Adventure · Himalaya · India · Kinnaur · Photography · Travel Writing

Bus ride over the world’s deadliest road


Himachal Solo Bus trip – post 10

The next morning I was ready and raring to go around eight after a very passable breakfast of tea and toast. The bus didn’t show up until half past eight and then some. It was a beautiful morning in Kalpa as the photos below should show you so I didn’t mind waiting.

My seat while descending to Peo was at the back and that meant a bumpy ride. The driver and I got friendly very quickly – I think he saw my camera and gave me the pride of place – on the left extreme, right by the windshield. This proved immensely useful later on during the journey as I could get a hundred and eighty degree view of where we were headed.

Also I could play with the yellow sign that indicated where we were headed

We descended to peo and pulled into the bus stand by quarter past nine.

The board out front was changed to read ‘chitkul’ and for the next half hour, I was free to loiter while the driver and conductor grabbed breakfast and waited for passengers to board. Peo’s reputation as transfer central for the two valleys – of Sutlej and Sangla Rivers – and the key connection point for Spiti valley further-on is reinforced by these yellow boards used by HRTC to indicate the route of a bus.

Within a half hour of departure from peo, our bus driver proved his worth by carefully manoeuvring his way while another bus coming up, blocked the entire road! He backed up fifty meters and then let the traffic coming up pass. I was to witness his steadfast observance of safety several times that day.

All this while Himachal Public Works department absolves itself with a simple signboard that reads – ‘Careful! The road ahead is sinking and stones are coming. Please be observant while driving.’

We descended to powari and crossed the Shongtong Bridge to come face to face with an incredible phenomenon – an ongoing landslide. The gradual landslide had been in progress for more than a month at the time of my trip. There was no way to stop it and on the way back, a passenger told me that a hotel had already collapsed due to this. It was extremely dusty all around and most people closed their windows.

The road has been blasted through the mountains and metalled over – it is a continuous affair though as nature reclaims every now and then what she believes is hers, rightfully. Sometimes it results in an ironic scene – such as this man made waterfall (formed due to faulty construction of a hydel power containment wall)

We were on the other side of the Sutlej by then and nearly level with the river, I reckon no more than 2200 meters. Soon thereafter, at a half past ten, the road had reduced to a consistency of gravel mixed with chalk powder.

Thereafter, we ascended rapidly and went over a hairpin bend and that resulted on the river being on the left. Any pretense of the safety was given up, there were no shoulders or even basic railings and soon we were in the territory made famous by the National Geographic channel. This portion has been televised on Ice Road Truckers ‘World’s deadliest roads’ (Season five). It was here that I captured this short video –

Perhaps to prove the TV show’s point, a bus appeared to confront us and pulled sideways letting us pass. We stopped thereafter at a small temple where the priest came onboard to put a small ‘tilak’ mark on the driver’s head and give him blessings for the journey ahead.

It is said that if you venture into Sangla valley, you must pay your respects to the goddess for safe passage. On the bus’s behalf, the driver had done that. I think we all very well needed that given the shoulders of the road, on quite a few bends looked like this –

From here onwards, the road was quite smooth and safe, except for a few occasions when it was simply not, being made of a mixture of dry sand and wishful thinking.

At a half past eleven, we passed through the Karcham-Wangtoo hydroelectric project. Yes, the bus goes through the dam since the flow of the river is controlled and low enough for vehicles to pass safely over it. Ten minutes later, without incident, we were safely in Sangla and parked in front of an excellent vegetables and fruit shop. Just as well, as the rest of the town is a huge disappointment – after all that I had heard about it. It was dusty, noisy and such a come down (literally and metaphorically) from the beautiful Kalpa.

The saving grace were these apples – Kinnauri – and from the last season (right bottom of photo). They were juicy and fresh despite not being refrigerated for months. I bought four of these and later regretted not buying any more.

After a stop of fifteen minutes, we left again in the direction of Chitkul. The scenery for most part was similar until Batseri (after Rakchham). We detoured from the main road and the bus descended towards Sangla village. I then learnt that the campsite and all the pretty parts of Sangla are quite some distance from the main highway. The trees near the bus stop were very tall and the water of Sangla river here is quite clean and becoming.

Then we turned around, went back to the highway and again towards the direction of Batseri and Chitkul. The topography had changed a bit – the mountains appeared lower with the ‘huge’ ones of Recong Peo and Kalpa not to be seen. These were lower, and as we were ascending higher, the rivers of snow (on the mountains) made their appearance again.

Shortly before Batseri the scenery changed completely, the area had many flowering trees – mostly chuli (wild apricot) and some apple. The sky turning grey with the clouds that approached also must have something to do with this change am sure. It was a lovely view!

The bus stopped briefly at Batseri and then we moved again. After Batseri village, the sky cleared up within a few kilometres though (thankfully), and we crossed more than one stream fed by snow melt – the water was crystal clear, lovely.

We arrived at Rakcham at about 1 PM and while I didn’t stay here, I noticed there was a hotel by the side of the road. It’s called River View. From here, the road surface improved significantly and it is good till Chitkul. The scenery also improved (on the right side, mostly, across the river)

Also, the ascent was fairly rapid, and we were at an altitude high enough that there was snow on the ground! I’ve spent well over a year in some places in the United States that get copious amounts of snow – places like Minneapolis and Salt Lake city – and that has given me a healthy disdain for snow. Mostly it just gets in the way. Somehow here, I felt excited upon seeing snow – perhaps because we were coming up in altitude and the contrast from the dusty area we crossed in the morning was so great.

A cool breeze was blowing and there was no dust any longer coming through the open window of the bus. I was greeted with scenery inspiring enough to shoot a short video clip.

We crossed another beautiful stream – believe it or not – there were a mini-bus full of people actually bathing in that ice cold water!

The scenery kept improving and at nearly two pm we arrived at the PWD guest house of Chitkul. I got off the bus and excitedly, left my bag on the side of the road and rushed to the river side to capture this view – the one that shows up in many searches on the internet. I had arrived in Chitkul!

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7 thoughts on “Bus ride over the world’s deadliest road

  1. Video seems threatening!! You have discovered a heaven indeed. My apologies for reading through posts in incorrect order. You really write wonders. Looking forward to many more 🙂

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. The error is in organizing these posts and it’s entirely mine – I’m new to wordpress. I plan to pause the narrative sometime and order them correctly. Do you have a blog? I didnt get that from your gravatar.

      Like

      1. Your post titles legibly displays the numbering to figure the ordering. Please dont halt the narrative, thats the essence of your blog 🙂
        No, i don’t have a blog yet, new to this world and your seems to be uniqie and amazing. Keep posting!!

        Like

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