How two Delhi based adventure junkies sat for coffee and got up for Ladakh!
(As documented by Tapish Bhatt)
(Day 1) Casual Day – 13th February : Me and a friend sitting at the Cafe Goethe in Central Delhi for Lunch. He says, “Im going to Ladakh” Since Ladakh trip has been planned and ditched many times in the past, I casually ask, “When and how?”
His response: “Tomorrow in my Ikon, Coming?”
I asked him if anything had been prepared. The answer was in the negative. He asked me to check up the route and finalise by the evening. We decided to attempt Spiti as it was more likely to happen than Ladakh.
That evening, I packed up my trekking gear, but had still to ask my parents.
(Day 2) Valentines Day 14th February : In the morning my parents vetoed the idea. I called up my friend and told him ” Need to check, will only be able to confirm by 4″. He informs me that he will get his tyres changed during the day. At 2, somehow cajoled mom to agree. They didn’t know it was Spiti, they were told of Narkanda.
At 4: 15, yours truly in Boss’ Chamber: “Sir I need some leave” Surprisingly boss gives a go ahead and says -Be back by Monday.
4:30 The Ikon is parked in the office driveway, We leave for Spiti in 10 minutes. No reservations, No music, No map!
We left the Delhi border around 5:30. Manyu (my friend) had got some snacks and had got both rear tyres changed. His front tyres had been replaced about a month back. So we were on all new tyres.
No other checks had been made on the car. However, since he is one person who takes good care of his car, I was assured of the car. We were carrying a couple of military-spec jackets and body warmers as we expected to stay in the car for a night at least.
We made our move towards Chandigarh. We were to stay at a cousins’ place there. It was after the Delhi border that I got a chance to drive the Ikon for the first time (in my life). I had never driven his car as he always considered me careless. It took some time for me to get used to the controls of the Ikon (light/indicator on the left stalk as against on the Right for my Esteem). Also, the diesel engine had a torquey feel.
Drive 1: Delhi- Chandigarh 14th February
The highway is good, and the only stops we made were at “Sukhdev Dhaba, Murthal” and the three tolls enroute.
The dhabas at Murthal have a loyal Fan base and they serve excellent parathas with White butter. Total bill for 2: Rs 140.
There are three tolls on the way: Total hit about Rs. 145
Just before entering Chandigarh, we saw a huge Sambur on the highwayside. I could not brake there and had to take a u-turn after about 500 metres, by when it had vanished. It did look imposing with the huge horns and the lights falling on it from passing vehicles.
We reached Chandigarh by 9:30, had a great home cooked dinner, and fell asleep.
(Day 3) Drive 2: Chandigarh- Shimla- Narkanda- Rampur- Jhakri- Bhabhanagar (262 kms, 15th February)
The next day we got up early and left Chandigarh by 730. At about 930, we stopped near Solan to load some music on the USB drive. The cold outside was freezing and we knew that we were in for a tough time.
We met two young kids going to school. Remembered my school days, when I used to trudge up the hill with my younger brother. Stopped and gave them a chocolate each (for telling their names)
At 1100, we reached Shimla and went up to the ground above the mall. Surprisingly for a weekday, there were many tourists. We sat down at the HPTDC ‘Goofa’ restaurant and ordered breakfast. It has a fantastic location and offers both open air and glazed sitting. The service was very slow but the food made up for it. Price: Rs. 104 for two.
We were out of Shimla by 1215. Being a hill person myself, I was saddened by the state of the city. As with Nainital (my hometown), this city has also been damaged irreparably by rampant commercialization.Traffic Jams, numerous vehicles, and construction everywhere have taken away its charm.
We continued towards Kufri. We got our first glimpse of Snow and Slush there. The roads had been cleared by the PWD/BRO and hence were in motorable condition. (though the snow had made the surface undulating, hence slowing down average speeds)
Beyond Kufri, we got amazing roads, and we found ourselves profusely blessing BRO/PWD for the job. A glimpse
We reached Narkanda at about 1530 hrs. It was covered in at least 2-3 ft of snow. We asked people for the roads ahead and set forth to Rampur immediately.
Rampur is a decent town, and has a Vishal Mega mart, and dealers/ service centers for ICML/ MAruti/ Tata/ Chevrolet and Yamaha. There is also a tibetan Gompa for those who wish to visit.
We crossed Rampur at 5:00 after which we got amazing valley view. There was some landslide near Jhakri but the road was open.
At Jeori, we decided against going to Sarahan and instead continued to Wangtu. Sarahan was a little off the track, and since we were doing good speed, we hoped that we will make it to Wangtu by 8ish.
However, a little later, we came across a slush covered Aveo. The gentleman there advised us to stay at Bhabhanagar (about 30 kms from Jeori, on the way to Wangtu) as there was heavy slush after that and we may get stuck.
Bhabhanagar had an SJVNL field hostel. The incharge asked us if we work for the government. On my affirmative answer, he made me talk to his boss, who allowed us to stay there for the night. The hostel is well built and provides running hot water + heaters. The food was decent and we paid him a total of Rs. 750 for the stay + dinner + breakfast next day. My suggestion would be to enquire with them in advance for a booking during season time.
