Back to the Base

Hamirpur – Manali – Spiti Valley – Shimla – Hamirpur Ride : Day 4

We spent two days in Kaza exploring through the nearby villages. We relaxed as much as we could, just to forget the horrors from the road to Kaza. It was time for us to return. There are two roads from Kaza. One is the road to Manali, which we came through and the other is the road to Shimla. The distance to Shimla is twice the distance to Manali. But we came to know from other riders that it’s a complete tarred road and no risks involved.

We decided to take the long but less risky road to Shimla. We carried enough fuel to return to Manali, but the road was rough and we lost fuel when the bike hit the ground. So, we have decided to fill the tank from the only petrol pump in Kaza. The machine is mechanical, and very less organized to loot the one time travelers and riders. So, be careful when you fill petrol from the Kaza Petrol pump. Better to fill fuel in a bottle/can of known capacity and then fill the tank. We had much trouble at the petrol pump and lost around 3 hours there.

What happened at the Petrol pump :

As i said, the fuel gauge at the pump is mechanical and not digital. The mechanical gauge is the one with moving dials, rotating to indicate quantity of fuel filled, similar to the odometer in a bike/car (old model). The guy at the pump never sets it to zero while starting to fill the petrol. There will be a long queue at the pump and everyone will be banging their horn so loud and making noise all the time.

So, the filling starts from a random digit, say 55.500 L and you have to remember this number. The operator will keep on filling, until the tank is full, and then we have to check the number again, say the number now is 63.500 L. Now we just take the difference (63.5-55.5= 8L) 8 L which is the amount of fuel filled and multiply it with the rate per litre of petrol, say Rs. 80. That makes the bill (8 x 80 = 640) Rs. 640.

The operator just started to fill the tank and he kept on filling, we only had 300 rupees in cash, and we asked to fill for 300. The operator ignored it and kept on filling. I was puzzled when he kept on filling, we asked him to stop, and I had to scream at my highest voice to make him stop filling. It was way over 300 rupees. There was nothing we could do now, the oil filled in the tank cant be given back. The operator calculated and filled a bit more and rounded it off to Rs. 500.

Key Monastery, photo by Arfat Ahmed Matte

We were in a dilemma. We had already checked the ATM yesterday, and there was no cash. We didn’t know what to do in a foreign place where we don’t have any other friends. The operator started yelling to pay him the money. I tried to calm him down, but was of no use. He want the bike to be kept at the pump as a guarantee while we arrange the money.

I talked with the operator, and told him that I am ready to stay at the petrol pump as a guarantee while my friend Athul will go and check for money. He greed to that. But we didn’t know where to get money in this dessert. The only people we talked to were at the Zostel which is in the far end of the town. We paid him 300 , I stood near to the operator while he was filling fuel in other vehicles as Athul left to the Zostel.

Kaza Monastery, photo by Arfat Ahmed Matte

I stood there for almost an hour. As there was no cellphone network, i couldn’t contact Athul. I kept on thinking about different scenarios in my mind. I felt like punching the operator in his face for what he have done to us. Every second I stood there, the smell of fuel, the horns, the noise, I was about to loose my temper when suddenly I could see Athul approaching us from a distance. He had a smiling face, I told to myself that he might have got the money.

Athul told me that, as he described the situation to Preeti, the manager and to the owner of Zostel, they were ready to give him the money and asked him to Paytm it back once we reach Shimla. He went to the ATM one last time to check if it’s working, and that’s why he was late. We handed the remaining 200 rupees to the operator and left the scene. We went straight to the Zostel and thanked everyone there for helping us. It’s just a small amount, but i still wonder what made them pay us that money. They won’t even see us again. Such kind hearted people.

Also, I was thinking about the fraudster at the petrol pump. Kaza is a place of peace, people here are so lovely and innocent. Yet there are people who are here to make money. They don’t care much about humanity or peace, they just want to make money in every possible way. Such a shame for a place like Kaza. Those people pisses me off, but then lets forget bad chapters and always remember the good things happened. We left Kaza by noon, headed straight to Shimla. The village of Tabo is on the way about 50kms from Kaza.

Tabo :

The village of Tabo is famous for the Buddhist Chakhar festival, where the masked dance and many other things are done, happens every three years. The Monastry at Tabo is one of the oldest Tibetan monastry in India. It can be seen from the main road from Kaza to Shimla. There are nine temples inside the monastry complex in Tabo. The entire complex is inside a huge wall mostly made of mud. Some buildings inside the complex are also made of mud.

The monastry is open to tourists everyday from sunrise to sunset. You can also attend the morning prayers at 6 am. As we were late and reached Tabo afternoon, we couldn’t do much. There are caves close to the monastry, you can visit the caves by trekking for an hour or so, but since we were late, we skipped that too.

Inside the monastry they serve free butter tea for the visitors. We sat there for sometime drinking the tea while a monk explained us the history of this temple. The inside walls of the temples are filled with centuries old murals and many artifacts. We thanked the monk and promised to visit the place in the future to witness the festival and left Tabo.

