pm that same day I was waiting for Rob at the Travelers Shed while he checked again to see if the petrol delivery had arrived in town. We had given up waiting around at the station several hours prior, had lunch and checked back into the same hotel room we had just checked out of that morning. Being late afternoon and uncertain if petrol would even arrive today we decided to stay in Kaza one more night. It should be noted though that we witnessed another unbelievable display of impatience, public screaming, fighting and what is hard to ignore as anything but extremely rude behavior when the diesel delivery trucks arrived. People went nuts. There were two trucks full of diesel and plenty to go around, but people still needed to cut in front of one another, call each other liars about where they were in line and have the local police involved. While we were entertained, I was also disgusted. Other Indian tourists who were waiting for petrol like we were could also be seen wide-eyed in disbelief, especially the group of bikers. The motorcycles all needed petrol v. diesel and the riders had total comradery among one another versus the very selfish attitude seen by people in any diesel cars (the majority of cars in India), tourist vans, buses, 4x4s etc. Men screaming in women’s faces in public with a crowd of people watching. That would be a real scene in America. Here, it’s another day. I had this stupid idea that India, the birthplace of yoga, would be a place where people were genuinely kind and compassionate towards one another. Instead, I am seeing some of the worst parts of humanity as we travel through this country. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just a numbers game. India has a population of over ONE BILLION.  Think about that – it’s 1/7 of the entire world’s population. So, I wonder if that means we are just more prone to see the entire spectrum of human behavior here. Or maybe a combination of that and the areas of India we have been traveling in.

I love this photo because it shows scale.  You have the tiny village surrounded by  these beautiful massive mountains 

Anyway, I digress from meeting Rob at the Travelers Shed where I was killing time. He arrived with a tank full of petrol and happy as a clam, but unfortunately I had to relay that I wasn’t feeling well and it may have been the lassi I just drank. It only took as long as the walk to the bike for my stomach to cramp up and fear set in. On the short ride back to the hotel I told Rob I was nervous because my food poisoning in Shimla began with stomach cramps. Well, it only gets worse from here and I’ll spare you all the details, but it’s enough to say that this bout of poisoning was twice as bad as the first. I spent hours upon hours throwing up and Rob lovingly took care of me all night. We had hoped to go to Pinn Valley the next day, but I was completely wrecked and exhausted to the point that Rob went to the local clinic and got me medicine. I slept nearly the entire day only waking to drink water, have some crackers and tell Rob that I was sick and tired of all the bullshit we were dealing with in this country and ready to get back to where we have some cell connection and get the hell out of here. Yes, the mountains are beautiful, but sometimes I have felt like this country is trying to kill us. Two terrible doses of food poisoning, way too many creepy guys to count (oh yeah, and the time a guy groped me while being a mere doorway apart from his wife and two year old son before outright asking to have an affair with me that I didn’t even discuss in the blog) and dealing with exhausting amounts of instances of people trying to swindle us. I like to think I have a pretty thick skin, especially when traveling, but India, as expected I suppose, has been the most mentally, physically and emotionally taxing travel we have embarked on thus far.

One thing that makes the ride through Pinn Valley so unique is that you can really see the geological impact in the area.  Everywhere you turn are millions of years of rock pressed into layers forming shapes in the mountains.  I have never seen anything to this degree for such a long stretch before.

But, like I said, there are extremes on both sides. While the good seems to sometimes be overshadowed by the bad I would be remiss if I made it sound like we are only suffering on this trip, albeit there are more difficult times here than anywhere else we have been. The most genuine and heartfelt moments have been with the locals in each village or town we have visited. Often we find ourselves in the dining room of our Himalayan hotel for the evening chatting with the owner and/or guys that run the place for the season and having really great conversations. We have learned that many of them will leave their hometowns and come to this area to work for the short season, sometimes leaving their wife and children behind. It’s always men working and we have only had positive experiences as we have gotten to share a little of our own lives with them and vice versa. Specific moments standout of the guys who really helped me and Rob when he sprained his leg. Always kind and even though they didn’t speak English well and our Hindi consists of a handful of words there was never a frustrated moment between us. In the same city I was absolutely taken aback by the four guys who stopped everything they were doing that morning to assist us after the motorcycle incident. That experience, honestly, set an example for me on how I could be a better person, give unselfishly to others and make sure I make strangers in my home country feel as welcome and supported as they did us. I’m still in awe of their graciousness to this day. That alone could be enough good, right? But there is more. Tanzin, who I mentioned earlier, really made us feel welcome again in India right when we needed it. Having never met us before, but being a friend of the guy who rented us the bike, we instantly felt at home with him because of his warm hospitality, great conversation and sincere interest in spending time with us while we were in Pooh. Again, the universe put us together with someone to lift our spirits right when we needed it. He too gave me insight as to how much of a difference small gestures can make to someone who is a foreigner in your home country. Rob and I both agreed that he is a really special person. There have been countless other moments where we have met people along our travels that made our hearts happy – oftentimes just when we needed a ‘pick me up’. The people we have met, well, you guessed it, have been at both extremes. And I am incredibly thankful for each positive interaction along the way that helped offset the ones that made me want to pack my bags and go.

