"The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough." ~ Rabindranath Tagore


Travel Diary of Himachal: Part 1

Bharathi R. realised a ten year old dream when she set off to loop across Shimla - Rampur - Recong Peo - Puh - Sumdo - Tabo - Kaza - Kunzum Pass - Manali - Keylong - Leh.

On 13th June I set forth on a fabulous 1500 km route with mind-blowing scenery and arse-breaking roads. The land of monasteries, Tibetan food, great landscapes, river valleys, snowy peaks - away from hot showers, metalled roads and working phones.

13th June

A lazy daylong bus-ride to Shimla from Delhi, butter-smooth Grand Trunk Road and great 'Panju' food in dhabas. Discovery of the day - there is a bus from Delhi to Leh, takes 36 hours and costs 672 bucks!

14th June

The 244 km ride from Shimla to Recong Peo, capital of Kinnaur district, takes 10 hours. It is beautiful once we leave the crowded environs of Shimla; superb scenery and wild road - we enter the Sutlej valley, shortly after Narkhanda. The Sutlej would be my constant roadside companion for the next 300 kms or so. Beautiful river and dramatic mountainscapes! Lunch is thukpa at Lama Dhaba, Sarahan - costs ten bucks!

More About Himachal
At a Glance

Travel Diary - Part 2
Return to Manali
Manali to Leh
Road to Khardung La
Dharamshala Diary


Kareri Lake
Deo Tibba Trek

Holiday Packages
Discover India
Outbound Tours
Theme Packages


Night at Recong Peo - hotel double bedroom with attached bath, geyser (not working), carpet and TV (not working) costs a princely 200 bucks. Fine sunset views across Kinner Kailash mountain. Dinner is with a Frenchman, Demian, an interesting old Israeli and a German couple.

15th June

Demian, the German couple and I take the 6:30 am bus to Tabo the next morning. Travellers on this route tend to meet repeatedly since there is often only one bus, if at all! I thought the 244 km journey taking 10 hours was bad, but today 130 km from Peo to Tabo takes nine hours! At the end of it, my skeleton was suing for divorce!


Off we went with the Sutlej - the German couple were knocked back at the Jangi checkpost for want of an inner line permit, so Demian and I continued to Tabo. Spectacular scenery - there was no road, it was a one-lane mud-track where the overloaded ramshackle bus swayed dangerously between the sharp rockface two inches on the left and the 500 feet drop into the Sutlej three inches on the right! The villages were beautiful oases of emerald green fields and orchards with white houses and a little monastery with bright prayer flags. Kinnaur was incredibly green.

TaboReached Khab, where the Sutlej joins the Spiti river - the Sutlej comes in from Shipki La, the Tibet border is just 13 kms away. We cross the bridge over the confluence, and move from Kinnaur into the moonscape Spiti district. Spiti has spectacular barren mountains, plunging valleys and the occasional little village with incredible blue skies.

The ITBP and the Border Roads guys had made a nice little pedestrian track across the landslide zone, with a roaring waterfall thrown in for good measure. The Himachal Road Transport buses stranded on either side - swapped passengers, luggage, conductors, drivers and destination boards - reversed and continued on the journey. Walking on the perilous track, looking across at the fine scenery, the majestic mountains and Spiti some thousand feet below, it really felt like seventeenth century travel in Tibet. The mountains changing colours with the time of day were fascinating - purple, russet, mauve, brown, magenta, blue, violet, red, gold, green.


Tabo Lunch at Chango Dhaba - no seven page menus - but superb sarson ka saag, dal and chawal. We reached Tabo at 5 pm, feeling battered to the bone. The monastic guest house had nice rooms with two beds, carpets, attached bath et al - two fifty bucks, (150 bucks without attached bath for the super shoe stringers)

Tabo has a 1000 year old monastic complex, the second oldest in the world after Tholing in Tibet. Amazing clay statues and murals, we could spend a week there! Lofty brown mountains on all sides, green fields of the village, the Spiti river winding below and an incredibly blue sky.

Over dinner we meet Laxman Thakur from Shimla, an archaeology prof. from Shimla Univ - the guy has been doing research on Tabo for twenty years now - he exudes knowledge, and more importantly - passion, when he talks about Tabo.

16th June

We are in incredible luck: there is a 3 hour cultural festival at Tabo gompa and the entire Spiti valley turns up to watch! We lined up at the gompa early and got vantage seats for photography - boom boom gongs and drums and cymbals and trumpets and the Rimpoche enters.


We witness the masked demon dances: terrifying masks and spectacular robes, amazing footwork and fluid movements, cymbals and drums, the quick beat and the whirling dancers. The chham dance to ward off evil, the lama dance, the death dance - with skeletal robes and skull masks, the warrior dance performed by the men of Tabo villlage with brandishing swords. Virtually every village, primary and high school in Spiti district has sent in its dance troupe - children, women, lamas in a swirl of colourful robes and shawls.

Kaza We spent the afternoon climbing the neighbourhood hills for some superb views of Tabo and visited the monastery complex, rightfully called the Ajanta of the Himalayas with beautiful statues and murals. Watch the star-spangled sky and the beautiful snow capped peak of Leo Purgial.

