Motorbiking Two Up in North India: Kalpa to Sangla with a stop in Chitkul

Check out a short video of the road to Chitkul

The Road to Chitkul

Prayer flags adorn the bridge

The road to Chitkul is paved with beauty

We depart Kalpa early in the morning. This can be a real feat for us, but since the sun is fully up at 5:30am that helps us out of our warm comfy beds. Our intention is to enjoy the ride today in the best weather-window possible.  The region’s monsoon season isn’t until July, but grey skies and rain showers can roll in strongly during mid afternoons these days. It’s sunny and bright as we retrace a few kilometers backward to take an out-and-back split off toward the little hamlet of Chitkul. This road ends at an impassable mountain range that forms a portion of the India/Tibet boarder. We top off the gas tank as full as possible just before the split as it will be the only station we will come across until we return back here in a few days time. The Sangla-Chitkul Rd climbs higher out of the foothills and follows the Baspa River as it flows down from year-long snow topped mountains on each side.

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A herd of sheep we saw on the way out of Kalpa. I think they are marked for sale at the market.

The road is a mix of very old asphalt pavement remnants filled in with gravel and dirt to make about a 50/50 average mix of each over the total length of the road. The further you get up from the valley, the more it turns totally into a rock and dirt road. On several parts of the road that hug tightly to the side of the mountain, the road is literally carved into the side of the mountain to make a 3 sided, C-shaped tunnel in the rock. As the area has gained traffic over the years and larger and larger trucks and busses are needed, the side and roof of the road are simply tunneled out wider and higher. The Royal Beast is handling the very bumpy road pretty well but after 4 hours of road time today, we are sure to be a little saddle sore. There aren’t many vehicles out today but the road is so narrow that we get stuck at several impasses where a local bus has met face-to-face with a car and therefore the Indian mountain-pass standoff begins. Even a row of three 4×4 trucks loses to the bus. Lots of horns, arm waving, persuasive yelling and posturing results in the smaller vehicles giving way and reversing to an area where the bus can pass. I guess the bigger you are, the more right of way you have. Yielding sometimes comes within just inches of rock road away from deep sheer drop offs. If there isn’t a 2-3 foot wide motorcycle lane to wiggle through, we have to wait with everyone else.

Just outside of Chitkul we stop at an Army checkpoint to show our Inner-Line Permit and have all our passport info recorded. Just 5 more Km to our destination and the first real place for us to take a break today. We sit on the outside deck of the last Cafe in the “Last Village in India” or so a tourist sign says. Indeed we are a few hundred meters from where the road dead-ends into nature’s vertical rock and snow barrier with Tibet. Some local coffee with frothed fresh milk and sugar is just the right welcome we were looking for. We were at about 11,320 ft and enjoyed our view from just above the tree line up into the cold high desert mountains.

This scenery looks like a postcard!

Apple orchards aplenty along the Sangla-Chitkul road

Impossible to take our eyes off this view as we enjoyed our coffees in Chitkul.

A short walk uphill into the living portion of the town reveals timber framed homes cobbled side by side up the main stone path of the village and an amazing carved wooden Temple complex. In this area of the Himalayas the lines between Hinduism and Buddhism are blurred. Hindi deities are represented along side traditional Buddhist prayer and meditation spaces. Buddhist prayer wheels are placed along public paths and prayer flags fly over Hindi offerings. Here we have also become enamored with an architectural feature that we have only seen once previously. Intricately carved and turned wooden dowels are fashioned into a fringe that hangs down from all of the rooftop edges of the Temple, several of the buildings and a ceremonial platform. They are attached in a way that they move with the breeze exactly as if they were made of string or tassels. They don’t make a sound but move in harmony to one another as the cool winds move through the Temple grounds. One of the sights that always makes me smile in Buddhist regions is when I notice a small stream diversion over to a little wooden structure. The water enters one side of the short little wooden structure situated beside the cascading water so it flows under and out the other side. The water will turn a horizontal paddle wheel that will then perpetually turn a prayer wheel of blessings for the village before the water is channeled back to it’s source.

