From hill top station to hot lowland riversides

In the Indian way of things it takes half a day to sort a sim card in Shimla, the up side is that we discover The India Coffee Company coffee house. We leave Shimla in the heat of the midday sun (even at 2200m). Up thru dense pine forest, climbing and contouring to our ridge top town of Fago. No accommodation in the town so we start the descent and come upon a lovely ‘Homestay’ guest house  set above apple orchards. Dinner at the nearby restaurant and the owner tells us he passed us while we were biking and he was very impressed and pleased now to meet us and talk to us.

Local tourist traffic drops off after Fago as we descend then climb to Narkanda the next day, biking thru cherry and apple orchards, built up areas and forested areas. An Indian motorcycle tourist stops to talk, he is doing a similar route to us but powered by petrol. Narkanda is at 2800m and is a pleasant town, again on a ridge top with views over the hazy foothills. Post monsoon the high peaks of the Himalayas would be visible.

The Himalayan Dhaba (restaurant) next to the railway station is a goodie and we frequent it for the late lunch, dinner and breakfast we have in the town. The coffee machine is a relic but goes and the food and lassis are yummy. Our stomach’s are adjusting well to the spicy food which we enjoy immensely.

From Narkanda we have a 30km, 1800m drop to the Satluj river – a major river draining the Himalaya. Initially we fly down the low gradient sealed road. A truckie befriends us, shouts us chai and a (very) sweet treat and tells us of a shortcut. We love the single lane, steeper, quieter road that cut out 5km over 10km before rejoining the main road. Just before rejoining Alan has a front puncture – it turns out the valve has ripped out so we are down one inner tube. It leaves us with one spare so we might have to try and find another.

Down at the main river at 1000m it is a stiflingly hot 30 km ride up to a major town of Rampur. It is an interesting ride up the huge, brown river with large rapids and marijuana weeds growing alongside the road. We will follow this watershed for over 400km turning up the Spiti river tributary higher up and then over a 4500m pass into Ladakh.

Rampur is nestled in the narrowing gorge, a large town set on both sides of the river. Noisy and dirty but we find a nice room overlooking the river and cool off with a cold shower. We need a day here to rest and to try and get an inner line permit for our ride up through the Spiti Valley – a foreigners Inner Line Permit. The road goes very close to Tibet (ironically for me) and so borders (or close to borders) will be well policed. We are starting to see Tibetan faces in the crowds and there is no shortage of Chinese restaurants selling momos.

Signing out from the wee cyber cafe where the owner’s brother works at Tongariro National Park – small world..