Shimla to Kaza – A Road Review

Its not very common for me to not rush my road-reviews. Yeah thats two nots, read again. Its not very common for me to not rush my road-reviews. But as you grow up (and old) you sort of start to mellow down. In my case I would still blame on office-work, home-work, in-transit-work for my procrastination rather then this mellow philosophy, after all in the end we did drive all the way from Delhi-to-Shimla-to-Kaza-to-Manali-to-Delhi. So here’s a road review of Shimla-Kaza circuit. Delhi-Shimla is already covered here and any updates on that route are best to be found there.

Shimla-Kaza is a long one and its not a single day-light drive. We did in two parts, first Thanedaar-Sangla and then Sangla-Kaza. Both took a great part of day.

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Himalaya, Rocky Mountain High

The route can be divided into following 7 sections

1. Shimla – Rampur
2. Rampur – Wangtu – Karchham
3. Karchham – Espillo
4. Espillo – Khab
5. Khab – Nako
6. Nako – Chango – Sumdoh
7. Sumdoh – Tabo – Dhankar – Kaza

1. Shimla – Rampur
Distance – 100+ KMs , Driving Time – 2 hours 30 minutes

As you approach Shimla, you would find a fork, the right of which goes to Rampur via Shimla-bypass. It seemed like a obvious choice but our confirm-at-next-turn experience made us take a U turn. When we asked few bus drivers, we were almost forced to go back since the bypass road is much more longer or so it was told. As a result of that U turn, we entered Simla city, after a while took a left which goes through a tunnel kind of thing and then it was Simla everywhere. Being the capital city, Simla is pretty big and if not it being a hill, it would compete very closely with other bigger towns in terms of overall chaos, garbage, haphazard development and what not. We had started from our home at Indirapuram, Ghaziabad sometime around 0530 hrs and it was already beyond 2, so we ignored the city and after a 30 minute slow but moving drive, we carried on towards our destination of the day viz. Thanedar.

Thanedar is the apple country of India and I would try to do that story separately. As we went past Kufri, I called up the hotel guys and was told that it would be at least 3 hours away, so we stopped for lunch at the roadside dhaba. It was a fairly clean dhaba and our steward-waiter had this high-pitch tone, made us wonder that probably Pankaj Kapoor researched this accent for ‘The Blue Umbrella‘.

We reached Thanedar which is not on main highway and left next morning at around 1000 hrs. We were on inside roads and with couple of clean-the-windshield-using-stream-water and giving a lift to a lady, ensure that we spent close to 2 hours before we joined NH22 again. It was lovely driving through winding inner roads, flanked with apple orchards, with no traffic and hardly any movement.

As we drove further, the road gets wider and better. There is a large Power Plant thing being done and from now till Spillow, power plants were constantly accompanying us, seemed as if HP is going to be the power capital of the world. Gradually Pines gave way to Eucalyptus and it was difficult to believe that we are really in Hills. Later we figured out that Rampur is at 900-1000 m while Shimla is at 2200-2300 meter. Thats quite a gap.

So courtesy non winding wide roads, we picked up speed and with in no time we found ourselves at Rampur. Rampur seemed more industrious then Simla.

2. Rampur – Wangtu – Karchham
Distance – 70 Kms , Driving Time – 2 hours

welcome-to-kinnaur

We were now in Kinnaur. AS we approach Wangtu, you would encounter a massive power plant project by JayPee group. Roads are all gone, probably for a better future. You gain height and roads jutting out of rocks becomes a more common sight. As you go further from Simla, the vehicle density keeps going down and while there were lot of truck movement because of power project, we started to see less of roadways buses, jeeps and other local transport.

welcome-to-kinnaur

The landscape is green, rocky and big. The canvas is beginning to grow and you now can see far and wide. We took a break post Wangtu and had our thought-fully packed-lunch which our hotel guys gave us. It took just a small request to a small sweets shop to let us sit inside and have our food. We did try to buy a coke and few munchies to keep him in good humor but guess that was not needed. We carried on. Its so much different to be in a shop with no rush. A couple was enjoying the soda pop waiting for the next bus, the guy must be in late twenties and from the conversation which I could gather, he seemed to be in a mood to stretch it and ensured by convincing his partner to skip the bus which came while we were not done with our food.