Temple complex in Chitkul

Carved wood with the dowels hanging from the roof

After a quiet and peaceful visit to this beautiful and remote village of Chitkul in its high arid desert valley, we hopped back on our faithful single cylinder thumper for the ride back to Sangla which will be our home base for a few more days. We settle ourselves in a cute little hotel which was a former farmhouse in an apple orchard. The young men who work at the Hotel Prakash are helpful, attentive and accommodating to we Americans who may only make up 2-3% of the guests here with the majority being family groups from the larger cities in India coming up to the mountains to escape a little of the summer heat further south. The spicy Dal dishes, murgh (chicken) tika and rice preparations are warm in our bellies and washed down with a little whiskey and Pepsi that Lacy procured in town. Lacy has made a new friend in the owner of a small restaurant in the market serving Tibetan and local Indian cuisine. She has treated us to some amazing Thukpa and Thentuk soups, 3 inch thick Tibetan pancakes and freshly made gnocchi slathered in a simple tomato curry and spices that heats your soul. Tonight she brought home a Gobi (cauliflower) curry and Dal Bhat that is so much a comfort food for us. All of her food is pretty amazing: fresh, deep with spice and very rich at the same time.

Time to leave Chitkul and return to Sangla

The view from the eatery where we have been getting delicious homemade Tibetan and Indian food from our new friend.

As in much of rural India that we have experienced so far, smiles and waves abound from children, young families, older couples, village dogs and sacred cows. The offers to help us, whatever the situation, are truly genuine. The people of Sangla have touched our hearts.

This photo was taken at the gas station where the buckets are filled with sand for fire protection should there be a gas fire…

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.

Motorbiking Two Up In North India: Pooh to Nako

Nako

Rob: Looking out from the terrace of the OM Hotel and after we had someone  good strong coffees and an egg stuffed paratha for breakfast, it was time to saddle up the Royal Beast and aim further north to Nako.

It was a beautiful and cloudless day for a ride in the Himalayas and also one of the key reasons Lacy lugged her big heavy camera along our trip this season. We switchbacked our way down from the side of the mountain to rejoin one of the main roads that paralleled the Sutlej River. A river that over an immense timeframe, at this elevation, has created some truly severe canyons in the arid high desert mountains. Calculated irrigation makes for beautiful apple, cherry, apricot and almond orchards terraced into the canyon walls but otherwise the land barely supports seasonal grasslands, sagebrush and tiny scrub pines. A few mountain goats and sheep have replaced wandering cows the further we have climbed in elevation.

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So, in a terrible turn of events the memory card that I used to take photos throughout what is one of the most gorgeous rides we have experienced is giving me an error message and I can’t get the photos off of it!! So frustrating because I snapped a ton of photos.  Pooh to Nako is when the high desert mountains and the snow covered Himalayas are married in the landscape and it is breath taking.  I may have to wait until we are home to recover the photos.  Good news is we snapped this photo on the phone when we stopped for a drink immediately before Nako.  Once in Nako I replaced the memory card with my backup card and we were full steam ahead again…minus the photos from this stunning ride.

The paved road feels good under the tires as we blow by small towns and Army Stations on twisty roads heading north. It is a very relaxing change from our previous segment when every inch of road was a battle. It’s a dream to be in 4th or 5th gear. We were really enjoying the ride through this part of the countryside.

We had mostly climbed above the tree line now, not that many trees could grow on the sheer rock faces and jagged cliff edges as we began to enter the Spiti Valley area. Dramatic cliff-sides of sharp stone framed our view in all directions. The bike was echoing Royal Enfield tunes inside the facing rock walls. We both commented how small we felt here because everything else seemed to be supersized.

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This sticker wall makes up the facade of the building we stopped at for a refreshing beverage during the ride.  I love seeing all the stickers placed around establishments as we travel.  Rob and I comment that we should have a Modern Gypsy decal made before our next adventure.

We cross the river in a very narrow part of the canyon on a one lane bridge and the landscape begins to change. We now start to climb even higher through long steady switchbacks. The canyon walls open to a wide vista of valleys and mountains ahead. Our reasonably good road has turned to only crushed limestone and very fine sand. Switchback after switchback we climb very slowly and carefully. The rock is very loose and the sand so fine that the steering becomes incredibly heavy as our skinny front tire sinks in the sand and jerks every which way from the rocks.

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This sign speaks volumes to me.

Just as my brain had begun to swell from the taxation of the ride up, we finished our climb to a spectacular view. Not just the mountains as far as you can see into Tibet, but sweet beautiful fresh pavement ahead. I could hear the Angels singing and the Monks chanting.

