Adventurous Road Trips Along Himalayan Rivers – Offbeat Travel
Himalaya is a cult because its rivers spread its mystical and mythical tales. They are the messengers of Himalaya for they feed us with the legends of Gods and stories of wandering seekers; they bestow blessings of the God on more than 1.5 billion people living on the catchment area of Himalayan River System; they are the constant companion and guiding force to travelers. For us the people of the land of seven rivers (Sapt Sindhus), rivers are the inspiration to move ahead everyday irrespective of the season and circumstances.
If Himalaya is the destination, its rivers are the routes to the destination. For a Himalayan road tripper like me, rivers and valleys are the source of inspiration, destiny of wandering imagination and ultimate land of salvation. When I drive along Himalayan Rivers like Satluj, Chenab, Spiti, Ganga, Indus, Tirthan, Beas etc., I feel at peace; every turn along these rivers gives me reason to celebrate life; treacherous paths and steep gorges make me feel humbled.
The geographical region of Himalaya stretched from Afghanistan to Upper Myanmar and the Tibetan Plateau is widely known as the Third Pole as it contains the largest reserve of fresh water outside the polar-regions in the form of ice-fields. Further, its rivers such as Indus, Ganga, Brahmpura, Yamuna, Yangtze, Yellow River, Mekong, Irrawaddy, Beas, Satluj, Chenab etc. feed people living in India, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar and beyond. These river systems have been the cradle of civilization in China, Indian subcontinent and South east countries.
My Tryst With Himalayan Rivers
For Indians and specially Hinuds, Himalayan Rivers are sacred and Ganga is the holiest. Fortunately, my tryst with Himalayan Rivers started with Ganga on my way to Gangotri from where Ganga originates. It was indeed my first date with Himalaya which filled me with myriad emotions. Feeling of sitting next to Ganga at Gangotri Temple is still refreshing and was then a very mindful and peaceful experience.
Since then, I have had many rendezvous with Himalayan Rivers in some way or other, sometimes in the lap of Himalaya and other times in the plain of North India. I have seen many moods, shaded hues and colorful nuances of Himalayan Rivers. In monsoon month, they are in rage and murky, by autumn they are settled, in spring they are blue. In upper Himalaya they cascade, roar and take mountains head on like a juvenile creating beautiful valleys, however, once in plain, they take more stable, mature and broader form like an learned adult who shoulders responsibility and at last when they merge with Ocean where they become magnanimous offering their everything to everyone forming huge alluvial deltas just like an aged person who has seen all and believes in giving back to society.
My Road Trips Along Himalayan Rivers
Though road trip to Gangotri was my first trip, but self drive road trip to Chitkul in 2014 was when my love saga began with rivers of Himalaya. Reaching Chitkul was first big accomplishment as it was a self drive road trip far in deep Himalaya. Chitkul was till then was the most scenic natural setup I have ever been to, and that walk up to Baspa was the true starting point, which would later be an intense and serious affair with everything Himalayan.
When love bites, it bites hard. So bitten by this new found love, soon I went to another self drive road trip and this time to last town on Nepal Border i.e. Dharchula. I stayed next to Mahakali, immersed with nature during golden hour sitting next to Mahakali overlooking Nepal on otherside and the roaring voice of Mahakali reverberated whole night like a lullaby. Next day’s drive from Dharchula to Munsiyari along Gauri Ganga was my first arduous drive where under mighty Himalaya and next to a dauntingly dry river, my heart was full of adrenaline rush.
These two early and quick self drive road trips, first to Chitkul on China border and then to Dharchula and beyond to Munsiyari in 2014, cemented my love for Himalaya, its rivers and valleys. Being a Piscean, my natural affinity to anything water made Himalayan rivers cynosure in my forever saga with Himalaya. Post 2014, I drove frequently in, around and across Himalaya along Satluj, Spiti, Beas, Rabi, Chenab, Ganga and many of their tributaries mostly in Uttranchal, Himachal and sometimes in Ladakh and Kashmir.