More of Kinnaur in Pics. Its beautiful.

kinnaur-3

kinnaur-2

kinnaur

A note for my fellow ghumakkar, biker dude, Indians do not need to take any permit in Recong Po or infact till Kaza, as you pass through Espillo you do need to get registered and again at Sumdoh.

Our destination of the day was Sangla, a beautiful valley and Karchham was our point of detour. The road from Karchham to Sangla is best left unaccounted. Well, its a single lane narrow road with a gorge on one side and towering rocks on the other. The road is as winding as it would want to be and if there is an oncoming vehicle and if you are on the gorge side, well it does test your nerve. A miss or a slip or a push can make things end. Sorry to scare you but if you are ever going towards Sangla, ensure that you reach Karchham when its broad day light.

When we reached our camp, it was almost 5 PM, it was heartening to listen to other folks on how dangerous the drive was. You are never alone.

3. Karchham – Espillo – Khab
Distance – 80 Kms , Driving Time – 2 hours 30 minutes

You come back to Rakccham to join the main road which would be with you till Sumdoh. There is hardly any traffic till Rakccham but as you hit it, the power-plant-caravan catches up. Keep driving among tall mountains, an accompanying river to keep the monotony away.

pooh

Take extra caution to fill-up the tank at Powari since that’s the only petrol station you would find before Kaza. It was noon and we passed several very small villages which in fact could hardly be noticed but owing to a little bit rough terrain, hills and almost none traffic, we were not going too quick. Sometimes absence of rush makes you go slow, strange.

karchham-pooh

karchham-espillo

On the way, you see some of the huge falls, portions of roads which have never seen two vehicles side-by-side ever, since their width can’t accommodate them (ok ok.. poor joke, move on) , tall huge rocky mountains, a LOT of clear Sun and occasionally a snow-peak. I am not a sun-glass guy but sometimes its so bright that you better use them.

towads-espillo

It was not too late when we reached Espillo and there you get into the protected zone. There is a small barricade and you log your credentials with the Army there. A small quick conversation and we move further. Its gets more lonenly post Espillo.

5. Espillo – Khab
See 4.

espillo-onwards

Though the distance is not too much for this section but I would rate this section as the most demanding. It could see the best of your patience, grit and perseverance. The driver in you need to take the front seat and the video-gamer would have to wait for a while. This section has the famous Khab zig.

khab-zig

As you go further and survive some of the real bad patches, you notice that you have started climbing. And after a while you would see that you are actually going in a zig pattern with one side having a not-so-high mountain rubble wall and the other side down-looking at the previous zig-arm which you just left. Though this may not sound too harsh but each arm of zig is fairly long, probably a Km or may be less so at that scale you are climbing and as you would have guessed its a 1.5 lane road. So if you get company from the other side and you are on the dont-look-down side of zig, you have it. Its not uncommon to occasionally run into a Army caravan with their ‘Shaktimaans’ in a big long line.

towards-ka

The views though makes up for the challenges. There are more than many places where you can pull in and take a eye full of the mammoth surroundings. I say mammoth because the mountains are like real big tall huge mountains, the Himalayas, you can see as far as you want to, as deep as you want to and sometimes feel strange to find just you, your spouse and your 4 year old as a company.

khab

You get that ‘Waiting for Godot’ kind of feeling and you really don’t think that this road can ever go to a dusty town, it might appear so much of out-of-world that you better try to get out of it and start driving again.

We tried to capture the zig. Look at pictures and try to get the scale.

You go all the way up and are at 3000 mtr, the place is called Ka, I believe. The snow peaks are at the same eye-level. Just be there, look around, feel special and move on.

6. Khab – Chango – Sumdoh
Distance – 40 Kms , Driving Time – 1 hour

khab-sumdo

Khab has nothing more than a few auto shops but there is a village down the road, a monastery where you can stay for the night and I believe some lodges. We kept moving and noticed a raised hand looking for a lift. We let her in. She was with us till Chhango, another village few KMs away. I was surprised to find her speak very good Hindi and we got wiser about the local terrain and ways. We bid goodbye to her at Chhango and gave ride to another lady with a small baby. We drove a few meters and noticed these two backpackers. I stopped and they requested for a ride till Tabo. The journey from Khab to Nako sees much more habitation but you are really in an arid land now and you can’t miss it. We dropped the lady with the baby at some place and our conversation with the two backpakkers continued. The roads are good, not too wide but its simpler to drive, you do get long stretches of straight strip of tar.

