Jul 1, 2009

On the way to Himachal 04/05/09
Our original plan was first to climb to Gangotri (the quickest & easiest way to escape from the heat of the plains), and then follow our Enfield route, of 7 years ago, through Rampur and Jalori pass to Manali.
But, after looking at the maps, Gal changed our plan: at Rampur, we’ll turn east, to the district of Kinnaur & Spiti. Then, we’ll just continue the loop, over Kunzum pass (4551m) and Rohtang pass (3980m) and down to Manali.

Cycling away from the Yatra, we enjoyed everything – the road, the landscape, the quiet; especially the lack of traffic & pollution, oh, and the business atmosphere!
We stopped at Purola, a small, live town on the way.
There was chicken tanduri! One of the restaurants served meat! We were truly out of the Yatra route! Half the men in town were drunk as well…

Kids bathing.
Beautiful old roofs.

Purola, in the morning mist.

אויר הרים צלול כיין, וריח אורנים


We stopped for food - the Indian version for Chowmein. We were about to leave when we noticed a cow, trying to reach a watermelon lying on the road, behind Rami's bike. It was a very stubborn (and probably hungry) cow. It took Rami more than 15 minutes to get rid of her...

Rami and the cow...

Wish i was here when it falls! Brave woman...

The more we entered HP (Himachal Pradesh), the vegetation became more lush, and more and more charas plants were growing everywhere.
We spent an evening in a deserted government guesthouse. This funny government guest houses, spread all around the country, beautifully located (on a river bank, a pass etc.) and extremely neglected (no running water, dirty) always remind Rami of the movie “The shining” with Jack Nicholson. We like these quiet, funny places.
After a short tour to an ancient temple, near a charas growing village (we had to cross the river over a beautiful, wooden bridge), we enjoyed the evening on our balcony, listening to the rain and the gushing river.

Our turn to be brave.

The next day, we reached Tiuni, one of our favorite shit-holes in India. It hadn’t changed at all in 7 years.
We took a room with a balcony, overlooking the vigorous Tons river. We rested there a day, Gal’s knee demanded it. Any sane tourist will laugh at us, but we love the place.

Tiuni, from above.
Hmmm... What are they doing?

A typical house in Tiuni (a relatively new one).
Kids playing in the Tons river.
Something is cooking.
Beautiful Tiuni.
Another bridge.
Washing the motorbike.
Gal, after throwing up.

Nice location for a village!
We love this cliff! Can you see the road on the other side?

Anyone with vertigo? Brave Gal!

A temple.

After 3 more days of up & down we reached the Satluj river, and the market town of Rampur. Gal will always remember it as the generator town of 7 years ago; now they have electricity – at least part of the evening.
We quicly found a room with a balcony, just above the river. Our neighbor was an English cycle-tourist named Steve.

Steve 10/06/09
Steve started cycling 2 days ago, near Shimla, and was headed to Kinnaur & Spiti, like us. We planned on resting a day (since Rishikesh we had no easy days), but were glad for some company; we haven’t cycled with others since north Chile, 4 months ago.
He was a typical polite English-man, but loosened up quickly.
We enjoyed a hot evening, drinking beer, at our balcony, listening to the Satlug flowing.

The Satlug river.
Nice road!

Hot spring 11/06/09
Since the hot spring in Gangnani, Gal was enthusiastic about finding another endless hot shower. Our guide book mentioned hot springs near villages, just before the turn-off to Sangla valley.
It seemed like a good destination for the night. So, after a magnificent cycling day, on the cliffs high above the Satlug, and 20km of a muddy, industrial stretch (construction of a dam), we reached Tapri, a small shit-hole, that due to the dam, grew in to a bigger shit-hole. We found ourselves sleeping in a surprisingly clean dormitory.
There was no running water in the village, and the water truck arrives in the mornings. But – there are the hot springs! Our sweaty, tired bodies will enjoy that. We tried asking for directions, but got again and again a confused, uncertain look. Finally, equipped with our flip-flops, clean cloths, shampoo & soap, we headed off to the hot springs, 15 minutes away, on the dusty main road.
We reached a small wall, forming a small roofless shower. Hot water was running out of a hose. 2 truck drivers were taking a shower.
We were quit disappointed, hoping for something more luxurious than a hole in the wall with piss coming out of it, while trucks pick up dust as they pass, but, at least we were clean…

While packing our stuff, in the morning, getting ready for departing, the water trucks arrived, and everybody in the village was running up & down the steep stairs & allies, carrying water to the houses.

Traffic jams.
& Gal.
Find Gal...
2 very small cyclist on a very high cliff.

What are they trying to do?

