All About An Offbeat Road Trip To Kinnaur Valley in Winters

Kinnaur Valley is where it all started for us in 2014 and still it’s our first love. First self drive road trip to Kinnaur Valley was an impromptu trip where every mile of drive was a new experience for us, second was en route to Spiti Valley road trip and this time in March 2021, it was all about exploring it during receding winters and re-living some nostalgia.

Snow laden peaks of Kinnaur valley

Himalaya gives umpteen reasons to excite people to explore its fiefdom and Kinnaur is blessed with so much that we Indians should feel HIGH all the time for we can visit Kinnaur at our will. It’s a soulful journey, which has the potential to encourage you question your mundane and help you find your true solace. Tough and harsh conditions make you accept your adversary and make you humble. You get to see unseen in abundance, which makes you to sit and introspect at each curve and bend. Each mile of elevation alleviates your known or unknown fears and external or internal afflictions to make you more of you.

Reasons To Visit Kinnaur Valley

Kinnaur Valley is a verdant surprise tucked between Dhauladhar Range and Zanskar Range along Satluj and its tributaries. It has the places, which are not so common among tourists but has legendary status among off beaters. The lesser known places such as Chitkul, Kalpa, Nako, Kinnar Kailash, Ropa Valley, Khab Sangam of Spiti and Satluj and Kazigs or Ka loops – a series of hairpin bends between Khab and Nako etc give intense travel inspiration and much sought after adrenaline rush to travel junkies.

Occupying the northeast corner of the Himachal Pradesh, it is the Kinnaur valley where Satluj enters India. It is where one of the five panch Kailash is located i.e. Kinner Kailash. It is where the last inhabited village of India, Chitkul cajoles travelers. It is where you get the famed Kinnauri apples from.

Due to its geographic location on political map and rugged Himalayan topography, Kinnaur and Spiti were not so common amongst people and hence it could thrive on its traditions and preserve its culture. Still, it is not as commercialized as its neighboring Shimla or Manali and thus offers a lot of primordial experiences. Go now to see the real Kinnaur as soon it may loose it old world charm due to accelerated infrastructure development that’s happening there. People of all kind have already started to throng this high Himalayan Valley inflicting changes in all walks of life which will pace up commercialization further.

Himalaya in Chitkul
A view of Snow capped peaks along Baspa river

Road Trip To Kinnaur Valley In Winters

Usually Kinnaur valley is accessible throughout the year barring for few days in steep winter months when some patches of roads get buried under snow.  Having covered it in Monsoon month of August in 2014 and then autumn month of September 2015, we wanted to see its white character in winter months when it spells its charm become magical with snow all around. Temperature dips to -5 to-15 degrees making it harsh and extremely cold. Lower Kinnaur i.e. Sangla, Chhitkul and Kalpa would still be doable but upper Kinnaur like Khab and Nako becomes too adventurous and calls for utmost planning.

Months of November, December, January and February fall under this harsh weather category and despite its being high on wish list, we could not do it. This year when we get a chance to explore Kinnaur Valley in late winter, we grabbed it. We knew it won’t be snow all around, still were hopeful to see some of its snow laden beauty. March – April is that time of the year when snow starts to melt and with this melting of snow, blooms the apple orchard with flowers. This blooming gives fresh shades and colors to Kinnaur Valley.

Planning A Self Drive Road Trip To Kinnaur Valley In Winters

Marred by the Covid pandemic and subsequent frustration arisen due to no travel, this time our planning was more about safety and hygiene. We deliberated a lot, first on where to go and then how to ensure safety for us especially with our 4 years kid. Kinnaur Valley became our first choice primarily because of no or very less case load of Covid and also because it’s not frequented much by tourists due to rough and rugged terrain.

As we wanted to explore Kinnaur and Spiti during winters, long weekend of March due to Holi Festival came like a boon for us. We could sense an urge within ourselves to live our dream of driving amidst snow clad mountains in high Himalaya. Though March was little late for a true winter exploration as summer starts to hit and snow can be found only on peaks, yet we were sure of a rendezvous with a bit of winter character of Kinnaur mixed with fresh spring blooms.

As a first measure, while planning, we connected with Jai Vijendra ji of Apple Orchard Farm and Camping and he helped us with real ground situation. To tackle covid related safety issue, our priority was to have a loaded safety kit consisting of disposable face masks, wet tissues, hand sanitizers, sanitizer sprays, soaps etc and everything to be in abundance. To avoid use of bed sheets provided by hotels and blankets, we this time carried with us our own stuff.