The next hours ride was as nice as the first except I wanted to stop and take pictures every 100m. Lacy calls it her National Geographic Photographer’s position where she is shooting from a perch off the back of the bike as I slow for her to get the money shots. Some for you and the blog but mostly for us to remember this amazingly picturesque portion of the ride. Neither of us have ever seen this far reaching a view across layers of white mountaintops.

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Tandoori chicken, naan and cocktails to complete a great day…all while looking at this view…

img_2447Nako Lake makes up for its lack of size by being extremely high up in the mountains and in such a beautiful setting. The little village of Nako encircles the football field sized lake itself. Tanzin, our amazing host from Pooh, had called ahead to his friend Shanta, who runs a guesthouse and outdoor tent glamping resort in Nako. While we stayed in the budget oriented guesthouse for just 1,000 rupees, we ate like King & Queen at the resort area. Under a parachute canopy, overlooking the town lake and into the vast snow covered mountains, we relaxed with hand made lime, sugar and soda drinks from the restaurant. Lacy expertly spiked them with some Indian whiskey we had purchased just outside the town. Our whole cut up chicken was presented still smoking and steaming from the Tandoori oven’s blast furnace. The herb and heat from the spice was perfectly complimented by fresh butter and garlic naan bread. We spent about 5x what we typically would for dinner and savored every bite with “tears of spice and joy”!

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The sunset…

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….over the magnificent Himalayan village of Nako.

We watched the sun set, patted our full bellies, climbed down the hill to our room and said cheers a great day.

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Mani stones in Nako 

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Entrance to Nako Monastery

Lacy: Our intention leaving Pooh this morning was to return the following day to attend a huge Buddhist wedding Tanzin had invited us to.  We were really excited to have this opportunity, but as we began to climb the dirt and sand switchbacks to Pooh I leaned forward on the bike and asked Rob if we were going to be able to return safely on this road without a rear brake. Sadly, we both agreed it was not smart to come back without the bike being fixed and would need to heading forward to Kaza. We hoped we would see Tanzin again before leaving India because we didn’t really say goodbye, just see you later.

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Walking through Nako village

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Having coffee lakeside in front of our hotel before leaving to Tabo the next morning. 

Nickel cycled

Electricity shortages

Feeding my mountain heart

Importance of small gestures

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Leaving Nako. Definitely a highlight of the ride.

 

Motorbiking Two Up In North India: Nako to Tabo

This ride is HEAVEN

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALacy: As we prepare this post to publish we are sitting by a bonfire, listening to Indian music and staring down at the twinkling lights of Manali at 8,300 ft. The surrounding Himalayan mountains are illuminated by the moon light. This post is from June 3rd as we are still catching up on the blog from when we were out of service. Since then we have finished the breathtaking Spiti Valley loop. Manali is our last stop in India before returning the bike in Chandigarh and catching a flight out of Delhi. A flight to where is yet to be decided…😊

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We loved Tabo.  It’s a very small village surrounded around one of the oldest monasteries we have been to in which are the most beautiful interior Buddhist paintings we have ever seen.  We spent a lot of time walking inside by flashlight to see the art depicted on the walls before I sat to meditate in the prayer hall.  I have had the opportunity to meditate in some very special places here in India.

Rob: The road today was good, but the wind, from time to time, was strong enough to move us over a foot or 2 while riding along. It made the sound that goes along with our GoPro videos something in between unintelligible and a rock crusher. We had to keep our riding bandanas up tight over most of our faces today to protect against so much dust.

We are captivated by this high desert Himalayan landscape

Other than the occasional wild wind bursts, it was a nice ride as we followed river valley roads again and crossed through several lower mountain passes and alongside miles of orchards. Small villages along the way proudly displayed their welcome signs with populations ranging from 31 to 300. In between these villages that began and ended with apple and apricot trees lining the road, the high desert valley stretched out far in front of us. The road was dotted with a few cars, tourist vans and small groups of bikers making their way north just like we were. We have been asked a few times where the rest of our group is which gave us the chance to explain our un-pressured and unplanned journey, apart from the base loop that we were all making, through this section of the Himalayas.

Notice the road on the bottom left of the photo.  We are riding on the edges of the mountains and feeling free.

