In September 2011 I rode my bike through the Spiti and Kinnaur valleys in Northern India. The next set of photo posts document my ride through this scenic region of the Indian Himalayas. 

The ride started in Shimla and finished in Manali and included two major mountain passes - Kunzam La and Rohtang La. Much of the cycling was above 4000 metres and the roads were in fairly bad condition.

The Kinnaur valley is predominately Hindu and runs along the Sutlej river, whereas the Spiti valley is predominately Buddhist is runs close to the Tibetan border.

During the 2011 season Himachal Pradesh saw early snows and unprecedented rain which made for difficult road conditions especially on Rohtang La, which at one point in the season was closed for many days trapping hundreds of tourists.


View Kinnaur and Spiti Valley in a larger map

5th Sept - Delhi to Shimla By Car

Approximately 350kms by Car.

From Delhi I hired a car and driver to take me from Delhi to Shimla for the start of the ride. In 2005 I cycled this part of the ride, which is fairly miserable cycling due to the traffic, heat and dust. If you are short on time it is much better to spend the time in the Himalayas.

The car trip took about 7 hours and cost 4500 rupees (90 $USD) which is fairly reasonable given the cost of petrol in India is one of the most expensive in the world. 

I prefer this option to the bus as it allows me to stop when I want and is more comfortable. You can also make sure the bike is packed safely instead of it being jammed on the bus with all the other luggage.

 

Transport from New Delhi to Shimla

The things they sell at the traffic lights in India!

Here is my driver checking that the bicycle is loaded onto the roof securely at one of our stops for Chai.

6th Sept - Shimla to Narkanda

Distance - 63 km

Ride Time - 4:34:44

Average - 13.7 km/hr

Total Ascent - 450 m

The view from my Hotel in Shimla. Shimla is an old British Hill Station which is now popular with Indian Honeymooners. The only place

I have come across in India which rubbish free.

 Time for Chai and something sweet before heading off for the days ride.

Time for Chai and something sweet before heading off for the days ride.

Cooking the mornings Chai - one of many

The cyclists worst nightmare - the tunnel. Luckily this was a short one

7th Sept - Narkanda - Joeri - Sarahan

Distance - 109 km

Ride Time - 7:03:51

Average - 15.4 km/hr

Total Ascent - 1597 m

Total Descent - 2128 m

I massive second day of cycling with almost 1600 metres of ascent. I could have finished at Joeri (1445m), but the accommodation was miserable and filthy so I decided to finish off with a 17km climb up the Sarahan (2160m) which is much nicer and features the Bhimkhali temple.

 

Into the Himalaya foothills as the road winds up to Narkanda.

Beehive farm on the side of the road.

 

A Hindu temple is never far away. Ever present on the side of the road

The Hindu God Ganesh - remover of obstacles. Handy for the landslides later on that blocked the road.

Slowly gaining in altitude as I follow the Sutlej river up the valley

8th Sept - Sarahan - Joeri - Recong Peo

Distance - 93 km
Ride Time - 6:43:26
Average - 13.7 km/hr

Total Ascent - 1264 m

Total Descent - 1125 m

Started the day with a 17km downhill run from Sarahan to Joeri. It's then a long ascent up the valley to Recong Peo. Once again the town of Recong Peo is a 7km climb from the main road. Recong Peo is the last place to gain an Inner Line permit which allows you to travel beyond Jangi and close to the Tibetan border. The Inner Line permit was issued on the spot from the Tourist Office and cost 350 Rupees. 

There is always something happening to block the road. A nice excuse for a rest.

As you climb higher out of the valley the scenery gets more dramatic. The road is literally cut of the mountain. These kids appeared out of nowhere to check out my bike.

The road hugs the side of the mountain with little room for two vehicles to pass each other.

Looking back down the valley to see where you have come from

As you move further North and closer to the Tibetian border, you start to see the Buddhist influence

Landslides frequently block the road. The only choice is to wait for it to be cleared

And another - this one took 2 hours to clear.

9th Sept - Recong Peo - Pooh

Distance - 63 km
Ride Time - 4:52:31
Average - 13.3 km/hr

Total Ascent - 1060 m

Total Descent - 685 m

I decided to have an easier day to to help acclimatise before tomorrows climb up to 4000 metres. As I gain height the scenario starts to get more dramatic and remote. Today I left behind the dusty roads of Kinnaur and start to get closer to the Spiti Valley.

There is always plenty of things to see on the side of the road. This pulley system was used to move apples across from the other side of the valley

The road is always busy with traffic and the scenery dramatic.

The road deteriorates in section and these can stretch for kilometres. This section was sandy and steep forcing me to walk the bike.

The road is carved out of the side of the mountain. In some places just enough to fit a truck through!

The trucks are always colourfully decorated.

The towns are always perch high on the mountainside giving spectacular views.

As I gain altitude the greenery disappears and you are left with rock.

Counting down the kilometres to Pooh where I would spend the night.

The Buddhist influence getting stronger with prayer wheels present everywhere.

 

The town of Pooh sitting high off the main highway.

Not sure what this game is called, but the locals loved to play!

10th Sept - Pooh - Chango

Distance - 66 km

Ride Time - 4:55:15

Average - 13.4 km/hr

Total Ascent - 1531 m

Total Descent - 1212 m

I headed into the clouds today with a peak altitude of 3800m. Spending lunch in Nako which is a small town at 3600m. The road then descends down for 23kms to Chango which is nestled by apple orchards.

 

Plenty of dodgy bridges to cross.

The tarmac appears and then disappears as quickly. There are plenty of rough roads to deal with.

The climbing starts - all the way up to Nako at 3700m.

Switchbacks!

As the towns get more remote, the accommodation gets more primitive

Prayer flags line the roadside.

 

Looking back to see where I have come from and how high I have climbed

From this height you can see how the towns have cultivated an existence out of the barren landscape.

Lunch in Nako (3640m) - Tibetan Momos, the perfect cyclist food.

When the road turns into a river. Crossing these "Nullahs" with the bike can be a challenge. Especially when the water is freezing!

Climbing this high is exhausting work - especially at this altitude.