Of all my road trips in Himalayas, my longest road trip was of 8 days to Spiti valley, which is a vast playground of Spiti River where it shows its various moods from Khab to Kaza and beyond. During these 8 days, I meandered along Satluj and then further along Spiti Valley witnessing Tibetan culture, colorful monasteries and beautiful landscapes. In trans-Himalayan region of Spiti valley, I was completely bewitched and smitten with Himalaya and the captivating Spiti was the prime reason for this head over heels love.
Then in 2018, I crossed steep Sach Pass to reach Pangi Valley and later road tripped along Chenab from Killar to Keylong. During this road trip I could see beautiful landscapes, myriad postcard moments, along Chenab that fueled my love further for Himalaya and it Rivers. Although, I was already besotted with with Himalaya, yet, this road trip was superlatively romantic and full of excitement. I felt a bouquet of emotions all along Chenab – thrill, fear, adventure, amusement, craving, joy, awe and much more. In my love story with Himalaya, drive along Chenab in Pangi Valley would always be the most romantic chapter and the most intense rendezvous with Himalaya.
My Glorious Moments With Himalayan Rivers
In last 13 years, I have had many glorious dates with Himalayan Rivers. I have walked on the shallow waters of Spiti River; have done white water rafting on Ganga; set next to raging Baspa in Chitkul; witnessed Ganga Arti in Hardwar; captured picturesque Chenab in Pangi Valley; seen the blue Indus meeting with Zanskar in Ladakh; crossed over a suspension bridge on Mahakali to reach Nepal in Dharchula; driven along Gori ganga on a road less travelled from Jauljibi to Munsiyari; cruised on Irrawady in Bagan witnessing golden sunset of Myanmar; meandered along cascading Tirthan; night camped next to Ganga in Garhwal region of Uttranchal; driven through a hailstorm along almost frozen Lidder in Pahalgam and managed a narrow escape from swelling Beas during Manali Flood of 2018. Each of these and many more such glorious moments have helped me weave an emotional and spiritual connection with Himalayan rivers and thus with Himalaya.
Top 10 Must Take Road Trips Along Himalayan Rivers
Self drive road trips are the best way to explore Himalayas as then one can take detours and go off roads in search of new places. One can travel to off beat secluded villages or take the road less travelled as per choice.
Road Trip to Chitkul, Kinnaur Valley in Himachal
Chhitkul is famous as the last inhabited village on Indo-Tibet border and a road trip to this last village will give your goosebumps. Delhi to Chitkul is 600KM and Shimla to Chitkul is 240KM. After 80 Km from Shimla, you see first glimpse of Satluj from Kumarsain which is famous for Shimla Apple. Finally at Sainj, road trip starts along Satluj till Sangla and then road along Baspa River takes you to Chitkul. From Shimla, the national highway 22 is also known as the Old Hindustan Tibet Road which goes further to Kaurik in Spiti Region. This treacherous road along Staluj and later along Spiti river has earned the sobriquet of the most dangerous road of the world.
Trans-Himalayan valley of Spiti is the last frontier for road trippers adorned so exquisitely with an enchanted river Spiti that you would want to be one with barren beauty of Himalaya. The region is a bewitching land of cold desert and a road trip this less traveled valley will bewitched you forever. Spiti valley and its terrain is legendry and the river that defines the place is a true cult for adventure seekers.
Manali is the most travelled town in entire Himalayan region which is a base town for many road trips further to Spiti Valley, Ladakh, Zanskar valley and Pangi Valley. From 25 KM from Manali, Naggar is fort town which overlooks far flung Rohtang peak and Kullu valley along River Beas. Naggar is the erstwhile capitol of Kullu Kingdom of and also houses Roerick Art Gallary. Manali is 550 Km from Delhi on National highway 44 and 350 KM from Chandigrah. During this road trip, From Ropar to Bilaspur, one gets to drive along Satluj river and then from Mandi to Manali along Beas river.
