The adrenaline-pumping road from Karcham to Chitkul

Tucked away in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, India, the road from Karcham to Chitkul is one of the most exciting drives in the world.

Karcham-Chitkul road

Can I drive from Karcham to Chitkul?

Set high in the Baspa Valley, also referred to as the Sangla Valley, the cliff road above the Sangla River runs from Karcham, on National Highway 5, at an elevation of 1,818m above sea level to Chitkul, a very picturesque village at 3,450m above sea level. Chitkul is the last inhabited village near the Indo-Tibet border, and the motorable road ends there.

How long does it take to drive the road from Karcham to Chitkul?

To drive the road without stopping will take most people between 2.5 and 3.5 hours.

Is the road from Karcham to Chitkul open?

With such high 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. Special care needs to be taken while traveling 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.

How is the road from Karcham to Chitkul?

The road is 42km (26 miles) long and has two very different parts.

The first 19km (11 miles) to Sangla is an adrenaline-pumping road. The weather-beaten road has potholes, and at long stretches, it 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. A 4x4 vehicle is recommended. Avoid a sedan or a low-ground-clearance car. It’s unpaved, very narrow, and heavily trafficked 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 navigate. Type roads between turned U-shaped mountain ranges make the travel even more dangerous. Don’t eat too much; eventually, you might feel tempted to vomit while climbing circuitous roads at higher altitudes. There is a beautiful temple en route, and the location of the temple at such a height on the roadside makes it simply marvelous. The isolation of the road is haunting. One mistake, and it's a free fall to your death.
Road suggested by: Hugh Wilson
Pic: Deepak prakash Sharma