The Mummy of Spiti Valley :

The mummified monk in Spiti valley got famous recently and is kept inside a temple in Gue village Spiti Valley. The village is very near to the China Border and about 6 kms away from the main road from Kaza to Shimla. When riding to Shimla from Tabo you have to take a small road towards the left after 25kms to reach the village. Sign boards are kept on the road side, so you dont have to worry. Once you reach the village, you have to further ride up a hill where the stupa is built and the mummy is kept inside. This is a naturally mummified body of a buddhist monk who lived here some 500 years ago. The mummification was done by fasting for a prolonged period and eating only some herbal leaves.

There are similar monks who attained samadhi or death by fasting in Tibet and also in Japan. The body of this monk was then buried inside a stupa which was broken in 1975 due to an earthquake. The body which still looks very much alive was then shifted to this new building and kept for public display.

There is a small cafe on top of the hill close to the building. They sell good ginger tea and Maggi. We had tea and continued our ride.

Back on road :

We were already late and our only aim was to reach Reckong Peo, a town on the way to Shimla. The town is 200 kms away from Shimla. We were planning to reach there by 10 at night.

On the way, we witnessed few landslides. We actually went through a live landslide, lucky escaping with our life. We managed to do so as we have witnessed two other landslides earlier. We stopped at both places for more than an hour there, and lost a lot of time. The landslides happens due to wind, I guess, and the hill side here is without any vegetation. The loose rocks and soil on the surface slides down to the road. Such landslides occurs very slowly, starts with few rolling stones from the hill side and then gradually escalates. Takes almost an hour or so. The surroundings will be covered in dust for a long time, and there be debris on the road. Cars and big vehicles usually get stuck, but bikes can manage to cross through after it settles.

We passed two landslides and were riding. Suddenly we felt a heavy wind, noticed small rocks rolling down to the road. It was about to start. We stopped, thought for a second. I told Athul to go ahead without wasting much time. Athul started again and went ahead. By that time the area was covered completely in dust. The visibility was minimum. I literally couldn’t see anything. Also, i started to hear the loud noise of rocks hitting the helmet Athul was wearing. Few of them bounced to my face. I had a woollen cap on my head, and now I was covering my face and head with both my hands. Athul rode straight through the landslide, we both would have been dead if he stopped or, slipped or a big rock hit out head. Luckily nothing happened, and we somehow managed to cross it. We were in shock, couldn’t believe that we were still alive. We stopped at a distance to watch it. I saw few big rocks on the road, only then i realised, it was a life and death situation. I don’t know whom to thank, for sparing our life. Even now i am surprised about how Athul managed to ride through that without any visibility.

We reached Reckong Peo by midnight only to realise that the town is around 10kms away from the main road. We had to take a deviation and reach the place, ride back from there tomorrow to go to Shimla. The importance of the town is that, it got ATM machines, petrol pump, hotels to stay and restaurants to eat. We were not hungry, but we were tired. We found a bus waiting shelter on the highway side. We were too tired to go to the town, so we settled in the waiting shelter. It was very cold and we were in the open air. As we were too tired and unable to do anything, we didn’t complain and fell asleep.

There was a loud noise of a truck moving by when i woke up. The sun was up and there were people on the streets. Few were standing outside the bus waiting shelter. I got up and called Athul. We got ready and rode off. It was around 7am that we reached a small town before Rampur. There was a petrol pump. They accepted card payment, so we filled fuel for 500 and asked him to give us 500 rupees in cash, and agreed to swipe for 1000 rupees. The operator was a good guy, he gave us 500. The cellphone network was available there. We paid the money for Zostel.

We had a tea on the way, few kilometres before Shimla near Kufri. The traffic in Shimla was cruel. We were stuck for almost an hour. We headed straight to Hamirpur. We stopped around 2pm for lunch at a road side shop. The guy who runs the shop lives with his family in the next room. His wife made us some chapatis. While we were having the food two Enfield bikes stopped by. A guy who looked around 55-60 walked in, followed by his wife. Both were really old. A couple from UK. They ordered some juice and sat close to us.

The couple came to India a week ago. They were on Manali and stayed there. Now they rented two bikes from Manali and were riding to Shimla. When we told him that we are coming from Shimla, he took out a map from his bag and asked us about the route. He was very interested in our Spiti valley trip, and asked us to show the places we been on the map. We had a good conversation. Both owns UK made Enfield bikes in their country and been riding from young age. We wished eachother luck and left after a very long and wonderful talk.

The sun was so hot and we were tired again. We found a Banyan tree on the way. Pulled over and slept below the tree for sometime. We were less-than 30 kilometres away from Hamirpur. We reached the NIT campus by evening.

Finally we were back at base. It was an accomplishment, to return to base, alive, after going through all the difficulties. I hit the bed as soon as we reached his room. I had some rest to take, it’s been a week since I slept peacefully.