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:
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!
💡 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!
🚙 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.
🗻 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.
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 common
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 made
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!!
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.
[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
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.
Kinnaur is right next to the Chinese Tibetan border
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.
Out of Petrol?! You are out of luck!
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 of 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.
There is no phone network in Kinnaur and Spiti!
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!
No range and no internet!
Your only option is to get a government 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.
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.
📜 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.
🆚 Car VS Motorbike
- Can take along more and buy heavy, big singing bowls 😀
- 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 🙂
- 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
- 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
- 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.
🚌 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!
Dear Reader, are you planning to travel to Kinnaur? What are your plans?