Spiti Valley in my Ford Endeavour
: Continued from previous post. Some pics from Pin Valley.Gave a lift in my Endy to a teacher who teaches in a primary school in Pin Valley but lives 30 km away. During winter months, when Pin Valley gets cut off due to heavy snowfall, she rents a hut near her school and lives away from her own home. The total number of pupils in her school from Class I to V is 15!
: Drove 110 km from Kaza to Batal via Lossar, Kunzum Pass (15,100 ft) and Chandratal (14,000 ft) over 5 hours 50 mins. Encountered some very bad roads. The stretch from Kaza to Lossar was not too bad but after Lossar the road got quite bad. Chandratal is 13 km off the Kaza-Gramphu road and this 13 km stretch is mostly gravel road with stones and boulders strewn all over.
While taking a hairpin bend on the way to Chandratal my front RHS tyre suffered sidewall rupture. By hindsight, this damage was avoidable. I was taking an anticlockwise hairpin turn on a steep upward incline on a narrow broken road strewn with boulders. Long wheelbase cars like the Endy have a disadvantage in such situations (narrow hairpins). Firstly, a 3-point turning may be required. Secondly, the huge bonnet rises up and blocks forward view. Instead of 3-point turning, I tried to turn at one go and my front RHS tyre sidewall apparently hit a sharp boulder. We kept driving without any problem and found the tyre damaged and deflated only after reaching Chandratal parking place after a KM or so. We changed the tyre before starting the 40 min trek to Chandratal. Wasn't exactly fun & games at 14,000 feet for two oldies but our spirits never flagged.
From Chandratal we returned all the way to Kolkata without a spare wheel! The route Chandratal - Batal - Gramphu was really horrible and dangerous and we had our hearts in our mouths without a spare wheel. Once we reached Gramphu without further mishap, I decided to drive on without a spare wheel because the risk of sidewall damage was negligible and the worst we could expect was a puncture for which I was prepared (was carrying tubeless puncture repair kit plus tyre inflator).Near Kaza.
: Drove 175 km over 9 hours from Batal to Kullu via Chhatru, Gramphu, Rohtang Pass and Manali. Road from Batal to Gramphu (49 km) was horrible. Mostly narrow dirt track with stones and boulders (of all shapes and sizes!) and many water crossings. Fortunately, the water crossings were not difficult because there is not too much water flowing during end-September. The good ground clearance and large wheels of my Endy ensured that I did not experience a single bottom scrape during this entire Spiti Valley drive.Terrible roads between Batal and Gramphu.
) : Drove 395 km from Kullu to Panipat over 10 hrs 25 mins. It’s mostly ghat roads till Baddi and it was a big relief to be finally back on straight, horizontal roads!Gobind Sagar.
: Drove 623 km from Panipat to Lucknow via Eastern Peripheral Bypass, Yamuna Expressway and Agra-Lucknow Expressway. Took only 8 hours of driving, averaging about 80 kmph.Agra-Lucknow Expressway; 301 km long!
: Drove 473 km from Lucknow to Aurangabad (Bihar) over 9 hrs 20 mins. The stretch from Lucknow to Allahabad Bypass (on G.T. Road) goes via Rae Bareilly, Unchahar and Kunda and was quite good. The stretch of G.T. Road between Allahabad Bypass and Aurangabad has several ‘diversions’ due to ongoing road widening and construction of flyovers.Day-13 (27 Sep 19)
: Drove 519 km from Aurangabad to Kolkata (New Town) in 9 hrs 20 mins. Our 13-day, 4700 km expedition ended successfully.Some random thoughts / observations about our Spiti Valley expedition
1) I have been driving on mountains and hill roads for several decades. In the past I had come across some pretty bad roads in North Sikkim, Ladakh, etc. But some roads I negotiated in Spiti Valley, especially on the stretch Lossar - Chandratal - Batal - Gramphu, were the worst I have experienced. It is definitely not for the faint of heart!
