If Himachal Pradesh is known as the abode of the gods, the breathtakingly beautiful districts of Kinnaur and Spiti located deep in the lap of the Himalayas must surely be their private chambers. The sheer beauty of Kinnaur, especially the Sangla Valley, and the splendidly stark Spiti make us mortals reel from a truly scenic overdose. If you’re drawn by the mystique of the mountains, harbour an adventurous streak, and your idea of nirvana is walking along a brook in a pine forest or driving through a glacier field, this is the ultimate therapy. A memorable drive on NH22 from Shimla to Sumdo on the Indo-Tibetan border with forays into the Sangla Valley and the hamlet of Kalpa. At Sumdo, head into the Spiti Valley on SH30 to soak in the awe-inspiring landscape topped by the azure blue sky. Stop over at Tabo and Kaza in Spiti before taking the road to Manali, traversing the Kunzum La and Rohtang La.
The best season to head out for Kinnaur and Spiti is from April to October. While the first few months have a lot of snow-covered views, the later months see the forests in full bloom thanks to the rain in Kinnaur. The weather is pleasant but the nights get chilly and wearing woollens will help make you comfortable.
Essentials on this trip are a sturdy pair of walking shoes, sunblock and cold cream, lip guard and sunglasses. If you are an avid photographer, estimate the number of film rolls you'll need and carry twice that. Batteries do not last long in the cold weather - so carry spares as they are not easily available in this region.
Plan your trip well and factor in acclimatisation too (see 'Suggested itinerary' box). Remember that you could experience delays that are beyond your control - things like blocked roads caused by landslides or the unavailability of fuel at a pump.
Preparing your car
There is no denying the fact that a car with high ground clearance will have a very large advantage while travelling in this region. Driving across streams or gingerly making your way through fallen rock is part and parcel of this exciting journey. You'll also have your fair share of complete dirt roads that a normal car would find very challenging.
Good, or preferably new, tyres are an asset as they reduce the chance of a puncture. Get the suspension checked thoroughly as it will have undergo a considerable amount of stress. Carry a few essential spares like belts, hoses and figure out how to change or replace them. Carrying an extra, spare wheel would be a very good idea as would carrying instant puncture repair kits.
Ensure you carry a 20-litre container for fuel - it doesn't take up much space and could prove useful in the event of a fuel shortage.
NH22 runs from Chandi-garh to Sumdo, which is very close to the Tibetan border. This road, which has been cut across the mountains, runs right through Kinnaur and along the river Sutlej which flows through the Kinnaur Valley. Though wide enough for two cars to pass at most places, it has innumerable blind corners with sheer drops on one side. There are no safety barriers and it's a one-way ticket to the Sutlej below, should you go off the road. So take lots and lots of care. Certain stretches are landslide-prone and marked by signposts - road workers armed with red and green flags give advance warning signals about falling rock. A wave of a red flag means that rocks are still falling - so do stop.
The interesting places are off NH22 where narrow and curvaceous roads snake up the mountains. These roads have local buses and tractors plying and five will give you ten that they'll come at you around a blind corner. There are times when you'll have to back up a distance. It's best to have someone get off and guide you. SH30 - the road from Sumdo to Kaza - is maintained by the Border Roads Organisation and in very good shape but with its share of hairpins. The most challenging stretch by far is the 200km from Kaza to Manali. Kaza to Gramphu (which is 56km before Manali) is a dirt track punctuated with moraine and glaciers. If you have a four-wheel drive, use it to its best effect here. This road crosses two passes - the Kunzum La (4551m) and the Rohtang La (3978m). The scenery makes up for the bad state of the road.
Day 1 Drive from Delhi to Shimla.
Day 2 Shimla to Sangla, with an optional diversion to see the Bhimkali Temple at Sarahan.
Day 3, 4 & 5 At Sangla, stay at the Banjara Camps. There is a lot to do here including a visit to Chitkul village, plenty of jungle walks and activities such as river crossing.
Day 6 & 7 Sangla to Tabo. It's imperative to spend two days here so that you can get acclimatised to the high altitude.
Day 8 Kaza.
Day 9 Kaza to Manali.
Day 10 Manali to Delhi.
Issue: 166 | June 2013
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