A meandering solo drive around Himachal


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Awesome start...
Thank You

There might me many logs of the region, sure. But yours is pleasantly engaging. Please continue!
Very kind of you.

Lovely Start...
though there are more than 2872 logs related to Spiti, the craving increases more and more
waiting for more pictures and details
Very true. Spiti can probably accomodate a million logs

T Log starting with my City... Dharamsala.
That's something unusual......... Already booked my ticket for the ride
May I sponsor the ticket to a "son of the soil" !


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Jalori Pass

To a driving enthusiast more than to a casual tourist, the Jalori Pass which separates the Kulu valley from the Shimla region is special. The pass at 3100 metres ( 10,300 ft) is not a very high pass, unlike the more famous Rohtang , Kunzum or Sachh passes which are all above 4000 metres. But Jalori has one of the steepest ascents and descents of all - in fact by some reckoning the second steepest in the world after Sani pass in Lesotho of all places. I have no idea how they determine such things, but whatever any ranking, it is a mightily steep pass.

I arrived at the foot of the climb to Jalori in good shape and time. The sun was shining. The road climbs an altitude of some 700 meters within a very short distance of just 6 kms. Steep gradients, innumerable curves and narrow roads. Athough my car is an automatic transmission vehicle, I switched over to manual control and the pass has to be entirely taken in 1st and at best 2nd gear. My companion was completely in element, and took this without a stutter. I reached the top of Jalori pass and had a wonderful lunch of Rajma Chawal at a dhaba there. An opportunity to give my companion a well deserved breather.

(this is why a Himalayan drive is so enticing)

(The ascent & the secent have just bee paved this year and makes for a lovely drive)

(just a water crossing or two - nothing major)


(and then you get to see this)

Time for the descent. That is eqully challenging given the gradient. Almost entirely first gear. Once down, it was the usual mountain driving - one stretch was particularly narrow and it was a struggle to let the oncoming vehicles pass. Frequently, I had to reverse to come to a passing spot. After 9 hours of careful driving to cross 230 kms, I came to Narkhanda on the Himalayan Tibet Highway.

This is actually a beautiful sector with lovely locales in Banjar, Jibhi, Shoja and at the top of the pass itself. The steep climb and descent has been recently paved into a beautiful road and so it was a joy to drive. The only painful parts were the narrow roads and the ghastly display of machismo by the Himachal drivers. Whoever said all hill drivers are very polite ? This lot will be entirely at home at Marathahalli or Bellandur in Bangalore !


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This region is where apple growing in Himachal Pradesh started. And therein lies a most unlikely story, the story of Satyananda Stokes, who introduced apple cultivation here about a century ago. A story, which is worth repeating even if popularly known. He was an American, born Samuel Evans Stokes, from Philadelphia and came from a Quaker family. In 1904 he came to work in India in a leper colony in Himachal. He grew in love with India, settled here, married an Indian, converted to Hinduism and became Satyananda Stokes. He was actively involved in India's freedom movement, became a member of the All India Congress Committee (the two Punjab delegates were Lala Lajpat Rai and Satyananda Stokes). He was jailed - the only American to become a political prisoner of the British !

It was Satyananda Stokes, who took up farming and introduced apples into Himachal, especially in the region around Thanedar near Narkhanda. It was a huge success and soon everybody took it up. And now apple farming is the mainstay of agriculture here. A remarkable man to whom the state owes a huge debt of gratitude.

(In such a setting the chai tastes divine !)
I am staying at a "ski resort" in Narkhanda. Well, there's really very little skiing in India - Kufri and Narkhanda market themselves to Indians who have never seen snow. Forget ski slopes - you can just about glide around on flat ground here. That's about it. Anyway that's not now - that's when the snow falls and there's still at least a month to go. It's just a hotel but with lovely views around and peace and calm and quiet. The air smells fresh and its all very nice.


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The usual magical drive in to Kinnaur. As promised, no stock photos of the rock overhangs and the gateway into the district !

Choosing between Sangla, Batseri and Chitkul for where to stay , I chose Batseri, in the valley and on the banks of the Baspa river. Great choice. One of the most stunning places I went on this trip and much recommended.

This is a small village in the valley next to the Baspa river. The Baspa river originates from a glacier in the border area between Himachal, Uttarakhand and China and then flows down into Himachal and merges with the Sutlej. Tall mountains and a swift flowing very pretty river - what more can you ask.

