Friday, March 25, 2016


Evi chomo (grandmother nun in Tibetan) as she is referred to, has been living in her cave in Gangchumik above Pooh for over 35 year. Evi is from Pin valley and at the age of 61 donated her land (in Pooh village) to the villagers and went into her solitary life. A living example of the spiritual life devoted to realize the Self and a strong indication of what the Buddha dharma means to people in this valley.
Evi meets locals and others who seek her blessing and she does not speak hindi. From Pooh village its a 3hour trek to her cave. If evi is in her sadhana then it is not possible to meet her.
There is an unmistakable aura around her and evi is helped by nuns who stay with here and take care of her. Travel is the most rewarding when it broadens your perspective and inspires you. Feel for yourself Evi’s presence.
Before Spiti and the Tibetan plateau adopted Buddhism the prevailing religion there was Bon. Bon is a Tibetan religious tradition or sect, being distinct from Buddhist ones in its particular myths, although many of its teachings, terminology and rituals resemble Tibetan Buddhism. Bon teachings feature Nine Vehicles, which are pathway-teaching categories with distinct characteristics, views, practices and results.
Traditionally, the Nine Vehicles are taught in three versions: as Central, Northern and Southern treasures. The Central treasure is closest to Nyingma (Mahayana buddhist sect) Nine Yānas teaching and the Northern treasure is lost.
TiIl about 40 years ago there were people in Spiti following the Bon religion and even now traces of Bon religion are found everywhere in Spiti. In the rock art, blue sheep horns on stupas, the stupas themselves, the devtas in the villages, the dresses in the cham dance etc.
Spiti’s rock art is a gift from the past. It is a message from Spiti’s ancient peoples to today’s, which should not be forgotten or dismissed through our neglect or lack of understanding. There are two types of ancient rock art in Spiti: petroglyphs and pictographs. Petroglyphs are drawings engraved, pecked or abraded on a stone surface, usually a boulder.They are primarily found in Spiti’s southeast.
The ancient rock art in the Spiti River watershed gives us insight in the lives and cultures of the different peoples that immigrated to and visited region over the last 3,000 years. The many blue sheep, ibex, wild yak, deer, tigers, snow leopards, eagles and other animals reveal the important place animals had in ancient peoples’ lives. Stylistic differences in the representation of these animals trace different communities. Some of the animals, for example deer, are not found in Spiti. Hunting blue sheep is a common motif. Horses and riders are not uncommon. Bon, the religion of Zhang-Zhung, the cultural-political association that dominated Spiti before its conquest by Tibet in the 7th century, has left its symbols on many petroglyphs and pictographs: the sun and moon, the Shupka tree, the left turning swastika, etc. More recent inscriptions in Lentsa and various forms of Tibetan script, old and new, along with engravings of Buddhist stupas, record the influx of Buddhism into the region and its peoples’ ongoing commitment to the practice of Buddhism.
The rock art can be found in Tabo, Sumra, Lari and Pooh amongst other sites. They date back from 800 to 2000 years.
About 45min walk from Tashi gang towards Langza is a mediation cave with rock carvings of Guru Padmasambhava, Tara and other Buddhist deities. The carvings are gorgeous and have been made by monks using the cave. Most people in Tashi gang (1.30hrs from Kaza) know about the cave and may be willing to guide you there. Scholars from India and abroad have been studying these carvings. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Spiti is a wonder hidden in the Trans Himalayan range and discoveries of such sites only highlighten this.
Tashi gang is a small village but significant nevertheless. Many Bon and Buddhist archaeological finds have been made there. An academic paper on the painting in the lakhang in Tashi gang will be presented at the first international conference on Spiti at the oxford university in May 2016.
Believed to be from the 12th century this cave has frescos similar to Tabo. The cave is believed by many archaeologists to be older than the 12th century but unfortunately only 1 cave survives out the original 4.
The Komic cave is about 30min walk from the village. Depending on your luck and perseverance the locals may or may not take you to the cave. Spitians are known to hold on secretly to their history and for good reason do not trust outsiders easily. The paintings in the cave that survives include that of a mandala and the Maitreya buddha.
Spiti valley has had people living for 3000 years and while the Kinnaur road was made after the 2nd Indo-China war and the Manali-Kaza road in the 60’s, visit to the Komic and Tashi gang cave will make you realize that despite the harsh conditions a civilisation has thrived here for an incredibly long time.
Karanbir, the author of this post runs a bliliant little hotel in Kaza, Spiti Valley. We have know him for many years as he went to school with my sister and later on was an automotive journalist befor he took off for a few years to travel South America. He started Hotel Deyzor in 2013, 2 years after in 2015 he has started working toward setting up a social enterprise in Spiti. Karan now stays there 7 months a year. Website for his Kaza hotel is –

Monday, March 21, 2016

We finally rode the Himalayan...

