In mid July 2017, Mr Ravi Thakur, a Georgian from Chail and MLA of Kaza, invited all Georgians to celebrate Kaza festival at Kaza, Himachal Pradesh on 17th & 18th of August 2017. The invitation was posted on whatsapp group by ‘Capt Purvinder Singh’ (Secretary GAA).
I was familiar with the name ‘Kaza’ but never explored it. I got more inspired by information provided by ‘Google uncle’ and instantly jumped into the bandwagon. Later few more members also joined in. Finally, a team formed up and the members were Capt Purvinder Singh, Subhash Siddhu (me), Dr Mahesh Kulhari, Pradeep Malik, Sandeep Rathi, Asim Mehra, Shrikant Tadiyan and Vipin Kalher (with Family).
[ DON'T FORGET TO WATCH VIDEO AT THE END OF THIS BLOG]
Few more Georgians from other cities also formed their own group and travelled independently. We could not meet them anywhere during this trip. Here’s the story ….
We planned a round trip and decided to travel through one of the world’s toughest route …
Delhi – Chandigarh – Shimla – Kalpa – Kaza – Loksar – Manali – Chandigarh – Delhi
Whole idea was to start early in the morning and halt at Shimla on 15th Aug, Kalpa on 16th Aug, Kaza on 17th & 18th Aug, Manali on 19th and then reach back to Delhi by late evening on 20th Aug 2017.
We booked the accommodations at MES IB – Shimla, Hotel Apple pie – Kalpa, Hotel Spiti Heritage – Kaza, and an Army Mess – Manali.
We were told that no mobile network works at Kalpa, Kaza and Spiti Valley except BSNL. Few of our team members carried BSNL SIMs with them. We divided the team into three groups. Asim Mehra and Pradeep Malik joined Capt Purvinder B’Sahab to travel by Endeavour Car. Sandeep Rathi, Dr Mahesh Kulhari joined me to travel by TUV300 Car. Shrikant joined with Vipin Kalher and family to travel by Breeza Car.
Everything well planned, luggage packed and ready to move.
Day-1 (15 Aug 2017): Delhi to Shimla
Non-stop travelling time from Delhi to Shimla is 7-8 hours. So, we decided to start early so that we can have sufficient time for sightseeing and spend good time at Mall Road at Shimla. Team in Brezza Car started early on 14th evening and reached Shimla by early morning on 15th. TUV300 Car started early morning at 6 am from Delhi. Endeavour Car was planned to start at 10 am.
We listened to latest Bollywood Songs all the way up, so it was a nice, if not surreal, everything from Manic Monday to Dancing With ourselves. We took a break at ’70 Milestone restaurant’ for breakfast. Enjoyed Parantha with Curd and Tea before moving further to Shimla.
We were somewhere between Ambala and Chandigarh when we got a call from first party which were already in Shimla. They dropped a bombshell informing us that the route from Kalpa to Kaza is closed due to massive landslide on the way. Also, it is likely to get 3-4 days to get the roads clear. Uff …. !!! We were not prepared for it. Now what????
We were about to reach Chadigarh and had two options, either change the route and directly go to Manali OR Stay at Shimla and then go to Manali the next day. We had no choice but to stop and wait till the final decision is taken. Dr Mahesh Kulhari from my team suggested visiting another Gerogian and his known friend ‘Lt Col Rajesh Choudhary’ at Chandi Mandir (Panchkula).
Lt Col Rajesh Choudhary not only welcomed us with broad smile but also served us drinks and lunch at home, with true spirituality. I never felt like we were meeting for the first time. We were so overwhelmed with his hospitality that we felt at home and our short stay plan automatically got extended to hours by default.
In the mean time, it was decided that we will stay at Shimla. First team was already there and third team (Endeavour Car) also crossed Panchkula and was on the way to Shimla.
It was a delight visiting and meeting Lt Col Rajesh Choudhary, a true Georgian by heart. Before we could leave, he forced us to halt for night stay while returning. Anonymously, we said ‘yes’, hugged and resumed our journey to Shimla.
Both other group did all the sightseeing and was waiting for us. We reached IB Mess at 6 PM. The Mess looked nice from the outside. Had an ample parking space. The interior decoration was lovely and tasteful.
