Destination Pooh…(Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh)

Driving on a road in bright daylight and driving at night is like chalk and cheese. This time, the drive from camp through Sangla to reach the main highway near Karcham doesn’t feel nearly as bad nor the roads quite as hazardous. Hitting the highway, we turn right towards Pooh. The road is superb and we are delighted! Doesn’t last for more than a couple of kilometres though. Yet again, we find ourselves on rubble paths, the road having been swept away by the slides or at places the river.

Crumbling roads

Crumbling roads


Landslide prone areas...

Landslide prone areas…

The route winds along the Sutlej going upstream along its left bank. Crossing the Sutlej over the Shongtong brige, we reach Powari. Here, the road bifurcates left to Recong Peo, the administrative headquarters of Kinnaur district, some way up the mountainside and the highway (NH 22) continues along the river. Further up from Recong Peo is Kalpa (earlier called the Chini village) and the highest village further up is Roghi from where one can get stunning views of the venerated Kinner Kailash peak. I’ve heard that the route to Roghi with narrow, cliff hugging roads is one of the most amazing sights and rewarding places to visit. In fact Chini village, now Kalpa, has some more significance in independent India. The people of this village were the first to cast their votes in independent India on 25 October 1951 (since they get snowed in in winter) while the rest of India voted in Dec-Jan. Further back in history, the old Hindustan Tibet highway used to pass through this place on its way through Shipkila into Tibet.

It is said that Kinner Kailash is the abode of Lord Shiva and is thus considered sacred by the Hindus. Legend goes that Bhasmasur, after getting a boon from Lord Shiva that anybody on whose head he places his palm would be turned to ashes, tries it on the Lord himself. The Lord hides from him and prays to Lord Vishnu at this place after which Lord Vishnu comes to his aid and slays the demon. The Shivling is visible atop this Kinner Kailash peak.

Time is short and I know we do not have the luxury of taking the detour to Recong Peo from where one can see the Kinner Kailash peak. I wonder whether it would be visible from the highway itself… even if just a wee bit, without going to Recong Peo. I am finally resigned to the fact that it’ll have to keep for another time…

A JCB followed by a few vehicles in queue ahead probably means some sort of road block. We see nothing. Wondering what the matter is, we wait and within seconds it is apparent that the vehicles have been stopped due to shooting stones. Some are pretty large and cause other debris to slide down as well. BRO is everywhere and at work within minutes wherever required. The Scorpio has been an able companion through this journey especially over the more undulating and bumpy stretches. It has given me a lot of confidence that at least the vehicle is more than capable of taking any kind of road in its stride.

Shooting stones from the mountain force the traffic to a halt

Shooting stones from the mountain force the traffic to a halt

Pangi Nallah turns out to be this enormous cascading torrent of water. Nothing could have prepared me for this… I know that a much recommended ‘waterfall’ is along this route (it turns out to be almost a river the water from which is pitching and swelling across the enormous boulders in its steep path, not a ‘waterfall’) but the sheer size and scale of this nallah! Words fail me in describing it. I’ll let the pictures do the talking!

Pangi Nallah. The spray from it reaches well over 10 metres!

Pangi Nallah. The spray from it reaches well over 10 metres!

The enormity of the gushing Pangi Nallah

The enormity of the gushing Pangi Nallah

Our photo ops here come at a price… we are almost wet from the spray off the cascade. We cross the Sutlej again to now drive along the left bank and come upon the ‘Most treacherous road in the world’ signboard. Pictures are taken for keepsakes and we are off again.

The greenery from the Baspa valley has all but disappeared. The vegetation is getting sparser and more stunted. There are the famous Kinnauri orchards in some places where there is a water source but otherwise it is just some scrub and Chilgoza trees.

We cross the Sutlej yet again over a quaint old wooden plank bridge near Akpa. On this entire route from Sangla, we seem to have criss-crossed the river half a dozen times.

The old wooden plank bridge at Akpa

The old wooden plank bridge at Akpa

The valley is often very narrow and there are plenty of places where it is just a gorge with straight walls on either side. To top it, the soil is very loose and quite unstable, prone to come crashing down without warning. No wonder this stretch of the NH 22 is so vulnerable to landslides 24×7, 365 days a year! It seems like a miracle that the BRO has managed to carve out a road alignment in these steep and nearly vertical mountainsides and keep it open for vehicular traffic virtually all year round.

Roads carved out of the mountainside

Roads carved out of the mountainside

We come upon a group of bicyclists after Akpa for the first time. There have been a few motorcycle riders on and off. In fact even a large group of 32 from Pune doing the Spiti, Leh, Srinagar and Jammu circuit. These are foreigners and middle aged to senior citizens. Very motivating to see people do these routes on … a bicycle!

A group of German cyclists giving way to the vehicular traffic

A group of German cyclists giving way to the vehicular traffic

Right here while they are giving way to us, I notice the stratified rocks on the mountain side of the road which seem as if someone has cut through a puff pastry, folded and lifted it up at an angle and set it out for everyone to see. This is a good place to see why ‘fold mountains’ are called that.

Stratified rocks exposed on the NH 22

Stratified rocks exposed on the NH 22

The milestone says Pooh 3 Km yet there is absolutely no sight nor sign of any habitation. And then suddenly round the corner is Pooh. A small settlement with pretty multicoloured houses halfway up the mountainsides. We take the road leading up and finally reach our destination just before dusk. Two vehicles have reached and we await the other two. The third one also comes along and I wonder why the fourth one is so behind since this group is one of the quickest on road. When they land up we come to know there has been a breakdown. It is fortuitous that the breakdown happens right at the gates of the guest house…

It is a major breakdown. The next morning one vehicle has to be despatched to Recong Peo to get the mechanics from the Mahindra service centre (also to ensure that they come without any delay). This means we have an unscheduled extra day here. No problem at all! I welcome the break since we have been travelling every single day from Goa till Pooh and most days have been very long.

