Kinnaur Road – Himalayan Roadtrip

Our Kinnaur road trip was one of the pinnacle travel experiences in my life, especially because I am an avid traveler!

In my post below I share my tips + experience in a guide and the 45-minute video and countless pretty pictures will help you to enjoy this ride safely!

READ MORE + WATCH VIDEO about Kinnaur road conditions and how to get there – NH22 from Sarahan, Kinnaur,  Spiti, Nako village further below:

India roads near Chinese border

When we embarked on our road trip, back in May 2017, from Goa to the Himalayas, I couldn’t have imagined how certain roads would be.

I like a good surprise, yet I do avoid bad un-calculated situations as well as possible!

We, my husband the driver, and me the navigator, make sure that we have everything in the car in case of an emergency.

Of course in that sense, traveling by car can be an advantage as you can just throw in useful things if you have space.

Traveling by motorbike, such as a Royal Enfield, can limit your resources because you need to keep it light.

So if you are about to go on a long road trip through India, as we did with our total of 6000 km, you might want to go through these two useful road trip-centered articles: Road trip tips for India.

Before you decide to take the NH22, from Kinnaur to Nako and vice versa, be sure to have all safety measures in place!

Kinnaur road after kalpa

๐Ÿ’ก Reasons to travel Kinnaur to Spiti

To be honest, our ultimate travel aim was Spiti valley and not Kinnaur, so I didn’t really care about going to Kinnaur and wanted to travel via the Kunzum pass to Spiti.

However, the problem is that the Kunzum is only open for a short time in the year because it’s a glacier pass.

In our case, it was open from the 6th of June and would have been closed by mid-August.

We were ready to roll and see Spiti around the end of May, so because of the uncertainty of when the kunzum would be opened up to the public, we had no choice and took the nh22 through Kinnaur.

There are always rumors circulating in Manali, debating when the kunzum pass would be opened but sometimes these rumors could take 2 weeks to turn into certainty.

In retrospect, we were quite happy about our decisions, as the Kinnaur road trip turned out to be a way better choice and road than the kunzum pass!

But more about this in the future posts here at Masala Herb.

If you are not sure what to do, I say take the Kinnaur road.

We were in Manali and thought it was quite a silly long way but after all, we were glad to have seen and experienced Kinnaur.

If you are coming from Delhi, Chandigarh, Shimla, take the Kinnaur road without hesitating.

You can always come back down Spiti from the Kunzum via Manali and Kullu.

The road condition from Shimla to Kinnaur is partially good but I think most of the time, especially around Rampur, quite nice.

Again this heavily depends on landslides.

There are fewer chances for you to face landslide problems in Kinnaur compared to the Kunzum. Kunzum is like,… you are literally all alone in the middle of nowhere.

Of course, Kunzum is beautiful too, and so very different, but if you don’t want to dare and fall into problems then take the Kinnaur road only.

These places are not for silly people and I dare you to act.

You can die in these mountains and maybe nobody will ever find your body on top of that.

If you have a driver, try to do both, Kinnaur and Kunzum!

Here, some motivation why you ought to have seen Kinnaur and its wonderful environment!

high altitude roads in India

๐Ÿš™ Driving Skills

The Kinnaur road is nothing like you have seen before, it has its own unique challenges and ONLY experienced drivers should drive the Kinnaur road.

I mean it!

If you think you can drive, think again, Kinnaur road is for advanced drivers, especially if you are traveling by car!

I personally wouldn’t drive a car on the NH22, as I just got my car driver’s license.

My husband on the other hand is a very good driver as you can see in the video.

Most probably I would dare to drive a Royal Enfield if it’s a baby Enfield, but not alone as I wouldn’t know how to fix the bike if I had a problem.

If you decide to drive yourself on a Kinnaur road trip, then make sure that you use Google maps or a proper navigation device.

GPS signal is good up there.

We still had a great internet network before leaving sarahan and I had gone through the route nh22 on google maps.

I had noticed that somebody had marked an area along the way as road blocked, so I expected a detour on a tiny road.

In the end, we didn’t have to make a detour as the blockage was not there anymore.

It must have been an old warning which hadn’t been removed in google maps.

๐ŸŽฅ Video

๐Ÿ—ป Tips to Master Challanging Roads

The road is situated in the Himalayas, it’s one of the youngest and THE highest mountain range in the world

And that means the road is surrounded by extreme high highs and deep deeps.