Sangla valley 12/06/09
After another hour of cycling through the muddy construction site, we left the main highway to a small, relaxed road, entering the Sangla valley. Steve persuaded us to make this short detour (2 easy days up, 2,500m, one day down).
The valley became greener as we climbed; an extreme contrast to the dry Satlug valley.
On the way up we visited a welcoming baba, whom Steve met at Tapri, the previous night. He invited us for coffee and fruit.

The entrance to Sangla valley.
Rami & Steve.
Problems with our improvised 'Ortlieb' camera bag.

The hat woman, looking down from our room in Sangla.

Typical Kinnaur roof.


Chitkul (3,450m), the last inhabited village near the Indo-Tibet border, is one of the more charming villages we’ve seen (if you ignore the 3 concrete hotels and shops); spread on a hill, surrounded by high mountains, with it’s traditional houses, seems as if nothing have changed in the last 500 years.
Gal easily persuaded us to stay another day; it was raining anyway.
When we left, back down to the Satlug, all the mountains were covered with fresh snow.

Nothing have changed... the mill!

Good weather.
Watching the cricket game.
Fresh snow.
A magical village.

We'd go Down to the river
And into the river we'd dive
Oh down to the river we'd ride...


The temple of the friendly baba.

Down we go.

We wasted half a day in Reckong Peo (the capital of Kinnaur), on getting our “inner permites”. We enjoyed the live atmosphere of the small market town, the mutton curry and our last Tandoori Roti till Manali.
We left late and around 17:00 were caught by rain and hid in a small Dhaba. We were hungry and ordered everything she had. The rain wasn’t going anywhere, when Rami joked about sleeping in the tiny dhaba. The owner, Pushpar, a Nepali woman, understood our situation and invited us to sleep in her house, below the dhaba, near the Satlug.
The family gave us the storage room, to open our mattresses in, and left us, giving us privacy.
We quickly learned that the most friendly people in north India are the Nepalese.
In the morning, Steve insisted on paying for the night. We discussed it the previous night, and Rami said she’ll not accept money. Steve offered, and
Pushpar refused. He offered again, but she still refused. With time we learned to recognize people who only want to help, and sometimes even get insulted when offered money.

Reckong Peo.

Road workers camp.
Road workers.

With Pushpar, in the dhaba.
Resting in the shade.

We left the Satlug, which climbed into Tibet (China), and continued with the Spiti river, one of its Tributaries.

Good by Satlug (The cliffs are already China).
Climbing with the Spiti river.

That night we opened our tents in a tiny village, near a school. In this area, wild camping is almost impossible. In India in general: if there’s water – there is a village.


The Spiti valley.

The next day we arrived to Nako, the first village on the “must” tourist’s list, or, as Rami calls is – “the Israeli salad route”. At the entrance to the village were 4-5 concrete hotels, with all the standard facilities (well, running hot water is not so standard). Rami was getting grumpy. Behind, hid a charming village. Rami even found fresh cow milk for chai.
The following day, we reached Tabo, another “must”. Gal and Rami were fighting, probably because of Rami’s lack of enthusiasm for cycling in India; he was even talking about skipping the Manali-Leh journey. We were also fighting about Gal’s cigarettes. Steve decided to continue and let us settle our problems. We stayed another day in Tabo, while Steve continued. We hoped to meet in Manali, or later on, but unfortunately, we missed each other.

A monastery.

Another monastery.

Kaza 22/06/09
We reached Kaza, the district capital, after a short cycling day. You couldn’t really call it a town, but it was a refreshing change from the standard, quiet, Spitian village. It’s tiny market had everything, even a German (Nepali) bakery. We havn’t seen such variety since Reckong Peo.
2 days earlier, in Tabo, we met O.D., a French cyclist who fell from a flight of stairs and hurt her hand (nothing to do with the bicycles). She was waiting for an X-ray in “the capital” and told us that Kaza didn’t have electricity for a month! Luckily, the problem was fixed a day before our arrival, so we enjoyed boiling hot shower in the freezing evening. For a moment we wondered if the locals have boilers as well.
We decided to stay another day, make a short trip to the nearby gompa.
It was funny, we were moving at the same pace as the ‘wave’ of travelers, motorcyclists, jeep renters, or those who bravely traveled in the local transportation ("I did Spiti in locals!!!”).

Building the camp.


Climbing to the pass.
A look back.

Lahul 26/06/09
After some time in the mountains without a serious pass, we finally reached Kunzum La (4551m). Coming from Spiti, the views from the pass to the enormous glaciers were breathtaking. We descended on the ‘rivery’ road to the Chandra valley.

There is nothing better than the relief of reaching the pass..

Going down, the other side.

