The adrenaline-pumping road from Karcham to Chitkul
Tucked away in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, in India, the Karcham-Chitkul road is one of the most exciting drives in the world.
Set high in the Baspa Valley, also referred to as the Sangla valley, the cliff road above the Sangla River links Karcham, on the National Highway 5, at an elevation of 1.818m above the sea level and Chitkul, a very picturesque village at 3.450m above the sea level. Chitkul is the last inhabited village near the Indo-Tibet border and the motorable road ends there. The road is 42km (26 miles) long and has 2 very different parts. The first 19km (11 miles) to Sangla are an adrenaline-pumping road. The weather beaten road has potholes and at long stretches is broad enough only for one vehicle to pass. It’s narrow with huge drops and mostly metalled. It's normal for your palms to sweat looking at those photos, imagine what it must have been like before the barriers. But the tiny brick wall at the edge of the road is not going to stop your vehicle from going over.
The second part of the road, from Sangla to the end, Chitkul, is terrible. 4x4 vehicle recommended. Avoid a sedan or a low ground clearance car. It’s unpaved, very narrow and heavily traficked by buses and trucks. The most challenging part of the drive has been cut through a sheer precipice. The road conditions are pathetic but fun to move. Type roads between turned U-shaped mountain ranges, makes the travel even more dangerous. Don’t stuff your belly too much. Eventually, you might feel vomiting temptations while climbing circuitous roads at higher altitudes. There is a beautiful temple enroute, and location of the temple at such a height on the road side, makes it simply marvelous. The isolation of the road is haunting. One mistake and it's a free fall to your death.
To drive the road without stopping will take most people between 2.5 and 3.5 hours. With such a high summit altitude the road can be closed anytime due to snowfalls. Chitkul is very cold and windy and the road normally closes down around November after the first snowfall. A special care needs to be taken while travelling in this picturesque Himalayan region, especially in winters. Weather changes very rapidly and even in summers a sudden fall in temperature may trigger winter like conditions.
Road suggested by: Hugh Wilson
Pic: Deepak prakash Sharma