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  • Writer's pictureClotaire Mandel

Spiti valley : more asphalt than expected

Where do we start ? Acclimatation : If you're coming from Ladakh, it shouldn't be a problem as you only go over 4500m once. Season : The opening of passes depend obviously on each year weather situation, but roughly between may and octobre. Then passes are covered in snow. A short window then, which allows to ride full on for a bit. About the weather, when I was there, it was fairly hot. Surprisingly hot. Although it's high mountain on a daily basis, therefore weather can change drastically and quickly. I'll take anyway beanie, gloves, buff, spare thick wool socks and a second layer of gloves made for dishes : the cheapest and potentially the best waterproof gloves ever... Quite a lot of things to say, so advises, notes and ideas would be at the end of that article.

Maybe even more than Ladah, spiti valley remained mysterious, as a sort of secret cyclists ere passing to each other. It has been sold has the perfect offroad track in the surroundings. Between monastery, dusty tracks and high summits. All we were looking for. But it wasn't as planned. World is changing, things are moving fast. And this part of the world is no exception and goes through lots of change.

Koksar - Chhota dara : We passed the checkpoint and here starts the first clim to reach the high plateaux again. We find in Koksar food and water and everything your want. It's easy to push a bit further away and camp by the river. This spot is absolutely perfect. Some around are offering nights in tent as well, like luxury tents, with bathroom attached. This is also where asphalt stops, and we though it would be for a wee while.

It's up and down until Chatru, but road has been fairly good. And it has been easy to find food and water on the way as well. Water is plenty everywhere. Between Chatru and Chhota dara road is really bad, like don't expect doing more than 10km per hour. However it's as beautofu as chaotic.

Chhota Dara apparently was at some point a pit stop for travellers, with cosy guest house and stuff. It wasn't left of this when we went through, due to heavy rain and landslide. We camped there, but it's a well known spot for landslide and rock falling, so better choose your spot.

Chhota dara - Kunzun la : Road is still chaotic until the bottom of the pass, in Batal. This village has it all, restaurants, snacks and shade. Potentially a roof and a mat in case the weather turns. From here starts the climb towards the Kunzum La, which took us about 2 hours. Road was much better than we thought, and climbing was fairly easy.

This pass is beautiful, time to cycle around the stupa and take a few photos of the surrounding mountains while sitting in the shade of the thousands of prayer flags, and it was already time to cycle down. Found some water and toilets on top of the pass.

From the pass to Kaza : The way down was spectacular, and camp spots are plenty. It's really the kind of scenery I was excepting in Spiti. From the other side of the pass starts the asphalt as well, a brand new and smooth asphalt.

From here until Kaza, the road is relatively flat, well, comparatively to what we've been through before. In losar, you'll find shops and restaurants and guest houses. Then the road drives you from a village to an other. Although it wasn't that easy to find food, most of the villages were just houses. Some of those must have offer home stay I reckon, but we didn't need to knock on any doors at that time.

Kaza is just next door. We passed the famous local monastery, Keylong. But we've decided to keep it for tomorrow. Online picture are messing up the feeling as it's clearly not as impressive as we were expecting, colours not as bright. And we're looking forward to make tit to Kaza as well, and eat something else than rice and lentils.

Kaza : Nothing crazy to say about Kaza. I was expecting more spectacular as well, but nothing special. Perfect to chill and fuel up tho. If you continue onwards, this is where you need to apply for the permit to push further as the road goes by the Tibetan border. It's pretty straightforward, in exchange of ID photos, few roupees and a photocopy of visa/passport. A shop in front of the office is offering it all.

The Keylong monastery didn't seduce me much. Road s chaotic and the visible part of the temple are not plenty. The old prayer wheel is pretty impressive tho, as much as the vie from there. Worth the move for sure, but don't stare too much at google photos !

What worth be be mentioned tho, is the exceptional travellers meeting point which is Deyzor Hotel. Food was perfect, staff adorable. The hotel itself is a true gem, walls covered by souvenirs brought from the couple of owners. We could have spend hours scouting the walls. Rooms are stunning and soooo clean, far from local standards. And if you're lucky enought, there will be room for cyclists, and msot likely for free. Don't miss this place ! From Kaza to Nako : Asphalte, for a wee while. The road is awesome and traffic none. Fueling up in villages along the road is not that easy, and sometimes you'll have to cook on the side of the road as no villages has conveniences. The valley has closed during two years, so not much touristic infrastructures left out of main center.

