Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh… (Delhi – Kaza)

‘True’ on the Himalayan Odyssey 2012

“If you go to the Odyssey as a boy, you will return a man; if you go as a man, you will return a sage, and if you go as a sage, surprisingly you will return as a boy”.

With these words, Dr. Venki Padmanabhan, the CEO of Royal Enfield, flagged off the Himalayan Odyssey, 2012 from the India Gate, New Delhi, on June 23rd.

Listening to these words, I wondered, what would bring the above-mentioned changes in us? Both True (that’s what I call my latest Enfield) and I pondered alike…

Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey Riders at India Gate

Well, now that I am back home after covering over 3000kms on this ride of a lifetime, I can tell you it did bring out the boys, men and sages in & amongst the 60 of us riders! The group had riders aging 21 years to 62 years, from fittest to not so fit, extroverts and introverts alike, riders having tremendous riding experience to those having very little experience of riding a Royal Enfield, et al. Riders came from all over India, and parts of the world too! We had doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, managers, and students amongst us. Married and happy ones would ride together! And what united this diverse group was our passion for riding an Enfield and this band of brothers came together to ride on this fascinating journey to this rather inhospitable land of passes, mountains, roads and no roads, and to the highest motorable road of the world – it was passion and boyish exhilaration writ on faces all over when I saw them first.

It has been six days that I have come back, and haven’t stopped thinking about it as yet. The overwhelming experience has been quite enriching and before I started to pen down this blog, I had several thoughts coming to me – should I simply write a travelogue, or I should write about the elevating experiences I had before and during the entire trip.

Let me try and attempt both.

Day 0:
‘Day Zero’ would constitute months of preparation – working on a grilling fitness regime, getting the bikes ready, buying loads and loads of required riding gear, the works! The enthusiasm over the yahoo-group was simply infectious – you’d note the boyish excitement spread all over! Finally, on 21st & 22nd June, we got together at the Vishwa Yuvak Kendra, New Delhi and completed the scrutiny of gear, bike and the physical fitness was tested – try the 5km run plus 50-push-ups in 60minutes – you’d understand what am I talking about!

Talking to the media


Day 1: June 23, 2012; New Delhi to Parwanoo: 
A day that shall always remain etched in every rider’s memory. The day when we turned into celebrities! The day when, as it appeared, every bike-enthusiast turned at India Gate to flag-off the Himalayan Odyssey. Interviewed & clicked by media, Cheered and waved, congratulated and photographed, envied and hailed, and after receiving the blessings of the Buddhist monks, Dr. Venky flagged off the ride.

Winds being the Prayers!

I tied the blessed flags to my bike, said my prayers, waved to well-wishers present and started on to this dream ride…
On NH-1 and then on NH-22, the ride of 270kms from New Delhi to Parwanoo, a hill-town near Chandigarh was largely devoid of any mentionable events, barring the fact the Mile Anna, one of us and a great senior of mine had a narrow escape when rogue oil tanker barged onto his ride! We learnt – protection gear pays, it really does!

Passing the curious onlookers and braving the severe heat, all riders arrived Parwanoo and reported to our respective hotels – Shivalik and Windsmoor. It was an easy day’s ride and day ended with loads of beer flowing all around. We were getting to know each other, chatting about what not and also tended to our bikes; ready to roll on the windy roads that lay ahead…

Lunch at Theog

Day 2: June 24, 2012; Parwanoo to Narkanda: 

We resumed the day after a short briefing. Straight roads had already given way to the serpentine roads as we entered Indian State of Himachal Pradesh (HP) yesterday. Good roads lay ahead and we drove towards Chail, via the Kanda Ghat. After this turn towards Chail, narrow roads started as we rode towards Kufri. After crossing heavy traffic jams at Kufri, we took our lunch-break at Theog, about 11kms after the Kufri town.

Hotel Hatu HPTDC, Narkanda

We reached Narkanda at about 4pm, covering about 155kms. Hotel Hatu of HPTDC was a very good place to give rest to our bodies and bikes. A brief medical check ensued – to check any untoward symptoms that we may have developed in last two days.