Always riding on the edge of these mountains…makes for great views

The scenery of course is the creme de la creme and why we made this journey halfway across the world. Frolicking in the Himalayas this summer has been very fulfilling. Rob and I are travelers, adventure seekers. Not tourists. There is a big difference between the two because we don’t see ourselves as being on vacation. Travel and exploration is a lifestyle choice we have made at the expense of other luxuries we use to enjoy on a daily basis.

Again, in this photo, you can see a village dwarfed by the mountains.  The mountain also displays layers and formations from its violent history. 

Thank god, after a full day of rest in Kaza, I was ready to head to Pinn Valley. Well, more ready than not. The road was quite bumpy and each bump initiated a pain in my stomach where it was still healing from intense cramps the past day and a half. The ride was pretty uncomfortable and I’ll admit I wasn’t in the best mood, but yet again, the mountains and scenery I was surrounded by took me out of my own and head and body and into a state of wonder. By the time we settled into our place for the evening in Mud, the last village in Pinn Valley, had some lunch and rested a while I was back to myself. An evening of playing cards in the dining room and getting to know the guys who ran the place was just what the doctor ordered. Not even the mouse that decided to join us in our room that night was a bother. Actually, his waking me up gave me the opportunity to step outside at 3am and see the stars and the Milky Way in the most magnificent way.  Being such a small village tucked away at the end of the valley it is soooo dark in Mud and made for perhaps the best star viewing of the entire trip.

Rob: On any long trek be it backpacking, car road trip or a motorcycle trip, one of my goals is to never look behind me and always continue moving forward no matter how difficult the journey has been to that point. At Kaza, we reached the top of the loop we had been planning for and battling to reach for the last 4 weeks. Unfortunately, for us and many others, the mountain pass that would take us out the opposite side of the Spiti Valley has not opened yet and is still buried under 20+ feet of snow and ice. This means for us to complete as much of our Spiti Valley Loop as possible, we would have to now backtrack from Kaza and make our way up the opposite side of our planned circular loop. Our first stop would actually be another day trip to a perpendicular valley named after the Pinn River.

It was more of a ride for a day in and a day out, stopping for the night at the end point of a long narrow river valley that dead ended into a spectacular view of high mountains and mini glaciers converging on the little town of Mud (pronounced “mood”). The road was once again mostly a bone and teeth rattling single lane that had never in its life been more than rocks pounded into dirt and clay.

Another village in Pinn Valley

The ride along the wide flat river was captivating. One of the things I find most fascinating about the high altitude river valleys is the rivers themselves. Let’s call them “weaving rivers” for fun. They are wide and flat at this time of the season. What happens is that they hit little diversions on a flat plane to split the main flow apart. Sometimes into 5-6 different streams. As they make their individual way down the wide riverbeds of rounded stones and silt, they split apart, re-converge, cause one another to change course, make “X”s, “Y”s forwards and backwards often braiding themselves together and then apart again. As you ride along side these natural weaving water sculptures they can hold your attention for hours.

All across Asia and in the subcontinent of India terracing along the river valley hillsides can be simply functional for farming or artistic and beautifully laid out by a combination of manmade and natural contours of the land. I know in some places that rice fields are sectioned by family or land ownership and have remained in spider web patterns for hundreds of years. Here in Pinn Valley we see these paisley or amoeba shaped terraces alongside the rivers just outside the villages and wonder what gives them their random yet artfully puzzled together looking shapes. Is it heritage, tradition of the region, family ownership or are they simply divided by the maximum possible irrigation capacity??

When we reached Mud, I realized why people trekked so far out into this oneway river valley. The view was pretty amazing. The tea and hospitality at our very simple accommodation was very welcomed after another long day on the bike. Everything was quaint but very, very basic as you could tell this little village was expanding from being historically shepherding and farming to 5-6 additional Homestay locations for travelers spending the night like us. Even the little mouse that futilely searched our room for food for several hours in the middle of the night seemed to be par for my expectations in Mud so I didn’t really mind. Although she truly took it in stride, Lacy wasn’t very happy that the mouse seemed to keep popping up on her nightstand. I would have been too, but he seemed to leave my side of the room alone.

Leaving the little village in the morning, we saw a small herd of the black and white furry Cow / Yak hybrid Chur animals being lead through town. I thought to myself that if I was a Chur in my next life, this wouldn’t be a bad place to live.

Leaving Mud.  I like this photo because there are stacks of bricks all around Rob.  No matter where we have been in India they are always making bricks and piling them on the side of the road or in trucks.  This photo captures a little bit of everything – Rob on the bike, the scenery, the unpaved road, and the constant presence of bricks.



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