17th June

We share a jeep with four foreigners and set off towards Kaza. We make a detour to Dankar gompa perched incredibly on a brown hill with superb views down to the river and the mountains beyond. We continue to Key gompa, which has an uncanny resemblance to Thikse near Leh - and is just as photogenic, and then proceed to Kibber village for the night.

Dhankar Kibber at 4200 meters, supposedly the world's highest village with a motorable road, is beautiful as only Tibetan places can be. The Norling Guest House has a 3-bed dorm at 50 bucks per bed and three "suites" at 250 bucks. Superb exotic Tibetan food - thenthuks and gotheys. Mr Norling runs a hotel in Goa for eight months a year and relocates to Kibber for the June-Sept season.

We meet Tony and Param, a Briton and Sardar duo, who have arrived on two dusty Enfields - got to give it to them, mobiking these roads, my arse collapses at the very thought ! I play chess with Voltaire from Holland in the sun terrace and we win one game each - a memory of this trip will be the fine mischievous smile curling on Voltaire's lips when I make a stupid move! The Israeli old man from Peo also lands up and it is a joyful reunion - he gives me and Demian a hug like we are his long lost kids! More foreigners than Indians on this route. Interesting crowd, great food and blissful sleep!

Kibber 18th June

Demian and I tuck in a solid breakfast and go hiking to Chicham village across the mountains. The trail drops dramatically to the valley floor and climbs again - at the bottom, we stand at a magnificent tri-junction, a sparkling river flowing across a beautiful canyon with incredibly high brown walls and a blue sky somewhere far above, with a waterfall on the third side. We climb the waterfall trail laboriously - there is not a soul for miles on end - the air is crisp and it is so windy, it stings your eyes! Beautiful blue sky : we climb up, up and up and finally reach the flat emerald green fields of Chicham village. We say 'jullay' (hello) to the teacher in the open air school.

Norling at lunchtime and then the 6 km downhill hike to Key gompa, impressively located and a superb walk given the magnificent scenery around! The gompa is quite old with some fine thangkas. A monk serves us tea in the kitchen. We head back to the roadhead and wait patiently for the once-in-a-day bus from Kaza to Kibber. It comes packed to the brim, an hour late. We clamber onto the roof. Great scenery - more memorable is our chattering teeth!

19th June

We leave Kibber and attempt to get to Batal for Chandra Tal. Voltaire, his wife and son join us at Kaza - all of us try for a vehicle heading to Manali. We find the vegetable hauling jeep returning to Manali - buses are not running as yet - deal negotiated Rs 500 per head for Manali, Rs 250 for Batal. The driver says he needs some sleep and he will start only at 4 pm in the evening! We watch him emptyhis cargo of potatoes and onions and try to figure a way to spend seven hours in insipid Kaza. Voltaire and I play chess in the restaurant, I win 2-1, with virtually the whole town for audience. Demian falls asleep trying to read a book.

At 4:30 pm, the great Kaza - Manali journey begins - we are four adults and a four year old squeezed into a space which can hold three people at best. At the back, open to the sky, there are some fifteen people and I don't envy them the cold journey! The driver goes around the whole town trying to get more passengers and the four of us solidify in our positions, we can't shift anyway!

It was easily the most spectacular part of the route though picture postcard pretty Lossar village. We stop for tea at sunset with the beautiful snowy peaks everywhere. We cross Kunzum Pass - separating Lahaul and Spiti districts - at 8 pm, and the last rays of light disappear. Kunzum top had some great 360 degree views of peaks. We traverse the mind-blowing, spine-chilling descent to Batal in the dark. It was almost eerie, one little jeep in that cosmic vastness.

Rohtang Demain and I abandon our Chandratal plans: tracks are not clear, too much snow, and Batal is little more than a tarpaulined shed for truck drivers with a lone dhaba serving rice and dhal and tea, nothing else! We eat dinner at 9:30 pm with 100 kms ahead to reach Manali. The moon gives a different perspective to the scenery, it is incredibly beautiful and wild. We cross Chatru at 11 pm, and the moon disappears behind the high hills on either side! It appears later as we begin the ascent to Rohtang Pass, 45 km from Manali.

A lone truck is standing at a weird place with a broken axle. We pass between white walls of snow on either side, sometimes 20 ft high and 100ft long The whole mass looks unstable, melting at the bottom and making the track a veritable stream of water and slush!

We cross Rohtang and the browns of Lahaul and Spiti are magically transformed into vivid green landscapes. We look at trees and metalled roads in wonder, having forgotten what they look like! Voltaire and I fantasise about Internet, hot showers, REAL food… we have had enough of momos, thukpas! Hit overpriced Manali at 3am to go ahead to Vashisht, wake up the owner Freedom Café and retire tired.

20th June

Wake up at 11 am to fine views across the Beas valley - I am glad we came here, superb river and valley views, quiet, inexpensive with great food. I thought I'd leave for Leh tomorrow, but already I am reconsidering. Discover a passion.... makes living worthwhile!

Travel Diary of Himachal: Part 2

Home | Back | Top | Feedback

Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.