Saturday, May 31, 2008
Kinnaur: Chitkul & Roghi, May 2008
My forearms are still aching from all the hard work we did yesterday. But once we started on the Roghi – Tapri route, we had no choice but to keep going. The only information we had about this route was from the caretaker at the rest house in Roghi. But then, not many people visit this Rest House. The guest register indicated that we were the first to visit this year, and going by the single entry for 2007, we might as well be the only visitors this year.
Our stay at the Roghi rest house was not by prior planning. We had set off from Chitkul, planning to visit Kalpa, Roghi and then proceed as far as time allowed on our way back home. But we reached Kalpa soaking wet after riding in the rains half way from Rekong Peo. After waiting 2 hours for the rains to die down so as to do some photography, we decided to ride ahead and check into the rest house at Roghi and leave photography for the next day on our way back.
I have been to this rest house last year, and though I couldn't spend the night then due to paucity of time, I had promised to treat myself to a night here some day. And the unexpected rains presented an opportunity to do just that. Set high up in the mountains, this is no ordinary rest house when it comes to the location, going by HPPWD or even GMVN rest house standards. Kinner Kailash is just a peek outside the window, and so is the chain of snow covered mountains peaks on either sides of the revered Kinner Kailash Mountain. The close proximity of the rest house to these peaks is what makes it different from other “Snow View” hotels and rest houses. And Roghi being no city or town, there is nothing to distract the view that lies in front of us. Looking down, we have an astounding view of the deep valley, whose floor is not even visible from the high perch that this Rest house is. Settling down on an easy chair at the wooden balcony, sipping tea, we were left spellbound by the view ahead of us, as we caught the last rays of the sun gleaming off the snow from the chain of high mountain peaks.
The rest house has just 2 rooms, with bare minimum amenities, which is understandable, since the rest house practically receives no visitors. And it is no easy task reaching this rest house either, unless you are an expert handling a 4x4 or good with riding a motorcycle up a steep slippery rocky stretch that comes about a kilometer before the rest house. Of course, there is always the option to park and hike that last kilometer, as I had to do last year, after unsuccessfully trying to ride over that tricky stretch. But then, it seems not many people are prepared to do that, and instead prefer the comfort of riding/driving into the driveway of many a Guest house that Kalpa has on offer.
The day started with tea at about 8 in the morning in a small 2 room hotel in Chitkul run by a family. Neat and clean bathroom, double bed and hot running water; this was a good enough package for 300 Rs. In places as remote as Chitkul, one doesn't really have to worry about not having a closed parking space. In any case, our bikes were parked right outside our room, on the ground and the only floor. The hotel is located at the outskirts of Chitkul village.
The village itself is neatly planned, making wonderful use of a stream that flows down from the mountains above. Last evening, as we took a walk up the pathway that goes through the village, we came across chakkispowered by water neatly diverted from the stream using hollowed out wooden logs. The chakki itself is housed inside a small enclosure, and is connected to a turbine below that drives the chakki. Water diverted using the wooden log turns the turbine.
Houses are constructed mostly using wood, with the newer houses having a tin roof while the older ones had elegant roofs shaped out of stone slabs. The kind of construction style did give a mystic look to the whole place. We walked through the village, shooting people and things we found interesting.
The pathway through the village leads to a trekking route that goes all the way to Pooh over the high mountains. Dixit was not wearing shoes, so once the cemented path ran out, he had trouble climbing the steep trek path. So on I went alone, planning to turn back as soon as the sun sets. The path climbed higher and higher, bringing me closer to the snow peaks and glaciers on the adjoining mountains. Also, it gave me a bird's eye view of the whole of Chitkul. After a certain point, there was a descent in the path. I preferred not to proceed further, and waited as the sun went down, casting its golden rays on the snowy peaks that surrounded me.
This was just what I had hoped to see when we started for the day from the rest house at Bawanagar. The ride from Bawanagar was pleasant once we got away from the highway towards Sangla at Karcham, away from the dusty roads and dumpers carrying stuff from or to the dam construction sites. Soon, we had snow peaks in view, and we got closer and closer to them as we gained elevation on our way towards Sangla and then Chitkul. Except for the first and the last days, this was a pretty relaxed trip, with plenty of stops for photography, and we still reached our destination and checked into a hotel or rest house well before sunset.
But the fourth and the last day was going to be hectic like never before. There was about 600 Kms to be covered to reach home, more than half of them in the hills. We had two options from Roghi; the regular route through Kalpa and Rekong Peo, or the unknown route that goes in the other direction, to Tapri. The Roghi -Tapri route, if in a good condition could have been a much needed shortcut in this situation. Tapri is right on the NH22, and would bypass both Kalpa and Rekong Peo. Also, the fact that there was no habitation along this route made it all the more exciting. So the Roghi – Tapri route it was to be.
