Manali to Shimla via Spiti (Solo Cycling) using Aspera by Kunal Bhave

As they say, best trips are never planned. Initially, I was planning for Manali Leh Cycling in September and if possible do Ladhak marathon.

On last movement (1 Aug 18 ) when my leave was approved I booked my tickets for 8th Aug evening for Delhi and from Delhi to Manali by bus. Since  I had a short time for planning, I just noted village point from Google maps. Zenosh Patel, my trekking partner briefed me about this route. However, I wanted to know if someone has done this route by cycle.

Upendra Deshpande from Convolution bikes team suggested that I should start a conversation on #Cyclop  facebook page and I will find someone who will guide me. Yes, he was right I found Mr Ashish Jhanwar from #Cyclop who did the exact route in July. He guided me about the elevation and route details.

Customized Aspera

8th & 9th August 2018

On 8th August, I went to Delhi and on 8th Night I took the bus to Manali. On 9th Noon  I was at Manali.

On 9th August I assembled the bike and bought some ready to eat food from the market, as I didn’t want to waste time and stop frequently for food and supplies. I slept early that night and was hoping to start the journey at 5 am. The aim was to reach Chatru, by crossing the mighty Rohtang pass. The total elevation gain was going to be 1920 meters.

10th August 2018 Manali (2.050 m) to Marhi (3,360 m)

With all the travelling done from to reach Manali, I was exhausted, I started the day one and half hour late at 6.30 am from Manali. With 25kg luggage and all the experience, I had from past bike touring I was feeling confident. The town was waking up, as I started my journey on Leh highway. I felt a cold breeze, as my body was not warmed up. Once you pass the small villages after Manali. you get to see the first glimpse of the high mountains. I kept on gaining the pace, as it was rolling journey till Palchan. After Palchan, I started to feel the climbs and bit of car traffic of the turns, as people were stopping to capture every corner of the scenery. I managed to reach at Mhari, I checked my watch and it was 2.30 pm already. It was a bit late but I had my lunch at Mhari and met Devesh from Mumbai who was also Cycling from Manali to Rohtang . After full bellies and warm discussions,  we both started another lap of elevation. We suddenly realized, after every turn, the weather started changing. It was getting foggy and small drizzles started to appear. As we were literally approaching clouds. After few more turns and some more elevation, the rain outgrew Devesh’s ambition and he called off the journey and started descending back to Manali. I was determined to stick with the plan. So I continued my climb. But, After 10 km further up, the weather started becoming more dramatic. At 4,30 pm I saw a milestone which suggested that the Rohtang was still 15km. Since it was already getting dark with constant drizzle and fog I was in a position to judge the road condition even few meters ahead. My heart wanted to keep on going but my mind was taking all the rational decision. So, I decided to call people for their opinion, as I knew mobile network might not function after one more turn. Post discussion with Upendra and Zenosh I decided to go back to Mahri village.

Total 20 km of riding, I came back to the same place, where I had my lunch. It turned out to be a good decision after all. As I reached Mahri at around 5.30 pm and met one more cyclist Abhishek Yadav who was riding along with his friend and own supported vehicle, towards Leh. We stayed at road side dhaba. After a first exhausting day, dhaba was a luxury. With food and hot beverage, I and Abhishek started planning for the next day climb.

11 August Mahri (2.050 m) to Chatru (3,300 m) via Rohtang (3,978 m)

Next day morning I with my new mates had a quick bite and started our journey around 7.30 am towards Rohtang. For the first 10 km, I was feeling pretty confident as I did the same route a few hours back.  After first few climbs road conditions started to worsen, giving me reassurance about my decision of coming back to Mahri. We thought that it is going to be a rough day ahead, but later on, roads were good till the top of the mountains. I felt a sense of accomplishment as I gazed up the high Himalayan peaks and breathtaking view of mighty Chenab valley. We decided to spend a few more minutes and absorb the weather, as post-Rohatang the fun started, we were going to lose height till Gramphu. Although we thought to descend will be a lot easier, after 10 odd km, paved roads drastically turned into trail roads. We were become extra cautious to keep our control over our bikes till we reached Gramphu and had our lunch at around 1 pm. With almost 5 hrs till it gets dark and keeping in mind the fallback from yesterday, I started making plans to reach Batal. Google was suggesting the journey is just 48 km. But it seems, you can’t go against nature and here I was against the mighty Himalaya’s. Knowing all this I started my journey with Batal as my destination for the day. But roads were not helping throughout the day,  till Chatru roads were so bad, it took me 3.30 hrs to complete 17.5 km. The clock was telling me that its 5 pm. By guessing the road conditions ahead and from yesterday’s experience, I took a wise decision to stay at Chatru. I quickly started inquiring about stay for the night. After small chitchat with a local fellow on the Dhaba, he suggested me to check Govt guest house. After searching for a while I found the place and managed myself a decent room for just INR 430/-  After almost 10 hours of riding on mostly trail roads, I fell asleep instantly that night, thinking how mountains have made me a bit wiser in 2 days.

