June is about to end and pretty soon, monsoon would have arrived in North India by mid or late July. It has already started to rain here in Delhi and one of the most frequent questions I am getting asked now is whether or not it is safe to be traveling to Spiti valley in Monsoon. Spiti is notorious for bad roads and I think by now everyone knows it. Add it with monsoon and people like you and I; who have done most of our driving in plain areas begin to wonder if we will be able to tackle it. The answer to this question is that yes it is definitely safe as long as you know what you are getting in to and are prepared for it.
In this article, I will provide some information on what can you expect while planning a trip to Spiti valley in monsoon, how to prepare for it and a few tips on how to journey through.
The first thing you should know here is that Spiti valley is in a rain shadow area; which means that either it doesn’t rain here at all or rains very less. While this remains to be a fact which is applicable most of the times, there is still no denying that global warming has changed things a lot. For example, Ladakh too is in a rain shadow area but the 2010 cloudburst claimed so many lives. Similarly there was a cloudburst in Spiti valley in August 2013 resulting in a lot of financial loss to villagers, no casualties though. These however are unfortunate incidents that may happen once in few years. Rain still is a rare phenomenon in Spiti and your chances of encountering it here are almost next to none.
This however applies only to Spiti valley; the area between Puh and Batal to be precise. Starting from Shimla, you may have to face rain until Kinnaur Valley (Reckong Peo / Kalpa) and then at Manali and Rohtang Pass. Road conditions too around Karchham and Reckong Peo remain to be in a terrible state which gets even worse once it starts to rain.
How to prepare for a trip to Spiti Valley in Monsoon
Biggest challenge comes when you are traveling to Spiti in monsoon on a motorcycle. Most important thing to remember at this time is to waterproof everything in three different layers.
Get plenty of polythene bags, the ones that they give out when you shop in a showroom or at a mall. Keep all your clothes in those polybags. Then get a good waterproof bag and stuff your luggage in. Final step is to buy those black polythene sheets that you can get at any hardware store. Wrap your bags in those sheets before roping it around the motorcycle.
Why three layers? Because you never know how long it may rain and you need enough protection that can take the beating for hours at a stretch. Sometimes it will rain non-stop and there will be days when it will continue to rain all day long at intervals; such can be the weather around Shimla and Kinnaur valley. Then there is also the fact that you will be going through a lot off water crossings and slush so you need to provide sufficient cover to your luggage.
The black polythene sheets will not only protect your bags from water but also from all the dirt and mud that will fall straight on it during the ride. Carry a few meters extra of as well in case the one your bag is wrapped in gets torn. Before you start on the trip, get your bikes well serviced. Make a note to get the wiring checked to ensure there is no wear and tear that may cause a short circuit and the wires to burn while it rains.
Most important thing however will be a good quality rain suit. You definitely do not want to be riding soaking wet with rain beating down on you in a cold atmosphere. You need to ensure that you will remain dry. Changing clothes everything you get wet is also practically not possible. Your shoes too must be water proof and if not, then carry at least two pairs.
Traveling by Car
If you are however traveling by a Car, ensure that you do not put any luggage on the roof. Try to stuff as much as you can inside the car. If you must load some of the luggage on the roof, then chose the ones that are not at a risk of getting ruined in the rain. For example your camping gear if you are carrying any or jerry cans for fuel if you haven’t filled those up already. If you are roping any bags up there, then ensure that everything is tightly wrapped in plastic and there is a thick tarpaulin covering the roof. Take out all electronic items, papers, wallets etc before you mount the bags on the roof.
I know a lot of people travel to Spiti in a hatchback or Sedan but Monsoon season is not the time when you would want to do so. There is going to be a lot of slush when it rains and the waters streams too will be at full flow; so crossing it in a vehicle with low ground clearance will become a herculean task. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a 4×4 but an SUV is an appropriate vehicle for traveling through Spiti valley in Monsoon season.
Electronics and Clothing
Carry a few small polybags as well that you can put in your wallet, phone and watch etc. You of course will not be undoing the bags from your bikes every time you need to take your wallet or phone out. Your clothing has to be specific to clothes that can dry fast. Do not pack anything that will take an entire day to dry. There may not be any sun at all if it remains clouded all day. Pack clothes that you can hang in your hotel room under the fan and will still dry. If traveling on motorcycle, get a rain gear and then a water proof heavy jacket to keep you protected from both cold and rain.
Keep your electronics, wallet and important documents wrapped in a plastic sheet all the time. One electronic device that gets used the most on trips like this and is at risk of getting ruined is your camera. Buy a rainsleeve for your camera if you can. If not, then ensure that you keep it protected from not only rain but also moisture. Do not carry your regular DSLR bag; rather buy a waterproof bag for your camera and accessories.