After the safety kit, we packed food which can last long and help us in avoiding food as much possible. We also sourced enough water to carry with us to last our complete trip. We packed stuff day wise, one bag for one day, so that we don’t have to take our entire luggage in and out every day. All this was followed by our usual planning hacks for Himalayan road trips which we always do such as vehicle management, day wise itinerary planning, and photography essentials and on board engagement and recreation kit for my kid Shivansh.

Photography tips: Do carry extra batteries as in cold temperature they drain fast.

Winter tips: Like us if you are planning a road trip in winters from November to March, pack yourself well with heavy woolens, thermals, windproof jackets, warm head gears, hot water flasks etc. In upper Kinnaur, you may face issue with running water as water freezes in taps and hot water availability will be very limited.

Self Drive Road Trip Itinerary For Kinnaur Valley

If you have made up your mind to explore Kinnaur Valley, you can plan your road trip following three routes. First is from Shimla side, second from Tirthan Valley Side and third from Spiti Valley side. At the end, your itinerary will depend on several factors such as your style of traveling, number of days in hand and budget. No matter where you start from, keep a day or two extra as cushion for any uneventful day or a sudden change in plan when you want to stay at a place for longer than planned. Keeping buffer days are critically specially in winters as in high Himalayan regions snowfall blocks road making you stay at one place. This is also applicable in landslide prone month of August in rainy season.

These three routes are suggested keeping Delhi as starting point for Kinnaur Valley. If you plan to cover only Kinnaur valley and have lesser days in hand, the best way start from Shimla side. However, if you have more days, you may club it with other places. As we believe in covering longer distances on the first and the last day, hence in all these itinerary, we have suggested push little harder on these two days. It works for us in terms of budget also as we easily avoid two night stays.

Kinnaur Valley Road Trip From Shimla Side – All Weather Route

This is the most common and direct route to reach and explore Kinnaur Valley and for winter road trip, this is the only available route.

Day One: Delhi – Chandigarh –  Shimla – Sarahan (Total – 500KM)

Day Two: Sarahan – Chhitkul – Sangla (Total – 130KM)

Day Three: Sangla – Rekong Peo – Roghi – Kalpa (Total – 60KM)

Day Four: Kalpa – Khab – Nako (Total – 110KM)

Day Five: Nako – Rampur Bushahr (Total – 185KM)

Day Six: Rampur – Shimla – Chandigarh – Delhi (Total – 470KM)

In winters, Chhitkul may be difficult to access as it gets buried under heavy snow and despite tireless efforts by Border Road Organization to clear snow from roads, chances are high that you may get trapped. Precisely for this reason, we opted March to visit and we at any cost afford not to visit Chhitkul.

During our this trip, we opted for this itinerary but on a super fast tracked mode. On the first day, we did Delhi to Sarahan. On the second day, we did Sarahan to Chhitkul and stayed at Sangla. On the third day, we went upto Nako and took a bold decision to reach directly Delhi as our idea was to drive full night in hills. We could do this as this was our third trip and already we had accomplished our trip objective in Chhitkul.

Kinnaur Valley Road Trip From Spiti Valley Side

This is most adventurous and audacious route to enter Kinnaur valley giving you an opportunity to explore best of Himachal. Due to super heavy snow that starts from November, it is just not possible to cross over Kunzum pass and reach Spiti Valley and then to Kinnaur valley, however, otherwise this is an epic road which when accomplished will leave a forever imprint in your mind and an incurable itch n your feet to travel again and again. 

Day One: Delhi – Mandi – Manali

Day Two: Manali – Rohtang pass – Batal – Chandra Taal

Day Three: Chandratal – Kunzum top – Losar – Kaza

Day Four: Explore Kaza and surrounding places like – kaumik, Langza, Hikkim, Key

Day Five: Kaza – Dhankar – Tabo

Day Six: Tabo – Gui Monastery – Nako

Day Seven: Nako – Rekong Peo – Roghi – Kalpa

Day Eight: Kalpa – Chhitkul – Sangla

Day Nine: Sangla – Rampur – Shimla

Day Ten: Shimla – Chandigarh – Delhi

In this route you may add one day extra for exploring kaza and two days for Pin valley

In this legendary route, you explore Kullu Valley along Beas river, cross Rohtang to reach famed Chandra Taal Lake, cross Kunzum Top that connects Lahaul Valley with Spiti Valley, drive along Spiti river exploring arid cold desert before entering Kinnaur Valley at Nako. Usually this route is followed in reverse order by those who wish to explore Spiti Valley and in between Kinnaur comes as surprise to them. This route is also know as the complete Spiti Valley Circuit where you enter from manali and exit from Shimla.

This complete Spiti Valley Circuit remains open mostly for 7 months in a year from May to November depending on the snow condition at Rohtang and Kunzum Pass.