Kinnaur is situated in the Himachal region of North India and while most of the region is green, Kinnaur is anything like that

Kinnaur is like a mars landscape, you will see steep rocks and breath in fine dust.

There are not many villages and in fact, there is a road stretch where you will not see a soul for a long time.

At some point, you will be looking out for a village for lunch or to take a break and realize that they are scattered 2000 meters up perched on the dry rocks!

Lower and upper Kinnaur are quite different

The lower parts are still a bit green and rain can fall at times, villages are not always high up.

Upper Kinnaur is completely dry, rain doesn’t fall there but you gotta have balls to drive up to the towns such as Kalpa and Reckong Peo.

roads in the himalayas

I did not film a town, because, well, they were so high up and they melt into the rocky surrounding that you wouldn’t see anything in the clip.

We also didn’t drive up, we were focused on reaching Nako that day.

Landslides are very very commonย 

Besides that, roads can just disappear (as it happened to us in Sarahan) or huge rocks and stones can come crashing down on you from steep heights anytime!

There are signboards along the way warning you of “shooting” stones, because stones, even small ones, can cause damage when they fall at high speed from massive heights.

Roads are only partially madeย 

It’s literally a rocky ride!

In fact, there are always works going on.

If you check my video you will see sometime after 20 minutes that we are forced to stop at a tight height, as at that point they are drilling into the rocks to create road space for vehicles.

I saw these workers upon the rocks, 4-5 meters in height drilling into rocks!!!

I couldn’t film it, they were up there, dangerously clinging onto the cold rocks, 3 men, face covered because the dust is just everywhere.

It’s insane what risks these people have to take to create those roads.

We saw these rock drillings frequently along the Kinnaur road (NH22) and the men were always working high up, that’s why you don’t see them on the video, but I did get them on a picture as you can see below.

Respect for those who have been working on those roads!

It’s dusty, sometimes cold, the sun is burning down, it’s high, it’s dangerous!!

making of roads in kinnaur

Other bad drivers can give you a difficult time

One day (and that was not in Kinnaur but near Manali) I witnessed a guy facing huge challenges on a simple downwards going road because he couldn’t drive properly.

He had his family in a small Maruti kind of soap boxcar and he was from Chandigarh, so absolutely not used to daredevil Himalayan roads.

That guy panicked as a bus came towards him up the hill and he couldn’t go reverse upwards, he landed in a slight ditch.

He caused a big traffic jam.

Local bus passengers came to his rescue, one took the wheel, and others were lifting the car with the family inside just so that the car could de-block the small and only road leading downwards.

Again, IF YOU CAN’T DRIVE, DON’T GO WITH YOUR CAR TO KINNAUR.

Just watch my whole video on top and you will know what I am talking about.

Locals in Himachal are some of the most skilled drivers in the world, they are naturals in this.

In fact, most visitors and travelers to Kinnaur hire a driver. ย 

[MORE ABOUT HIRING DRIVERS BELOW]

Good reasons to get a driver:
>At times you have to squeeze in when trucks and buses need to pass
>You need to wait on strategic larger road parts, when you see a car coming from the other side
>You need to go very tight towards rocks
>You need to horn on dangerous turns
>You need to take crazy risks!
>You need a good car, something like a 4×4 SUV

collage of kinnaur

You need to be sharp…

…because a landslide can happen any time. We stopped the car once abruptly because I saw a small rock falling down from far.

Don’t even think of driving in the dark, that would just be utterly stupid.

roads in the himalayas

Kinnaur is right next to the Chinese Tibetan borderย 

The political tensions between these two countries are not new.

Be prepared to meet a lot of Army personnel.

They are everywhere and for good reason.

In fact, I found the presence of the Indian army quite reassuring.

They are polite and very professional, even at the Kinnaur check post.

Because the army is highly present, you know at least that landslides are usually cleared in a timely manner.

The army provides much-needed security to Kinnaur in many ways!

Kinnaur is situated in what is known as the “inner line”.

It’s basically a buffer zone before the Chinese border.

You don’t see the Chinese border as it’s crossing high mountain ranges.

It’s like a gratis wall between the countries.

Since the 1980s, foreigners are allowed to enter the inner line but only with a valid permit.

See further below for more info.

himalayan roads

Out of Petrol?! You are out of luck!ย 

Your main priority when taking the NH22 will be petrol!

When driving from Kinnaur to Spiti, you will have a hard time getting Petrol. 

Right after Sarahan on the main road going to Kalpa, you will see a petrol pump.