What to expect in Spiti Valley in Monsoon?
After the preparation, let us take a look at what you can expect while traveling through Spiti Valley in Monsoon. As we discussed above in the article; if you are starting from Shimla then chances of rain will last up until Reckong Peo and a little after that. Once you cross Puh, its rare that it will rain until you cross Batal and head towards Rohtang Pass.
These are small water streams caused by melting snow and rainfall. Problem is that they will be flowing right through the road. Some of these rivulets are so large that they get named as “Nallahs”. There will be plenty of these to cross during monsoon, throughout the circuit but mostly on Batal – Gramphoo stretch. Malling Nallah after Nako is probably the most notorious one. These rivulets can be quite deep with large stones underneath the water and if you are not careful, you may get stuck with belly of your car hitting the ground.
Road is probably just a relevant term in Spiti. During your journey here, you will be traveling on some of the worst patches of roads you have ever seen. Badly broken dirt trails become a pool of mud as soon at it starts to rain. Be prepared to be driving through a lot of slush.
What is a shooting stone? No it doesn’t mean that the locals in Spiti will be throwing stones at you; rather these are stones sliding down from the hill above and falling straight on the road. Some of these stones can be big enough to cause some real damage. Chances of a shooting stones will be more around areas where the entire road is filled with lose gravel. Fortunately, there will always be a sign put up warning you against a possibility of shooting stones. The road from Karchham to Chitkul, several stretches between Reckong Peo and Puh, area just before Kazigs near Nako, road from Tabo to Attargo are a few of such areas to name.
Landslides are way too common around here, specially in areas around Sangla, between Reckong Peo and Puh and several other places. Sometimes, entire sections of the roads can get washed away in Monsoon. There is always a risk of roads getting blocked due to landslide and you will be stuck until it is restored.
Rain, Rain & Rain
Last but not the least, there will be plenty of it. It can rain anytime, anywhere and for hours at stretch. In Himalayas, there is no predicting the rain and when the monsoon arrives, there is no avoiding it.
How to Travel through Spiti Valley in Monsoon
Now that you know what to expect in Spiti valley during Monsoon season; below are a few tips on how you can journey through; ensuring a safe and pleasurable trip.
While crossing a nallah in a car, please stop for a minute, step out, inspect the crossing and then take your car across very carefully. If you are still unsure then wait for a little while for another car to arrive and follow its lead. Stay in the first gear, do not half clutch and cross over in a single go while maintaining the momentum. If there is slush around, then ask your fellow travelers to step out of the car so that they can help push the vehicle if you get stuck.
Accelerate slowly to ensure that your car doesn’t skid. Avoid any sudden movements on the steering, accelerator or brakes as this may send your car spinning. If you are highly doubtful of your driving skills and are not feeling too comfortable with the idea of driving on such roads; then I suggest you hire a driver who is a local from Manali. Traveling on a motorcycle, check your tires before you start on the trip. If the tires are old and worn out, replace them. Ride in a lower gear very slowly through the slush. Ride through the tracks made by four wheelers and trucks as the slush is less there.
Next concern is of landslides caused by rain and to tackle that; you must keep a couple of days in buffer. There is a high possibility that certain part of the highway may close down for a few hours; or even a couple of days because of landslide in which case you will have no choice but to go to the nearest town and wait it out. You also need to be careful while driving through areas that you see effected by rain or have a lot of dirt or mud around; because it is not always a major landslide but smaller ones too. Some stones may just slide down from the top damaging your vehicle and injuring you. Good part however is that BRO has put up warnings in areas where this may happen. If you see a board that reads “shooting stones”, stay alert.
Another good tip would be to go to bed early and hit the road early in the morning next day. This will ensure that you can cross the Nallahs before the sun comes up and water flow increases due to melting snow. I agree that you may have to cross several of these throughout the day; but if you started early, you will be able to cross at least a few while the flow of water is not that high.
It is not really a good idea to go self camping while it rains but if that is your plan; then ensure that you are camping near some village; next to a dhaba or a local person’s house. Do not camp in middle of the night. With rain, a lot of things can go wrong at night like heavy wind, landslides, water getting inside the tent; and you must keep a back up plan ready.
That pretty much summarizes it. I know there could be a few things more than I may not have covered here; but if you follow the tips I provided above; you will be able to travel through Spiti without any problem even during monsoon.
Is it Safe to Travel to Spiti Valley in Monsoon?
To answer the question, yes it is safe to travel to Spiti during monsoon with proper planning; and as long as you drive slow and carefully. Do not be over-confident; think before you act and you will be home safe with tales to tell of your travel.
I hope the information provided above regarding Spiti valley in monsoon was helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our Community Forum and I will be glad to answer.