Narkanda is a beautiful hill-town, located in Shimla District of HP. It is at an altitude of 2750m above mean sea level (AMSL) on the NH-22, about 65 km from Shimla. It is surrounded by the Shivalik Ranges that span a large part of HP. Evening was slightly chilly and gave a pleasant respite to our sunburnt bodies from the Day-1!

Day 3: June 25, 2012; Narkanda to Kalpa: 

Our destination was Kalpa; about 200kms away, continuing on NH22. We covered towns of Ramnagarbusair, Jeori, Poari and Peo enroute.


After experiencing superb roads descending into the town of Ramnagar, encountered what I call ‘not-so-good roads’ (wait for ‘bad-roads’!), where the JP Group of Companies is digging tunnels into the mountains. Taking our first break at Jeori, we found that it has no proper eating-places and most of us filled up our stomachs with whatever little available around.

Kalpa is a small town in the Sutlej river valley, in the Kinnaur district of HP, at the height of 2960m AMSL. During the ride, I observed for the first time the free-flowing Sutlej River, which races through deep gorges. As we reached the town of Kalpa, it was around 6:15pm. All of a sudden, it started drizzling. Our destination was Rakpa Regency Hotel, which was located above 8kms the main town and we rode in rain. Wow! The first feeling of out gloved fingers freezing, as we soaked in rain, was such a welcome change from all the heat the North India suffered whole of summer!

Magical Sunset at Kalpa

Magic Sunrise at Kalpa

Once settled into the hotel, I took my time to notice the serenity of this sleepy hamlet, now sitting in the lap of snow-clad mountains in front of me – the Kinnar Kailash range of peaks. Also visible from this place is the sacred Shivling rock on the Chota-Kailash peak. I was told that this peak changes its color at different points in the day. That true or not, I did observe the pristine beauty of the peaks – both as the sun took shelter behind them and as it rose the next morning – some sights!

Day 4: June 26, 2012; Kalpa to Kaza:
Next morning, we all started early, only to find out that there was only one petrol pump around, located at Peo. It turned out to be a very busy one too, with 65 of us in the queue. The riders took close to an hour getting their tanks filled, wasting about 60min of the precious riding time during the day. Thus, I would recommend you start at about 7:30am, as the distance to be covered was around 220kms to Kaza.

Covering 30kms of ‘not-so-good roads’, we reached the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) check-post, where the travelers must stop to get their inner line permits to continue upwards to the Spiti Valley. Luckily for us, we were only asked to get out details noted down and move on.

Sutlej Roars and Dares!

Landslide and Rock-Blasts – Enjoy the Ride!

Viola! Next 15kms were superb roads – we cruised at about 80kmph! Only to be stopped for the rock-blasts! Yes, you’d encounter a LOT of them, and landslides, as you ride on this route – watch out! As you’d ride ahead, you’d come across what I call ‘bad-roads (wait for ‘no-roads’!).

Sutlej flows in its full beastly glory, as if determined to drown all the rocky mountains that dare come in its way.

Border Roads Organization’s Wonderland!

Sutlej at it roaring peak!

As I rode though barren patches, I would not help admire the exquisiteness of the rocks all around – they were as spellbinding as the Grand Canyon, all through the journey on the Indo-China border. No images can describe this splendor!

During last 100kms, as the terrain turned bad to worse, I had consumed all my water. Thirsty and tired, I found water only at Dubling, after riding for over 3.5 hours. As I gulped down water, I couldn’t help observe that the same Kinley packaged water bottle we paid Rs.40/- at the HPTDC hotels (a premium of double the cost!) was being sold by this mom-&-pop shop at the MRP!

Lunch at Yangthang/Malling

After covering about 110kms from Peo, we arrived in at Yangthang. This place came as a respite to us craving-for-food souls! Jumping at simple vegetable-rice and mashed-eggs, we ate like there is no tomorrow and relaxed thereafter.

After a long halt of over 2 hours for remaining riders (that’s the rule – we would wait for each and every biker at all scheduled halts), we started riding ahead at about 3pm.

What we encountered ahead is I call ‘no-roads’! At an altitude of 3500m AMSL, this is was the scariest patch I have ridden to in my life. Rough, narrow and steep ups & downs! Barren mountains all around us and the Sutlej roaring down below, my heart almost took a permanent place in my throat for next 30kms! So much so, I stopped at a place, chanted Ik Onkar and with the divine intervention providing courage, moved ahead.

