Spiti And The Flats

Entering India I was without a plan, slightly earlier than anticipated and just a rough date to reach Myanmar by early December. That meant there was around 10 weeks with no idea of where to go. After a couple of days in Amritsar with Frank and Petra, them describing how Spiti valley is one of the must see things on their journey from Germany to Thailand, there was suddenly a destination to reach and we set off back into the mountains. Reaching Manali a week long rain storm set in, with time on our side and knowing the roads from here on in were going to be less road and more muck we waited it out. Manali is an easy place to lose a week. German bakeries and English wine shops; I’d forgotten how famous England is for its wine.

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Buzzing to the sound of a hundred tourist topped Royal Enfield engines, this part of India is well on the backpacker trail, most heading north towards Leh. Crossing the Rhotung pass with them, the bouncing buses and the groaning lorries, we took the hidden side road into the less travelled Spiti. I say hidden, since the GPS gave up the ghost in Turkey I’ve been using the maps on my phone and asking locals for directions, the system usually works well but this time I managed to miss the turning completely, by the time I’d retraced my tracks though 5km of mud, Frank and Petra thought they’d lost me before we’d even started. We began the ride in and at almost the first corner saw a rather demoralised looking Indian guy coming the other way on a bashed up and filthy Enfield, asking what the road ahead was like we got the one word answer “HELL”.

The Enfield is a go anywhere vehicle in the Himalayas but it doesn’t mean it’s suitable. For me the road was heaven. Waiting out the storm in Manali had worked perfectly, the easy life had left me raring to go, even on the tough road the riding felt fantastic and what had been rain in the valleys up in the gods had blanketed the cold mountains in crisp snow, shining under the clear skies. One of those times where everything comes together perfectly.

Riding with Frank gave an insight into a different riding style, slow, slow, slow and steady. For a long while I thought his bike was buggered and had lost 3rd, 4th and 5th gear. Taking it in with this new found riding style, the journey through Spiti which I might have done in 4 days took an unhurried 10. Frank and Petra coming up with the plan and me going along for the ride. A ride that lead us to a night of slightly spiritual but mostly minimalist dinner, bed and breakfast with the monks at Ki Monastery. Breakfast consisted of flour, butter tea and chanting monks, while chanting they would instinctively mix the flour and tea into doughy balls, eating them between chants. Unfortunately I’d forgot my bowl so could only watch on as Frank, Petra and the other 2 tourists who’d stayed the night battled with the mixture in front of them, looking down the line at the mess that was being made, the floor covered in flour or hands covered in gloopy batter, forgetting the bowl didn’t seem like such a bad move. I think the monks enjoyed the messy tourist show almost as much as we enjoyed watching their morning rituals.

Stopping in Kaza for supplies, I needed brake fluid for the rear as it was beginning to feel like butter, we heard the sound of a big bike. Eric was in town. With 4 of the Pakistan 6 back together we headed up to Mudd in the Pinn Valley. Mudd is as about as remote as you can get by bike in India, the check post at the foot of the valley housed a guy tapping out Morse code. Somewhere along the trail we must of hit 88miles an hour. Tucked away in the little dirt streets there’s a few places to stay and only one spot for food, meeting people and getting local info. Over a few shots of Old Monk we made a plan with Akash and Zen, two Indian travelers, to take the hike with them in the morning along the Pin Parbati pass track. We, the lazy bikers, were late to start so decided to ride the first 12km where the trail is cut by a un fordable river, catching them up a few km out.  Akash jumped on the back and we rode up to the river before setting out on foot into the snow-capped uninhabited valley. The hike came to an abrupt end when we reached another, bigger river. With the only way across a cable, pick axe head Indiana Jones like zip line contraption precariously but tantalisingly strung across. It wasn’t long before one of us, Akash the soon to be wet Indian was in the freezing water. Before hypothermia set in we headed back.

Back at the bikes, with the wet Indian on the back with me we rode for Mudd and warming tea and momos , with the extra weight I guess it was kind of inevitable and just out of town, PKSSHHHHH, a decidedly pointy Himalayan rock slicing through the tyre and the extra thick inner tube. The first puncture of the trip. Quick sharp I tried to ride it back but almost straight away the tyre was off the rim. Now it was a push for Mudd, warming tea and tyre repair. Pushing the Peril along the track I couldn’t help but think how fortunate it was, flats aren’t good but for all the places to happen, close to the village, riding with others and a semi warm guesthouse serving hot tea to repair it in just round the next waterfall. If this had happened in some of the remoter stretches across the Stans it would have been a whole different shitty story.

Little did I realise that fixing the tube was going to be such a carry on, so began the saga of the flat tyre. Over the next 4 days there was another 3. First the replacement ‘quality’ India tube I was gifted by a friendly Indian biker, the Royal Enfield rear is near as damn it the same size as a DRZ, lasted 4 miles before splitting. Then it was back to the patched tube, but with anti puncture sludge stuff in the tubes the patches would only last 50miles a time. As irritating and tiring as it was fixing a tyre at over 4000m under the lip baking sun, I must admit the bike, the bike gods or whoever had decided to let the air out of the tires knew how to pick a good spot. Everyone had an amazing backdrop. To be fair, the whole region of Himachal Pradesh has an amazing backdrop. We also got pretty quick at changing a tube, sub 30min. I also learnt to never underestimate the power of moral support, Frank and Petra were always on hand to help and lift the spirits, in fact looking back at the pictures it appears Frank did all the work while I just stood around looking windswept.

With the purchase of an actual quality inner tube, the return of tarmac and oxygen the adventure was over. Having been to India twice before I should have known what was coming, but as I was about to be reminded even though it all falls under the same country, serene Spiti valley and the Himalayas couldn’t be more different from the hot plains I was entering.

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