29CEE928-C0FA-485F-BBF4-12A387E76710.jpegWe made it to Tabo in the latter part of the afternoon with plenty of time to walk around Tabo Monastery grounds, have some tea and settle on a place to spend the night.

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We really love the contrast of the patches of green against dry desert mountains.

When we checked into our room and the hotel manager brought a candle and saucer in for us, we guessed it meant that it might be awhile before the electricity turned on tonight.

The older Tabo Monastery

Turning prayer wheels at the new stupa near the new monastery in Tabo.

We had a great view of the local orchards and the Temple complex which makes up about 1/3 of the little village. Lacy picked up some tiny local limes, sugar and soda to go with our whiskey to make our own little cocktail hour like we had yesterday.

A second stupa.  I find stupas to be really beautiful.

We woke to a beautiful view again, had some horrible instant coffee and went back to visit the Temple. It has seen over 1,000 years of continual use as a Temple and teaching center for the Monks living and studying at the Monastery here. We entered the temple through its low doorway and after our eyes became more acclimated to the loss of light, began to marvel at the painted walls and ceilings. Almost all of the paintings remained as original frescos into the plaster walls. Only a little darkened by time, they still made us catch our breath. The Temple itself was cool and dry inside. The 20ft walls were very dimly lit from small louvered sunlights. All of the walls and ceilings were completely covered with depictions of Deities, many smiling Buddhas, storyboards and writings. Vibrantly painted statues of more Deities lined the main chamber. Meditation and prayer mats were laid out inside the central room for the faithful and visitors to pause and repeat daily mantras. It really is amazing that we can simply walk into these ancient Temples and feel the history, significance and spirituality of such a place.

This photo and the one below are from our balcony.  You can see a peek of snow covered mountain in the background and get scale of just how large the mountains look as they dwarf the monastery, stupa and local homes.

Motorbiking Two Up in North India: Sangla to Pooh

Rob: A 3-4 hour ride becomes a 10 hour endurance test of mind and body.

Setting off from Sangla this morning we stopped by the doctor again, shoved samosas in our faces for breakfast, took a deep breath and began the journey.  I like how this photo just so happens to be in front of a truck carrying bricks because there are bricks being made everywhere we have been in India – sides of road, in town and it is just as much a part of the surroundings as the mountains.

This was our most difficult day on the big thumping Royal Beast so far. Coming down from the Sangla Valley was a challenge on the rough sandy road without having a rear brake. I didn’t notice how difficult the ride was as we were chugging up the 3,000 feet or so of elevation that we were now descending. We are simply too heavy with the 500cc bike, gear bags and 2 up for the sole single disk front brake. Lacy had to hop off the back of the bike on a sandy downhill with no braking power or traction and also needed to bail off when we began sliding backwards at one point when we got stopped behind a bus on a sharp uphill climb.

Looking back on Sangla

It was also our longest day of traveling beginning mid-morning and arriving at our destination an hour or so after dark. In that time we overcame a number of “roadblocks”. Lacy persevered through government apathy to extend our Inner Line Permits in a record time of 1 1/2 hours overcoming the “service-charge” culture to get what is supposed to be a free extension. Then we spent two hours waiting out the bulldozer clearing and TNT blasting of a landslide that filled the road with house sized boulders. Here we stopped along side a great group of bikers from Delhi on their annual trip. Five guys all  in their Royal Enfield gear, kitted up RE Bullet bikes complete with matching Indian flags flying from the rear of their gear packs. It was great to chat with them about each of our trips and took the edge off some of the frustrations we’ve had along the way thus far. The road itself was heavily trafficked with seriously large construction and Army trucks, 4x4s, cars and motorcyclists like us. It was the toughest terrain so far as we battled and rattled along slowly in second gear picking the best line through rubble. My arms and shoulders burned from the constant attention needed to keep the front tire as straight as possible while riding along the edge of the cliffside. Most trucks and 4x4s gave us little to no room, blowing us to and over the edges of the drivable area often. Craggy carved-out rock wall to one side and sheer drop off to the churning river 1,000ft below on the other.

I found myself a shady spot on some rocks on the side of the road and was in pretty good spirits while waiting for the blast to clear.

We parked beside the other Royal Enfields in the backup for the blasting.  The benefit of being a motorcycle is that you can scoot to the front of the massive line that piles up on the mountain road.