This can be one of your last chances for Petrol!

(I am not joking!)

We had a huge tank so we were good, but in Kinnaur, there was supposed to be a petrol pump somewhere near Po.

We stopped there but they said they were out of petrol (although I still don’t believe that story because you can see on the video some Indian Oil trucks coming from that direction).

Anyhow, we couldn’t buy petrol in Po in Kinnaur and the next petrol pump was to be in Kaza in Spiti valley.

The one in Kaza had problems with their pumps and we waited there for one hour and if we wouldn’t have pressurized the staff to give us petrol (I can be relentless), we wouldn’t have got petrol (the pump stopped working for the ones after us again) and we would have been stuck in Spiti valley, maybe.

We heard that you can get petrol on the black market but only in small quantities.

Which can be a blessing for Bikers!

Bikers have a challenging game without petrol as the tank is smaller.

We saw a lot of bikers with extra liters ofย petrol tied to the side of their bikes.

If you are traveling with a Royal Enfield (nobody would ride a sports bike to Kinnaur bro!), make sure to get 2-4 petrol bottles and try to keep them always filled at various stations.

villages in kinnaur

There is no phone network in Kinnaur and Spiti!ย 

Right after Sarahan, you are completely without phone network up until Manali if you take the whole round through Spiti, Lahaul back to Manali.

That’s more than 200 km!ย 

No range and no internet!

Your only option is to get aย governmentย BSNL prepaid SIM card.

That’s the only connection that works half the time!

To get a BSNL SIM Card, buy from a mobile shop or travel agent in SHIMLA or MANALI.

Don’t think you will get one in Kinnaur or Spiti because you won’t.

I thought I could buy one on the way and that was quite a mistake.

If something would happen, you would be without a mobile phone to call for help!

Health and First Aid

I was looking for a pharmacy the whole stretch of the road.

Apparently, there was one in Kalpa or Reckong Peo, but then it wasn’t that urgent for me so I didn’t travel up to the town.

The next opportunity for a pharmacy might be Kaza town, passing Nako, Tabo, Dhankar village in Spiti.

If you need a doctor, well I was told by locals that the doctors are not good.

I am not sure about Kinnaur but in Spiti, it was very clear, there is a lot of distrust towards doctors.

In another case, I knew from an old friend in Manali that a group of Israeli girls had traveled with a hired driver to Kinnaur and all was ok until one got sick with food poisoning.

That girl ended up coming back alone, my friend organized a driver to get her safely back to Manali to the hospital.

I have my friend’s contact further below if you are looking for reliable help, he is a registered travel agent with the Himachali government and has been doing this for a long time.

Locals in this highland will tell you that they usually don’t go to the doctor, only if it’s something serious because then a car or helicopter has to be organized to Shimla or Manali.

So, JUST DON’T GET SICK!

These are all the main reasons why the Kinnaur road can be treacherous if you don’t have foresight.ย 

Actually, these are common sense but it’s really hard to tell how a drive will be if you have never traveled in these parts before. 

river in kinnaur district

๐Ÿ“œ Inner Permit Line

Indian citizens do not need an inner permit line, ONLY foreigners and Indian OCIs.

In Kinnaur, you need to go up to Reckong Peo and look out for the building where they issue the inner line permit.

It will cost maybe about 350 INR, ask the locals they will tell you where to go.

If you are with a driver, then you don’t need to worry as they help you get it easily.

In Spiti valley, you can get the inner permit line when you come from the Kunzum pass and I heard over there it might not cost you a dime.

end of Kinnaur to Nako

๐Ÿ†š Car VS Motorbike

Car Pros:

  • Can take along more and buy heavy, big singing bowls ๐Ÿ˜€
  • Safer in the sense of rocks falling on your head
  • higher comfort level
  • can drive more
  • bigger tank for petrol
  • can take along hitchhiker friends for more fun
  • protects from dust
  • Can see and hear the navigation system and get around smoothly
  • you can play music along your drive ๐Ÿ™‚

Car Cons:

  • parking problem and that’s a real big problem most of the time
  • it can get tight between rocks and small roads
  • you gotta be a good driver to take a car to kinnaur

Bike Pros:

  • adventure drive! – Proper road trip, it can’t get more real and exciting then that
  • the freedom feeling is endless
  • you can pass easily everywhere, even in a traffic situation
  • easy parking even over night

Bike Cons:

  • very dusty, especially behind cars.
  • comfort level is low
  • can’t drive for as much and as long as with a car
  • petrol issues, you will be out of petrol if you don’t take care (see further above for petrol pumps and current situation)
  • more dangerous is terms of falling rocks, slipping and accidents
  • if your bike goes down, you need to know how to fix it
  • you can’t listen to music while driving, it’s very dangerous.

