Best off-roading trails in India- Spiti Valley and Kunzum La

Travel Blog 

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

An adventure of a lifetime, Spiti Valley still leaves me speechless.

It’s been a full day back in Delhi and the city amazes me with it’s non-stop hustle and bustle. My mind is still wandering in the spiti valley amongst the huge moraines and beautiful landscapes. The spiti valley straight out of a live postcard renders its beauty selflessly and who-so-ever goes there can never come back same. Life will knock and it will knock very hard and you will be amazed to realise an unexplored side to your character and that will only improve from here.

Day 1 The 3 of us started our journey on 22nd Sept’13 at about 9 in the morning- Me, my husband Kartik (Referred as K from now on) and Kanupriya (KP). We picked KP from the New Delhi metro station (She is from Bombay) and started our journey with all the eagerness and excitement of the world. The plan was mostly chalked out with a scope of minor adjustments to accommodate hills and their moody behaviour. We drove non-stop for about a couple of hours to take a breakfast break at a joint on the Chandigarh highway. This was followed by another round of long drive and the next halt was for a quick tea break at a joint enroute Shimla. The night was called at Narkanda, about 65 kms ahead of Shimla. We wanted to reach Rampur by night but the drive till there was another 2 hours. We stayed at The Hatu, HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation)- a nice, clean and comfortable hotel with good food and service. Narkanda is surrounded by the Shivalik range and is a skiing resort in winter. The famous Hatu Peak is 5 kms from Narkanda.

Narkanda Himachal
Clouds playing at Narkanda.
A beautiful sunset at Narkanda. Thank God for witnessing such miracles.
A beautiful sunset at Narkanda. Thank God for witnessing such miracles.

 

Beautiful Himachal
Numerous bridges on the way.

Day 2 The next morning, at about 8 am we started our way ahead to reach Rampur by 11. Again we stopped by at the HPTDC restaurant- Cafe Sutlej to have a quick breakfast and quench our tea thirst. The cafe is on the main highway and is situated before the Rampur city, so be careful to not miss it. You can again fill yourself with wide choices and tasty snacks. This was followed by another round of stretched driving and we managed to reach Kalpa by evening 6’o clcok via Reckong Peo. Reckong Peo is the capital of Kinnaur district and is 260 kms from Shimla. Kalpa is ahead of Reckong Peo and is an angular drive for about half an hour. The night was called at Hotel Kinner Kailash (HPTDC). The good food fulfilled our hunger and taste buds and we bid a good night to the shining sky. The next morning was quite a rigmarole. It had rained at night and the morning saw showers too. This made it difficult to fathom the conditions ahead. Spiti valley was still a 2 day drive and with rainy conditions, it was a tricky situation. With sullen faces, we kept on pondering and finally decided to move ahead. Well the decision did prove right.

Himachal photos
Beautiful beyond words- The Kinner Kailash mastiff !
Beautiful Himachal
Roads less travelled.
Beautiful Himachal
Sutlej river

Day 3 We stopped for a lunch break at Dubling, a small village on the way and bought some general utility items and replenished our stock. We could feel the Tibet touch and had chowmein and Thupka for food. We passed through Pooh, a small town with a population of around 1200, known for green fields, almond trees and apricot orchards. By about 4’o clock we reached Nako, a village in Kinnaur district. The place is known for Nako lake and receives tourists during summer months. We walked to the lake and took some pictures before proceeding ahead to Sumdo. At about 7, we reached Tabo, a small town on the road from Reckong Peo to Kaza. The town is located on the banks of the Spiti River, in the Lahaul and Spiti district. Tabo is known for a Buddhist monastery which has heritage value and is said to be over 1000 years old as per legend. There are ample hotels and guest houses for travellers and we retired at a Home stay guest house- Hotel Sidharth and indulged in lip smacking yellow dal and zeera aloo. The hotel was clean with a geyser facility for the next day hot shower.

Kinnaur
Kinnaur Apple orchids. Feel like plucking one?

 

Nako, Himachal
Nako Village

 

Nako Lake, Himachal
Beautiful Nako Lake

 

Himachal
Spectacular Moraines on the way.