Drive 3: Bhabhanagar- ReckongPeo(almost)-(reverse) Narkanda (almost)- reverse to Sainj. (180 kms)
We left the field hostel at about 10 am. A driver with SJVNL, Deepak helped us out with the route. We were advised to not go beyond Reckong Peo, as the area was prone to Snow and the road would shut down for days on end.
The road from Bhabhanagar to Tapri via Wangtu was in a bad shape. Mostly it was unmetalled/ (metalled with lots of debris). The average speed on this stretch was about 20kmph.
It gets really difficult if you have to reverse on any of these due to a truck/bus in the way.
We kept driving on and came across a bridge, after which the roads became worse. We did a water crossing after watching intently a bus do the same. Manyu was deftly guiding me from across the crossing. Soon after this, we came down a 30 degree incline that was slushy and did not have a railing. The track was barely wide enough for the car and more than a couple of times, I could feel the car slipping towards the river.
Two turns later, we came across a huge stretch of deep slush where the Maxx travelling in front of us got stuck. He was a local taxi driver and deftly reversed the vehicle, got a few people to deboard and then took the stretch again. This time he managed to do it. We were waiting along the sides when a bus from the other side informed us that the track ahead was equally bad, if not worse. It had also started snowing, and we decided to not take any chances. We decided to turn back there.
While returning, we recorded the inclined slush track that we crossed. The way back gave some awesome scenery. Drive times improved considerably after Bhabhanagar. This time, Manyu was on the wheel, and following some spirited driving by him, we reached 5kms short of Narkanda at about 6 o clock.
The adventure was yet to begin..
It was snowing on the foothills of Narkanda. A bus had collided sideways onto a Maxx, and the two were having a heated argument. The damage to the MAxx was not much but he was adamant on the bus driver paying up. The bus driver on the other hand was asking for some time to get the money. After about an hour, the argument ended but by this time, the road had about a couple of inches of snow. There was a Maruti 800 with a Northern Motorsport sticker parked in front of us. He asked us to follow him and parked his car on the right as the traffic had started moving on the left. He also asked us to reduce tyre pressure for better grip.
A car passed from the left after swaying around in the snow. It was followed by an Innova, whose driver braked hard and BANG! it banged into the rear of my car. People around pushed it out and then suggested me to reverse the car. The M800 I was supposed to follow also changed course and set south. I turned the car in snow with great difficulty. A big thanks to the people who pushed the car around, though I must admit that everybody was giving contradictory directions, making my job difficult. Surprisingly, the car just had minor scratches.
We drove back about 28 kms to Sainj. Thanks to the HPTDC, Narkanda manager who Talked to the manager of Atul Regency and got a room confirmed.
The hotel provides decent food, and running hot water + Tv in rooms.
After a hard day’s work, we finally had some good food and slept.
(Day 4) : Sainj- Narkanda (33kms)
We got up early this day, and went down to the river. The river was beautiful and provided some very nice frames. We relaxed in the chilling waters for some time, as we had to go only upto Narkanda that day.
We left the hotel at about 11 after breakfast. Paid him a total of Rs. 1300 for a night’s stay, dinner (including chicken) and breakfast.
We encountered heavy snow enroute Narkanda. We were thanking God we returned last night.
Once in Narkanda, we went straight to the HPTDC Hatu rest house. It has a fantastic location and a beautiful lonely path leads to it.
We checked in and immediately went Skiiing. The ABV Mountaineering institute in Manali runs extremely cheap skiing programs of 7/14 day duration here. The slopes were nice and not very crowded. We paid Rs. 500 for two people. They initially quoted Rs 200 each for an hour, but we preferred to take the unlimited usage plan .
Skiing proved to be an awesome experience. After that, we trudged back to the hotel and had food at the Cafeteria. HPTDC has a list of Himachal delicacies that they provide their guests. We chose to have the Anardana Chicken. It was simply superb. After dinner, we asked them for a jug of tea and sat down on the snow chairs outside. It was cold, but the clear starry sky, and slight wind combined with hot tea made the experience worth it. We retired soon for dinner after that.
(Day 5): Narkanda- Chandigarh (182 km)
We got up early and checked out. Paid a total of about Rs 2400 for a night’s stay + dinner for two. Narkanda also has some other cheaper options for stay. We had breakfast at a small restaurant Shyam Bhojnalaya, and proceeded for Skiing.
Today, we did better than the last day. I was even able to negotiate the professional slope once. The second time, I crashed into the sides.
We left Narkanda after skiing for about 4 hours and took the highway to Shimla and beyond to Chandigarh. We reached Kalka at about 8 o clock. There was a slight jam there. We also had Isher’s kulfi in Kalka (on the main chandigarh shimla road). Highly recommended!
We reached Chandigarh at 9. Went for a quick family dinner to the Sagar Ratna in Sector 5, and then crashed.
(Day 6) Final day (Chandigarh- Delhi)
We left Chandigarh at 11, and continued till Murthal where we had a good meal, again!
We hit Delhi at about 4, marking the end of this fantastic trip
(Day 7) : Resonating the awesome experience.
Adventurers involved :
Abhimanyu Sharma (Owns a Diesel Ford Ikon)
Tapish Bhatt (Owns a Maruti Suzuki Esteem)