12 August Chatru (3,300 m) to Losar (4,085 m)

I woke up early at 5.30 am and after all the packing and preparing for worst roads ahead, I decided to skip breakfast and reach Batal today. As after two days in Mountains, I started making small goals, which are more realistic to achieve. After a quick check on pannier and bike, I left the room at 6.30 am.  Hoping to reach Batal before Lunch with avg. speed I was maintaining.  But Himalaya’s it’s not that simple. Roads started getting worse and worse till the point, I started praising the trail roads. All the scenic snowy peaks,  I enjoyed on Rohtang yesterday was asking for payback as the snow was taking its fluid form at the bottom of the valley. More Often I started getting off my bike just to pull my cycle as roads were flooded with icy cold glacier water. But then I felt lucky to be on the bike as, I  could see some trucks, bikes were stuck for hours in the same situation. With empty belly and cold water, I started feeling a little low. After 3 hours since the day started, I asked a truck driver how much more I have to take this reach Batal he said “Sirji! aur 15 hai! I did quick math and realized I just did 15 km and there is still at least  15 more to go. With such a bad road condition and with an occasional water crossing, I manage to keep my moral high, As the views around me were so amazing. I kept on pushing for a couple of hours, but by skipping the breakfast to get an early start I started to feel hungry. Fortunately, I met Ankur and Jyoti Prasad who were travelling to Spiti, they were kind enough to offer me a lift till Batal which was 4 km away. I decided to hop on, as I was hardly riding my bike anyway. I reached Batal at 12 as per planning. But still another 33 km were pending to reach Losar. And to make this day more interesting, I was yet to climb the 15 km of famous Kumzum la.  After some food, I felt recharged and without wasting more time I started my journey again. Roads were too bad but I was happy that bike was steady, only through constant trail roads and constant braking, my shoulder was stretch out. On the way, travellers were asking me how I can ride a road bike with small tyres in this tough terrains and that too solo without any support. Many were concerned about the flat tyres and weather. But fortunately, after me carrying 20 kg luggage, the bike had not given any trouble.

A quick bite of rajma-chawal and can full of Red-bull at Batal was coming in handy. As it was too challenging to ride above 4000 meters in Himalaya. Rajma-chawal is kind staple diet in the mountains, which is full of carbs and proteins and is available at all the roadside dhabas. In this route, there is a scarcity of water and you will not find any stream as you are climbing up from one valley crossing. I suddenly realized that I am running low on water and the cold streams which felt like enemies before, now water in much demand.  After few kms on the road, you are able to view the kumzumla top but roads are full sharp hairpin turns. This was one of the toughest time in the entire ride, I realized why they call Spiti valley a high altitude desert as trees are hard to find and you can feel the low oxygen levels in the air. I started breathing heavily and with less water and sun on the head in the cold desert, it was not something I was hoping for after already dramatic day. However, I kept on pedalling, as I had only one option to go further. Finally, I manage to be on top of the mountain, I checked the time it was around 4.pm. I felt so happy with myself, suddenly all the discomfort was gone, sun rays were helping me to battle the cold conditions. I looked back and check the route I completed, with feeling accomplished I decided to take half an hour break in a nearby temple. From this point, it was all downhill and started pacing towards Losar, when I entered Losar it was 5.30 pm. Perfect timing! I said to myself, as I was in a good state to enjoy the Sunset today. I got one hotel stay at Losar for the night, with the accomplished mind, I called off the day.

13 August Losar (4,085 m) to Kaza (3,800 m)   

The morning was refreshing for me. Mountains make you wiser! As I was learning new things every day and decided not to repeat any mistakes from the past. I had my breakfast in Losar without fail this time and carried 2 boiled eggs. Weather was cloudy but it felt better than direct sun you get in high altitudes like this. Also, roads were getting better and better. But after 40km of ride rain started. Luckily I was carrying a poncho, which helped me stay dry, at least the upper body. However, legs were getting all the bashing, as all the fingers were becoming numb due to cold weather and rain. But I knew, if I stop, it’s not gonna get better and I will lose much-gained pace after 2 days. I managed to keep on pedalling this help me conquer cold and I reached Kaza before 2 pm. Here I stayed at Sakya abode which is one of the best hotels in Spiti valley. As I finished the day early I decided to relax and enjoy the beauty that is Kaza.

Earlier, the plan was to take one day break at Kaza, here I got a phone range. So I decided to discuss with Prasad Samant. He said that I have already lost one day due to bad roads, so if its possible I should keep on moving ahead, as there is a constant threat of landslides in these areas and roads towards Shimla may get close due to this.

14th Aug Kaza (3,800 m) to Tabo (3,280 m) via Dhankar lake (4,140 m) and monastery.

