When I was packing my luggage
with trepidation and uncertainty, considering that this was my very first
adventure trip, I could only think of cold weather, lifestyle changes, food
troubles, stomach woes and not to mention elusive wild creatures. I asked myself “Why did I plan this trip?” I
should have probably stayed with some small adventure trip around Mumbai. But,
in my heart I knew that I wanted to do something very different. I wanted to
get away from the city and challenge myself to achieve something that I had not
done so far. Reminding myself of this, I set the alarm and went to sleep. The
next morning, the thoughts were the same. Butterflies were merrily prancing in my stomach till the time I
stepped outside Chandigarh airport and saw the smiling TRLT (The Road Less
Travelled ) team member welcoming me.
A dream trip
I met my fellow travellers for
the first time. We were six of us - each one from interesting and different
walks of life. We set out in two Maruti Suzuki Gypsy vehicles (considered one
of the best navigators in such off road terrains) and a 4x4 Ford Endeavour. Our
first stop was lunch at the iconic Pal Dhaba in Chandigarh. Once were through
with a full meal comprising of saag, mutton, chicken and more, washed down with
lassi, we hit the road.
I consider myself a fairly
good driver but I had never driven along new terrains especially along the
route to Spiti Valley. The TRLT team invited us to drive the vehicles along the
route, whenever we felt like it. Truth be told, I enjoyed the drive on the
hilly terrain. The best part was that we were travelling in a convoy and there
was a driver sitting in the rear of each vehicle. So while we drove all through
the picturesque routes, the drivers took charge along the tough or off road
stretches as per our request. With the vehicles being well stocked with a
basket full of food, flasks of hot water and masala chai sachets, it was a
picnic all the way through.
All the cars were fitted with Ceat
Czar tyres and these served us very well all through the drive. Even on icy and
sleet filled roads, the tyres were firm & never once did the vehicles slip
even when driven by amateur drivers like me.
Welcome to the
As we left the plains of
Punjab and stepped into the hills, the weather turned cool on our route to
Kufri. I had seen Shimla only in movies especially 3 Idiots, but at sundown as Shimla came over the horizon, with the
moon rising in the background I let out a sigh of wonderment, and tried to seep
in the moment lest I don’t see it again. We reached our hotel Royal Tulip in
Kufri. The TRLT team had completed our check in formalities before our arrival
and without a moments gap we were in the comforts of our room
After a hot bath we left for
dinner. What is an adventure without moving away from our comfort zone,
especially the food? When we travel, one of the best ways to understand the
local culture and habits is through their food and interaction with locals.
Soup was a local Himachali yoghurt based preparation – Kheru. It was delicious.
The entire meal, including the dessert, was topnotch.
Despite daunting environment
conditions, temperatures dipping as low as -23 degrees, the TRLT organisers ensured
luxury at every step of the adventure. Heaters each day, gensets at all
locations, they had thought of everything.
In fact, they had a Mahindra Camper equipped with food travelling with
us all through. Each day, their chefs conjured up a full meal comprising of
salad, papad, dal, vegetables, chicken, roti and rice. Kudos to them!!!.
Sunrise in the
We woke up real early and
weren’t disappointed one bit. Ravi, my fellow adventurist captured some
beautiful shots of hills welcoming the 1st rays of the sun. Post breakfast, we
left for Kinnaur Valley. There was s surprise in store for us. The organisers threw
in a complementary skiing experience at Narkanda. This was beautiful. Under the
able guidance of experts, we soon took confident steps and started enjoying the
entire skiing experience. It is a tough sport and ensures a lot of calorie
Hot tea and Maggi post the
skiing, we proceeded to drive. The roads were beautiful and wide, with the
pleasure of a drive and scenery to accompany. However, towards the afternoon,
as we neared the district capital of Rekong Peo, the roads started proving
difficult. The Border Roads Organisation, were constructing roads at a furious
pace, and this landslide prone area, refused to offer much of a view.
But then, as we drove towards
Kalpa, where we halted for the night, the air was reverberating with an energy
which was only expected as we were right next to the formidable Kinner Kailash
range. That full moon night, when we reached Kalpa, the sight of the moonlight
shimmering in the snow left us breathless with its beauty.
We stayed at The Grand
Shambhala – a charming beautiful boutique hotel overlooking the Kinner Kailash
range. The temperature was a freezing -10 degrees. All the rooms were equipped
with heaters. The chefs conjured up a full meal comprising of salad, papad,
dal, vegetables, chicken, roti and rice, and fresh dessert.
I was looking forward to the
frozen Nako lake, which was apparently halfway between Kalpa and Mane. Yes, I
know a frozen lake should be expected on a frozen route to a frozen valley with
frozen, sorry, the only living thing that’s probably way too comfortable in the
freeze. But yet, the sight was like ‘Yo and behold.’ It was breathtaking. We
literally drove through the road less travelled and probably lesser driven on.
