Day 1 Chandigarh-Solan (68km)-Shimla (48km)-Theog (22km)-Rohru (88km; via Kotkhai, Jubbal and Hatkoti) The drive from Chandigarh to Rohru takes
Chandigarh-Solan (68km)-Shimla (48km)-Theog (22km)-Rohru (88km; via Kotkhai, Jubbal and Hatkoti)
The drive from Chandigarh to Rohru takesabout eight hours. Till Theog you’re on NH22, and from there it’s a right turn to Kotkhai, Jubbal and then to Hatkoti where you can visit the famous Hateswari Devi temple on the banks of the Pabbar River. We stopped at the Hatkoti bus stand to have fish curry and rice. The fish is caught in the Pabbar River (therefore, very fresh). The next 10km to Rohru take you through plum and pear orchards, which are abundant in this region.
Where to stay: HPTDC’s Chansal hotel (from Rs 1,200, http://hptdc.gov.in) in Rohru, has decent food.
Rohru-Chirgaon (15km)-Rampur (90km)
Have a heavy breakfast at Rohru, since it will take you another three hours to reach Chansil Ghatti (4,000m). Long stretches of the road are quite slushy. If you have time on your hands you can trek from Rohru to Chansil — it’s apparently a beautiful trek. And if you’re carrying your skis, the Chansil peak has some good slopes in winter. In summer, you’ll find the mountainsides full of wild flowers and herbs. It’s another couple of hours to Rampur, so it will probably be late afternoon by the time you get there.
Where to stay: HPTDC runs hotel Bushehar Regency (from Rs 1,300; http://hptdc.gov.in) in Rampur.
Rampur-Sarahan (40km)-Karchham-Sangla (95km; via Karchham)
Leave Rampur early in the morning. Turn right at Jeori for Sarahan, an old town that was once part of the Rampur-Bushair kingdom. Among its attractions is the Bhimkali temple, an interesting fusion of Indo-Tibetan architectural elements. From Sarahan, you get fantastic views of the snow-clad Dauladhar Range. The Baspa River meets the Sutlej at Karchham, from where the road turns right into the Sangla valley. There are some good angling spots on the river. If you have time, visit Chitkul — the last village before you get to the Indo-Tibetan border. You could also walk to the BSF post that is 3km beyond Chitkul.
Where to stay: In Sangla, check in to the Kinner Camps (Tel: +91-9805841273, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, www.kinnercamps.com ) where you’ll find neat tents and good food.
Sangla-Kalpa (14km)-Recong Peo (13km)-Tabo (159km; via Marang and Nako)
Back on NH22, tank up at Powari, it’s the last gas station before Kaza (a good 200km away). From Powari take the left for Kalpa and Recong Peo. Kalpa, the mountain hideaway of Lord Dalhousie, has stunning views of the Kinner Kailash Peak (6,050m). The road soon begins its ascent to Jangi (31km) and Puh (60km). The change in altitude is apparent in the transformation of the landscape — apple orchards give way to sparse, scrubby terrain. Stop at Morang to see the frescos and paintings at the monastery. The confluence of the Spiti and Sutlej rivers at Khab marks the entry point into the Hangrang Valley. The drive to Tabo, though long, is fairly comfortable. Tabo is a clean small town; visit the 1,000-year-old Tabo monastery.
Where to stay: The PWD Rest House at Tabo (Tel: 01906-222252, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) is basic, but has running hot water, and the caretaker is a good cook.
A steady uphill drive (on bad roads) brings you to Kaza, the district headquarters of Spiti, and a popular base for most visitors to the Ki monastery (7km away) — the most famous and exquisite of the many monasteries in this area. It is also a base for treks going up to Kibber and the Bara Shingri glacier as well as others going into the Spiti valley.
Where to stay: HPTDC runs The Spiti (from Rs 1,800, http://hptdc.gov.in) in Kaza.
Keep your windows rolled up! This is positively the windiest stretch of road I’ve ever been on. Before setting out for Losar visit Kibber, which at 4,200m, is one of the highest villages in the world. The people here live totally isolated from the world during the long bleak winters. It’s 18km north of Kaza, and you’ll have to head back to Kaza before moving on to Losar. En route to Losar you might just spot herds of Ibex — they can often be seen from the road. Losar is extremely cold and windy, even during the summer, with temperatures often falling below zero at night.
Where to stay: The PWD Rest House (Tel: 01906-222252, e-mail: email@example.com) in Losar.
Losar-Rohtang La (83km; via Kunzum La and Gramphoo)-Manali (54km)
The road continues on its way up from Losar (4,079m), all the way up to Kunzum La (4,551m), the highest point in Spiti. The cold bare desert stretches for miles around you, and there are few signs of life. Definitely try the new road to Chandratal. It’s a beautiful four-wheel motorable 12km stretch and if you’re here at the right time of year you’ll find a large number of migratory ducks on the lake. The landscape begins to turn green once you start descending into the Lahaul Valley. Stark rocky escarpments give way to alpine meadows. Beyond Gramphoo, a left turn into the mountains leads to Rohtang La, beyond which lies the chaos of Manali. The moment you get down from Rohtang you’re sure to get stuck in a gigantic traffic jam. I had half a mind to turn tail and return to the solitary pleasures of Lahaul and Spiti.
Where to stay: After such a long drive, treat yourself to Log Huts (Rs 5,800, http://hptdc.gov.in) run by HPTDC or to the less expensive Hotel Kunzam (Rs 1,900, http://hptdc.gov.in).
Buy some Manali trout from the fish farms around town, and stock up with plums, cherries, pears, peach and other fruit that you can find in the bazaar for the eight-hour drive back.
This is a difficult route. Driving conditions on large stretches can be demanding; at places the highway is reduced to a morass of gravel and mud, especially during the rains. Landslide prone sections on NH22 near Rampur, Sangla and Tabo have to be negotiated with care. There are few gas stations. The hotels after Sarahan are very basic. And altitudes can range from 1,000m to 4,500m with large swings in temperature. It is necessary to be in good physical shape and carry spare tyres, extra fuel, a maintenance kit, and essential supplies (especially for the stretch beyond Recong Peo). If you’re going during the rains, or immediately after winter, it’s best to have a jeep (preferably a 4WD). Medical facilities are limited to the larger towns, so carry your own first-aid kit. And, since it’s a long drive it might be a good idea to give yourself a day’s rest somewhere along the way.