2) The 3 main dangers we found were (in decreasing order) (i) absence of mobile phone connectivity, (ii) absence of human beings for miles and miles, and (iii) broken and treacherous roads. We were definitely taking an undue risk by using a single car and only two guys (that too old fogies!). I would strongly recommend that such expeditions are done with at least 2 cars and 4 people.
3) At present only BSNL mobile works in some parts of Spiti Valley. But the signal is unreliable and data is very slow. All that is set to change pretty soon, maybe by early 2020, with the arrival of Jio. We saw massive optic fiber cable laying work by Jio all over Spiti Valley. As a matter of fact, digging of trenches by Jio to lay the cable ducts has made the roads narrower and more dangerous in many places. But as they say, "Today's pain is tomorrow's gain"!
4) My Endeavour 2.2 performed superbly. Buying the Endy in 2018 was one of my best decisions. It's in a completely different league as compared to my previous SUV, an XUV-500. The automatic transmission worked superbly on the hill roads and even on very steep climbs I found my engine power and torque more than adequate, with no perceptible drop in power at high altitudes. The suspension took everything in its stride and the ride quality and handling are awesome. Please note that Endeavour 2.2 is Rear Wheel Drive. Not once did I feel the need for 4x4. My rear wheels did not lose traction anywhere.
5) While negotiating hairpin bends on some very narrow stretches I felt that the Endy’s long wheelbase was a bit of a handicap. The short turning radius of the Endy (less than that of XUV) is a boon but sometimes 3-point turning is required.
6) Many people give conflicting and inaccurate descriptions of road condition and one needs to take such information with a pinch of salt. At Kaza we asked several drivers (car, bike, taxi) about the road condition between Kaza and Gramphu. The answers varied from"No problem at all, I did it in my Brezza yesterday"
to"Road is completely broken. I saw a Scorpio stuck in a water crossing and returned to Kaza without attempting to go to Gramphu"
. The actual situation was somewhere in between.
7) H.P. Tourism rest houses are there in many places, but empty and unusable due to bureaucratic red tape. We visited a big Himachal Tourism rest house at Batal which had many well-furnished rooms, dormitories, functional kitchen with all necessary appliances and ample parking space. But the caretaker was nowhere to be found. BTW, none of the rooms were locked and we had half a mind to just crash in one of the 'VIP rooms'! When we checked with the famous 'Chacha-Chachi Dhaba' nearby, we were told that one can stay in the rest house only if one gets a prior booking from some office in Kaza! The net result was that scores of tourists were spending the night at Batal in very basic and sub-standard 'homestays' while the spacious rest house did not have a single occupant. There is a big Circuit House at Kaza which too I visited only to find it completely deserted with not a single occupant. Partha and I spent the night at Batal in a Swiss Tent which had an attached toilet. It was the only tented accommodation we used throughout the trip. All other nights were in hotels.
8) Many people take high altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) lightly or casually. They do not fully appreciate the need for acclimatization. When we were in Kaza, we learnt about the death of a Bengali young man near Chandratal. His body was brought to Kaza for post mortem and his lungs were found collapsed. Reportedly, this guy had been feeling unwell for the last couple of days but did not take it seriously. Not only did he sleep in a tent at Chandratal, he went trekking in the mountains the next morning where he collapsed.
During our Spiti Valley expedition we also heard about the sad and untimely demise of Yogesh Sarkar of BCMtouring.com at Ladakh, apparently due to AMS. One must remember that even a person who has been to high altitudes without any problems in the past may experience AMS during a subsequent visit. I have been to many high altitude regions over the decades and, fortunately, never experienced any problem. Still, every time I return to the mountains I religiously take all necessary precautions such as climbing gradually over at least 3-4 days, remaining hydrated, abstaining from alcohol and avoiding strenuous activities. All visitors to Spiti Valley should preferably start at the Shimla end and exit at the Manali end because one gains altitude more gradually from the Shimla end.