Himachal is the home to some of the world’s deadliest roads. The roads carved out of the rocks, the sharp blind turns, n number of hair pin bends, the sudden elevation gain within a matter of hours, fog, bad weather, cloud bursts, the chain waterfalls along the roads and the unexpected landslides are bound to give you the heebie-jeebies.
It is said that straight roads don’t make the skillful drivers. While the tempos and SUVs crawl along the turns, the HRTC buses are at ease in the hair-pin bends, thanks to the skilled HRTC drivers.
I started my month long adventure in Himalayas in mid-May with a HRTC ride along this route. Gautham, Aashish and I had signed up for Lamkhaga pass trek in May 2017 and we were heading to Sangla to acclimatize for a day before heading to Chitkul. After a tiring day long ride through roads of Shimla, Kufri, Fagu, Narkanda, Rampur, Jeori and Tapri, we finally reached Karcham by 3 PM.
With enough surprises along NH22 road all the way to Karcham, I was feeling great when the sign board showed another 20kms to Sangla town from the dam. I probably didn’t know that time that a rude shock was waiting for me beyond Karcham. As we left NH 22, we moved in a path that the villagers referred to as a road (if you could call that one), for most part of the muddy terrain had been washed away by landslides and rain. Finally, after a slow and bumpy ride, we reached Sangla at 5 PM.
Few hours of travel in this route made me fall in love with these roads, that I felt like getting back here after my Lamkhaga pass trek in my month long solo trip. It’s worth giving a drive along this route in May/June to get a glimpse of the eye catchy purple jacarandas, gulmohars, flowering silver oaks and the riot of natural colours in the backdrop of the snowcapped peaks. Travelling along these roads from Sangla, Chitkul, and then back to Peo and Kaza also gave me a chance to meet some lovely people in Himachal. I met some amazing locals in Reckong Peo, who briefed me about the Kathkuni architecture style of Kinnauri homes, which I have covered in my post about Kamru and can be read by clicking here.
With the bollywood numbers of Kishore Kumar and Mohd. Rafi running in the background, the HRTC driver who drove our bus from Shimla to Peo narrated me his share of adventures while driving along the hills and about the selection criterion of drivers along these routes.
It was amazing to see the HRTC drivers maintain their cool even while they were taking reverse along the cliffs to give way for smaller vehicles. Though these roads are a driver’s nightmare, the mesmerizing views along the remote villages of Kinnaur and Spiti are beyond words.
Few hours before boarding my bus from Kaza to Peo, the locals showed me the shivling in the Kinnaur Kailash range and told me that it’s one of the easiest treks to try out. Wish I had known this before reserving my ticket to Kaza. Never mind, I have a reason to get back to the same place.
Just before the bus started from Peo, I met two more solo backpackers – Vidhi from Rajasthan and Olivia from Australia. Vidhi had reserved the seats for them, however they just realized that Olivia hadn’t got her Inner line permit for Spiti and it appeared that someone had misguided Olivia on the permits though they had been in Reckong Peo and Kalpa for the past three days.
Finally, Nithin, one of the solo biker friends of Vidhi came to the rescue, and it was decided that Olivia’s luggage will stay with us and we would wait for both of them in Kaza until they get the permits from the district collector office in Reckong Peo and reach Kaza by evening.
Vidhi and I loaded our big bags in the top of the bus assuming that someone would come and tie them when the bus starts. However, we were in for a rude shock when the conductor told us that there would be no need to tie the bags and its all safe as long as it’s there in the top of the bus. With the bumpy roads, I wonder how the conductor was so confident our bags won’t fall down. After an argument with the driver and conductor, we finally managed to halt the bus few minutes and secure our bags at the top to enjoy the rest of the journey without thinking further about our bags.
Beyond Reckong Peo, the going was painfully slow with each approaching vehicle leading to a nerve-racking high-altitude maneuver. Thanks to the changing landscape and the company of Sutlej river, I couldn’t help getting my eyes off the windows.
After Reckong Peo, we crossed Spillo, Nako and Pooh before bidding bye to Kinnaur. I was spell bound with the view of massive mountains, the snow-capped peaks kissing the bright blue skies, the sounds of the waters flowing in Sutlej, the splendid towering trees all the way till Spillo, the sudden change in landsape to a desert terrain all the way to Spiti, and the dedication of BRO in clearing off these roads in no time whenever there is a landslide along these routes.
Lahual-Spiti starts from the ITBP checkpost in Sumdo. We got to witness some really amazing views in the drive along Hurling, Tabo, Sechling and finally to Kaza.
After the traditional Kinnauri homes in Sangla, we got to witness the huts in Spiti that are made from stones and mud. After a long and tiring ride, Vidhi and I finally reached Kaza around 6 PM. With Vidhi to guard the luggage for a while, I went to meet the friend of Sonu Negi ji in Kaza to get some of his inputs to work out a Spiti exploration plan. UC ji (friend of Sonu Negi) got a trek plan ready for me within ten minutes without any expectations. Sometimes it’s really nice to meet some locals who are not always in the run for money and ready to help wherever they can.
With no sign of Olivia and Nithin after reaching Kaza even after waiting for an hour, we finally made our mind to move ahead from Kaza by 7 PM and start to the Key Monastery with all our luggage. The Spiti exploration started here and every day spent in Spiti was just magical.
A HRTC bus ride along the roads of Kinnaur and Spiti will literally make you want to build temples for the HRTC bus drivers and the BRO workers, who work tirelessly to clear the roads in no time. No matter how difficult it gets, BRO and HRTC are on top of things despite the challenging conditions. Hats off to BRO and HRTC for the amazing work they do to make sure that the connectivity to these hills are never cut off despite the harsh conditions.
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