Ganchua Peak

Ganchua Peak

Pooh town

Pooh town

The enforced break is utilised in taking long walks around the place. It was clear last evening when we drove in but this morning it is very overcast. Clouds have veiled the top half of the mountains and the sky making the day very gloomy. All round our guest rooms are apple, almond and apricot trees. In fact, the only fruit that is ripe is apricot with the others still quite small. Never in my entire life have I had such juicy and sweet Apricots and Chulis (another variety of apricots)! It is a veritable feast for the senses! Wish I could bottle this sweetness and freshness and juiciness…. I wish!!

Chulli... a kind of Apricot

Chulli… a kind of Apricot

Leh Berry

Leh Berry

Almonds...

Almonds…

The profusion of apples on the tree...

The profusion of apples on the tree…

Late afternoon, the sun starts peeking through and we are out with our cameras in the hope of seeing some birds. We are not disappointed. A lifer for me, we see the White capped Buntings and the regular Streaked Laughingthrushes and Sparrows and the Long tailed Shrike. In our wanderings, we trample some grasses which let out an amazing fragrance. We wonder what the smell is since it is familiar but elusive. This makes my partner start smelling every grass and bush and plant we cross. The place is a treasure… we realise that the grass is the Shahi Jeera and a lot of the other weed-like plants are Dhoop. Almost every bit of the naturally occurring flora there is aromatic. How very amazing, a place where very little grows and is considered barren but for the orchards which are irrigated from the Tinku nallah and the Chilgoza which grow on the steep inaccessible hillsides, there is so much wealth in the plant life…

Shahi Jeera

Shahi Jeera

Long tailed Shrike

Long tailed Shrike

Streaked Laughingthrush

Streaked Laughingthrush

White capped Bunting (f)

White capped Bunting (f)

White capped Bunting (m)

White capped Bunting (m)

The mechanics have started work by late afternoon and will hopefully manage to repair the Scorpio before morning. We are hoping that we can set off really early tomorrow for Chandratal. We have had to cut out Kaza and head straight for Chandratal to make up for the lost day. This means a marathon day of driving and an 8 Km trek at the end starting at 4550 m and ending at 4200m to the lake since the motorable route is still closed.

The journey continues…

20 Comments

  • MUNESH MISHRA says:

    Really nice post.

    Detailed information of roads with beautiful pictures so good. Other pictures of Flora and fauna of this place forcely attract the readers.

    Thank you for sharing such nice post.

  • Tarun Talwar says:

    Hi Naturebuff,

    Great narration supported by some beautiful pictures. The bird captures are especially nice. Thanks for sharing.

  • SilentSoul says:

    magnificent… mind blowing photos and excellent narration ! It is my dream to travel on this route

  • Hi Naturebuff,

    Enjoyed reading your narration and pictures of a long journey from Goa right upto Pooh. You have undertaken a truly spectacular journey with stunning scenery of the mountains. Hats off to you!

    If you missed Reckong Peo and Kalpa you can catch up with these places in the Bollywood movie ‘Highway’ which released a few months back….if you have not done so already.

    Looking forward to your next episode!

  • Ashok Sharma says:

    nice post. stunning clicks!!!

  • Pamela says:

    Great post with nice photography :)

  • Though on late, I join the queue of appreciation. Good road review….brilliant photos…nice write up! Now going to your next post…..

    Thanks for sharing

  • Nandan Jha says:

    We missed Kalpa because we didn’t have enough time and we knew little. Whenever we happen to go again, we would probably spend at least one full day/night, and feel better, since we didn’t know about the things which you have mentioned here. I always thought that Hindustan-Tibet Road always went to Kaurik and then the border.

    Scorpio is a great vehicle for these roads. Though I read two breakdowns but for me it worked brilliantly. I drove it for 10 years and it was exceptional. Last year, I changed my car (XUV) and I was taking to the workshop manager on its routine service and kind of complaining that XUV doesn’t have that build-quality which Scorpio had. And the workshop manager tells me (in a western UP style) ,”Sir Scorpio kache (country side roads) ki raani hai”, which truly sums-up the car.

    So you wont be stopping at Kaza. Thats too hectic.

  • Naturebuff says:

    Nandan, you’re right. I did read that the Hindustan Tibet road went to Kaurik and then into China. Another version is that it entered China at Shipkila. Yet another version states that it ran through Kalpa or thereabouts and then onto Shipkila. The more popular version is the second one as far as I can gather though there could be enough controversy over it!! All the same, it adds some mystique to the place… so choose to believe it:-)

    The Scorpio is truly a great vehicle but sometimes breakdowns happen. Either through simple problems like bad fuel or through bad driving… and sometimes through mechanical faults!

    Very hectic and frustrating! But sometimes it happens!

  • M says:

    Hi!

    Where did you stay at Pooh? Which is the best place to stay at Pooh.

  • Chandranath Sarkar says:

    Hi,

    Which is the place to stay in Pooh

    Thanks and regrds,

  • Naturebuff says:

    Sorry for such a late reply… Pooh accommodation was arranged for us through an Army friend therefore I have not stayed in the village but I’ve read there are a fair number of guesthouses there which can be booked on the spot…

  • Nishitha says:

    Hi,

    Great blog. I am going to be in Pooh in a few days. Trying to figure out a good place to stay. It looks like you guys had a good stay here. Can you share the details of the guesthouse you used.

    Thanks a ton!

    Cheers.

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