The completion of the first week in the 90 day Himalayan ride, covering Spiti, Zanskar, Batalik, Ladakh, Nubra, Pangong, Hanle, Tso Moriri, Garhwal and Kumaon. This day saw the cycles taking the Old Hindustan Tibet road from Urni to Kalpa!
Day 7 Urni to Kalpa
We planned an early morning start from Urni for a 20 km ride. We anticipated taking the entire day to cover just those handful of kilometres.
As usual, we started late, blaming each other for the delay! The grumpy caretaker grudgingly gave us a light breakfast, which was a bad idea considering the physical effort required and the planned route. He knew it, yet didn’t bother, completely unexpected from the otherwise super friendly and helpful hill folk.
The first couple of kilometres were downhill and easily ride-able, after which we expected a walk in the park. But it wasn’t to be.
Old Hindustan Tibet Road
The Old Hindustan Tibet route is a road which goes up in the mountains and stays there. It was the traditional trade route between India and Tibet over the centuries. At that point of time travel was slow and on foot, with the luggage on mules. The march of time has seen this route being neglected and is no longer motorable. The locals no longer use it even as a walking path!
The result of which; we trekked and pushed our bikes for 17 of the 23 km we did that day!
The road went from bad to worse as we proceeded. The only constant was the excessively steep climbs rendering our pedals useless. Within a few kilometres, Urni, the village at the top of the mountain was a tiny speck below us. Himalayan eagles were soaring below! Every single indicator of humanity was below us. The snow covered peaks on the other side of the valley were at level with us. The massive and awe inspiring Karcham Dam was a blip in this otherwise wild world.
Death Becomes Her
The sweetest bit was the drop off. There was no shoulder or railing to the path. A small mistake would take you hundreds of metres below. Death was a certainty. Chances were high that no one would be able to find your body or the many pieces of your body!
With fear and trepidation we pussy footed our way along the path. Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, we found a big tree fallen across our path. We had to lift up our bikes over the log, which was slanting down towards the valley. A mistake meant losing our bike and if we didn’t let go, then we would follow. Not something either of us looked forward to!
There were then a couple of small streams with rocks strewn across them. The heavy rain of the previous night had made a mess of the place. We gingerly took one bike at a time across.
On the other side of the streams we met a couple of adventurous boys who had taken their jeep on the track. They had gotten boxed in. A dead end on one side and a fallen log across the other. They had been stuck there for two days in an attempt to cut through the log and clear the way for their vehicle.
At times the road narrowed to a single track, with a foot wrong bringing certain death. Adrenaline was pumping as we walked the fine line. As we proceeded a 6 foot high rock was nestled firmly on the path, leaving 8 inches on the cliff edge to get our business done.
After what seemed an eternity (and in reality was the better part of the day) I spotted goat poop and then broken beer bottles. The knowledge of being once again close to humanity brought about joy that knew no bounds. I have never been so happy to see human litter!
As we approached the village of Roghi, we saw a guy sitting at the side of the road waiting for his cows to return for the night. He would let the cows loose every morning and like clockwork they would return before dusk. In the day the animals were safe from leopards and other hunters. Night was a different ballgame though. A shiver went down my spine as I realised that we had made it out before dark, by the skin of our teeth.
Our night halt was in the town of Kalpa. A picturesque place sitting atop a hill with a view to snowcapped peaks. The reason why it draws a bunch of tourists to the place. We spent the night in an interesting place called Chini Bangla, translated to Chinese Bungalow! Why such a name? My guess is as good as yours!
With the monsoon clouds doing their thing, our view of the peaks was hidden. Nonetheless, it is a lovely place to visit in the area.
Route Profile: Urni to Kalpa
This route is completely off-road and off the beaten track as well. There is nothing once you get out of Urni all the way to Roghi. Carrying sufficient food and water for the day is necessary.
The first couple of kilometres are downhill to the stream, after which the road climbs. The climb is on broken rock and much and is steep, near impossible to ride a loaded bike up. Keep in mind that for the majority of the day you might be pushing your bike uphill!
Some sections of the route are overgrown and difficult to spot, therefore it is essential to reach Roghi well before sunset.
Roghi to Kalpa is on fantastic roads in comparison. It will nonetheless take time, so one needs to account for this section as well. Accommodation and food both are available in Roghi as well as Kalpa. Nothing is available before Roghi.
Note of caution: It is not advisable to do this route solo, if you get stuck, there is no help at hand. It is also not advisable for inexperienced riders, take the main highway down below!
The route runs parallel to the main highway, just a 1000 metres higher!
Food for two 270
Stay for two 600