The Hindustan-Tibet Road

India Part 6 | Kinnaur Valley | Day 91

A single lane of eroded pavement and dirt is carved into the cliffside, “the most dangerous road in the world.” or the old Hindustan Tibet road. The charm of Kinnaur valley lies in the amazing villages perched on the steep valley walls where apples and potatoes grow like weeds, far above the Sutlej River. Lush and green, chaotic and full of life…We are tasting a bit of the “real” India.


The dust is unbearable. Every time a car passes we get a mouthful of grit, sometimes it’s so intense we have to stop and shield our eyes. We resort to looking like bandits, arming ourselves with bandanas to cover our nose and mouth. One particular section has an updraft coming from the river creating a whirlwind of dust blinding us for a few yards. People and cars appear next to us in the haze as we push forward with our eyes barely open. 


Awwwwwwe yeeaaaah.  

  

   


After riding through Ladakh and Spiti the views of Kinnaur are nothing overwhelming, but I don’t think it is what this area is all about. The side trips make Kinnaur valley. Cozy villages tucked way up in the clouds, only reached by huge, steep climbs of forever switchbacks, most too steep to ride. So we push. And push. Half way up we stop pushing and catch some rest in Recon Peo for the night. The next morning we begin our push again. 

Kalpa is perched in one of the most beautiful places possible, facing snowy peaks that catch fire in the sunset. We spend a couple days here walking through the apple orchards following the concrete steps, leading up and down the hills of huts and homes. Men and women wear woolen box hats with green side flaps, a tradition in the Kinnaur Valley. On one of our evening walks through the village a group of local women by the temple invite us to have tea and sweets. We don’t speak any Hindi and they spoke very little English. Sitting on the floor we enjoy a sweet, greasy bread with coconut flakes and observe them cooking a plethora of food. 



We divert from the Kinnaur valley down a dead end road, but will return in a couple of days. Every motorcyclist since Ladakh has advised us not to miss Sangla valley and Chitkul, the highest village at the end of the road. Air is crisp, forest is clean, and fresh water creeks spill from every direction. In Sangla we do our usual survey of guesthouses to find the best deal and the best view. Ankush, his father and Prabhat are adventurers from Delhi. Whenever they can sneak away they jump on a 20 hour bus heading to the mountains. We drink tea sharing stories of the Himalaya and make plans to meet the following day in Chitkul. They even invite us to their home in Delhi when we're done riding. 



Orange and yellow larches paint the hillsides that lead us to Chitkul. A passport check, and a chain wedged between the cassette and spokes (my worst nightmare) are our only delays. Gray clouds start to move in and rain is imminent. We huddle inside a restaurant with a few others and decide to meet again that evening. We had a pretty motley crew of travelers: a couple older and well traveled German guys, Ankush and Prabhat, two Israeli motorcyclist fresh out of the army, and a fellow Swiss cyclist, jamming Indian tunes and slamming endless veg pakora all night. 



Tea breaks have turned to apple breaks. Kinnaur provides apples for all of India and many other parts of the world. Long wires drape across the vast valley connecting either side –What are these wires for? How does it work? Do people cross in those little baskets?!? A man tosses us a couple of Kinnaur's finest from the boxes of apples brought over from the orchards on the other side. We munch and watch as a motorized cart full of apples crosses the 500 feet. And yes, people do get in these tiny wobbly carts suspended 1,000 feet in the air.



The further we move into the valley the busier the road and the faster the cars. It is pavement from here to Shimla, trucks are zooming by at a million miles an hour, the villages are dirty and lacking in charm. The closer we get to Shimla, the capital, the worse it's going to get. 

Why bother? We’re done. No more cycling in India. 

After 1,000 miles of riding in the Indian Himalaya we decided to finish our India portion of riding in the busy town of Tapri just outside of Chitkul, ignoring the last 100 miles to Shimla we had planned. 



We sit at the edge of Tapri trying to catch a truck heading towards Shimla. One guy asks 7,000rs to get us only half way – too rich for our blood. So we wait. Eric sticks his head in every passing truck trying to convince them to let us and our bikes come along. Sunil, a government contract driver,  agrees and even refuses our offer to pay saying, “You are my guest, and here in Kinnaur, guests are like gods.” Sunil shows us incredible kindness, even arranging a fair price for a hotel when we get to Shimla 6 hours later. 


Traffic.

  

Shimla is crazy: shops galore, many kinds of monkeys, and even Pizza Hut! The “Gateway to the Himalayas” and the capital of Himachal Pradesh (the state we have been riding in for the last month). We are back to civilization but Monkeys have taken over the town, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, digging in the garbage, and chasing each other down electrical wires. We grab breakfast in a cafe straight out of the 1920's and enjoy our new found surroundings. 

Stomachs full of ice-cream, we look into the over populated valley. Buildings stacked on buildings like legos as far as the eye can see. Two months ago we started our ride in India. Today we have completed our first big section in a foreign country. For the next few weeks we will take a series of trains and busses through the plains of India visiting: Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Bodh Gaya, and Sarnath. 

Next up: Nepal, to ride the Annapurna circuit! 

 

 

  

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