Magical Himalayas

Magical Himalayas

Once in a while, I could see snow-clad peaks behind the rocky-mountains. Some sights I would love you to enjoy. After more than a 150km ride through the rocky mountains, greenery at Chango was pleasant to the eyes. Also, the very fact that Kaza was only 40kms odd from here brought some relief to the aching back and hurting wrists – today was a long day!

Tabo Monastery

However, after crossing Samdo, as I entered the Spiti Valley, which about 70kms away from Kaza, I was spellbound with the natural beauty that unfolded turn after turn. As I moved ahead, I reached the famous Tabo Monastery, which was founded in 996 AD and is located in the very arid, cold and rocky area of Tabo village, at an altitude of 3280m AMSL. With its original decoration and art images intact, it is considered to be the oldest continuously functioning Buddhist monastery in India and the Himalayas. The unique beauty of its art and its pivotal historical role in the transmission of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and culture in the 10th and 11th century makes Tabo Monastery an historically significant site. Within the ancient monastery’s compound are nine temples built between the late 10th and the 17th century and numerous stupas. ( The famous Dhankar monastery is only 31kms from this place.

‘True’ enters Spiti Valley

Ab Kaza door nahi!

Riding ahead, I was enthralled to note the stunning beauty of the Spiti Valley, as I rode into this the gateway to the northernmost reaches of the nation. The setting sun made the view even more pristine…

Spiti Valley forms one of the Trans-Himalayan frontier regions of northern India with a population of around 10,000 people. The name ‘Spiti’ means ‘The Middle Land’, i.e. the land between Tibet and India. In the past the region was included within the boundaries of Tibet.

View from Hotel Spiti, Kaza

The town of Kaza, the capital of Lahaul-Spiti District, is situated along the Spiti River at an elevation of about 3800m AMSL. The valley is cut off from the north up to eight months of the year by heavy snowfalls.

Highest Petrol Pump of the World!

My destination was HPTDC Hotel Spiti at Kaza. However, before that, I did stop at the only petrol pump located near the main market. See this amazing signage for yourself…

Due to high elevation one is likely to feel altitude sickness in Spiti. I too felt severe headache. However, a hot cup of green tea (I carried tea-bags with me!) and a Disprin, I felt OK after a while. Tired like hell, I was relieved to recall that the next day was our rest day. Pleased to find hot water’s availability and a descent bed, I dozed off to sleep after an early dinner.

Rest Day for Bikes

Day 5: June 26, 2012; Rest Day at Kaza: Rest day it was – for the bike and not for us. Whole of the early part of the day went about servicing the bikes. We had negotiated half-journey to Leh by now and what lay ahead of us (please wait!), needed the bikes to be in the fittest conditions. Luckily, True was riding in its best conditions and needed only cleaning & oiling of the chain and a refill of the engine-oil.

After a thorough cleaning and washing regime, both True and I were ready for visiting the local sites. Aman, my roommate, friend and great rider, joined me and we rode towards Kibber, a village located at about 22kms uphill, at a height of 4270m AMSL. It contains a monastery and the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary.

Kibber Village

Enroute, after about 15kms, we came across the revered Key Monastery, which is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery located on top of a hill at an altitude of 4166m AMSL. It is the biggest monastery of Spiti Valley and a religious training center for Lamas.

Atop the World!

The view from Kibber is amazing – it almost feels like the end of the world! And even this end of the world had a restaurant leased and run by men from lower hills! With other riders joining in, we ate our lunch at this place and then rode back to the town of Kaza.

Kaza’s lanes

The marketplace of Kaza is small, just like any other hamlet located on the hills. I spent some time roaming around; mostly interacting with local people. I noted that many of the traders/shop-keepers hail from other parts of HP, and from Jammu & Kashmir, the northernmost Indian state. They stay there for only the season – May to October every year and before the routes get cut-off, they go back to their hometowns, away from this cold, arid and inhospitable terrain.