Situated at 4270 meters from sea level, Chandratal is a high Himalayan Lake tucked between Kunzum Pass and Rohtang Pass on Samudra Tapu plateau where Chandra river originates from. This mystical and enigmatic lake is known for its colors and hues which change every hour with shifting sun.
Easiest way to reach Chandratal is from Manali to cross over Rohtang pass and then go towards Kaza. The 140 KM road from Manali to Chandratal is arduous, rugged and inhospitable but that’s where the adventure lies. To cover this 140 KM stretch, one has to drive for 12 hours first to cross Rohtang Pass to reach Lahual Valley and then follow River Chandra to its origin.
Another way to reach Chandratal is to start Spiti Circuit from Shimla and reach Chandratal after passing through Kalpa, Kaza and crossing over Kunzum Pass.
Pangi Valley is hidden surprise from tribal belt of Himachal, which is indeed not travelled much due to tough mountain terrain. It is sandwiched between Peer Panjal Range and Zanskar range of western Himalaya and primarily fed by the Chenab River.
For a road trip to Pangi Valley from Delhi, one can opt for two available routes, first being Delhi – Chamba – Sach Pass – Pangi Valley and second Delhi – Manali – Rohtang – Keylong – Pangi Valley. Both offer adventure of highest quotient. One can do complete Pangi valley circuit also i.e. Delhi – Chamba – Sach Pass – Killar – Keylong – Manali – Delhi or other way round. In this Pangi Circuit, one crosses and travel along Beas, Rabi, Chenab and Satluj, which are four of the most important five rivers that form Punjab region of Indian Subcontinent.
Tirthan Valley is formed along cascading Tirthan River which is a tributary of Beas river in Himachal Pradesh. Tirthan River originates from Great Himalayan National Park and covers a distance of 80 KM to merge with Beas near Aut Tunnel on Delhi-Manali road. This valley offers peaceful environment for a perfect vacation with friends and family.
Usually, the straight way to reach Tirthan from delhi is to drive on Delhi-manali Highway and take a turn before Jawahar Tunnel at Aut towards Larji and then follow picturesque Tirthan River to reach Banjar which is the main town of Tirthan Valley. Banjar, Shoja, Jibhi and gushaini are the three most important places of blissful Tirthan Valley. This route is 530 KM and runs along Satluj, Beas and Tirthan River.
Alternate route is from Shimla via Jalori Pass to Tirthan River. This is the real route for adventurous road trippers as it takes you through rugged Jalori pass which is at 11000 ft from sea level. From Shimla, national highway 05 takes to Sainj at Satluj and then a left turn on National Highway 305 goes all the way to Tirthan valley via Jalori Pass. Complete Tirthan Valley circuit is Delhi – Shimla – Jalori – Tirthan – Aut – Mandi – Delhi.
Road Trip to Gangotri along Ganga
Road trip to Gangori could be your most spiritual road trip for it runs along holiest of all rivers i.e. Ganga. On a motorable road, one can reach Gangotri to bow before the Temple of Ganga and then opt for a 19 KM trek to Gomukh where Ganga originates from. Gangotri is where Gomukh is located where Ganga River originates from. Though Gangotri is an important pilgrimage town for Hindus, but road to Gangotri offers ultimate landscapes making it more than a pilgrim. In recent years, Rishikesh to Gangotri along Ganga has become a must take road trip for all kind of road junkies. This 500 KM road from Delhi to Gangotri passes through holy town of Rishikesh, White water rafting points in shivpuri, high Himalayan town Uttarkashi, verdant Harsil valley and many small Garhwali villages.