Riding a bike through Kinnaur is clearly a thing for those who want to experience real life. As long as you know how to ride a bike you can go ahead. The only danger is you getting back pain, that you run out of petrol or that your bike stops working.

๐ŸšŒ Taking the Bus

I was mortified when I heard from an Austrian traveling couple, who we met in Nako, that they had been traveling by bus from Manali down to Rampur, further to Reckong Peo and then to Nako!

First of all meeting other Austrians is a rarity and then too in the most serene village in India in the middle of nowhere next to the Chinese border, that’s a rare thing, yet shouldn’t surprise one, we Austrians are always where the mountains are.

Secondly, I thought they were nuts!

Turns out a lot of foreigners from all over the world do that.

Later on, we met Spanish, Canadians, and Israelis who had traveled by bus through Kinnaur to Spiti.

A bus passes by once a day and then there is no definite time or place.

It’s quite a vague story to catch a bus in Kinnaur and Spiti, but again, everybody is flexible up there in the highlands.

Ask a local they will tell you where, when, how.

Some of the travelers hitchhike too.

Himachali people are helpful and we did take some hitchhikers too.

Up there, everybody helps everybody.

There is no thread of being, robbed, raped, or murdered, the thread is usually mother nature or other travelers but never the locals!

So yes, you can take the bus if you don’t get motion sick and if you are tight on budget, I think a bus ride is dirt cheap.

I am not sure of the exact amount but it’s really nothing, maybe 1 or 2 dollars for that crazy ride, and the bus is usually not overloaded with people.

There is space to sleep in it, if you can!

saharan kinnaur

Dear Reader, are you planning to travel to Kinnaur? What are your plans?

32 thoughts on “Kinnaur Road – Himalayan Roadtrip”

  1. This brings back memories of our India road trips :-). There was always something unexpected – a punctured tire , herds of sheep not willing to give way, road closures .. Looking back the lingering memories are of the rustic charm and the kind helpful people we met.

    Reply
    • Hi Syama,
      Where did you travel on your road trip to India? I wholeheartedly agree with what you are saying. India always has a surprise for one. We had the wave of sheep in Kunzum, that was insane, a priceless memory!

      Reply
  2. Looks really beautiful to drive. I am sure as you mentioned you should get a driver. You really have to pay attention. Looks like a great place to visit

    Reply
  3. I did Shimla – Kinnaur – Spiti – Kunzum – Chandratal – Manali trip couple of years back. I totally agree it was the best trip of my life. It is not usual in India to find places where you do not see a soul for miles. And the landscape is so damn magnetic.

    I always suggest people to hire a local car from Shimla or Manali and let the trained drivers drive you. It is too risky for others – no wonder the roads there are called the most treacherous roads on earth.

    Reply
    • Absolutely agree with everything that you wrote Anu! The area is really unique and as you described it is magnetic to the core. I think the same way, the roads are super treacherous and only a good driver should be taking these roads. You won’t believe we saw four 18-year-old boys in a Suzuki dzire blasting music near the Kunzum at 4:30 pm in the afternoon. They asked us to stop the car and asked how much longer it was to Kaza. lol we came from Kaza and it had taken us 7 hours and they were by far not reaching anywhere with their low build car and inexperienced driving skills. They had been driving since early morning hours it seems! The judgment of a few can be incredibly shocking O.O

      Reply
  4. Please don’t get angry for my remark. There is a spelling mistake.
    It is – Border – and not – Boarder.
    I still admire your website and your efforts. All the best and continue with your efforts.

    Reply
    • Hi Ramesh! Oh I am not angry, on the contrary, I appreciate you taking the time and letting me know. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Fixed it! Looks better already.
      I am happy to read your thoughts, thank you for your valuable support, it means a lot to me!

      Reply
  5. Wow! That is an amazing road trip! The landscape is dramatic. I also would not even consider driving those roads. My husband is a good driver, but I still would not trust him either!

    Reply
  6. Wow! This looks like such a picturesque place to visit! I would not even attempt to drive there. I would have to hire a driver. I probably would have closed my eyes on some of those turns lol.