Spiti Valley’s calm made me sit and think…this was just another world, way different that where I came from. The outlook towards life has very little to do with luxury or comfort; organizing the basic essentials takes most of the waking times. No one appears to be in a tearing hurry, not even the cab-drivers. Shop-keepers smile at the customers as they enter; and they aren’t trained by any retail training managers. Help is easy to come by, no one offers a doubtful look to any curious onlooker. This is truly virgin & untouched…away from the mad rush of the world I came here from…

Five days have gone by…the riders have come a long way. Some of us experience falling, some of us encountered bike-breakdowns. Some are anxious & apprehensive, some appear keen to face the challenge. Some simply remain pensive, may be thinking as to what lay ahead…

Tomorrow, we would ride towards Keylong…and experience the much-awaited and rather-feared water-crossings. With these thoughts, most of us would go to bed tonight.

To be continued …


  • Surinder Sharma says:

    Dear RRG,
    Marvellous Very good writing, nice photos. Very excited journey. Thanks a lot for share with us.

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  • Sanghamitra says:

    Thanks for sharing your magnificent experience with us…wonderful write-up accompanied with great photos…

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Wow. Refreshed my memories. After reading about Manali-Rohtang Jams, may be one should take this longer but every penny worth it route to Leh.

    I have two queries
    1. Is the Kalka-Bypass open ? Did you go via Pinjor, Kalka town to reach Parwanoo ?
    2. How is the Chali-Kufri connection ?

    • Nandan – Manali-Leh route is for the ones who do not want to go through the grind of ‘no-roads’ and water-crossing. Ironically, for RE enthusiasts like us, these roads are the real heaven! Moreover, bikers can always glide through the jams at Rohtang and reach Koksar faster. By this route, Manali-Keylong is only 130kms.

      One good news os that once the ongoing work on constructing Rohtang Tunnel gets completed, it will be very easy to travel through Rohtang pass. That will be a much safer, faster and year-around link to Ladakh. I am told that this tunnel will also shorten the distance by about 50kms, thereby reducing the travel time by about 4hours; it will take only about 30 minutes to travel through the Rohtang tunnel.

      1. Kalka bypass is now open and is very good. Though we were advised to take the Pinjor, Kalka town route to reach Parwanoo, I went ahead and took the bypass route – that appeared better, albeit it made me drive backwards towards Hotel Shivalik in Parwanoo.

      2. Kandaghat to Chail is a single, but decent road. However, one experiences massive jam outside town of Kufri, which continues till you drive out of the town. Again, bikers easily glide through!

      • Nandan Jha says:

        Thanks Rishi. At least Simla madness is saved. Long time back (2004 I guess), I took a inside road from Chail which spit me out somewhere on NH21 and I probably passed through Kufri road, dont remember well. time to hit the roads. he he.

        When I did Delhi-Kaza in 2009, I was hoping that this Power-Plant business would be done in next 3-4 years but guess it is gonna hang around for more time.

        I look fwd to next one to see how Kunzum looks in this season. We did it on the first day of Kaza-Manali opening so it was all white. The 2nd one is scheduled for tomorrow morning. Great going.

  • Virag Sharma says:

    Nice write-up and pics

  • ashok sharma says:


  • Harish Bhatt says:

    Hi Rishi Raj… Excellent post and great pictures. I can imagine how you must have felt during this exiting and adventurous journey. Thank you for sharing.


  • Virag/Ashok/Harish,
    Thank you. Appreciate your comments.

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Rishi Raj,

    Truly amazing account of True and You. Nice pics and enjoyable narration. Liked the road idea of road classification.
    Thanks for sharing the adventure – looking for more in next parts.


  • Vijay Bansal says:

    Nice to see and read your experience on bike.

  • venkatt says:

    Rishi, a salute to the 60 truly adventurous and brave souls who undertook this tough journey. I can just envy your courage and fortitude…Great post, description and pictures of your journey.

  • Vijay and Venkatt,

    Thank you. Glad you liked the travelogue.

    Venkatt – you can also join the group next year!


  • Varun Mehta says:

    Absolutely marvellous travelogue. Fabulous writing. Me too is a true appreciator of this metal beauty. desperately waiting for the time when I will be hitting the himalayan rally with my ENFIELD. …

  • Aurojit/Varun,
    Thank you. Appreciate your comments.

