The Himalayan Dream
At an age when most of us are searching for the best pension schemes and shopping for comfortable rocking chairs, we planned to do what at that time seemed almost impossible.
I was 62 and my wife a few years younger and our plan was to do a motorcycle ride to Spiti Valley in the Himalayas.
Touring by motorcycle has been a passion for my wife and me for many years.
We are members of a biker’s forum called ‘xBhp’ who are based in Delhi and they promised to arrange a motorcycle for us at Delhi.
The first thing we did was to book non-refundable air tickets to Delhi and back. This would ensure we don’t change our minds at the last moment!
Finally, the D-day arrived. We had an early morning flight so that we would have enough time to collect the motorcycle and ride up to Jalandhar to meet our niece who lives there. By evening we arrived at Jalandhar.
The next morning all of us drove down to Amritsar to visit the magnificent Golden Temple and return back in the evening. We needed to catch up on some sleep and rest before the tough ride ahead.
Early next morning we embarked on a journey we will never forget! From Punjab, we rode through Chandigarh and into Himachal Pradesh.
Himachal surely has to be one of the most beautiful states in our country. We breathed in the cool fresh air and rode through roads flanked by oak, pine, fir and cedar trees and apple orchards rich with colourful and tempting apples.
We cannot travel for very long stretches in that region for more reasons than one. First of all, we just could not resist stopping often to admire the beautiful views. And secondly, we needed time to gradually acclimatise to the high altitude. By evening, we reached Solan and stopped our ride for the day.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast we continued our ride. We passed through the beautiful but crowded city of Shimla and through Kufri, Theog, Narkanda and Rampur to reach Jeori where a heavy downpour greeted us.
The weather in the mountains can be unpredictable and can change from bright sunshine to thunderstorms in a jiffy.
We checked into a hotel for the night and retired early. We know that we have reached the end of good roads and the most difficult stretches would begin the next day.
We woke up to a bright and sunny morning. It was the end of good roads and from there it was narrow, gravel-covered roads. Often we had to cross streams created by melting snow which made the road slushy and at my age, with a pillion carrying a haversack and saddlebags on the bike, it took all my resolve to keep the bike upright. Often there were landslides and we had to wait for it to be cleared before we could ride through.
The Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which takes care of the roads in that region, needs to be saluted for the amazing work they do under such harsh conditions.
The going was slow. As we climbed higher, the low oxygen levels can leave you panting. And then there are the breathtaking views! How could anyone rush through those magnificent mountains without pausing often to admire?
By evening we reached a small hamlet called Nako and checked into a homestay for the night. After dinner, we curled up under eight-inch thick quilts. It was only October and already freezing.
As we dozed off, we realised we were finally living our Himalayan dream.
The next morning after breakfast we set off again. We were already at an altitude of nearly 12,000 feet and still climbing. Most of the roads were not only narrow and rough but totally isolated. We would sometimes travel 20 to 30 km without meeting a soul. The isolation was unnerving at times, more so when you are flanked by the towering, snow-capped mountains.
By late afternoon we reached Kaza, the largest settlement and also the district headquarters of Spiti Valley. After miles and miles of isolation, it was a pleasure to see an ATM and a petrol bunk! Nestled among the mighty Himalayas, this was to be our home for the next few days.
The next morning we rode to explore the Key Monastery, which is 1000 years old and also the largest in the valley. From there we rode up to Kibber, which is the highest motorable village in the world. Beyond Kibber is Tibet.
At 14,500 feet, we were literally gasping for breath but the surreal beauty of the region took our breath away.
Spiti Valley is not just a region, it is truly another world. We had met the warmest of people in one the coldest and harshest of regions.
After saying goodbye to our new found friends, we left for Manali.
The crowded streets of Manali and Kullu full of boisterous holiday-makers were almost like a culture shock to us after the peaceful serenity of the valley and the smooth highways of the plains were boring after the testing, bone-jarring ride on non-existent roads.
After a stopover at Kurukshetra, we rode back to Delhi to catch our flight to Bengaluru.
Ravi Shankar and Juliana Shankar
(They can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)