Two weeks on Royal Enfield in the Spiti Valley – India

 

My wife and I have lived an incredible adventure in this part of India and these two weeks have been so far the most challenging ones in our entire lives. Why? Because driving motorbikes on these Himalayan roads is not an easy thing at all!

But first of all, let me start with the beginning and with our first impressions of India…

Like most travelers, we arrived by plane in the capital of the country : New Delhi. And that was a first shock!

 

 

I think that this first image speaks for itself because it describes well the overall atmosphere… The streets of the Muslim district of Delhi are a total chaos from our European point of view!

We have travelled quite a lot in Asia and South America, for more than 7 years now, and even if we had seen dozens of TV reports from India, hundreds of photos, and had a relatively good experience in traveling… We did not expect Delhi to be like this! And here, what the picture does actually not show, it’s the 40°C and the extremely loud noise of all these Tuk-Tuks honking every second! It is so crowded that sometimes, it’s really easy to feel uncomfortable or claustrophobic! See what I mean below…

 

 

Fortunately, we were accompanied by an Indian friend of us, Aashna, and that was somehow reassuring to be with someone who lives here. On a cultural and historical point of view, it was actually very practical to be “guided”, and to get to see the Delhi that we might not have dared to discover if we had been alone. She took us in the “must-see” places but also to some remote streets and districts of the capital. She also took us in very good restaurants and we tasted so many excellent dishes that were totally new for us…

Photographically speaking, I was bombarded by photo opportunities but I wanted to be free and to experience the city without my camera. I just shot when I was telling myself that it would be a pity not a record a little bit of what we were seeing and experiencing… Like this for example :

 

 

Everyone says that India is the country of contrasts. From what we’ve experienced in three days in Delhi, I can only agree with this statement! Modernity vs. past, poverty vs. wealth… Everyone knows that. But living it is another thing. It’s still an eye-opening experience…

As for the colors, everyone also expects to please his eyes with beautiful contrasts and I was eager to photograph that… I haven’t been disappointed!

 

 

What else… I also couldn’t resist to document a little the life of the Rickshaws who are omnipresent and who stick well with the image that everyone may have of India before coming here…. The life of the drivers must not be easy because of the physical effort that driving these bikes demand, the overall heat and the dust that they breathe!

 

 

Finally, I wanted to have some portraits. And I loved the variety of faces and cultures in just one city. Here is one of a Muslim man at the Jama Masjid Mosque :

 

 

And one from Qutb Minar Minaret of a young Hindu woman beautifully illuminated by the golden light of the late afternoon :

 

 

Well… Enough said about Delhi for now. Honestly, this 3-day stay was long enough for us because we were completely exhausted after each day! Visiting this capital is not resting at all and we were happy to move on to what we came for… The Indian Himalayas!

 

The Spiti Valley 

 

 

The next destination that we wanted to explore is an incredible and remote valley in the Indian Himalayas, in the state of Himachal Pradesh. And what better than the iconic Royal Enfield 350 Classic to transport us for this adventure? This beautiful motorbike has been especially built to brave the extreme terrains in the Himalayas. This moto is unbreakable and very confortable on dirt roads, despite its heavy weight… It can also endure the lack of oxygen in high altitudes and keep working well!

So how did this trip start? We knew that in the city of Manali, it was easy to rent this bike. So we first took a night bus from Delhi to Manali. And if I remember well, it took us something like 13 hours to get there…
Once settled in a hotel, we dedicated our days in finding a good moto rental garage, asking for the prices of a two-week rent and also looking for all the protective equipment that we would need for such a “dangerous” expedition.
Besides, we were asking for pieces of advice from anyone who had already been on these roads and who knew the road conditions well. And what we were being told was not reassuring at all! Apparently, we were about to drive on one of the most difficult roads in India, with a huge number of rivers to cross!

But after all the preparation, we were mentally ready to go and overcome all the obstacles that we would have to face, with the hope of living an amazing adventure…

 

 

The trip started well and the first challenge of this journey was the famous Rohtang pass at 4000 meters above the sea level. The nature was green and beautiful up to 3000 meters. And then, the difficulties began. It had been raining a lot the past week so the road was in terrible conditions, with a lot of mud and traffic. It was also very foggy.

 

Spiti Valley, Royal Enfield, Himachal Pradesh, India Himalayas, Manali, Kaza, Key monastery, Dhankar monastery

 

But the worst thing for us was all the trucks which were stuck and could not move forward. With a motorbike, we could at least slowly overtake them but it took us a lot of time and patience… At the same time, there were lots of local shepherds walking with their herds on the road, and that was part of the folklore!

 

 

I eventually had a flat tyre on the way up, the first one of a long series… So we could experience the extreme kindness of Indian riders who naturally stopped to give us a hand.

