Glimpsed through the valleys of Himalayas, rain shadow areas in the state of Himachal draw travellers in all seasons to frozen lakes, adventurous treks and off-roading routes.
Visualise waking up to a bird’s eye view of greenery laden mountains with elfin houses scattered over the slopes, crowned with a belt of snow-laden sierras shining at dawn’s light. This is Shimla, capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh in northern India, where you may go scouting forests for pine cones, shop and dine at the famous Mall Road or board the Kalka- Shimla toy train to marvel at the bliss of dense jungles.
The rays of the morning sun filter through foliage, teasing as chilly winds envelop you and flush your cheeks in the cold of early December, with deodar trees rushing past the motorbike as it circles around staunch mountains inspiring you to explore all crevices which guide you into the marrow of Himalayas.
The ride towards the Kinnaur valley which lies along the stretch of vigilant Himalayas is smooth sailing for the first 196 km from Shimla. Mountains change colour and lush forests gradient into a rocky terrain as you enter Kinnaur sauntering on the ancient Hindustan- Tibet road.
The river Sutlej glimmers emerald as it weaves through the valley and you will be momentarily overwhelmed by the masterpiece of toil, powerhouse of the valley, the Karcham Wangtoo hydroelectric plant as it rushes past, calm standing in consequential glory.
The roads are battered for a stretch of about 20 km after you cross the plant which will test the suspension of your bike, speed plummeting down to 15- 25 km an hour. It is advisable to ride as far from the periphery of the trail as possible and to use rear braking as primary for deceleration or halting. You will rarely find a maintenance garage on this trail, so it is important to make sure beforehand that all parts of your motorcycle are in a perfect condition and you possess a toolkit for correcting minor damages.
The Kinnaur valley is headquartered at Reckong Peo, a tranquil town at an altitude of 2290 m with limited options of lodging and meagre facilities, but one can relish good Kinnauri food and other delicacies at the only restaurant and bakery located in the heart of the city, The Little Chef.
Peo is blessed with a captivating view of the Kinnaur Kailash Mountain which is believed to be the winter abode of Lord Shiva, a Hindu deity. On a clear day, a 79-foot tall rock with a dagger-like summit locally known as Shivalingam is visible amongst the range, which changes colour throughout the day and is revered religiously by Hindus and Buddhists alike. Here, travellers can photograph the panoramic snow-laden mountains to their heart’s content and rest for the night to re-energise.
Perilous roads lie ahead as the desert mountains commence
Continuing the journey in the morning, after a hearty breakfast accompanied by a hot chai or tea, you can embark on a journey towards the border of India.
In an hour the town Ribba arrives, where you will be stopped at an Indian Army checkpoint in Akpa before being allowed to go further, after which the most strenuous yet exciting part of the journey begins: a 48 km stretch of a crude and shabby road, inviting off-roaders.
The temperature in the region drops down to -20° Celsius during peak winters and it stays chilly even in the summer season so clothe accordingly. Also, the rains are often unpredictable making water-proofing a necessity. It is wise to have semi-radial tires and traction control on your bike to be triumphant through the trail and progress towards the ‘cold desert’ or the rain shadow area, which begins from a queer little town called Pooh, where dwells the last ATM about 40 km before Khab and Nako. While concerning the lookout for petrol pumps, a station is present in Nako too.
The trend of travelling on two wheels is heightening throughout the world and, diverting from general belief that Himachal Pradesh is endowed in entirety with dense greenery, pristine streams and snow-laden mountains, this route has a vividly treacherous landscape, serving as a challenge for motor biking enthusiasts, the landscape akin to Ladakh in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Jagged boulders line the side of the mountains and at some places they are similar to half of a cave. The experience of this route is spectacularly enticing with the rigidity of the pale brown mountains, a cold desert embellished with scaly stones and gravel, metaphor to resting dragons in its lap.
Traversing 102 km since the morning through patches of mud pits and crippled ridges, you will reach Nako, a village adjacent to the Indo- China border with Reo Purgyal in the backdrop. At 6816 m above sea level, it is the highest mountain of the state. You are cut-off from the rest of the world as, other than BSNL’s Cellone, all other mobile networks become unreachable in the region.
Resting on Purgyal’s slope at an elevation of 3636 m the stark white Nako Lake will be visible, surrounded by simple houses and willow trees. By the end of December, ice-skating lessons proceed in full swing on the frozen lake and boarding is available at the government rest house and comfortable home-stays around the edge of the lake.
At the Chango Gompa monastery a few kilometres from the village, dwells a 500 year-old prayer wheel where you’ll be engulfed by the purity of Buddhism. Trekking enthusiasts can go on a holy trail to the Somang Monastery, passing through Tashigang at an altitude of 4650 m, a village said to be the haven for fairies with mythical stories surrounding the existence of immortal people, this trail being one of the holiest Buddhist pilgrimages.
From Nako you may go further to Kaurik, lying at a distance of 54 km from the village, or take the diversion from Sumdo to go towards the Spiti valley, another beguiling stretch of the desert mountains. The sight of the barren valleys and the perilous roads at fathomless altitudes will steal every traveller’s heart, luring you long after you’ve gone.