Indian Himalayas: Spiti Amazing

Text: Julian Challis • Photography:

Our route is entirely blocked. Facing us is a huge brightly colored truck, its wheels a foot deep in the fast running water. The driver’s door is wide open but the driver is nowhere to be seen. Behind the truck, a line of 4x4s and other trucks sit patiently, occasionally tooting their horns. To our left, an enormous river thunders past, its murky water crashing over treacherous rapids. To the right is a massive boulder field, the huge rocks having broken free from the cliffs towerING above us.

At times, it’s easy to imagine that we are in a mountain section of the Dakar Rally. But this is the Spiti Valley and the main road between Kaza and Sissu in the Indian Himalayas. And it is one of the most incredible roads on earth.

The trip had started a dozen days earlier and marked my second foray into India. I’d persuaded Nico, a Bristol trail rider, to join me, leaving a chilly Heathrow Airport for an overnight flight to Delhi. Landing at Indira Gandhi International at 6:30 a.m., we aren’t the chirpiest travelers, and grabbing a ride with a cabbie who knows little of Delhi’s geography certainly doesn’t help.

Manali and Beyond

The following day starts stupidly early as we have a long and death-defying taxi ride up to Manali, dodging everything from feral cows to oncoming vehicles on our side of the carriageways. Fourteen hours later we arrive at our hotel and after a swift beer, bed beckons.

In the morning, it’s time to catch up with our fellow travelers on Ride Expedition’s new tour of the Spiti Valley. Ali is a massage company owner from Australia, Garry, a fellow Aussie who owns a brewery, Bruce, an architect from Washington, D.C., and finally Chris, a returning British expat. With the introductions done, it’s time to ride the bikes for the first time, excluding Chris, who’s elected to do much of the tour in a chunky Suzuki Jeep with Ramu, our traveling mechanic. Bruce and Garry have opted to ride the Himalayan, while the rest of us, including sweep rider Topi and company owner Toby, are astride 500 Classics. 

Later, at Johnson Lodge, our evening meal features delicious trout plucked from the rivers that surround the town. And amid the many conversations held, Bruce’s revelation that he is experimenting with rinsable pants marks a level of intimacy we weren’t expecting.

Bright and early the next day, it’s time to set off. With the truck loaded with our luggage, spares, and fuel, we head south toward Kullu. The heavy rain has caused landslides that threaten to engulf the road and we dodge water and mud in equal measure. Slicing through the busy streets of Kullu, it’s the usual slalom around every type of vehicle and livestock, from overloaded rickshaws to chickens meandering through the traffic. 

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2018 back issue.