But shortly thereafter, as the roads obliged and scenic beauty continued to
pamper through our progress to Nako, we were treated to some very interesting
views of the Himalayan Red Fox. At Nako,
after savouring the sight for a little longer, we found ourselves sitting on
chairs with tables, on a snow covered helipad, all set up by the team for our
picnic lunch by the lake. With the sun beating down, we were on a cliff, with
the frozen Nako lake to one side and piping hot food on the other. Not to be
left behind, we indulged in a bit of slalom in the snow
The beauty of
white @ Mane
We crossed the Malang glacier
before reaching the Tabo Monastry. The roads now were covered with snow and ice
and were becoming slippery. This beautiful monastery was set in the middle of
the village. Though we could not go inside the monastery, we spent time
enjoying the serenity of the space. We proceeded towards Mane. We spent an hour
navigating through the twists and turns before reaching Mane, a village of just
over 30 families.
A charming homestay awaited us
– simple but bristling with warmth, literally. The Bukhari (traditional Ladakhi
heating system) was on and we happily snuggled around it enjoying a great
dinner. The view from the 1st floor of the home stay was fabulous.
If the night appeared snowy,
the morning was a thick sheet of white, till as far as your eyes could see. The
snow nearly blinded us with its magnificence. We not only ventured out but also
walked around the village interacting with the locals and children – all bright
and peppy as they headed to school on a cold winter of -10 degree temperature
morning. Hot toast with butter/ nutella, omelettes, poha, masala chai and
muesli filled us up.
We decided to complete one important
activity before the Snow leopard stretch – visiting Dhankar Monastry. Dhankar
village boasts of the palace that stands testimony of a glorious era gone by.
More beautiful and pristine was the Dhankar Monastry overlooking the confluence
of the Pin and the Spiti river. We soaked in the breathtaking view and spent
time meditating as well. It was quite a sight, watching children sunning
themselves at the edge of the cliff, reciting religious texts.
Snow Leopard lair
The last leg of our onward
journey took us to Kibber, where we reached at night. We were at 13900 ft.
above msl. Vinayta, our TRLT co-explorer had us all excited as she spoke about
the snow leopards visiting the village at night in search of their prey. Our
hopes soared with the possibility of a good sighting.
We were woken up early because
apparently, snow leopards had been spotted. We got ready, put on our gaiters
(over our trousers and shoes – designed to prevent snow from going into our
shoes) and stepped out, ready to walk through 2 ft. of snow. We trudged along
for nearly a kilometre out of Kibber village, with our cameras ready. We had
some food and tea ready with our guides, just in case the trail was longer than
what we anticipated.
Suddenly, our rather cool
guides started motioning to us frantically. The next few seconds were brisk
movements to get to the right spot, and there she was – beautiful, majestic and
full of grace, a mere 10 metres away from us! And just besides her, was her
kill. She was pleased with herself, and cuddling up to a good, well-deserved
rest. I still could not believe my eyes. I had finally laid eyes on the much
spoken about, gorgeous, elusive cat. We spent the next hour happily clicking
pictures and capturing our moment of joy. Several clicks later, guides who had
gone in the other directions came back reporting the sighting of more snow
leopards. That really was our lucky day. After about 15 minutes of maneuvering
through the snow, we spotted two more snow leopards, on the opposite ridge,
walking and scanning their familiar surroundings. We were separated from these
beauties by just one large gorgeous canyon.
Sitting at the edge of the
gorge was sheer bliss. We saw eagles gliding past us, Ibex on the other side of
the gorge and more importantly, one of the most beautiful gorges with a bridge
going across (covered in snow, of course).
Our plan the next morning was
to visit the fossil village of Langza, but we were informed that the road to
the village was snowed out. Rewind, nearly 10,000 years ago when the African
and Asian plateaus collided to form the Himalayas. The area in between the two
plateaus was a sea and during this formation, a lot of marine life got
fossilized in rock. Souvenirs of this age are available freely in Langza. We
decided to go back to Kalpa. With a day of relaxation and general looking
around, the evening was dedicated to the ethereal sunset over Kinner Kailash, a
classic high energy moment that we had been waiting for.
We skipped breakfast the next
morning since we had heard so much about the food of Chotiwala Dhaba near
Rampur that we were very keen to try it out. Chotiwala did not disappoint---Limited,
but delicious menu comprising of sarson ka saag, make di roti, pahadi rajma and
The lure of a hot
The only thing that was running in our minds
was the luxury of a hot bath. Truth be told, The Road Less Travelled provided
us with plenty of hot water each day of our adventure, but we were just
unwilling to have a bath in such cold weather. Hence, Shimla suddenly looked
very enticing. The roads were back to being the best and we raced back via
Narkanda to Shimla. Our rooms had been booked at the Eastbourne Hotel – a
charming colonial style hotel in Old Shimla, surrounded by Pine forests. We were
craving for a hot water bath. The weather all through the trip was so biting
cold, that a bath was a far cry from the desire of the heart. We spent our
evening at Café Shimla times and celebrated the end of an iconic trip.
As I sipped on my wine, I
looked around the table at this amazing group of people I had met on my first
adventure trip. Unlike me, almost all of them were adventure and travel
enthusiasts. They were able to reaffirm their love for new experiences and I
was able to confirm my spot with the likeminded. We raised a toast to the snow
Organisers: The Road Less
Shankar Ganesh - +91 98210 20317/
Vinayta Raheja - +91 9820369058/
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