  • Dear Rishi ,

    You should seriously give writing professionally for travel Media/magazine/books a serious thought…I was spell bopund and almost felt sharing the famous TRUE riding all the way to kaza…..wonderful post ,helpful informative descriptive and philosophical….great show….I wish I could ride and be one with nature…………………got very inspired and wanted tosee all these places..but my pocket and budget forced me to streamline the trip..I contacted ECOSPHERE a NGO (office at KAZa) and they have provided me the following trip sheet.

    4-Sept 1 shimla Jeep to Kalpa via narkanda 8 to 9 hours Kalpa overnight in a hotel
    5-Sept– kalpa –Jeep to Tabo visit nako enroute. Tabo overnight in a guesthouse
    6-Sept — Tabo–Head to Dhankhar Trek to the Dhankhar lake if interested and visit the
    monastery and fort. Head to Kee monastery Visit lhalung today.Kee Overnight in the
    monastery guesthouse
    7-Sept— Kee–Visit Kibber and kaza today roam the market and head to Langza early evening
    Langza Overnight in a homestay.
    8-Sept– Langza —Jeep to Komic– and head to Nako for the night Nako overnight in a tented
    9-Sept– Nako–Head to Sarahan today visit the famous bhimakali temple 8 to 9 hours Sarahan overnight in a hotel.
    10-Sept — Sarahan Jeep to Shimla .. Shimla.

    Kindly let me know at how is this trip route,my main concern is I would be travelling with my Wife and 2 year old son.
    Do you think there are risks involved and medical urgency?really wanna do this trip dude…kindly suggest whatever you think would be helpful for me and my family to complete this trip.

    I am from kolkata and oh yes my son has been to Dargeeling when he was 1 year old during month of November.

    thank you for the lovely post and encouraging me to go there….

    Best regards
    sanjay Guhathakurta

  • Wonderful post Rishi with brilliant pictures en-route. Enjoyed every word of the writeup.

  • Birinder says:

    Hi Kindly suggest me how manys days are required for kaza two or three days? And at losar 1 or 2 days stay?


    • Birinder, I could not understand your query much. Can you please rephrase your query? Thanks.

      • Birinder says:

        I am from chandigarh I am visting shimla -sangla-kaza -manali with my wife and 6 years old son and daughter first we have planned our trip in july but due to lot of landslides we have changed to september.Our itinerary is 1 st night stay Hotel Shrikhand Sarahan 3 night stay at kinner camps sangla 1 night stay at kinner camps nako. Now i am little confused should i stay 3 nights at kaza ( Hotel Snow Lion / Banjara Retreat ) or should i stay 2 nights at kaza and 2 nights at losar ( The Nomad’s cottage ).

  • I understand Shimla to Sangla about 200kms, which is a day’s drive. So you can stay overnight at Sangla. Then, Sangla to Nako is only 130kms, it will take you about 5-6 hours.
    Nako to Kaza is about 100kms – about 4 hours journey.
    Losar is a very small place – only 60kms from Kaza. I recommend you stay two nights in Kaza, visit Key, Tabo and Dhankar monitories and enjoy the pristine Spiti Valley. This way, you may add one more day at Manali to your list, instead of Losar.
    Kaza-Manali is also a day’s drive; about 200kms.
    We stayed at Hotel Spiti HPTDC at Kaza – it was really good.

  • Dear RRG,

    Seemed to me a fairy tale; the story belonging to some alien world – biking for 3,000 kms in hills ! Even if I can’t think of participating in such an event, I know people do it every now and then. I know of one Mr. R C Bajpai, who even though a banker by profession, had similar passion for RE and used to travel in Himalayas along with his wife and two sons ! Once when he visited Gangotri second time after an interval of two years, the manager of the dharmshala came running to him to welcome. Mr. Bajpai asked him, “Thousands and thousands of pilgrims come every year. How could you remember us?” The Manager replied, “People do come but no one has ever come here on bike with his wife and two children – except you !”

    One photo “Border Road Organisation’s Wonderland” is particularly terrifying ! How you must have felt riding through the steep cuts into the rocks !


    • Dear Sushant,
      Thank you. Great story you shared about Mr.Bajpai; they make all kinds of bikers in heaven!
      BRO guys are the true craftsman, I’d say. There were so many similar wonders I couldn’t capture. I am not too much of a photographer!

