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Fri: Manali – Gramphoo (71km, 2050m of ascent)

Climbing the Rohtang Jot

Our distrust of the weather was such that we would rather ride over the Rohtang Jot in one day, than take two, and risk a cold, wet night in Marhi. We left early, rode steadily, and reached Marhi in under 4.5 hours. There are tea/drink stops on the way up. Marhi is a mad place where dhabas compete for custom with clashing, blaring pop music. Some of them offer accommodation.

Rohtang descent

But live with the din, because the food is good and the loos spotless. We rolled on up the great stack of hairpins above. Just below the summit is a car park and more dhabas. From the summit, views of snowy peaks across and up the valley; the desert of Lahaul below. Enjoy descent to Gramphoo (a few houses and a dhaba) then take the right fork. The road descends slowly. We found a spot to pitch the tent before it starts rising again.

Sat: Gramphoo – Batal (48km, 1160m of ascent)

The tarmac does not last long. It feels very remote here; there is almost no human habitation except for the dhabas at Chhatru (4), Chhota Dara (1), and Batal (1). The valley is full of boulders and the road is very rough, like cobbles, and there are fords; we averaged 8km/h. Above us are snowy peaks and glaciers. Batal is a cold and windy place, the rest house derelict. The main camping spot is a large dustbowl used by local herders. There’s a beautiful view of a slender triangular peak to the south (presumably Tiger Tooth), and of the Bara Shigri glacier.

Note: there are said to be resthouses at Chhatru and Chhota Dara.

The Chandra valley

Tiger Tooth

Kunzum La ascent

Upper Spiti

Kunzum La

Sun: Batal – Hanse (44km, 785m of ascent)

The climb to the Kunzum La takes a bit over 2 hours, 20 hairpin bends, 11 km. There is a jeepable road most of the way (14km) to Chandra Tal, but we’d been there before. The pass is marked with chortens and golden flags. It’s a long, rough descent down a red-rock valley into Spiti. There’s a seasonal campsite in the Spiti valley, meadows and shimmering willows. The river drifts lazily under monumental crags of folded rock. The road surface does not improve and we bump and bounce into the fleshpots of Losar. A late and very welcome lunch at the Samsong guesthouse – chips, momos and thupka, delicious. A brief, tantalising taste of fresh tarmac for a km or two before we’re back, all alone, on the surface of Mars. Camping looks difficult. There are not many side streams and what there are have been bagged by villages. The ground is rocky, and flat campable spots are difficult to get to. There’s a guesthouse at Hanse which may have been ok, but we found a camp spot near the stream a km later, fairly sheltered by the field walls.

Notes: We’d originally intended to visit Chandra Tal, but it didn’t fit in with out schedule. We were there 10 years ago before the road to it was built. Much of its charm lay in its remoteness.

There is a checkpoint at Losar where your passport will be checked. For this reason it is a place where tourists hang around and there are dhabas, guesthouses and souvenir stalls. It’s a good place to chat to other travellers.

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