khab-sumdo-2

The guy was Peter and the lady was called Lucy, with such common names, you would not believe them assuming that it can’t be true, reminds of Badal Sircar’s ‘Evam Indrajit’ play where the protagonist says that his name is Nirmal when the other three who are accompanying him are called Amal, Vimal and Kamal. Peter and Lucy are originally from Czech but working in Afghanistan. For last three months they have been traveling in India and it was probably their 4th or 8th trip. They were with an NGO and take up assignments, save money, get out to travel. Because of their extensive traveling there were very well versed with India, Indian names, a bit of culture and all that. We did share our common interest around ***ching things we do not like.

Now we were traveling amid total arid, rubble mountains. The area looks more like a part of China than India, from names to features and probably that’s what this whole country is all about, with varied cultures, varied terrains and what not.

sumdo

At Sumodh, we stopped again to get our vehicle registration logged. Peter and Lucy had to undergo a little more detailed procedure since their permit needed to be scrutinized. All this happened in not so much time and we moved towards Tabo by 4ish.

7. Tabo – Dhankar – Kaza
Distance – 60 Kms , Driving Time – 1 hour 30 minutes

tabo-kaza

Their being with us ensured that we got the much needed company and its not much a distance to cover from Tabo to Kaza where it would be back to three of us. We dropped them at Tabo where they were to stay there for the night at the Monastery and were planning to be at Dhankar the next day and finally at Kaza. Tabo looked like a small town with a Buddhist gateway welcoming you. Not many rather any people.

We quickly shot this assuming its a Yak. True City people. Its a cow.
We quickly shot this assuming its a Yak. True City people. Its a cow.

From Tabo, it was to be to Dhankar. You keep going, it was getting dark by now but now we could find longer stretches of straight strips. Dhankar came and went as another small clean town with the Monastery and the last leg was spent wondering on how Kaza would be.

dhankar-to-kaza

It was almost dark, 7 PM or so, when we entered Kaza and it took a bit of asking around to reach our destination. When I finally reached our hotel, and shook hands with the manager, It was hard to imagine that we have come that kind of distance from Delhi.

The Kaza-Manali, the reason for which we did all of this was still left and the roads were not yet open. As I lay flat in the bed, looking around the humble room, with all our bags scattered and my spouse giving some hot-water leg-massage to our 4 year old, it was getting difficult to believe that we have finally made it.

Thanks for reading this far. A day well spent.

205 Comments

  • Anu Garg says:

    hi, can chandigarh-shimla-kinnaur-spiti-manali-chandigarh be done in an alto 800? time of travel wud be 2nd or 3rd week of sept. I recently did chd-sangla-kalpa in my alto, didnt face any problems. plz advise.

    • Nandan Jha says:

      ALTO is a great vehicle, light and agile. I am sure there are people who would have done this circuit on a ALTO but I wont recommend it, esp the the Kaza-Manali part.

  • Lucky chauhan says:

    Dear Nandan ji…I am planning to travel kaza in nov.first week will u plz provide me the current status of weather and road conditions….As am traveling with my wife and my 4yr son…… Actually we have 5days from on 3rd evening we r leaving from palampur and on 5th by evening we reach kaza ….Then by 9th noon we have to reach palampur…..Plz update me about weather,road and home stay or hotels and monasteries are opened or not….Thank you very much

    • Nandan Jha says:

      Dear Lucky – Manali-Kaza would probably be closed any time now. So I won’t recommend that route. You can still go via Shimla but that would just take too much time and won’t be possible for a 5 day tour. So not a great time to visit.

  • Neeraj Kumar says:

    i m planning to go on 10th NOV 17 is it i a good time to go there via Shimla i got to know both the way are open as of now going by bus from Indrapuram Ghaziabad hope it will be good to travel at this time . . you have any idea about bus rout ….?

    • Nandan Jha says:

      Hello Neeraj – I think you would have already left now. Since you asked, I have little info on reaching Kaza by Bus. But from what I could imagine, it would be going to be very very cold during this time of year. Manali-Kaza would close anytime if not already. I would avoid this time of the year, especially via public transport.

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