Spiti. Fast becoming the new bucket list destination for bikers from across the world. The ‘Middle Land’ as it’s commonly called by those with an interest in history, and ‘Piti’ by the locals, this little jewel of Himachal is unbeatable, as its stunning landscapes, Buddhist monasteries and the adversities of road and infrastructure constantly nibble away at your fortitude! Since getting there in the monsoon is hard, and the exit even harder, it’s one of the most adventurous rides in the world. For these reasons alone, Triumph curates a ‘Train and Ride’ into the area. Normally, 14 riders and a handful of 4x4 support vehicles make up the expeditionary force that will venture into Sangla, and then Spiti – emerging five days later in the Kullu valley.
We left Shimla in the pouring rain. Rain gear, normally black, with stripes of high visibility neon colours marked the 23 Triumph Tigers that had signed up for the Splendid Spiti 3.0. The ride to Sangla was a smorgasbord of rain-drenched highway and dirt with hot, humid suffering as we dropped altitude to the Sutlej river – whose course we would follow upto Khab where it joins the Spiti. The climb to Sangla was a relief. The Deodar forest replaced riverside scrub and the walk to the Hotel Batseri through an orchard with apple-laden trees, was magical. A full moon, bonfire classroom session and a hearty dinner closed the first easy day of the ride.
Day two would be another story. As we left Sangla, Abhimanyu Sharma crashed his sump on a rock and drained the engine oil. While the Xplorearth mechanics attempted repairs, the convoy moved to Powari, only to be informed that the pump was out of fuel! A detour to Rekong Peo for refuelling cost us an hour. Meanwhile, the repaired Triumph rejoined the convoy amidst more bad news. The road to Pooh would be blocked for four hours due to a landslide. Local knowledge cut in and we headed for the Old Hindustan-Tibet Road via Pangi village in an attempt to bypass the blockage. The dirt road hanging precariously on a 1000-ft cliff was no more than mule wide, terrifying more than a few participants! We finally descended onto the main highway spending three hours on the high mountain trail that still garners a Level 2 plus rating, instead of waiting for four hours in an endless line of cars! Taking the road less travelled certainly made all the difference. Each stop for regrouping was a spontaneous classroom session. Much was learnt from the Ride Captains – Shayne Singh and Ravish Sharma who patiently explained the techniques and shared experiences. Tabo, the night halt, was reached in the dark, with the menhirs beside the road throwing twisted, surreal shadows in the moonlight.
The Pin Valley is the real training ground for the off-road program that Triumph has evolved over the last four years. Tabo helipad is the venue for a curated teaser program that teaches the basics of turning and counter balancing on a dirt surface. Followed by a ride that involves crossing a GLOF (Glacial Lake Outburst Flood) site the training in an actual disaster environment is both tough yet hugely rewarding! A few falls later, everyone emerged at Mudh, the last village of the Spiti valley for a much-needed lunch. We trickled into Kaza by evening to a petrol pump with a failed dispenser.
Considering we were all now low on fuel, this was not the best news but we were too tired to take it to heart. Hotel Deyzor laid out a culinary fest where we ate and slept.
The next two days took us upto the heights of Langze, Komic and Demul. Monastery followed monastery. Wildlife sightings, cliff-face dwellings, high mountains and turquoise blue streams filled our days. More and more riding lessons made the riders more confident and skilled in preparation for the test on the final day.
Kaza to Manali. This horrific rite of passage was the usual battle against rain, flooded water crossings and bitter cold. The early start out of Kaza saved the day and we reached Manali amidst a deluge. Special mention for two women riders who braved the odds – Daksha Patel and Kalyani Potekar. A joyful celebration at Johnson’s Cafe, marked the end of an epic adventure.