Biking enthusiast and the man behind establishing Ducati in India, Ravi Avalur tells the tale of his extreme biking road trip across the treacherous yet magnificent Hindustan-Tibet Road.
DELHI TO SHIMLA: 359 KILOMETRES IN 6 HOURS
STOPOVER 1 NIGHT
We began our journey late. The post-lunch July sun blazed down on us till we crossed the Haryana border. The heat eased on the long, high-speed stretches along the GT Road. Crossing Chandigarh, we headed to Himachal Pradesh, riding past small towns and iconic sites, such as the historic Kalka-Shimla railway crossing and The Lawrence School, Sanawar (immortalised by Rudyard Kipling). The sunset along the beautiful, winding roads of Shimla’s hills breathed energy into us as we reached our first stop. The Art Deco inspired Woodville Palace Hotel welcomed us with warm ‘pahari’ hospitality, culture, and cuisine.
SHIMLA TO SARAHAN: 180 KILOMETRES IN 9 HOURS
STOPOVER 1 NIGHT
Peace, quiet, and torrential rains accompanied us along the sweeping, high-speed tract exiting Shimla. Off-road diversions were the call from Chaba onwards. Road conditions worsened as we made a steep ascent to Dharanghati, and then a slippery descent to Mashnu. It is mandatory to carry proper off-road riding gear and crash protectors for this stretch as crashes are, perhaps, inevitable. We ended the day at Hotel Srikhand, Sarahan.
SARAHAN TO NAKO: 187 KILOMETRES IN 7 HOURS
STOPOVER 1 NIGHT
Spectacular scenery aside, The Hindustan-Tibet Road—with roads hewn from the mountain’s sides—is the deadliest motorway along the route. Wary of steep drops and landslides, we maneuvered our way along the edge, avoiding fallen (and possibly falling) rocks and debris. A steep descent at dawn down a winding dirt trail to Tapri was followed by a steady climb to Akpa at 2,230 metres; then further up to Moorang, Speelo, Pooh, and onwards to the 3,622-metres-high Nako village. Stop at the Velley View café here to enjoy local delicacies, monitor your blood oxygen levels, and acclimatise to the thin air.
4 NAKO TO KAZA: 111 KILOMETRES IN 2 HOURS
2 NIGHTS (INCLUDES DETOUR)
An early start and we were off to the high reaches of Giu where we came across the monastery of 15th-century Buddhist monk, Sangha Tenzin, whose mummy sits in an upright, meditative pose (one can still see his teeth!). We rode up and onward past the 1,000-year-old Tabo Monastery and the giant menhirs lining the road. Soft, off-road conditions meant a fast, enjoyable ride over loose surfaces and through many little streams leading up to Dhankar. Surrounded by a cold, lunar landscape, with the mighty River Spiti flowing in the valley below, this remote village is a sight to behold. It’s home to one of the most beautiful monasteries in the world, hence its name—the word ‘dhan’ means cliff and ‘kar’ means fort; together, they form ‘fort on a cliff’. Reaching Kaza, we refuelled at the world’s highest petrol pump and spent the night at the lovely Sakya Abode.
KAZA TO MANALI : 202 KILOMETRES IN 12 HOURS
STOPOVER 6 NIGHTS (Includes an injury stop)
Between Kaza and Manali, we encountered pretty villages and no fewer than five serious river crossings. Slowly tipping over in an icy river is extremely painful. While it makes sense to cut off the engine at once to avoid water being sucked in, this is as easy as hitting a snarling bear on the nose. Be that as it may, we crossed these obstacles with the help of our experienced lead biker. A non-existent ‘road’ followed—it’s just one hairpin bend after another of loose gravel—and lead us up to Kunzum Pass. The views, however, are breathtaking. Distracted, I found myself too close to the edge and hit the brakes, too hard, perhaps. I landed under the bike with a twisted ankle and torn ligament. With no option, I picked up the bike and rode up and past the 3,978-metres-high Rohtang Pass, weaving blind through thick fog till the pitch darkness gave way to the clear skies of Manali and our den for our stop here. As you can imagine, the sparkling lights of The Himalayan, the modern, luxury resort with stunning views of the Northwestern Himalayas, were a welcome sight.
MANALI TO CHANDIGARH TO DELHI : 560 KILOMETRES IN 12 HOURS
STOPOVER 2 NIGHTS
The Manali-Chandigarh road was a welcome stretch of smooth tarmac—Alpine scenery minus the brutal, rocky landscapes of the Spiti Valley. The black-smoke belching trucks, however, were a reminder of the pure air we had left behind. Fortunately, we got to Chandigarh in time for a good scrub. After a relaxing couple of days here, it was time to head back home to Delhi.