    Reply
  7. Would you believe if I told you I am from Himachal but haven’t had the fortune to visit Kinnaur yet?? I really hope to do it next year and will take inspiration from this post. Agree with Anuradha that hiring a car is best since the roads are risky. Nevertheless, great road trip ๐Ÿ˜€

    Reply
    • Oh really? Then you must visit Kinnaur soon! Have you been to Spiti? From where are you originally in Himachal? So we are both mountains girls! =D

      Reply
  8. This looks like an incredible trip. We love road trips, and usually I am the navigator and hubby drives, but I think in this case I would very happily hire someone to drive us. I love that the drivers are flexible, because we always tend to want to spend more time in a place we come across. This is great info if we ever get a chance to visit!

    Reply
    • Hi Amy, I think it’s always better to let somebody else do what they are good at if it’s not something we do frequently, and driving those roads is definitely a whole different game. My husband is Indian and he and his brother are used to driving tough roads. In fact, his brother did a separate trip with friends to Ladakh (Little Tibet) & Kashmir and the roads are pretty similar. If you have a driver you can ask him questions and he acts as a guide too and in think for the price they charge, it’s definitely worth it.

      Reply
  9. We are ๐Ÿ˜€ Haha so cool! My ancestral side is from a small village in Kangra. Its called Rakkar (dad’s side) and Peere (mom’s side) My Spiti plans were for this year but they cancelled due to weather so maybe next summer now ๐Ÿ™‚ Can’t wait!! The area looks so amazing.

    Reply
    • Well, maybe we might just cross each other next year in the mountains ๐Ÿ˜€ I feel I need to go back there next year too, it’s magnetic!

      Reply
  10. Whoa! That was a very challenging road trip. And I had to take a closer look at your photo to check if that’s a blue truck I’m really seeing in the middle of the steep slope. I didn’t even recognize there’s a road there at first. Haha! It would be cool to experience that ride too but I had to find myself a trusted driver. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
    • lol yes, the truck in the picture. Just because it’s blue we can see it, now imagine that there might be other things like houses or animals and that we just can’t see them because they look like rocks. I got a really lovely picture, which I had posted on Instagram in my gallery, showing a wild goat and the rocks. You could think the goat is a rock. ^.^
      for a driver, I can only suggest you contact rainbow (see almost bottom of post), he will get you trusted drivers who do these roads very regularly and they are from this region.

      Reply
  11. I do not think I could drive in India, certainly not on those roads!! I think even being a passenger would be difficult. Being from England I am not used to roads like that, though I had done a lot on my travels through South America!! The views look spectacular and it would certainly be an experience. I hope to visit India soon so maybe I can do a road trip like this.

    Reply
    • Hi Clare, I understand what you mean, I was a bit shocked too when I sat in a taxi for the first time in Delhi because of the way the street “rules” are laid out. These days I am pretty convinced that it’s not that dangerous as it looks like. The only problem is other reckless bad drivers (such as those 2 on the Enfield taking a selfie while riding a bike in the picture above) but then you ought to be a sharp driver and learn to change gears quickly and precisely often enough. It’s for sure art to drive here, but again that’s something that I enjoy. The challenge to drive, keeps my mind busy and satisfactory. Once you overcome the fear you will enjoy a drive crossing the Himalayas!

      Reply
  12. The views are stunning, but I don’t think I could emotionally or mentally prepare myself for potential landslides and no petrol! I like surprises but not those kind!

    Reply
    • I think non of us like this kind of surprises! lol That’s why it’s important to be prepared for a road trip in the Himalayas. That way you can avoid complications and enjoy a memorable ride!

      Reply
  13. That sounds like an intense road trip! Just the threat of landslides alone make it seem super adventurous! I mean…how do you prepare to face an event like that?

    Reply
    • Well you can only watch the weather. Try to talk to locals, they have usually information. The rule of thumb up there is that everybody helps everybody. Dangerous places have the ability to make us human again. Also, the army is quite present up there which is good because they have info and they make sure that things get cleared quickly. Another thing to consider is to use Google and GPS, roads blocked by landslides will be marked.

      Reply
  14. Sounds like an adventure of a road trip. I love the idea of taking a road that’s a glacier for most of the year!

    Reply
  15. A great log Paul. The road conditions in Kinnaur are better now. The highway name has been changed to NH5.

    PS: There is a new petrol station at Powari — just before Reckong Peo — between Sarahan and Kalpa.

    Sonu Negi.

    Reply

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