Shimla never looked different to me. Same tall buildings and close together, crowded city with multi-storey hotels and all. Same twisty road with just enough room for one vehicle in each direction to pass. It reminds me the traffic jam in Delhi. The main spiritual attraction here is not a temple but a church. Mall Road is the shopping delight. You will also find some statues like Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi (no actual relation, apparently).
We went for a small walk at Mall Road and then went back to Mess for drinks and dinner. We also discussed the plan for next day. We reversed our route and changed as follows …
Shimla – Manali – Loksar – Kaza – Kalpa – Shimla – Delhi
As per new plan, we will reach Kalpa on 19th instead of 16th. So, we called up Hotel Apple Pie and requested them to change booking date and adjust the booking amount accordingly. With little resistance, he agreed to do so.
Then we dozed off after drink and dinner.
Day-2 (16 Aug 2017): Shimla to Manali
The next morning after breakfast (omelette, parantha and hot milk) we got back up into the car and drove even higher up the twisty road in the mountains above Shimla to Manali.
It was a long pretty tiring route. But I decided to enjoy the journey and keep plowing on. I was feeling as energetic at others. At any rate, we stopped briefly on the way and snapped few more photographs. I loved the scenic views. Hills covered with trees were looking amazing.
Just before entering the main city Manali, we checked with few hotels to book rooms. Their charges were too high. I dialed my ‘Hotel Manzana Inn’ and booked 5 rooms on twin sharing basis for Rs 1000 per room. This hotel is at outset of Manali on Rohtang pas road. It is beautifully located and all rooms have snow hill facing windows and balcony. Jhelum River at the bottom of the hill adds beauty to it. It’s away from crowded city and a lovely place to enjoy and rest.
NOTE: Himachal government has put limitation to number of vehicles that can pass through Rohtang pas. The vehicle owner must possess a valid Driving Licence, Registration Card and pollution certificate. Passes can be obtained online after submitting the details of these documents.
Our hotel management staff assisted us for online submission and obtaining three passes for next day.
We had drinks and dinner, bid good night and went to rest.
Day-3 (17 Aug 2017): Manali to
Our next destination was Kaza via Spiti Valley. Travelling distance is 200 km and was expected to cover in 7-8 hours. We thought to start early but got late due to a minor mistake in one vehicle pass. The date printed was of previous date instead of this day. It took more than an hour to get a new vehicle pass and proceed.
While the Pollution certificate is checked just at the border of Manali City, the Passes are checked at Gulaba barrier between Manali and Rohtang pas. We crossed Rohtang Pas and reached a junction point near Khoksar where straight road leads to Leh and a sharp turn towards right leads to Kaza.
Rohtang Pass (about 52 km from Manali), separates Kullu from Lahaul valley. In Tibetan Rohtang means "heap of dead bodies", that stands true to its notorious name. In days gone by it must have taken toll of life and property. This is because sudden blizzards and snow storms are usual here; pass becomes more hazardous to negotiate due to frequent avalanches. Here altitude changes very fast and the people with Altitude Sickness problem can spoil your tour.
After crossing Rohtang we reached a place called Gramphu, just 5 km before Khoksar. A sharp cut road on right leads to Kaza. But, we were feeling hungry. We found a small hut named Jabber Point serving only Maggi and tea. Without any choice, we had Maggi as lunch and moved further.
Now, we were on a really rough and adventurous road. This route remains closed throughout the year due to snow. It opens only for two months (i.e. 15th August to 15th October). You can’t accelerate your car for more than 20km/hr at any given point.
This route offers mesmerising views, great adventures like passing through water crossings, driving or riding on the river bed. Driving through water crossings was hell of the task. It was full of huge slippery stones and crossing it could either damage your vehicle or lead to breakdown in between. Endeavour car was leading us. We cross first two water crossings successfully but got stuck at third one. Water level at crossing was increasing with the rise of the sun. Snow melts faster in noon. It was too risky.
We decided not to damage our cars. Again, we changed our plan and went back to Khoksar. Idea was to hire a local taxi for next day. We found a local guest house at Khoksar and booked 5 rooms for us (Rs 500 per room).