The Roghi – Tapri trail was built some time back to transport rations and other supplies to Roghi and Kalpa when the regular route via Rekong Peo was washed away by floods. All was then forgotten about the trail when the regular route via Rekong Peo and Kalpa became operational. The caretaker had no confirmed information as to whether the Roghi Tapri route was still open. All he knew was that this was a 4x4 trail. All references on the Internet to this route mentioned this to be a bridle-path when I checked later. We decided to give this a try and turn back if we couldn't proceed further.
A first glimpse at this route indicated some tough times ahead. The path was strewn with rocks and the gradient was so steep that our bikes would go into a slide with the slightest application of brakes. But the landscape was beautiful. There was lush greenery all around. We were riding through a dense pine forest and the snow peaks all around kept constant company. After a couple of scary down hills, the path ahead just seemed to climbing up vertically! The trail at times looked like a lush green lawn, with grass just the right length to sit down and start a picnic on while wild flowers added to the heavenly scenery all around.
A sample of the Roghi - Tapri trail
Right after such a stretch, we could proceed no further. A few rocks, large enough in size to be immovable without machinery had fallen off the cliff above and were blocking our way completely. Well, almost completely. We had the choice of turning back at this point, but the trail was only getting more and more interesting. We did a survey, and found that with a little of pushing and shoving rocks, we might just be able to get the bikes through the blockade, though at a risk. The narrowest point that we had to squeeze the bikes through had the deep valley at one side.
Dixit gives it a try...
We get at it together
We got Dixit’s bike through first. At the narrowest point, the silencer got caught at the rock edge, and we spent quite some time wondering how to proceed, with both of us holding on to the bike from front and rear. One wrong move, and the bike would be lost. One last pull by Dixit, and the bike got through, with the sound of metal grinding as the silencer scraped the rock edge. Some lessons learnt. This was a pretty tiring job. The task is best undertaken with all luggage taken off. Rock edges at the narrowest point will come in the way of the foot peg and silencer, and we had to do something about it. I took a rock and tried to chip off some edges at the point where the rock was fouling with the silencer. It barely made a difference. Then Dixit took a heavier rock and broke of a big chunk of rock from the edge. I removed all luggage from my bike, and it got through pretty easy.
We get Dixit's bike through...
This ride was turning out to be a big adventure. And if we found a real blockade ahead from where we had to turn back, we would have to go over the whole exercise of crossing the previous blockade all over again. It was apparent by now that this road had not been in use for months, and with no mobile signals, help won’t reach here anytime soon in case of any eventuality. We proceeded further, stopping frequently for photography and looking forward to our next adventure.
We found one soon enough. A huge rock on the way was blocking most of the path, while a few smaller rocks blocked the rest. The smaller rocks could be moved away with some effort put together. That done, we tried our best to chip some rock off the large one that couldn’t be moved. But as hard as we tried, this one won’t chip. This was solid granite, unlike the rocks we encountered on our previous blockade that could be chipped at the edges. Anyway, this was much safer than our previous obstacle, since we had the rock at the edge of the road towards the valley, while we passed next to the mountain wall. I had a go first this time, and got stuck. The rock jutting out caught the saree guard at the rear. We tried tilting the bike to make way, but in the process, the handle bar got stuck in some roots. I removed some of the roots and rocks to make way, and could move a bit further ahead, but now, the disc caliper got caught in a rock, that had slid down when I removed the roots that caught the handlebar. We aborted mid way, left the bike tilted at a 45 deg angle and got back to clearing rocks again. Once mine got through, Dixit’s bike got through as well, without much effort.
Time to work...
We though we had cleared enough rocks to get the bikes through, but how wrong were we!
The memory ran out before we could pass through, and the camera stopped shooting. Further on, we encountered few more such landslides and blockades and got through all using our now tried and tested procedure of wrestling with rocks. We also passed 2 of the most challenging stream crossing I ever encountered, with the bike left stranded in the middle of the stream, wheel spinning due to the steep gradient and slippery rocks. We had to follow on foot and clear rocks from below the bike so it could pass through. On the second stream crossing, we had to remove a heavy log that got carried with the flow and now rested on the middle of the path.
This stretch of 14 km took us more than 5 hours and we were dead tired. We forgot to carry water from Roghi, and had to drink at the few streams that we passed by. But the look on the faces of people when we reached the end of the road was priceless to say the least. We stopped at the first village that we saw, Urni and had Chowmein and Thupka for lunch at the only dhaba this village had. The first question everyone asked was about the route we took, and were unfailingly amazed at our reply. The restaurant owner seemed proud to have us as their customers, and spread the word around of our ‘conquest’!
From then on it was the regular commute home, albeit one of the toughest ones ever. We had started from Roghi around 9:30 AM and reached home at 8:00 AM the next day, after being on the road for 22 and a half hours.
Thanks for reading.
I have a question though, what is that application you using with your Nokia phone for navigation??
Admirable feat, guys.