Day 4 The morning started not that early and we were again on track by 8’0 clock. After breakfast, we went to see the Monastery and clicked some photos. After bidding adieu to Tabo, we proceeded for Dhankar Monastery. Situated between Tabo and Kaza, at an elevation of 12,774 feet in the Spiti valley, the Monastery is a home to one of the most spectacular scenic beauty. The ride for the Monastery is steep uphill with frequent zigs. Since, the altitude is climbed at a fast pace, one may suffer a breathing gasp or high altitude sickness. Be careful while climbing and immediately recede if you see any sign of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Alright, now the valley opens to another world- a world full of marvels, too beautiful to be true landscapes. We have witnessed changing topography at each stage, each day, every hour. From lush green mountains to mountain deserts, from gushing rivers to vast river beds, from tarmac to un-metal roads. The road ahead looked spectacular at each turn and the drive in a simple word was BEAUTIFUL. With no worries, no phone signal, no worry of past or future, it was only living in the moment and soaking as much as possible for this was surreal, larger than life and available only to the chosen few.

Kaza
Beautiful Kazigs
Spiti Valley photos
The beautiful Spiti Valley on the backdrop.
Beautiful Himachal
Enormous Pin Valley
Spiti Valley
Kazigs on the way.

We made our way to the Pin Valley through small small villages. It is a detour from the national highway. The road is muddy, pebbled and dusty. Pin Valley is a witness to massive sceneries and walking postcards. Huge valley surrounded by hued mountains smile at you from all sides. Spectacular and totally mind-blowing. You just want to hug the valley and not blink an eye. We stopped at the last village for a honey ginger tea and maggie lunch break before finally making our last stretch to Kaza. Kazigs mark the beginning of the beautiful road to Kaza. The road is fully metalled and is a delight to drive. Spiti Valley photos say it all. The vast mountains, nothingness in between, countable vehicles passing through, blankets of fresh air and just the three of us. We didn’t want this to end. By about 5 we reached Spiti. After getting the tank full, we head our ways to the Tourist Lodge, HPTDC hotel to check in. From Kaza, one can go and see the Kye Monastery and Kibber. Kibber is a village 16 kms from Kaza known for a Monastery and spanned over 140050 hectare of Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary. There was no light in Kaza so we enjoyed our meal with scanty lights and quietness of the valley. By about 10, we were in the bed for the next day was an early start at 530 morning.

Beautiful Himachal
Ye shaam mastaani…
Me and K.
Me and K.

Day 5 The day started with an automatic mind alarm and we all were up and getting ready by 5. Sharp 6 we left Kaza for our journey onwards. Aha, here comes an adrenaline, last leg of extreme adventure. The route to Rohtang is mind blowing- complete ‘Off-roading‘. For the next 200 kms there are no metalled roads. The car has to move on river beds, mud beds, slushes and high velocity springs (called as nalas by locals there). But it is fun, nerve breaking and full of goosebumps. The route opens up huge valleys, breath taking mountain ranges, colorful nature, autumn hues and vastness of nothingness. It is really God’s abode. The mind wanders and wonders at the same time. The eyes work super hard to soak in the beauty around. We reached Kunzum La at 15060 feet by noon. Another milestone achieved. I had been waiting to see this since a long time and when finally I was there- it was priceless. We spent 15 minutes at the pass, got some nice photos clicked and moved ahead. There is Chandra Taal on the way which we shall do on another trip. However, it is really advisable to see it before proceeding to Rohtang Pass. The way to Chandra Taal is jeepable and is quite steep and careful. By around 2 afternoon, we stopped for lunch at Chatru and indulged in Kari chawal. By 4 we were at Rohtang Pass and realised the power of human population. The honking of cars, the fashionable tourists and the metalled roads made it clear- Welcome to the city life. Now the thirst for large pieces of barren lands and the anonymity of being creeped in again but nothing could be done. We could not turn back. With a smile we thanked the mountains for their generosity and a safe trip. By sunset we reached Manali and kept on driving till Kullu. Today there was no hurry to sleep early and the next morning was an easy start. We found a nice hotel on the outskirts of Kullu and checked in for a nice shower and ‘city food’.

Kunzum Pass
Me and K at Kunzum La
Beautiful Himachal
Somewhere on the way a Paradise existed!

Day 6 The day of full and final settlement. We were on the road by 830 and drove non stop via Bilaspur, Ambala till 3 to stop for a lunch break at the highway. Again, the drive continued non stop and by 7 we had touched Delhi. After dropping KP we reached home at 9 and finally put in the final brakes at the home porch. Home sweet home!  Well this may be the end of this trip but the mind is over working in drafting the next. Home looked beautiful but we were too short of words to describe the feeling. Like they say there is a difference between hearing and seeing. Likewise, there is a difference in me penning down and actually living the entire trip. Thank God for creating such master pieces. The next one awaits now! Till then, Hail Spiti. Hail Himalayas.