Chandra Tal
Despite Gal’s terrible cough and never ending diarrhea, we turned north, on a terrible road towards Chandra Tal (Chandra lake), 14km away. After climbing the pass, these 14 km were a lot. While crossing a big river (in the afternoon all the meltdown arrives), Rami lost one of his flip-flops. We bought them in Argentina, 3 months ago, and Rami was only semi-attached to them, but still, he was getting grumpy…

We reached the end of the road after sunset. The lake was 50m below us. Taking down all the gear + bikes on the narrow trail was too much for Rami. There were also drunk, noisy Indian tourists down there. We opened our tent near a small rock shelter, where we cooked, hiding from the wind (it can get really cold at 4,300m, surrounded by glaciers, in an open area, without protection from the strong winds).
Despite the difficulties, we had magnificent scenery today.

Gal, in the toilets...
hmmm... no bridge...
hmmm... no flip-flop.

The next morning we walked around with our morning chai. We found a small lagoon, just above the lake. We fell in love with the views, moved our tent there and stayed the day. Despite Gal’s diarrhea and the difficult weather (strong winds, hot & dry during the day, cold and dry at night, sudden storms), it was an amazing rest day (without the rest :-).

Chandra Tal.
Our lagoon.

Washing dishes.
A small storm coming?

Goodbye to this beautiful lake.

back, on the terrible, but beautiful road.

Last look back to the mountains..
More mountains ahead!

Yellow submarine 28/06/09
On our way back, we stopped early in Batal – 2 dhabas and a yellow submarine. We got the luxurious yellow submarine: a sort of old research cabin made of fiberglass – much better than sleeping in the crowded big tent with the suffocating kerosene fumes of the cooking.
Interesting statistic: 7 of the 9 people sleeping in the dhaba (there were only 2 dhabas) were Israelis (5 on Enfield motorcycles). The other 2 Indians were the motorcyclists friends of 2 Israeli girls.

We all live in a yellow submarine...

Batal - another nowhere with amazing views.

Company 29/06/09
Since last night, a silly white dog was trying to adopt us. When we left Batal, 7 dogs were escorting us.
The road was so bad, that the dogs could easily follow. When we reached Grampoo, on the Manali-Leh ‘highway’, 8 hours later, only one persistent dog was left. He earned our Thali leftovers!
Grampoo was 2 dhabas made of rocks and tarp as roffs. Rami reserved a whole sleeping cabin, only for us (4 tiny bunks, the same rock walls and plastic roof). 2 bunks were designated for our bikes and luggage. The dog slept all night at the entrance to our mansion, in the freezing rain, guarding us.

With our new family.
Nice road.

Big rocks.
Manali - 99km!!!! food!!! shower!!! apple crumble!!!

Another small river to cross.
At least someone enjoys it.

Back to civilization 30/06/09
It was still dripping in the morning. We heard it all night, hitting the yellow tarp roof.
The 700m climb to Rothang (3978m) was easy. The road was better than we expected and far better than the road we just came from. There was traffic, trucks, something we forgot about, in the deserted roads of Kinnaur & Spiti.
In one moment, we returned to the Indian chaos – Rothang pass! Thousands of Indian tourists: families on short horse rides, honeymooners standing near yaks for romantic ‘snaps’ and groups of drunk men. The dog was lost and miserable. We stopped for some cookies and gave the dog the only eatable thing we had: Instant Maggi noodles. He ate it!
It started raining heavily. We started descending, fighting the traffic and sinking in the deep mud, cursing the Indians and their honking. Because of the rain and clouds we couldn’t see the beautiful valley below.
Frustrated and wet, we stopped at Marhi, a tourist stop, with dhabas and liquor shops. Gal’s shoulder suffered badly from the rough roads. Maybe it had something to do with her terrible cough in the last few days.
The government guesthouse wanted 1,000 rupees for a shitty room, without running water, but accepted 300 if we leave early. We still felt ripped off.
Another cyclist, climbing to Leh, spent the night in the government guesthouse. We gave our dog some old chapatti, but he didn’t touch it; the locals joked that he is used to eating mutton and drinking milk.

Back on the highway.
Some things we didn't miss.
Like the Indian mess.
Road workers.

The next morning we had better weather and we enjoyed the views as we descended. the road improved a lot, and the dog had no chance of keeping up. We stopped and waited many times and tried teaching him to shortcut the serpentines.
While passing through small villages, groups of dogs tried to attack him, but, again, he taught them not to mess with a mountain dog.
For us, it was an easy cycling day, 36km of paved downhill, but not for our dog. He was totally exhausted when we reached Manali.
We climbed to Old Manali, consistently cycling the terrible incline, cheered by stoned travelers.
We celebrated with 2 apple pies for us and old bread for our dog.

The Kullu valley.

Our poor dog, trying to keep up.