At one point we came upon a 200m long wooden bridge that spanned one river as it met another. Without slowing much we headed across thinking that so many vehicles used this bridge daily so it must be pretty safe despite it’s ragged appearance. I’m glad I paid quick and close attention to the wood planks because the gaps in between them were big enough to trap our front wheel completely and where boards butted against each other, several spaces where they connected previously were simply missing altogether.

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Is this old wooden bridge adorned in prayer flags because you need to pray you don’t get your front tire stuck in one of the many gaping holes as you cross???

It was truly a battle of nerves and willpower as day turned to dusk on the canyon road and then quickly into a very very dark night. No moon. Taillights ahead showed us some of the future turns. With headlights blinding us, the trucks ground up suffocating dust and glare. Sometimes we had to just get as far to the edge as we dared and stop to let them pass by inches away while we held our breath from the dust, diesel exhaust and just our own nerves of not really knowing what was about to happen. Two of our three stream crossings today came at night with blind faith to what was below the surface of the water and how deep it would go before we came up the other side. One was fully up to my mid shin but the surprise was how cold the water was against my skin. We are in the foothills of the snow-covered Himalayan Mountains and even though we are in a canyon following alongside a river, we are still at 8,000-9,000 ft so I guess I shouldn’t have been so shocked at the ice cold wake-up call splashing against my legs.

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This and the photo below give you an idea of the dense traffic that was trying to move across the narrow mountain road after the blast cleared.  Bumper to bumper with a steep drop off to the river on one side (with no guardrail) and a rock mountainside on the other. Driving on this as night was a little less than fun.

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I shot this backwards over my head.  The car behind us would be right on our tail (as they always are) but it can’t get past truck next to it.  This scene is extremely common along the mountain roads.

Lacy, still the bestest, cutest navigatress on earth, finally announced the upcoming turn that would begin our climb to the town of Pooh. Just less than a dozen switchbacks and 3km away from turning the bike’s key off for the day. I hoped I had just enough mental strength left in me to reach our hotel at the top of the last climb in total darkness. Lit by minimal light from our dust covered headlight we made our way into the main part of the town. Almost as soon as we saw the sign for the OM Hotel, we also heard voices calling our names. Lacy hopped off the bike to let me maneuver better. We quickly shook hands with our host and parked the bike for the night.

Switchbacks from NH 5 to Pooh – the homestretch.  This photo was taken on the way of Pooh as when we arrived it was pitch black.

Pooh clings to the cliff side of dramatically angled canyon. We could hear the rushing river far below us. The small white lights of Pooh and it’s sister villages dotted the mountainside. Stars, Venus and red twinkling Mars above us. I knew higher mountains surrounded us but they would wait until sunrise to reveal themselves. Without a moon and in such a steep and narrow canyon, it was the blackest night we had seen for some time.

The next morning we were feeling ourselves again after being welcomed Tanzin to his beautiful Om Hotel.  This view from the terrace (and our balcony below) made us feel like tiny ants among the massive mountains.

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Our once dreadfully dirty riding clothes that we washed out are drying on the deck while we play cards, eat breakfast and enjoy the last bit of cellular service we will have for two weeks.

Tanzin, our host, had a table set up for us on his large rooftop patio, lounge and restaurant.  After cleaning off as much dust and dirt of ourselves as we could in a hurry we joined him for some amazing Arak made by his aunt from his family’s local apple orchard. A pretty potent apple based moonshine. It was a great way to end a tiring day with spirited conversation and great food from his kitchen. Chili chicken, spicy Dal and Roti was washed down with more Arak and all shared tales of our past, present and future travels. Tanzin’s warm welcome was, well … very welcomed and truly appreciated.

Our room is on the Eastern corner of his family home turned into a hotel. I awoke with all the windows and drapes wide open to see the soft blue light of the sunrise on the snowy Himalayas. Another great reward for our efforts getting here.

