In icy heights
India is loud, chaotic, diverse, dirty and has the worst traffic in the world. So this country has been described to me by other travelers. After only a few hours in India I could only confirm this statement. Bicyclists are not very respected in the traffic hierarchy. It's best to stay close to the street ditch. My first destination In India was Rishikesh.
Located at the foot of the Himalayas, Rishikesh is a well-known pilgrimage town. Through Rishikesh flows the Ganges. The Ganges leaves the Himalayas and then continues through the plains of North India to the Bay of Bengal. During the 1960s, the Beatles and several other musicians such as Mike Love of the Beach Boys and Donovan visited the place to meditate. Since I do not care so much about yoga and meditation, I used the time here to prepare for the mountains in the Himalayas.
After only a few kilometers, it went into the mountains. I was surprised by the first rain monsoon. In a disused quarry I found a campground. In the middle of the night, I woke up because something squeezed my face. The storm had half dented the tent and water penetrated into the inner tent. I had to press against it with my whole body weight.
The next day luckily the weather got better and my journey through the mountains could begin. After only a few days I reached the Kinnaur valley. Kinnaur is consistently high, between over 1200 meters at the height of the valley floor and with mountain peaks over 6000 meters. One of the highest mountains is the Hindu and Buddhist sacred Kinnaur Kailash (6050 meters). Culturally and ethnically, the region is a mixture of Tibetan and Indo-Aryan influences. I especially liked the wooden Hindu temples in the individual villages.
The valley is also notorious for its dangerous roads. Compared to the Alps in Europe, there are completely different dimensions here. Especially in spring, when the snow and ice melts, many slopes start to move. Shortly before the village Pooh the road was closed because of a rockfall. After a bulldozer cleared the road, the first vehicles drove through. I was talking to a few soldiers watching the track when suddenly a loud "Go Go Go!" Sounded and everyone started to run. From my corner of my eye I saw only an avalanche of stones, as big as washing machines, come down the slope. After that, I also started running. Anyone who has ever experienced a real rockfall at close range knows how it feels. My adrenaline for that day was saturated afterwards.
Then it was for the first time at over 4,000 m above sea level. in the village Nacko high. For this part of the route, foreigners need a so-called 'Inner Line Permit', as India comes here to the occupied (from the People's Republic of China) Tibet. I had applied for this permit in Reckong Peo. The officer asked me when filling out the forms if I could carry my bike with luggage. A rock had broken a few days above Nacko about 50 meters away from the road. Only bikes and motorcycles could handle the section on foot.
After that, the way was clear for Spiti. The valley is heavily influenced by a Buddhist culture similar to that in Tibet and Ladakh. The valley and its surroundings are one of the most sparsely populated regions of India. Spiti is today, thanks to its membership of the Indian Union, one of the few regions of an autochthonous Tibetan Buddhist culture.
In comparison to the rest of India a lot is different here. After 12 days non-stop in the saddle, I approved two days off in Tabo. Because of the rock and the still cold temperatures were hardly traveling. What I really enjoyed. Although there was no running water and only solar power in the accommodation, but still better than a campground in Africa.
The temple complex in Tabo is one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries worldwide. It was founded in 996 by Rinchen Zangpo, and some of the nine temples are still preserved in the original Indo-Tibetan style. The current Dalai Lama sees Spiti as one of his home regions. Especially the murals inside the individual temples are impressive. Unfortunately, taking pictures was not allowed.
In the monastery of Tabo the monks had shown me a list with map of all important monasteries in Spiti. So I cycled from Tabo first towards Dhankar. At the turn up to the village a few people stopped me. A Muurgang had happened and the road was not passable over a length of 80 meters. For Dusty (my bike) and me but no problem. I had enough experience with my bike and luggage. The old monastery of Dhankar was visible from afar. Dhankar was the traditional capital of the Spiti Valley, by the British, during the 17th century. It was the seat of the early ruler Spiti, the Nonos.
The new monastery unfortunately had no rooms at the moment, because everything is prepared for the visit of the Dalai Lama in mid-May. That's why I set up my tent just outside the village. Here in the Spiti valley you can camp wherever you want. In the rest of India, this is often almost impossible. The next day I took some pictures of the village and drove on to Kaza.
From Kaza we continued to the next monastery in Ki. The monasteries are mostly on a hill. This always means steep climbs to cycle up. If you are permanently above 3'500 m.ü.M. This is not so easy. The lungs first have to get used to the thin air. But I was usually rewarded with a great view.
Ki Gompa is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery located on a mountain at 4,166 meters above sea level. It is the largest monastery in the Spiti Valley and a religious education center for lamas. In the 1840s it was devastated by a fire and in 1975 caused a strong earthquake damage. The millennium celebration was celebrated in 2000 in the presence of the Dalai Lama (Tendzin Gyatsho).
A bit above the Ki monastery is the village of Kibber. Kibber is located in a narrow valley, on the summit of a limestone cliff (4270 m above sea level). The village is one of the highest villages in the world.
There I made the mistake to spend a night in a homestay. The Indians have really no idea of hygiene and cleanliness. I was really happy the next day to sleep in my tent again, even if the temperatures went below zero in the night.
The Indians are almost similar to the Africans. You can tell a huge story and you never know if they tell you the truth. From the Spiti Valley you have to cross the Kunzum La Pass (4'590 m above sea level) to get to Lahaul. I got very different information if the pass is open or not. That's why I wanted to try to climb Spiti Valley as far as possible.
Exactly on my 33rd birthday I made it to Losar. The night before I was surprised by a blizzard and in Losar snowed it crazy. There is an enormous amount of tourist accommodation throughout the Spiti Valley. In midsummer, a real mass tourism must prevail here. However, all accommodations were closed when I got there. So I spent my birthday freezing in my tent in the driving snowstorm and racked my brain, how the journey should continue ...