(that's where I had to go)

(and this is the reward)


(after all this is Kinnaur)

I went down to the river naturally and stepping across stones, went into the river and sat down on a rock. The roar of the river, the view of the tall mountains, the peace and calm - outstanding. The water is crystal clear, but icy cold. After all its just flowed off a glacier.

This is why I have come to Kinnaur. To soak in the tranquility of remote places in the mountains. I sat, with the sun on my back for as long as I wished and was at peace.

But it lasted just a day. The heavens opened. For three days non stop. Landslides happened. Buses got washed away. So, no option but to hole up in Batseri and wait it out. I was the only guest at the hotel and if I had to choose one place where I wouldn't mind being stuck, it would be here. The Baspa roared, snow fell on the high mountains and I could watch this for a day or a hundred.


I risked a quick trip to Chitkul in the rain though. Of all the things, I didn't know that some of the best potatoes in the country grow in Chitkul. When you go to Kinnaur you normally think of filling up the boot with apples and not potatoes !

The roads are bad , but it was only about 20 kms from Batseri. Speeds were strictly at 10 kmph ! The real trouble was in allowing the oncoming vehicle to pass - that required tricky maneuvering. It was also a good elevation change - some 900 mtrs elevation in 15 kms. Not as steep as Jalori pass, but then this was a gravel track and not a road. Again my companion performed impeccably.

On such drives the scenery is stunning, but God help you if you take your eyes off the road for even one second. A drop of 1000 mtrs into the valley awaits the unwary. So I just stopped every time I wanted to soak in the scenery , put the parking brake on and then let the eyes wander off the road. It took me all of 2 hours to cover the 20 kms, stops and all, but what hurry was I in ?

(Chitkul is cute, but do you have to paint your house purple ?)

(lovely farm; should have bought the potatoes)

(just reward for the trip)


(the landslides are as bad as they look)


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The rains eased after three days and the sun came out. Got going again.

I retraced my steps all the way back from Chitkul to the fork at Karcham which I had taken a few days back. Back on the Himalayan Tibet Highway. Everything was fresh, the landslides had been cleared and there was snow everywhere on the peaks. Perfect setting for a drive, even if the cleared landslide sections were horrible to drive through - my car turned from deep blue to deep brown in no time. The last port of call for me in Kinnaur district was the small town of Kalpa.

Kalpa presented magical views of the Kinnaur Kailash and the other peaks. All from my hotel window. You could spend hours with cups and cups of tea and simply gaze into the distance. Which is pretty much what I did.

(Kinnaur Kailash in all its majesty)

(Jorkanden is even higher)


(Deep into apple country ; it wasn't yet picking time though)
One factoid and one nice story from Kalpa. Factoid - its the worst place to buy apples ! Apple farms galore, but everybody has sold off the fruits on the trees to the middlemen who take them to Delhi. You can't pick even one. What's sold in Kalpa is only the inferior varieties. So what's the point in buying them ?

The story is , of course, the well known story of Mr Negi . Worth retelling again, just in case any reader is unfamiliar.

Independent India conducted its first general elections in February 1952. But February is the depths of winter when much of the mountainous regions of India would be snow bound and unreachable. Young India wanted every citizen to vote. And so six months before the actual election date, in October of 1951, they loaded ballot boxes and papers on to mules and began the long journey to Kalpa. The Kinnaurs of Kalpa were the first Indians to vote in independent India. And the very first Indian to vote was Shyam Saran Negi .

Mr Negi is 102 years old now and lives in the town. And he has voted 29 times so far. He is a celebrity here; leaders fete him regularly and Google India made a video at the time of the last general elections urging citizens to get out a vote featuring him. You can see the video here. It's possible to go and meet him, but I thought it would not be right to disturb a 102 year old man and so I didn't.

It is truly a wonderful story. India may have many faults. But in the matter of free and fair elections, India leads the world. People vote enthusiastically. The scale and complexity of Indian elections is mind boggling. The Election Commission of India is easily the finest organisation globally in its field. And nobody symbolises this spirit better than Mr Negi. He is all set to vote in the coming Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

I have spent more time in Kinnaur than planned, because of the rains, but then it is entirely justified given how beautiful this district is. Its time to venture venture further to Spiti.