Rides bikes, paddles sea kayaks, takes pictures. Life on the road & my home in Cornwall.
Bikepacking through the stupendous Spiti Valley in the Indian Himalaya, as part of a two-wheeled exploration of the Spiti and Kinnaur Valleys.
Other than the 60km asphalt cruise down the valley to Kullu the riding for now is essentially over, I’ll be back in the UK next week. Sadly. I am already missing the peace and solitude of the high mountains despite the luxuries on offer here. As I write I’m in Manali, a place I visited 12 years ago on my way north on my bike to Ladakh. The place has changed dramatically, from a sleepy village with a few guesthouses to a bustling tourist metropolis… but weirdly it’s not been ruined, it’s a really great place to spend a few days to rest my legs, eat good food and reflect on what was a super ride. Simply ace. I have a bit of time in hand, well aware that winter is drawing in in the high mountains I gave myself an allowance for passes being closed by snow for a few days and so on. Cutting it fine with a flight to catch didn’t seem to be a particularly bright thing to do. As it happens other than a few snow showers and some thunderstorms the weather has been good. I was lucky :-)
It’s been fun looking around Manali.. some of the old places are still here. I rolled up on my bike to the guesthouse I stayed at 12 years ago.. and they instantly remembered me so that was very fun. I have a very discounted room rate for what is a really comfortable place to hang out. Other things have changed… my favourite little eatery was a low key joint run by a young Tibetan refugee.. it is now an apparently ‘trendy’ cafe.. it seems that putting pictures of Bob Dylan and a painted guitar on the wall are what makes a place cool, that and advertising those weird ‘green shakes’…. not convinced.. the coffee is good however. Similarly the tiny little dhaba across the street that used to do the best, and cheap, momos, is now a magic shop (!) and tattoo parlour. Such is progress. Much of the growth is being driven by the increase in local Indian tourism… increasing affluence means holidays are very much a reality for large numbers of Indians these days. I became a little bit aware of it in western Spiti…but only a little. The changes were really hammered home yesterday as I reached the summit of the Rohtang La. At 4000m not desperately high but as the last high pass on this journey something of a milestone. 12 years ago the summit was a lonely, windswept place with a few prayer flags lost in the cloud. This time however there must have been 300 or so tourist vehicles up there disgorging their payloads of tourists dressed in silly his n’hers insulated ski suits. The summit was rammed.. I did not stop, quite the opposite… sick of having cameras stuffed in my face and people jumping in my way to take a picture as I passed I shifted to the big ring, put my head down and flew flat out through the mobs until I reached the peace of the road again away from the summit… am neither a willing circus monkey or good with crowds… yes I know I can be a grumpy old barsteward…. Despite that I cannot begrudge the growth in tourism and apparently, at last, the government is making efforts to control the impact of it. Up until this summer private vehicles had unfettered access to the Rohtang… the tailbacks on the narrow hairpinned road and environmental impact were huge.. so the government banned them all… and now only licensed tourist vehicles and those with permits to pass are permitted to ascend. Judging by what I saw yesterday someone(s) is probably making an awful lot of money as a result…. well, that’s what the cynical me thinks…
Anyway, enough of that… the riding has been simply awesome so rather than bore you with loads of words I’ll try and tell the story in pictures. Apologies if this post is slow to load, there are quite a lot of them…. Once this is all done I have to go and pay a little bit of attention to my bike.. weeks of dust, sand, mud, snow, rocks, and innumerable river crossings have left it rather mucky… I’ll give it a decent service when I get home but right now I really don’t fancy dismantling it for the flight in the state it is in :-) It has been simply awesome for this ride, the Surly ECR is the best rough stuff touring/expedition bike I’ve ever owned… so sure footed it makes even the most laughably awful roads fun… flying over loose rocks, through rivers on beds of loose, slippery boulders, deep sand, mud and so on…. roads that would simply be tedious on a regular 26″x 2″ bike :-) There may be another post after this with a spot of street photography if i can be bothered but essentially this is the end of this particular adventure. Hope you enjoyed reading!
So.. there you have it. I think I remembered everything I wanted to write. I might come back and edit later. It’s been a good day in Manali, I bumped into a few friends from the road (it’s that kind of place), stuffed my face, did some extra sleeping and, errm… well, that’s about it!