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Lacy: To say that today, our first day back on the bike after nursing Rob’s sprained ankle, was the most nerve-racking, tense and dangerous feeling day I have ever had on a motorcycle would sum it up pretty accurately. To be clear, neither one of us would take the risk of getting back on the bike without feeling 100% comfortable with Rob’s ability to ride, but having just had an “incident” and still being without a rear brake in addition to knowing we had to go back out of Sangla on a dirt road on the side of a mountain with aggressive drivers and ya da ya da we could each feel how tense the other was as soon as we embarked on the day’s journey. I may not have taken a breath for the first hour. Getting our Inner Line Permit extension in Reckong Peo so that we could enter Kaza was yet another moment of wanting to tear my hair out as I had to bite my tongue and be quietly persistent to have our permit extended. We were told that it could easily be done once we showed the X-ray of Rob’s foot and if it hadn’t been for one sweet soul in the office who wanted to help us by doing the right thing we would have been turned away to pay the bribe around the corner again. No one wanted to do the very job they are employed to do unless they got a kickback. At the end of the process I looked the man who helped me in the eyes and told him I appreciated his help and kindness. And with that we unknowingly set off on the most gut wrenching part of our ride. Being stuck for two hours on the road for the blast clearing wasn’t so bad, however the fact that it set us back to being stuck in a ridiculous amount of bumper to bumper aggressive Indian traffic on the side of a sheer drop off on the side of a mountain in the dark was unbelievably scary. Having to jump off the bike twice today while it was moving because the rear brake isn’t working was equally as scary. Hands down the most frightening day on a bike ever and Rob is my HERO for keeping us safe. I honestly am in awe of him. But let me tell you this – the universe gives you just what you need and arriving to Pooh into the warmth of Tanzin’s hospitality was just the uplift of spirit that was required. He is one a million and made a complicated and frustrating day all the worthwhile.

A beautiful pre-dawn blue washes over Pooh.

Motorbiking Two Up in North India: An unanticipated extended stay in Sangla

Rob: If you have noticed a gap in our posts there a few reasons. As I write, we have been riding for the last 14 days and all is well. We have been writing a lot, eating everything in sight, drinking very good and very bad apple moonshine, visiting unbelievable Temples and making great new friends. The GoPro is full of amazing videos of the ride and Lacy has hundreds of pictures to sort through. For much of the time recently we have been without any reliable connectivity to our phone data or any WiFi. We are so far up in the mountains now that no phone service or WiFi is a normal way of life even in larger villages.

We did have a small motorcycle incident in Sangla in May 20th that sidetracked us for 11 days. We had been riding without a rear brake on the bike for the previous 3 days searching for a mechanic and available part. Each village we came to seemed to send us to the next. As we were set to leave Sangla we ventured down a little side road that was mostly paved but very steep and covered with sand. As we began to slide with the front brake locked up and beginning to gain speed, I choose to edge the bike into a brush and rock retaining wall versus continue to slide down or worse slide to the right which was a sheer drop off. The bike came out of the slide just fine, but Lacy and I both got twin skinned elbows and knees from the wall. My foot, however was pinched and badly sprained. It was immediately very painful having effected the same leg I had broken this last winter and is still in the process of healing. We received help from four amazing guys who lived below where we went down. They took me for X-rays at the local clinic, helped us get the bike off the slope and it and our gear to a hotel which all really helped lessen the blow from what was a small nightmare. Eleven days of our trip down the drain waiting for me to heal enough to ride. At least I had a pretty amazing view from our hotel window. The two young guys who seemingly worked 24 hours a day at the Hotel Prakash fed me lots of hot coffee and sweet yogurt Lassis. Lacy was my true hero by keeping my spirits up, letting me win at cards, following along as I watched old Storage Wars reruns and braving the stares at the local market to bring us home cooked food from the woman she made friends with in town, beers, sweets and even new matching comfy sweatpants. She made a shitty and painful situation bearable.

Lacy: Sangla, a valley nestled between towering Himalayan mountains and situated at an elevation of 8,900ft is a lovely place to spend an extended period of time. Riding on the motorcycle is an adventure all to itself here in India, but sometimes I long to stretch my legs and venture deeper into the scenery I am whizzing past. Fortunately, I was able to find a guide who was between multi-day hikes and would be able to accompany me into higher elevation. Rob and I agreed that he was going to need several days if not longer to heal and I should take advantage of the down time to hike while he rested. Trying to make the best of a shitty situation. We met at Hotel Prakash early in the morning, where Rob and I had practically moved into, before walking to the market where we purchased food for the journey. I have definitely taken notice when hiking with guides in Asia that there is far less emphasis on carrying lightweight food or gear. We are bringing a porter who will carry some of the food, along with Sadish, my guide. At home, when Rob and I venture on long distance hikes we are always extremely conscious of every ounce we put in our pack, food included, as we need to carry every little bit on our backs for days on end. For a two day hike I would easily eat energy bars, sandwiches and fruit, but didn’t complain that I was cooked hot meals with warm tea all over a heavy portable gas burning stove during this Himalayan hike. All part of a different experience.