After a long and tiring day, we finally found a beautiful place to camp. The next image is the first thing we saw when we opened the tent the next morning…

 

 

We were amazed by this vision of a shepherd, who came from nowhere, in this pristine valley illuminated by the soft golden morning light… A valley that we would have to cross today. Everyone had told us that it was THE most difficult day of all this trip because of the road conditions. We’d been told that there would be many river crossings, big boulders, no asphalt, no gas station, the Kunzum Pass at 4600 meters high… And very few people taking this road. So that meant… no margin for error!

After taking all our courage, we started the day with the hope of making it, and with full determination!

 

 

During this day, the risks of falling down were so big that I rarely took my camera with me. It was carefully packed in my backpack but when we came across beautiful scenes, we had to stop and record this. I particularly loved seeing all these shepherds on the road taking care of their goats…

 

 

They were very nice and they always smiled at us!

 

 

But we could imagine how hard their life must be in this rough environment… It is so dry and high in altitude. The nights must be really cold, especially in winter. By the way… this road is absolutely closed during 6 months in the year because of the snow… So it gives quite a good idea of how tough it must be to live and grow animals in this region of the world!

 

 

We were already happy to have overcome the biggest challenges of the day when we started the ascent of the Kunzum Pass. We were both feeling extremely relieved and a sense of freedom started to overwhelm us! We were living THE adventure that we were dreaming about!

 

 

And the landscapes on the other side of the pass were a reward! We saw so much beauty this day and we had officially made it to the Spiti Valley! We were now sure that we would be able to overcome all the next obstacles…

 

 

 

The Spiti Valley is known to be the home of many buddhist monasteries. This is actually one of the main reasons why we came here… Iza and I particularly like the atmosphere that these monasteries convey in these high mountains, the serenity and peace that take hold of ourselves…

The Key Monastery is the first impressive one that we saw. We knew that we were close to it when we were driving but the first view we’ve had has been a real surprise! We just had to stop the bike and stare at it for a long time!

 

Key Monastery, Spiti Valley, India, Agra, Travel photography, Travel blog, Photography blog

 

If you look for this monastery in google, you’ll see many photos of it from the same angle, showing the entire monastery in the middle of the valley and surrounded by big mountains. So I tried to be a bit more creative. I wanted to challenge myself with different compositions. I honestly liked how I captured it and I’m happy to have something different from everyone…

 

 

In this valley again, the second most incredible monastery is for sure the one in Dhankar village… We’ve been even more glad to reach it because of how we struggled with our motorbikes to get to it. There are indeed two roads to reach the monastery and we took the one that had been destroyed by landslides. We’ve had to ride over big amounts of rocks and be very careful not to slide on the right side in the void… We were completely exhausted when we arrived and again, so relieved! But as always, we’ve been rewarded and the place turned magical when the sun started to go down…

 

 

As you can see, there’s been an impressive sandstorm in the valley behind. It conveyed such a dramatic mood to the place…

 

 

In the next morning, I motivated myself to wake up early to photograph it again. I was not disappointed as the weather and the light had completely changed!

 

 

The Spiti Valley is not only interesting for its monasteries, but also for its remote and high villages around. We really loved Langza and Hikkim which are not too far away from Kaza, the “capital” of the valley. They look like Tibetan villages and they are on the foot of very high and impressive mountains. Have a look !

 

 

Even the road to get there is worth the trip! The views on the Spiti Valley from higher are stunning!

 

 

And it really feels like being in Tibet or Nepal !

 

 

As for the people, the ones that we met were very nice. They were open to talk or to invite us in their home for breakfast. We remember this lady who cooked some bread and eggs for us and was not even expecting anything in return…

 

 

Or this old woman, still working in her fields at her age, and with a smile please!

 

 

From Dhankar village, the Pin Valley is very close and is also worth a one or two day trip at least ! The more you get away from the main valley, the more authentic and nice the people are. We drove a full day and reached Mud village where again, life has been unchanged for centuries… When the sun went down, I went outside in the fields to see if there would be something interesting to shoot and Gosh !… The sky literally fired up!

 

 

Some local people were, as always, working in their fields and they were gathering grass for their herds to survive the harsh winter. It was perfect for photography and I was pleased with what I was recording!

 

 

The women were cutting and gathering the grass while the men were carrying the load to their house. I particularly love the next image because when you see it small or from far away, you’d probably see a big tree in the center. The illusion works!