Fighting rain during most of the day yesterday. I woke up late,  left the hotel at 8 am. While packing my stuff I met Gokul and his friends, from Kerala. They were also doing the same route but from Shimla, I got valuable information from them about the route status and it was opened 2 days back. With the route status checked, I was in high spirits. Ride towards Dhankar was not so challenging as only the last 5km was uphill.

By maintaining a good pace, I managed to reach monastery by lunch. But to get a good view of the lake  I did a small hike without my bike as the route was not good for a bike at all. I parked the bike near the monastery and moved past. After climbing for 45 min I reached the point where I was able to view the lake surrounded by mountain, the blue sky and white clouds floating in the air and a bunch of birds making sure I am not alone at that heavenly spot. This was straight from the fairy tales for me.  No matter how cold the weather was, I jumped into the lake. It was totally refreshing for me. Felt like staying there for a while, but after 30 min break and moved back to the monastery. While having my lunch I  again met Ankur and Jyoti Prasad who helped me at Batal.  We had lunch together and with a full belly and refreshed mind, I moved ahead towards Tabo. On my way, I was able to view all the small villages where small kids were cheering me up. This helped me to rejuvenate my power to move ahead. I reached Tabo at 5 pm stayed in a small hotel. There I met Niteen D, who was travelling by SUV from Delhi along with his wife.

We had dinner while watching stars, the sky was so clear that night, all the stars were being equally glowing unable recognized the north pole easily.

15 Aug Tabo (3,280 m) to Nako (3,662 m)

Morning while having tea, Niteen D was discussing my bike .” how can you travel on a cycle, is it uncomfortable to you” he asked.  I said, I enjoyed riding the bike and as it is customized for me, I am pretty much comfortable on it.  I started my journey toward Nako, unlike first 2 days road were in good shape. After 30km of flat sections, the fun started with climbs. Although roads are good, for almost 40 km of stretch you will not get anything. As I was literally travelling next to the Indo-China border. There are not people who live in this part of the world. Near Nako, I met one Japanese cyclist who was travelling from Shimla and planning to go Khardungla. We had 30 min discussion on the route and on my cycle, he was impressed to see 105 gear system. It was nice talking with him and exchange some knowledge.

Somehow I reached Nako at 4 pm.  I was searching for a place near the village for camping. But at the last moment, I got a homestay. This time I got a chance to enjoy nice homemade food. Prepared with fresh vegetables, which were plugged from a farm in front of me.

16th Aug Nako (3,662 m) to Spello ( 2,700 m)

The village I was heading next was called Spello (don’t get confused with Italian town with the same name,  but I want to check the historical connection here if any). The road was full with rolling hills and I didn’t have to climb much to reach spello. The road was good and on the way, one can see the magnificent confluence of mighty Sutlej and Spiti rivers at Khab Sangam. Literally means “Confluence of dreams”, I didn’t find a more appropriate description for the place till today. By praising the person who named the place. I started pedalling ahead.

Everything was going smoothly today, as if it was a dream and then just  3km before Spello. I had the first puncture. All over India, I found people are very helpful, especially towards cyclist and athletes. While fixing my puncture one truck driver started helping me, He suggested one cycle shop in the village and even dropped me near the village where  I changed the inner tube. He wasn’t convinced when I told that this is the only puncture I am experiencing from Manali to Spello. I thanked Upendra later when we discussed my trip, who had put Maxxis refuse 32 mm on my bike. I stayed in a hotel that night.

17 Aug Spello  ( 2,700 m) to Rampur (1,021 m)

From Spello onwards, roads are wider, so I was feeling bit confident while riding.  Also, as you travel away from the China border, you get to see small villages after every 5km. Which gives you a sense of security. Unfortunately, before reaching to Rampur I met with an accident. A local fellow in his Maruti 800 was trying to overtake me and pushed me on side of the mountain wall in that process. Somehow managed to get up and tried to hold the driver but he ran away. I checked my bike it was ok but left Shifter had left its place because of the impact. I was worried that it will ever work. I somehow reached Rampur and decided to wind-up my ride. As I was not sure about the front shifter and had a swollen elbow because of the crash. I stayed in the hotel that night and left early to Chandigarh via bus and took a 1-day rest before my flight back to Mumbai. On the way back to Mumbai from Chandigarh, I was thinking about the entire experience and what I am taking back home from this ride. Apart from the yesterday’s mishap, it was one of kind experience. My first ever bike tour on my Customized bike. I met amazing people, learned about new culture. Even got compliments from many people, just because I was doing a solo ride on non-motorized vehicle. There are many learnings too, which I will be taking from this experience. Small things, like packing my bike for flight journeys, eating habits in the mountains which I learned the hard way, are going to help me in the next tour. I will recommend this ride to every fellow cyclist, put this in your bucket list. There is much more to say, but perhaps when I return to Spiti again.

I would like to thank  Zenosh, Upendra (Convolution Bikes) and many unknown faces who helped me on my journey.