Road Trip to Dharchula on Mahakali River
Dharchula is the last town on indo Nepal border in kumaon Region of Uttaranchal. It is located on the Mahakali river which is the natural border between india and Nepal. A foot over suspension bridge can be crossed over without any paper documentation to reach Nepal from India and town across border is known as Dharchula. In olden days, Dharchula was an important point for trade between India and Tibet and still Dharchula is one of the base stations of annual Kailash – Mansarovar yatra. The road to Dharchula is not very famous among road trippers yet, but it is an adventurously beautiful drive of 590 KM that takes you through mountain terrain full of turns. From Delhi, road up to Tanakapur is a typical plain road but from there it starts to swing. The patch from Lohaghat to Pithoragarh is prone to landslide and requires careful drive. After Pithoragarh, Panchachuli Peaks become constant companion and at Jauljibi, which is the meeting point of Mahakali and Gauri Ganga river, a right turn takes one to Dharchula along Mahakali and left to Munsiyari along Gori Ganga.
The reclusive Himalayan town Munsiyari is the crown jewel of Kumaon region of Himalaya for it gives a head-on view of Panchachuli Peaks. At a distance of 570 KM from Delhi, this quintessential high-Himalayan town serves as base camp for many treks such as Johar Valley, Nanda Devi, Milam Glacier etc.
Like many other Himalayan places, Munsiyari also has two routes to reach, one is straight and taken by the most and other a tougher one taken by few. Straight route Delhi to Munsiyari via Rudrapur, Almora, Choukari, however, the adventurous and challenging route lies on the other side. Road trip to Munsiyari via Jauljibi goes along Gori Ganga River. Jauljibi is quaint town and a major trade spot on Indo-Nepal border where Mahakali river aka Sharda river and Gori Ganga River meet. Tucked right under mighty Himalaya, 65 KM long rugged road along Gori Ganga takes one to Munisyari via Madkot passing through virgin landscapes of remote Kumaon region. Secluded habitation along Gori Ganga River and tribal villages gives a sense of true countryside.
Ladakh is the pilgrimage point for every road lovers for it offers unmatched landscapes; for its tough and challenging terrain ensure it a legendary and cult status; for its peaks makes you humbly human again.
Road trip to Ladakh requires a though planning from vehicle management to mental and physical health management. It is not for faint hearted or for careless travelers as it gives no second chance.
Again, Ladakh, the land of high passes, is mostly done as a circuit road with two starting or end points. Preferable and recommended circuit is Delhi – Jammu – Srinagar – Kargil – Ladakh – Jispa – Keylong –Rohtang – Manali – Delhi. This road trip passes through numerous high passes, majestic valleys and rivers. While driving along or crossing Himalayan Rivers on this circuit road trip, one gets to see numerous moods and myriad colors of Himalaya. Road trip to Ladakh gives a chance to meet and see all major rivers of Western Himalayas like Ravi, Chenab, Beas, Satluj, Jhelum, Indus (Sindhu) and others rivulets like Zanskar, Nubra, Shyok.
During this road trip from Delhi to Ladakh, one crosses Ravi near Madhopur in Punjab, then drives along Chenab in Jammu region, meets Jhelum in Kashmir, and feels accomplished at Nimmu in Ladakh where enchantingly blue Zanskar meets legendary green Indus. In Ladakh, Zanskar, Nubra and Shyok meander through beautiful valleys creating out of the world landscapes. During other half of the road trip from Ladakh to Delhi, one crosses Tandi where Chandra & Bhaga meet to give birth to Chandrabhaga aka Chenab, after Rohtang, Beas guides up to Mandi and later Satluj accompanies you up to Ropar (Rupnagar).
Every time Himalaya surprises the mind, its rivers tickle the soul and its snow clad peaks poke the heart to crave for more. You yield in and feel perpetual joy that you are alive to see the grandest natural wonder on Planet earth.
On the top of some Himalayan valley along a quaint river, every time you take a pit stop and get out of car, you feel a whip of fresh air and the smell is always so fresh of Himalayan grass. With constantly fleeing clouds, curvaceous roads and hidden valleys, all kind of unseen wait lurking to surprise you along Himalayan Rivers.
Tell us about your favourite Himalayan road trip and the Himalayan river. Do feel excitement when you see a Himalayan river. Share your story with us.
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