From the market we began our ascent to Sangla Kanda which is an agricultural area above the village that is used during the summer. In winter there is far too much snow to live there comfortably. It was a beautiful walk through the village noticing the architecture of the homes and temples. Bittersweet it was as I wanted to share all of this with Rob. I knew he would appreciate every little thing right along with me, but was happy that I could go and come back and recount my adventures to him. I tried my hardest to remember all the things I saw along the way. After hiking several hours through apple, apricot and almond trees we set up camp in a meadow near a herd of cows that overlooked the lake and the snow covered mountains we would climb into the next morning to reach Rupin Pass.

What a campsite!

Saw lots of yaks and chur (a cow-Yak hybrid)

Hundreds of sheep grazing

Before dinner I was privilege to a superb view of the entire Sangla valley encompassing 15 villages, including where Rob resided and would later hear all about the yak, sheep, wild irises and strawberries, dwarf juniper and rhododendrons I had committed to memory for him. The temperature dropped that evening and I curled myself up tight in the sleeping bag to stay warm before waking at 5am to begin a full day hike at 6:30. It was another stunningly gorgeous Himalayan morning with blue skies and twittering birds. Shaking my sleepiness off, I came alive as I climbed the mountain and by the time we began to cross snowy paths I was fully alert. And it’s a good thing I was because this new terrain was challenging me. I haven’t had a ton of experience hiking in the snow. Mostly in the Sierras during our 2017 Pacific Crest Trail hike and I used crampons then. Now I just had the grip of my Salomon hiking shoes and a lot of expertise guidance from Sadish. In the beginning, my nerves were getting to me as we traversed snowy patches across steep drop-offs. I have slipped down snowbanks before and tried to push those thoughts out of my head and confidently move forward feeling safe as I hiked.

This is just a small piece of the snowy traverses. It rattled my nerves

The snow was taking a toll on my legs and making them more tired than they would be normally. After taking a break we hiked straight up the side of a snowy mountain. This really pushed me. I had only ever done something like this with crampons and certainly didn’t have the skills to feel confident about this ascent. Sadish was an excellent guide and taught me a technique to duck-walk up the mountain in just my shoes. Being a novice, this was still a difficult task for me to succeed in and eventually he pounded each step into the snow for me to follow behind him and held my hand (upon my nervous request) as we climbed up the snowy side. When we reached the top I dropped my pack, looked down from where we came and marveled at the fact that I was on the top side of the ridge. Wow. We continued forward toward Rupin Pass at 15,250 ft., but as it was beginning to snow and my pace was not nearly as quick in the snow we opted to only go as far as Base Camp.

Resting at Rupin Pass Base Camp as it begins to snow.

Sitting on a rock I watched other hikers come down from the Pass as I ate a buckwheat pancake and rested for the return to camp. Fortunately, I was feeling much more confident crossing the snow on the way back. Increased confidence, heading downhill v. up and being able to glissade (slide on my butt) down the same slope Sadish held my hand to climb up earlier made the return a little quicker. The snow, however, turned into rain and we were rather wet by the time we reached camp. Quickly packing up the tents we completed our hike back down to Sangla with the skies eventually clearing. Returning to the hotel at 6pm I rid myself of the sweaty, muddy clothes I donned the previous two days for my reward of a big fat smooch from Rob to complete my 11 1/2 hour hiking day. It was a wonderful time being in the mountains and soaking in a little more of India, witnessing the untouched beauty of the Himalayan region that can’t be accessed by vehicle. Leaving only footprints and taking only photos and memories I was deeply satisfied.