We were upset but determined to complete the tour. We accepted it as a challenge. However, we lost one fruitful day out of two planned days for Kaza. Anyway …
Now again, booking local taxi from Khoksar was a hectic task. There is no transport / taxi agency in Khoksar. The taxi can be either hired from Manali or Keylong. All mobile networks were out of range, except BSNL. Using BSNL SIM was another big task. It always says “All lines on this route is busy”. Secondly, we were not having any contact number of travel agency.
There were few dhabas near Khoksar barrier. We took chance to try there. Fortunately, one 4X4 taxi just arrived and parked in front of us. He quoted Rs 24,000/- for two taxies but after a little bargaining he agreed for Rs 20,000/-. He assured us that another taxi will be called from Manali by next day morning. We instantly booked it and got great relieved.
Then we had fun with drinks and dinner at a nearby dhaba and went to bed.
Day-4 (18 Aug 2017): Khoksar - Kaza (via Spiti Valley)
Learning lesson from previous day, we got up early, had breakfast and were ready with bag and baggage for Kaza. Both taxies arrived well in time. We left our cars parked at the same place in Khoksar and started journey by taxi.
Uff… !!! Travelling by taxi was not less than any adventure. It had no cushion on bottoms and sides. Also, we were jam packed in narrow seats. Each jerk forced us to produce Uh!!! & Ah!!! Sound. Still it was the best choice :-)
We saw some HRTC mini-buses on this route. If you want to travel by bus, you have to book seats almost one to two weeks in advance.
This road is too less travelled. You will not find much of eating joints on this route. I suggest you to make sure that you have sufficient food stock and drinking water stock with you to ensure you get past these days if you get stuck in the middle of nowhere. Although, these days, it is not freezing cold and snow melts away, chances of losing the life when getting stuck in a situation like this is still very much a possibility. Hence, better safe than sorry.
Just to quote, more than 25 people got stranded in August couple of years back when sudden snowfall occurred at Kunzum Pass. Please note it was August and still they got stuck. Some of them had to be rescued by chopper and many of them almost starved. Also, there isn’t any permanent place to stay all the way up to Losar, about 51 KMs from Kaza.
It is also recommended to carry car charger or power bank with you so that your mobile and torch remains charged for any emergency situation.
At an altitude of 11000+ feet mostly and hence, your body will require certain amount of acclimatization before you enter the Spiti Valley.
Our bad luck stroked again. We found the road blocked by an innova car at one of the water crossing. Again, we decided to wait and face the challenge. Traffic didn’t move for another 2-3 hours. We were about to lose the patience. With local public, we joined in to push the car out of water crossing.
For lunch on the way, there is no better place than “chacha chachi ka dhaba” at Batal. Chacha and Chachi (uncle and aunty) are always there to attend you with smile on their face, amazing people. They charge a fix amount of Rs 100 per plate (unlimited food). That’s crazy. Isn’t it?
We moved further and reached Spiti Valley, one of the most unexplored destinations. It is popularly known as ‘the cold desert mountain’ or ‘Middle Land’ or ‘Little Tibet’. It is also known as ‘Trekking mecca’ and ‘a virgin paradise’. This desert terrain is sure to spellbind you. Further inward, snow-capped mountains, verdure forests, crystal clear rivers and magnificent glaciers make this picture perfect valley all the more enthralling and surreal. We could not control taking pictures of highly difficult terrain of Spiti Valley. The breath-taking views and the untouched natural beauty will make your visit once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It took 11 hrs for us to reach Kaza. Finally, we were at ‘Hotel Spiti Heritage’ located by the side of Spiti River. We quickly changed our dress and reached the government school where Kaza Festival was organized. It was at a walking distance from Hotel.
We tried searching Mr Ravi Thakur (MLA) and other Georgians but could not find anyone. Mr Ravi Thakur was out of town and reached Keylong in morning. With all due regrets, I contacted him on phone and rendered my sincere apologies for not being able to reach in time. On the other side of the phone, he too regretted for missing us and the trouble that we faced to reach Kaza. He was more apologetic than us. With no grievances on either side, we promised to meet again some other day and dropped the phone on happy note.
We stayed at festival point and enjoyed the local cultural dance and music for another one hour. We were tired and weather was chilling cold. We moved into hotel and swiftly shifted into bed after few drinks and dinner.