      • Karan says:

        We were planning to take a trip from Chandigarh and have 5 days in hand. We want to visit Spiti valley and have an i20 at our disposal. What itinerary would you suggest?

        • Option 1
          1. Chandigarh-Manali
          2. Manali – Kaza
          3. Rest Day at Kaza
          4. Kaza-Manali
          5. Manali-Chandigarh

          Option 2
          1. Chandigarh-Narkanda
          2. Narkanda-Kalpa
          3. Kalpa-Kaza
          4. Kaza-Manali
          5. Manali-Chandigarh

          Take your pick.

  • Karan says:

    Hi Rishi
    We are planning to go on 2nd august. We wanted to visit places like chandratal and places around Kaza Would it be safe to go through rohtang pass? Is it open? . If that is not possible we’ll have to come back through Simla only. What places would you suggest on the Kalpa route?

  • Hi Karan, Chandratal is en route Manali-Kaza (210kms), and it comes at about 140kms from Manali. However, it will be a long ride, because Chandratal would be a de-tour.

    Rohtang is open and safe, if you know how to ride on slush. In my view, option 1 is easier. In case you want to do daring drive, add one more day to Option 2 and make it a rest day at Kaza. That, I think, would be a good trip.

  • Aman Jassal says:

    Nice post Rishi…..very well written…. and moreover the place is just awesome…. I have been there and it was like out of the world feeling…. heaven on earth…..

  • rastogi says:

    dear rishi
    really wonderful trip. very nice photo. seeing these photo, i am making plan to visit leh-ladakh.

  • Tarun Sahu says:

    Rishi ji, i need your opinion . Actually we will plan to leh in April, is it feasibale to vitit leh at same time?

  • Pawandeep says:

    RRG, I was searching you from long back at last i found with awesome articles… amazing, refresh all our beautiful memories.

    Post me your FB profile link ;)

  • Vishal Sharma says:

    Hi Buddy, we also want to follow the same route, Shimla to Leh via Rampur, Kalpa & Kaza. But only problem we see that on google maps it doesn’t show any connecting road. Is their any motorable road connecting Nichar to Kalpa. We are planning to go next month by car. Please suggest.

    • RRGwrites says:

      Hi Vishal,

      I could not understand where you wish to start from – Shimla or Delhi? If Shimla, then you can go to Kalpa, via Narkanda. Then to Kaza via Rampur Bushahr. This is a good route. You don’t need to go to Nichar.
      Don’t trust Google maps for Himalayas, mate!

  • Vishal Sharma says:

    Thanks for your quick response buddy. So below is the detailed info for our plan on 14 Next Month.

    We are four friends and will be leaving from Delhi to Leh. We have already explored delhi-Leh via Manali-Keylong-Sarchu in 2012. But this time we are planning to go from alternate route i.e. Shimla-Leh via Kaza. We will be travelling by a WagonR car. So could you tell us the route we should follow that have decent roads along with the stoppages. Thanks in advance. You Rock!!

    • Vishal Sharma says:

      Forgot to ask that do we need any permits for this route. Last time we had to take permits for Rohtang pass.

      • RRGwrites says:

        I am not sure about the weather around 14-Aug on the Spiti Valeey route – as far as it is raining, the route is really risky. Plus, I won’t recommend you doing this route in a Wagon-R. It is not that you cannot do it, you shouldn’t. It is not a safe vehicle to take on those roads. And as you would’ve read on my travel diary, the roads on this route are really, really tough, including a patch of no-roads!

        You would need permits all along the way – at various places by ITBP – at Losar, at Jispa, at several other places. Plus you will get the at the ITBP beat itself, unlike the one you need for Rohtang and Leh, which you get at the DC office only.

        To still answer your query on route, go to Narkanda, then Kalpa and then Kaza – you will get places to stay at all three locations – book HPTDC hotels at Narkanda and Kaza – they are the best. At Kalpa, there are a lot of small GHs/resorts.

        From Kaza, you go to Sarchu, then Leh.

  • surya says:

    Wonderful post with brilliant pictures en-route. Enjoyed every word of the writeup.

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