Reachable by walking a few kilometers from the market area and through the local village is Bering Nag Temple. This is a Hindu temple that shares a complex with a Buddhist monastery. Seeing the two side by side, sharing the same space, exemplifies life in Sangla where the two religions coincide. The complex has four gates, one on each side, which I am told is to signify that the holy space remains open to everyone, regardless of faith. It’s truly one of the most beautiful temple spaces I have laid eyes on to date. The Tibetan wood carving, prayer flags blowing in the wind, pastel Buddhist paintings beside carved painted dragons, gates bearing Om, and prayer wheels all lay against the magnificent backdrop of the snow covered peaks and tall pine trees.

Even with all the good moments we have had in India it hasn’t been all momos and masala chai. We have been privy to some really heartwarming personal interactions with locals as well as some that are unsettling. We are traveling during the peak of the local Indian tourist season. School is out and families are coming by the truck loads (seriously) up to the mountains for a little R&R. We began to notice a few things about Indian tourists even as early as our flight here from Indonesia. Now, I want to preface before continuing any further and sounding like I am stereotyping, being judgmental or unfair in my assessments that these conclusions are all born from personal experience. Some of which has become a little trying and a bit of a turn off from the overall joy of being in India. We do like to keep this blog positive, but also real. And I think that being aware of some of these cultural differences between Americans (and perhaps others) and Indians can be useful when traveling here. It began on the flight here when we noticed the flight attendants becoming increasingly aggravated by the constant demands from Indian fliers. Without being able to even understand all of what was transpiring it was clear that there was far more drama than either of us had ever witnessed on a flight. We were a bit in awe, to be honest, and didn’t realize at the time that this was just a glimpse of what lay ahead as the plane touched down. We only started to notice the following as we began to be tourists alongside Indian tourists. One of the things you simply can’t ignore is the difference in what is “normal” behavior at a hotel. Much of what we see would get you kicked out of a hotel in America and after dealing with it for weeks we have become able to handle in our own ways. Hotel guests use the hallway as an extension of their room having extremely loud conversation at all hours of the pre-dawn and night, kids play ball against the walls and run up and down the halls buzzing the room service bells for each room. Room doors remain open where loud television news, conversations and more seep through the very thin walls of hotels. The acceptable volume is way above a typical traveling American is used to and is admittedly obnoxious at times. There seems to be very little consideration of other guests. Room service, an expensive luxury back home, is expected at every hotel here. For reasons we haven’t figured out yet, many people seem to prefer eating in their rooms versus in the public dining space. It’s extremely affordable to do so being as there is no additional fee compared to what is served in the hotel restaurant. Second to the very loud voices, often screaming, used by men and women in public spaces at all hours is the invasion of privacy. Let’s be clear, when you travel in Asia you should always expect to have little to no personal space. This is a fact of East v. West and is no longer a big deal for us. What is is the fact that grown men have repeatedly walked and creeped into our hotel room in an effort to, what we believe, is peep on me. Not once. Not twice. But almost half a dozen times. We have left the door unlocked several times for room service or when one of us is going in and out and inevitably a man comes into our room. It’s not an accident. They know their room. And ours is very obviously the last room in the hallway. We think it was because they saw me coming and going on my own as Rob has been laid up and thought I was a single lady. This combined with a lot of unwanted attention I received in town walking alone made it very difficult for me by the time we left Sangla. This wasn’t something I anticipated and it wore me down a bit, but Rob and I leaned on each other as we were each struggling in our ways, and decided to keep moving on our journey through Himachal Pradesh to continue our Himalayan experience.

We prepared many posts as we were with little to no service for nearly two weeks and have more Modern Gypsy Tales coming your way!

Motorbiking Two Up in North India: Shimla to Kalpa via Rampur Bushahr

img_2154Rob: 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.

We passed through hazy high desert and green terracing on our way out of Shimla.

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.

The Royal Beast prepares to leave Rampur with its newest addition of prayer flags.

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.

img_7546In 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.

The Kailash Kinnaur Himalayan mountain range view from the balcony.

Lacy is so excited she is like a little kid. Big camera. Little camera. Up stairs. Down stairs. It’s awesome to watch her.

One of the best views to enjoy coffee.

The Lochawa La Kang Buddhist Monastery was right below our hotel.  We heard the chanting rise to our windows each morning and evening.  It was wonderful.

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.

Whether morning or evening the view in Kalpa is sensational.

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.

I quickly made friends with many ladies and children who were visiting the temple for Lord Buddha’s birthday.

Buddha at Brelangi Monastery in Reckong Peo

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.

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Giz approved of Kalpa