Day-5 (19 Aug 2017): Kaza - Khoksar (via Spiti Valley)
As you know, we changed our route plan at Shimla on 15th and decided to travel back to Delhi via Kalpa and Shimla. Accordingly we changed the booking dates of Hotel Kapla to 19th. From here, we were supposed to travel via Kalpa but we left our cars behind. So the plan changed by default and we were back on track to Khoksar. We also lost our booking amount paid for Hotel at Kalpa.
We got up early, had breakfast and jumped into our taxi. The day before, we could not explore the route properly so this time we planned to explore Himalaya ranges to fullest.
First, we reached Ki Monastery (Also known as Key Gompa). It is one of the biggest and oldest Monasteries in Spiti and hence is the most important tourist destination in this region. It enshrines idols of Buddha in Dhyana position and also has a collection of ancient books and murals. Situated at a height of 4112 meters, this Monastery was built in the 14th century and its architecture is influenced by Chinese style. It’s an architectural grandeur. You can witness the ancient Buddhist scrolls and paintings. Photography is strictly prohibited in praying room.
Next, we reached Kibber Village, locally known as Khyipur. Kibber is at an altitude of 4205m above sea level and one among the highest villages in the world. Easily accessible by a smooth road, you will be amazed to known that the village has its own polling station during elections. The houses in the area are constructed in Tibetan architectural style with an amazing backdrop of barren mountains. One can spend a day watching over the mountains. There isn't much to do, but the sceneries and landscapes around you, as well as the altitude will keep you fascinated. Visit this village just to witness a settlement at this altitude and its overwhelming surroundings.
Our next visit was to Chicham Bridge, the highest bridges of Asia. This new suspension stiffened steel truss bridge came up over the 1000 feet gorge and connected Kibber with Chicham village over Samba Lamba Nallah on Kiato Chicham Kibber road. It reduces the journey from Kibber to Lohsar by 40 kms and there won’t be any need to travel back to Kaza to continue your journey towards Lohsar. Chicham bridge is 120 meters tall at the height. It took 15 years to complete this and the total cost was 10 crore rupees. In September 2017, it was inaugurated by the MLA Ravi Thakur (Georgian, Chail).
We crossed the bridge and spent some time taking some photos and videos.
Then we headed to Chandra Taal (meaning the Lake of the Moon). It is located at an altitude of about 4,300 meters between Spiti and Lahul District of Himachal Pradesh. You will find a mountainous look of the lake on one side, and a magnificent cirque view on other side. Vast meadows on the banks of the lake are the camping sites.
As the sun was about to set, we quickly headed back to Khoksar and reached our destination not before 8pm. We are thankful to both taxi drivers who took us for such adventurous ride and gave us a wonderful experience to treasure for lifetime.
Day-6 (20 Aug 2017): Khoksar - Delhi
We reformed our group as few people were to join their offices on next day. They travelled straight to Delhi. Shrikant Tadiyan joined our group and rest of the people headed straight to Delhi. We decided to take our own time. First, we decided to meet and cup of tea with Georgians Anil Yadav and Umed Jakhar (both from Chail), staying in Manali. Again, Georgian’s spirit never dies. They welcomed us with open arms and not only offered tea and snacks but also drinks and lunch at their own hotel. Wonderful people they are. We loved their love and hospitality.
Further, another such wonderful person ‘Lt Col Rajesh Choudhary’ was waited patiently at Chandi Mandir, Panchkula, till we reached at mid night 12’O clock. We can’t forget the drinks and delicious dinner we had with him.
Next day, we came back to Delhi with wonderful memories to cherish forever.
In the month between August and October, if you are well prepared for the risks defined above, you can try to make a trip on Manali Kaza road at your own risk. Personally, I will STRONGLY recommend NOT TO attempt any travel on Manali Kaza road in late October or November. Otherwise, be ready to either get stuck for much longer time or sell/leave your vehicle then and there itself and bear a huge loss.
I hope you will take into consideration the risks involved before planning your journey to Kaza. I will be here to answer any further questions you may have for your upcoming trip to Spiti Valley and Kaza. Feel free to give your feedback in the box given below.Also, feel free to share this article with your friends or family whom you think might be planning their trips to Spiti Valley or Kaza.