A bit of gravel from time to time, in a valley which will be more or less looking the sae from now on. We also start to leave high snowy summits behind, and even if the Spiti river carry on beautifully, it's getting slightly relentless at some point. Tabo monastery is not be missed. Most likely the most beautiful monastery I have ever seen. Wall paintings, atmosphere, everything is outstanding. One of the oldest of the valley as well, with more than a thousand year. Photos are not allowed inside, so you'll just imagine and maybe aim to visit it one day. But yeah, sublime. Paints are so impressive. We camped somewhere behind, on a cliff, by the river. A small slice of paradise.

Pass leading to Nako is long and fastidious , but view is awesome. But for instance we didn't ride it. Waiting at the bottom of it for our friend coming out of the hospital after being attacked by dogs. And becoming lazy waiting in the shade, we chucked everything at the back of a pickup. Nako has nothing special, not more than a big himalayan village. Hotels and restaurant, pretty average. A monastery and a stunning view point. From there, it's asphalt all the way down to Pooh.

Pooh : First city of such importance we bumped into since Srinagar. There I found the India I knew from before. Traffic and noise, shops piling up. It's a city nesting a fair few hundreds meters higher than the highway, that we would have most likely avoid, although, slower than expected, we had to organise a faster way of approaching Nepal. Here is the end of our adventure in Spiti and starts another chapter in India, starting with a bus journey towards Shimla, and that's another story. To be continued !


Informations : A few informations gleaned on the way, which can help the next cyclists coming through. - As acclimatation, coming from Ladakh will do the job, otherwise the long and slow climb, will be the perfect acclimatation. The route is not high enough anyway to be a real problem. - Permit needed to keep cycling after Kaza towards Shimla. From the other way as well anyway. We did in in 10 minutes in Kaza, pretty straightfoward.

- No need to carry more than 2L of water. Between Dhabas and rivers, small waterfall and cars coming through, you'll hardly need more than that. Passes maybe, can be a struggle in high altitude, but even there, chances are you come across a stream or even just cars might help. To sleep, as everywhere else, we would rather choose a place with water nearby but if not, just carry a few more litres. Soft water tanks are perfect for that. - Road is relatively and surprisingly good, except the portion leading to the foot of Kunzum la. The pass itself is in pretty good condition, and on the other side, it's a razzle dazzle asphalt waiting for you. We've been surprised by the quality of the road and the percentage of the asphalt. Agreably suprised in a way, and also disappointed, as the adventure wasn't the one we were craving for. - Big tyres. Not mandatory, but brings extra confort and suspension

- Tents on the side of the side of the road are plenty. You'll find water, snacks, food, tea. And you can sleep in most of them for about 200 rupees.

- Really amazed by people's concern and hospitality. Most people coming across you will show a sign of encouragement.

- To avoid having to cook (laziness, tiredness, fuel, access to dry food) it's always good to have a lunch box, to order slightly more and stock up for later. - No army here, and barely any traffic. A treat. - Not much preparation needed ahead. Well, a solid acclimated body and a pair of decent legs indeed. But the road is straightforward and no way you'll get lost. No need to spend hours on the map to figure food and water.

- Time is key. Plenty of time it's plenty of opportunities. Camping spots are heaps as well, and sometimes dreamy.

- A bit disappointed of the adventurous side of the road and which ended up being finally way easier and confortable than expected. It's not where I would find big open spaces, steppes, loneliness and hundreds of dusty kilometres. Here we are. It's all I have to say. It was a very beautiful place to cycle. But less spectacular than I though. I was maybe expecting too much actually, and I wasn't the only one. And once again I struggle to find what I was looking for, to find the adventure I was craving for. A bit too easy, a bit too much of human presence and access to grocery. I would have probably be disappointed to have come just for this, but being so closed, it would have been a shame to miss it. But we've been hesitated for a while tho, afraid it would have been to hard and too slow. Especially since the cyclists we met were not encouraging. Much easier than expected!


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