Story so far...
Next day we woke up at around 8 AM. Though the night was harsh cold, we didn't face any major issues sleeping because of electric bedding and ample blanket cover in the homestay. More importantly, we didn't face any Acute-Mountain-Sickness signs. Since, we had stayed in Jeori only one night, which is not at that great an altitude, and then had come straight to Tabo, which is about 3300m above sea level, we were worried that AMS might hit us. Lack of sleep is also a major cause of AMS, so, we had gone to bed early while other groups were still in the dining hall till late night.
The morning was clear, and blinding sunlight was all over the mountains. It, however, had no effect on the bone-chilling winds that were blowing. I got out without gloves and woolen cap and my hands and ears were dead numb within minutes. The reason why I had got out was to open the bonnet of our Duster. Last night, we had parked car facing east, so that, we could open the bonnet in the morning and let the engine bay heat up for a few hours before we leave. This is really important during winters, because temperatures drop so much at night that diesel freezes. Add to that the freezing of battery fluids resulting in discharge of battery. If that happens, starting a car becomes a tough nut to crack. So, we had taken these precautions. I did not try starting the car at that time because I didn't know if diesel froze or not. If it did, and battery had only a few cranks of power left, I might end up discharging it completely and end hopes of starting the car later.
I went back and freshened up a little (face wash and all). Then we had a nice breakfast. People of Spiti cook delicious food. And nothing can be better than a plate of hot butter laden paranthas with a cup of tea beating the cold out there. Tandoor, which they extinguish during night, was running again. Soon, we packed our bags and loaded them into our car. Now was the time to see if car starts or not!
So, I got into driver's seat and, first of all, ignited the glow-plug 5-6 times by turning on and off the key. Then I put the key to ignition and voila! It cranked up in a single shot! It was such a relief... but for not so long! Within seconds engine came to a halt. Shit! I tried to start it again, but now it wouldn't budge! My foot was on full race, still no help. For a minute or so I tried this. Thankfully battery was not giving any problems. I stopped for a few seconds, took a deep breath and tried one more time. Thankfully, this time car hiccups for a few seconds but started. Phew! And so we were on the road again!
As we went deeper into the valley, the landscapes started changing. The snow covered mountains, that were far away previously, were now right in front of us. Spiti river was flowing beside the road and at many places came a feet away from us. Dramatically enough, the side on which we were driving had no snow, while the other side of river had mountains covered in snow! May by because of uneven sunlight? Nevertheless, every moment of the ride was memorable. I will let the pictures speak!
A few kilometre before Sichiling village, the valley, all of a sudden, spreads into a vast valley. For the first timers, this is a genuine jaw-dropping change in the landscape. What added to more to the awe of the beauty was that a vast stretch of the valley was now covered in snow, which we could now walk on. It was time to get a lots of photos clicked!
After having a nice long photo session, we got back into our car and move forward. We had plans to go to Dhankar Monastery but now we skipped it because of lack of time. We had seen Dhankar Monastery last time but could not visit Pin Valley. So, going to Pin Valley was priority for us. While we were on our way to Pin Valley, something amazing caught our attention - frozen waterfall in Lingti village. We knew about it but were not expecting to find it frozen at that time of season. We immediately stopped to get a closer look at it.
Frozen waterfall looked like an artistic sculpture handcrafted by nature. Those huge icicles, somehow, connected to each other in a complex structure, blue water lake at the bottom and the sweet sound of water-flowing and wind-blowing - all made it a sight to behold for hours!
We were getting late. Going into Pin Valley and coming back would take at least 3 hours itself. So, we had to hurry to reach Kaza before sunset. We left Lingti and soon took a turn to cross the bridge to Pin Valley.
As soon as we crossed the bridge, it literally seemed like we had entered a completely different world! The road suddenly became extremely dangerous with black-ice and huge glaciers on one side from which we could see snow falling. Sun was at it's peak and snow was melting, so there was substantial risk of a huge chunk of ice breaking and blocking the road. At some distance, a JCB was clearing the road. We waited for it to give side. Road was open, it was just clearing it for more free movement.
As we moved further into the valley, tall ice walls on either side of the road started appearing. At some places they were probably a storey high!
We were pretty scared to think what would happen if some of it broke and blocked the road? Even worse, if one fell on us! Given that we two were only ones on that road, it was rather crazy that we continued on that road instead of returning. But, what we were seeing in front of was all worth the craziness. It was beauty beyond imagination - a valley straight out of god's art-book. No amount of danger could force us to give up and return. We carried on, and so did the landscapes around us.
Road was open only till Sangam village. We returned from Sangam and started tracing our way back. Unfortunately, the weather had taken a sharp turn. There were clouds all over the sky and it seemed like snow could fall anytime. Temperature had fallen below zero already and strong winds blowing increased chances of shooting stones on the road. Sensing all this, I picked up pace to cross the Pin Valley part as soon as possible. Someone has rightly said, "Slow and steady wins the race."
We were going without issues, but stupidly ignored the stones one the road that were being bounced around by tyres. What we hadn't thought then occurred - a sharp stone hit one of the front tyres and made a significant cut on it. With a loud noise, all the air rushed out and our tyre was flat right in the middle of Pin Valley.
I stopped, got out and took a look. For the first time in entire trip we were both genuinely scared! It was extremely cold and were middle of nowhere. I quickly aligned the car carefully on a relatively flat surface. But, then as soon as I got out, some derbis fell from the hill beside us because of wind blowing. Scared of shooting stones, I re-aligned the car more towards the other side of the road. I took out the jack and slowly started lifting the car. One more issue was that I didn't exactly know where to place the jack in our new car (never realised I didn't know that). Based on some pictures on the jack, I assumed the location and slowly started lifting the car. It was going too slow though.
Suddenly, out of no where, the group which had met us in Tabo arrived in their Traveller. They asked us if we needed help, I nodded in desperation! They got out and immediately started helping. They took out their own bigger and better jack and started the process. It was such a relief!
Within 15-20 mins, our spare tyre was on and we were moving again. This time, I took care to drive slowly and not to upset any stoned on the road. Soon, we crossed the Pin Valley stretch and were on a much better road to Kaza. Familiar vistas were around us and we enjoyed them to the fullest. In no time, we were in Kaza, in a homestay with whom we were in contact.
It was a basic homestay, a downgrade from what we had in Tabo. In a first look, we were having second thoughts. But, it was winters and options were not that many. Moreover, we were very tired and not in mood to search any further. So, we agreed to take the room. Good news was that Jio was now working in Kaza, with very decent speeds. We were doing video calls!
Anyway, that was for sure, one of the most adventurous days of or life! In the end we had safely reached Kaza.