Fact File

  • The Route taken: Delhi-Shimla-Narkanda-Kalpa-Reckong Peo-Pooh-Nako-Sumdo-Tabo-Dhankar Monastery-Pin Valley-Kaza-Kunzum La (15060 ft)-Rohtang-Manali-Ambala-Delhi.
  • Distance covered: 1700 kms over a span of 6 days with off-roading for 3. We live young, we live free…
  • HPTDC has good hotels throughout HP. All the hotels are clean with geyser and heater facility. The food menu has a wide choice. LE would recommend staying in them throughout Himachal. We stayed in them at Narkanda, Kalpa and Kaza. Apart from them, there are nice home stays throughout the way.
  • Petrol Pumps- ample on the way. No petrol pump between Reckong Peo and Kaza and Kaza and Manali.
  • Himachal has beautiful apple orchids. You can see trees gushing with beautiful big apples throughout the way.
  • Vehicle strongly recommended is a 4×4. We did the complete journey in a Swift, but LE would strongly recommend a 4×4. There is no tarmac between Kaza and Rohtang and its a treacherous drive. If you are attempting Kaza on any other vehicle, then LE advices to take the Kaza-Rampur-Shimla route back.
  • Spiti valley hotels : HPTDC has a nice hotel to stay. Apart from this, there are many other hotels and guest houses for travellers.
  • Temperature to range from 30 degrees max to -10 degrees minimum. Maximum altitude to be achieved is around 15,500 ft ASL or above 4500 mtrs. Major accomodations and food options on the way are going to be basic.
  • Do not expect any luxuries atleast for 3-4 days of the middle of the trip. Bathing available. Expected snowfall/frost for subzero temperatures.
  • Ensure all equipments in place in terms of vehicle safety and breakdown measures. Don’t take such tracks as jokes and don’t go with a casual attitude. There won’t be help on 50 kms each side at some stretches.
  • Travel light.
  • Things to carry: Self medicines if taking any. Please advise prior to the team. Sunscreen/basic cosmetics like lip balm etc. Sunglasses, Sleeping Bag. Carry medicine for AMS.
  • Clothing : Inner warmer both top and bottom, Jacket (preferably with hood) else cap extra. A sweater/sweatshirt. 4/5 T-shirts. Gloves. Jeans/Lowers 2 pair. Pair of night clothes.
  • Spiti Circuit As done by us.
  1. Day1- Delhi- Shimla- Narkanda
  2. Day2- Narkanda- Rampur- Reckong Peo-Kalpa
  3. Day3- Kalpa- Pooh- Nako- Sumdo- Tabo
  4. Day4- Tabo- Dhankar Monastery- Pin Valley- Kaza
  5. Day5- Kaza- Kunzum La- Rohtang Pass- Manali- Kullu
  6. Day6- Kullu- Ambala- Delhi

Also read: Chitkul,Himachal Pradesh 

Also read: Road Tripping from Delhi to the Rann of Kutch

Tanya Virmani is a Luxury Fashion & Travel Blogger from Delhi. Her blog, Let’s Expresso is one of the top Fashion Blogs of India. She is working with leading brands and writes on latest launches, events and trends.
Tanya is an English Hons from Delhi University and an alumni of NIFT, Delhi.
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11 Comments
  1. Amazing journey and beautiful photographs. Been a hardcore biker, I have travelled on these roads and Ladakh is biker’s pilgrimage.

    Though, addition of few more images will done great justice to this article!

      1. Rok, thats great Tanya. Even we are going on a bike trip to ROK in March, 2014. Had done Ladakh stretch this October, once of the great place I have ever encountered.

          1. Superb, you are in my city 🙂

            Just started writing T-log’s on BCMT from 1 month only, but I will soon write the Ladakh log and share link with you.

            Have a great journey and click as many pictures as you can and write your experiences 🙂

  2. great pics and good to see people like you doing these adventure trails. i have been an offroad junkie for the past 20 years now , scalled all these sectors and like it now when more and more people do it.. keep it up and all the best for your ladakh trip..lately have discovered nubra valley to pangong tso trail and padder in kistwar to keylong via panzi-la, do look into if interested..cheers.

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