The rain was coming down in sheets. We have been riding in it for a few hours now but ​the last one had been pretty bad. All we wanted to do was stop ​,​wring out our gloves, dry out and get a hot chai. ​It had been a while since we had seen any one on this back road we were riding. ​When we eventually did stop​,​ we found out we had overshot the left turn we had to take by 18kms. A look at our soggy notes and map and a quick call to Harsh (who incidentally was playing photographer this day so was warm and toasty in a media car) to clear up our navigation issues and we were ready to get back on the bikes. The plan was to back track and hit the trail we missed. Turns out only 2 of us were up to the task​ as​ the rest wanted to take the brilliant tarmac back to base.

Ok before I get ahead of my self let me start at the beginning. A clutch of India’s most crazy motorcycle journalists and I​​  were invited by Royal Enfield to the British Summer Capital of India - Shimla​,​ to swing a leg over their new motorcycle ​- ​the Himalayan​. The idea was to​  spend the weekend riding around a few of the mountains it was named after.

Royal Enfield motorcycles have been exploring the Himalayan ranges ​ever ​since they first landed on our shores back in the day. The bikes​,​ as you can imagine​,​ we​re​ not well suited to handle such terrain and insane places​ that p​eople were ready to take these machines​ to.​ ​T​he fact that they were torquey, simple and built to last made these motorcycles the bike to ride in India if you were looking for some sort of ​an adventure. For years adventure seekers have been custom building their motorcycles to suit their needs for when they ride off into the Himalayan ranges. ​We at Helmet Stories more than a few in our stables. But finally the powers that be ​(​read-Sid Lal​)​ decided that it was about time that the company purpose built a motorcycle to take on the mountains. Hence, ​the Royal Enfield Him​a​layan.

At the heart of Himalayan is the new carbureted, 411cc, long stroke motor. This is Royal Enfields revolutionary new engine where they have used overhead cams instead of pushrods like in their old engine. It makes 24.5bhp and 32Nm of torque and it is happiest once you push it past 3000rpm. It is decently quick but I wish it had just a bit more Grrr. Sid Lal said the intention was not to make it savage but to keep it inviting for the new adventure enthusiasts.

Suspension wise ​-​ there is 200mm of travel up front and 180mm of travel at the rear. The suspension is totally at home when you start to bash about over bad roads ​and ​at no point did it bottom out on the hairy rocky bits(even with me on it). At higher speeds, it soaks up bumps impressively without throwing the bike off​.All in all its a pretty brilliant little motorcycle.

Ok, ​so back to the trail. Ouseph and I decided to back track. We had it on good word that is was totally worth it. The rain had slowed down to a slight drizzle and the cold and wet was not bothering us anymore. The trail was mostly hard packed mud with a  rivulet running down one side of the track. The trail started climbing over the mountain and through a forest and went from hard packed mud to slush to big puddles of water. We were having a blast so of course it started to rain again. By now Ouseph and I were way past caring ​as ​we followed the track throug​h​ a beautiful untouched forest and come out at a clearing on the other side​.​ ​When we had ​​stopped to take a shot ​-it suddenly hit me​-​ Holy shit​ this wasn't rain,​ it was snowing!!!

After a little jig we decided to keep moving. ​We rode on,​​ figuring we would ride out the storm as the road had to start descending soon and we would eventually leave the snow behind us. Instead ​,​the snow got heavier and thicker and the trail was showing no signs of hitting the main road or a highway. ​Not being the kinds to consider stopping or finding shelter​,​ we carried on enjoying the ride. Big flakes of snow covered our helmets and our visors​ but we were having a blast riding through all of it. The trail became a thick layer of white ​and ​not knowing what lay under it ​-​we pressed on and rode. For two hours we rode through this insane freak snow storm and that is when it hit me. The bike had never once questioned what we were doing. It was handling like a dream it was going where we wanted it to ​and ​the suspension was taking whatever was under that blanket of snow. Never once did we lose control and feel ​we ​were being idiotic. At one point​,​ in those two hours I hit a patch where the front slid and I thought it would go down but I caught it and carried on. The bike​,​ dare I say​,​ was cutting throughout this snow like a hot knife.

​It was only​ when we hit the highway eventually and got our chai and hot pakodas ​that we realised how insane this little 411cc motorcycle is! Of course it has bits we would change and fix​,​ and of course most of us would have loved a bit more grunt but as I see it Royal Enfield has been ballsey and it has worked.

As the snow thaws and riding season approaches we cant wait for our two bikes to be delivered as its TIME TO RIDE…

Friday, March 11, 2016

Tomorrow we ride the Royal Enfield Himalayan

We are here in Shimla to ride the new Royal Enfield Himalayan finally. We can't wait for the sun to come up.