The ride across Kaza to Manali route in early June is just magical. I might just go on adding endless list of adjectives to describe the beauty of the virgin landscape along this route. After a memorable sojourn in Spiti, I got a chance to ride through the Kaza to Manali route hardly 4-5 days after the Kunzum pass opened up for vehicles.
Thanks to the heavy rains in the evenings, the weather was pleasant with the fresh smell of earth all the way to Rangrik. I had reserved a seat in a shared jeep from Kaza to Manali the previous day. With the company of three Gujarathi brothers, few locals of Kullu and Spiti and a teacher from Panipat, we started our long drive with introductions.
In early June, this route is open only for bikes and four wheelers and only by end of June/early July, BRO usually opens up the bus services in Kaza to Manali route. The pristine beauty of the places in this route will make you feel as if you are riding through heaven.
The road trip from Kaza to Manali passes through Rangrik, Losar (first village of Spiti from Manali side and last village of Spiti when starting from Kaza), Kunzum La, Chandra river, Batal, Chatru, Gramphu, Rohtang La, Solang valley and is packed with a lot of excitement and some nerve wracking moments while passing through the muddy tracks and the snake like winding roads.
Mild snow greeted us as we headed from Losar to Kunzum pass. There were a handful of tourists in the Kunzum pass and many couldn’t contain their joy of experiencing fresh snowfall for the first time. Our driver showed us Mt. Papasura, Parvathi parvat and Bara Shigri glacier that were partially covered by the clouds.
The Kunzum Devi Temple signifies the confluence of Hindu and Buddhist cultures. Dedicated to mother goddess Kunzum (a name for Shakti or Parvati), the temple is surrounded by hundreds of colourful Buddhist prayer flags. Locals complete a parikrama of the temple before proceeding further from this point.
The biggest joy of travelling with Gujarathis is that they travel with home packed food and are more than happy to share their food. I cannot recall how many packets of khakra, theplas and fafdas we might have munched away in our discussion about power yoga, weight loss, dieting and Shilpa Shetty. On a serious note though, they were a little concerned that the pizzas, dosas and burgers have almost taken over their traditional gatiawadi food out of the tables of gujarathi households. After a darshan in Kunzum matha temple, we started off from the place.
Beyond Kunzum, we had to navigate further through rocks and the flooded roads from the snow-melt water. Due to the bad weather and light rains, we could see land slowly caving in at few places and ready to slide down. The Chandrataal road was closed for tourists that day due to bad roads and a group dejected tourists had pitched their tents in Batal to catch a glimpse of the moon lake the next day.
We were spellbound with the views of the roads beyond Batal. We were passing through the walls of snows (as high as 10 to 15 feet) on either sides of the muddy track. The driver asked us to snap a few pictures as soon as we could, and hop into our vehicle as there was hardly any gap to give way to any vehicle approaching in the opposite direction.
These roads are undoubtedly a driver’s nightmare. While the locals are at ease passing through the challenging terrain, the tourists driving on their own usually need a push to cross the flooded roads from the snow-melt water.
We moved at a snail pace beyond the walls of snow. The heavy flow of waters along the roads had restricted our speed and we had to get down at few places to help the vehicles ahead of us to keep the traffic moving.
After a tiring ride, we reached Chatru for lunch. Chatru stands out like an oasis in the middle of an high altitude desert lands. After a quick lunch, we started off from Chatru in a fast pace as few locals in our vehicle had to reach Manali early and catch the bus to Gorakhpur to leave further towards Nepal.
As we crossed another valley and ascended up, we could see herds of sheeps and goats grazing in the high altitude meadows. Our car came to a screeching halt all of a sudden as hundreds and hundreds of goats and sheeps made their way through the roads. This was the first time I had seen so many goats and sheep flocking together and moving ahead to the lathis of the shepherd. Finally after an hour and after sighting of over a thousand goats/sheeps/yaks and some challenging water streams, we finally managed to move ahead to Gramphu without any disturbance.
We joined the Leh-Manali highway at Gramphu and everyone in the car was ecstatic at the view of pukka tar roads. Our happiness was shortlived as the roads lasted only for a few metres and it was the usual muddy roads after a while. To add on to the injury, there were a pool of vehicles heading to Keylong/returning back from Leh and we were moving at a snail pace all the way to Rohtang. With tourists from Manali, Spiti and Leh flocking this high mountain pass, Rohtang is usually crowded except when it’s closed during winters.
It was around 3 PM when we moved out of Rohtang and a light drizzle ensured we get to see a rainbow before bidding adieu to the high-altitude mountains. Huge tourist rush from Manali to Rohtang made sure we were stuck in traffic for few more hours in our slow movement towards Manali. We could see tourists gliding down the Solang valley as we descended from Rohtang to Gulaba. It was an amazing view with beas river on one side, patches of green in the backdrop of snow peaks.
Beyond Gulaba, there is a checkpost where the vehicle permits for driving from Manali to Rohtang are checked. Since we had come from Kaza, there were no permits needed. After a pleasant and memorable ride through Spiti, last few kms in Manali were awful. After four hours of getting stranded in very heavy traffic in the roads of Manali, we finally decided to walk with our backpacks the next 3-4 kms to our hostel that we had booked for the night stay. With vehicles stranded in roads for hours together, Manali traffic was even worse than Bangalore and Mumbai. The Himachali locals in our cab, who had to catch their bus to gorakhpur and Kullu also missed their bus as they had also waited with us till 9 PM for the traffic to clear out.
Some insane tourism and commercialization has taken a toll on this once beautiful town, and its better to give a miss to Manali, while heading towards Himalayas. Except for the last few hours in Manali, the ride from Kaza till Gulaba is a memory to cherish throughout my lifetime. Riding through this route gives you the surreal experience of exploring some places where there is very little connection to the rest of the world and only nature rules.
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