 

 

The next image you’ll see is for me the one that I am the most proud of since I’ve started taking photographs… The light, the composition, the moment, the story… all work together perfectly in my opinion! Moments like this one are rare and ephemeral and that’s what make them so intense! It also felt like a consecration, because I’ve been able to capture that while I was seated on my motorbike with my helmet, sunglasses and gloves on me. Everything happened really fast and being able to quickly grab my camera and change the settings to capture this was a sign that I’ve improved over the past year. We had started early in the morning this very day, and we’ve been rewarded with such an unforgettable moment and light…

 

 

After driving more than a week in the Spiti Valley, we decided to continue further. We decided to get back to Manali through the Kinnaur Valley. Because, going this way would allow us to make a perfect circuit from, and the whole journey would take us about 800km. Not a lot you will say, but remember that the roads are mostly in terrible conditions and that sometimes we were not even able to drive 100km in one day! That’s why we decided to drive slowly, to take our time, and enjoy as much as we could the places that we liked on the way.

Kalpa has been one of these nice places where we felt like we could stay longer than predicted. It’s a typical small town above Reckong Peo, with wooden constructions in the center, facing huge 6000 meters high mountains!

 

 

We had found an excellent cosy hotel room with a balcony to rest after these first 10 days of expedition. Everyday, we enjoyed amazing sunsets and sunrises with some beers and crackers. Traveling is also about taking some good time and resting. One particular evening, the weather turned very dramatic so I had to photograph that…

 

 

On the contrary, every morning, the weather was very clear and pure. The shape of the sun rays also attracted my attention so one morning I woke up for the sunrise and from our balcony I could capture that…

 

 

We finally stayed three nights in Kalpa and we completely recharged our batteries! The next adventure was about to surprise us, again!

After a 8 hour drive and a stop to fix a battery problem on Iza’s motorbike… We were searching for a beautiful and safe place to camp. We were near Rampur and we saw on the map that there was a smaller town not too far away in the mountains, called Nermand. We happened to know later that it’s actually the second biggest village in Asia, a title that the locals are apparently proud of… But the nature around was beautiful and we found an amazing camping site! We parked the motorbike, carried everything with us on the camp, set up the tent, inflated the mattresses…Etc We were exhausted and we could finally relax and enjoy the sunset. BUT a young local guy passing by told us that it was “dangerous to stay here because of leopards and bears” ! Honestly, at the beginning, we were skeptical… After a nice talk, we were convinced and he kindly invited us to camp at his house. We’ve been extremely well received by his family and the lady on the next photos is his mother. We had rarely seen someone smiling that much, and she cooked something really good and healthy, only with the vegetables that the grow in their garden.

We’ll always keep an excellent memory of this night and of the people’s hospitality in this part of the world!

 

 

Final part of this article about this two-week mototrip!

Two days before coming back to Manali, we stopped near a very small wooden village that we saw by the road, just behind the Jalori Pass. The region was so calm, so green and that was so good for us to be in that environment again after the aridity of the Himalayan mountains… We enjoyed a very nice meal for lunch, had some rest in the sun…etc And as usual, when the sun started to go down in the sky, I was up for a little exploration of the surroundings. So I went to the village with my camera and the people I met were really nice and open to be photographed!

 

 

As a leitmotiv during this trip, the locals were cutting and collecting the grass in their houses. But here, the elderly people did not seem to work, like this beautiful woman below…

 

 

I stayed a bit longer with one young lady in particular because she was really keen on being photographed! She was smiling all the time! She also wanted to see the photos I was taking of her, which I was happy about !

 

 

At the end, her daughter came to play around so this lady also asked me to take photos of them two. It was a funny and beautiful moment, which was magnified by this gorgeous late afternoon light…

 

 

End of this first article about India !

 

The last thing I’d like to talk about is how difficult it was to photograph during that journey. We were indeed extremely tired after every day so finding the motivation to explore more, to search for ideas and compositions was not an easy thing… and driving a motorbike is not so convenient for taking photos. We were indeed bombarded by photo opportunities but before I had time to think about stopping the motorbike and taking my camera, the scene had already vanished! On these kind of roads as well, it was not safe for the gear to have it all the time with me around my neck. I was often very scared that my camera and my lens were full of dust… And when I had it on me, I was also scared of falling down and breaking it! Fortunately, my Fujifilm XT3 survived and I must say that it’s been extremely resistant!

Anyway… I hope that you liked this article and all the photos! Then I will write more about the region of Ladakh where we also traveled by motorbike. So if you like what we do, please share it with your friends and your family. And if you have any question about this region of the world, feel free to contact us or to write in the comment section below!

More on my Instagram account : https://www.instagram.com/nicolascastermans/

Or on the Youtube Channel of Iza who did a vlog about the first three days of this adventure. Drone footage, river crossing, our impressions in live… Everything you need to see just right here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNWX2Z69Xzs&t=2s