Kinnaur Valley Road Trip From Tirthan Valley Side

Though this is not so common itinerary for Kinnaur Valley, but can be done. In this route you can club Kinnaur Valley with hidden and less known Tirthan Valley that is tucked somewhere along Tirthan River in Great Himalayan National Park. This route will give you an opportunity to cross over 11000 feet Jalori Pass that connects Kullu district with Rampur and Shimla. In winter months, Jalori pass becomes inaccessible and hence this route is not possible from November to March.

Day One: Delhi – Chandigarh – Mandi

Day Two: Chandigarh – tirthan valley

Day Three: Relax and explore Tirthan Valley

Day Four: Tirthan Valley – Jalori Top – Sarahan

Day Five: Sarahan – Chhitkul – Sangla

Day Six: Sangla – Rekong Peo – Roghi – Kalpa

Day Seven: Kalpa – Khab – Nako

Day Eight: Nako – Rampur

Day Nine: Rampur – Delhi

We did Jalori Pass and Tirthan Road Trip in 2017 and were totally enamoured with its beauty. Places like Banjar, Shoja and Gussaini were oozing unparallelled beauty and cascading Tirthan river was ethereal. Since then, whenever we have to suggest a Himalayan Valley in Himachal, it falls amongst the top three, others being Kinnaur and Spiti Valley.

Top Travel Experiences & Things To Do In Kinnaur Valley Road Trip

Kinnaur Valley oozes charm that can embrace any type of travller. As it can be reached via road, it unfolds its secrets slowly and keep you under in its spell for long. Once you have started to meander along Satluj, you start becoming one with nature. In each of our trip to Kinnaur Valley, we have had many unexpected experiences which still give us reason to plan more visits to Kinnaur Valley and beyond.

Here we list top travel experiences, things to do and places to visit during a self drive road trip to Kinnaur Valley.

Stay At Sarahan – Gateway To Kinnaur

Sarahan is known as the gateway to the Kinnaur Valley and a night stay followed by unprecedented himalayan view revitalizes you. its quaint setup actually prepare you to accept what is going to follow next while exploring Kinnaur Valley. When in Sarahan, stay at HPTDC property Srikhand as it offers unparalleled view of both Srikhand Kailash Range and Kinnar Kailash Range. Visit Bhimakali temple which is one among most evered 51 Shaktipeeths to take blessings of presiding deity of former rulers of Bushahr state.

The Famous Kinnaur Gate – A Natural Entry Point To Kinnaur

This rock cut gate is a must stop and click worthy place.

The Road To Chitkul – The Inhabited Village On Tibet Border

Chitkul happened to us in our very first Himlayan Road Trip and it filled us with so much joy and inspiration that we are still bewitched with Himalaya. Road from Sangla to Chitkul will make you take photographic pit stops at every turn and at every mile as you would like to capture every bit of its landscape and create future memory. Road trip here seems like traversing through heaven and living childhood fantasy.

The Baspa River At Chitkul

Originating from Dhaula Dhar Range, The Baspa River is the second largest tributary of Satluj after Spiti River. with its cascading beauty complemented by snowcapped mountain and scenic open valley, Baspa creates umpteen postcard moment. A mere walk from Chitkul to the bank of river feels like an accomplishment making you forget all your pain that you had taken to reach this culmination point of your trip.

Sunset & Sunrise at Kalpa Overlooking Kinner Kailash

Kalpa is the best place to capture Golden Hours in Kinnaur Valley and if you stay at HPTDC’s The Kinner Kailash Hotel, you will get to see first light of the sun rising from behind the Kinner Kailash making you go spiritual.

Drive On World’s Most Treacherous Road

The old Hindustan-Tibet Road is officially designated by BRO as world’s most treacherous road as it was featured on Histroy channel’s deadliest road series. However, I feel its most beautiful road on the planet earth right from Shimla to Kaza in Spiti Valley first along Satluj River and then Spiti River.

For third timers like us who have witnessed the infrastructure development happening in this part of the world, we now feel that the travel along the world’s most treacherous road is no more treacherous and even this famed signboard was hard to locate this time. We could locate it as we were earnestly looking out for it.

While road tripping on this road along Satluj, we found it to be one of the most smooth high Himalayan road. We could reach Nako from Sangla just in four hours on this well laid tarmac road, which earlier used to take almost a full day of hectic manoeuvering on dirt road. Though the real adventure of challenging ourselves on bad road was missing but we were happy for locals as now they have fast access to better places and markets.

Khab Where Spiti River Meets Satluj River

Like any other sangam point where two more rivers merges with each other, Khab is also a must stop place en route to Nako from Kalpa. here crystal clear blue water of Spiti merges with Satluj amidst rocky Himalaya.

Satluj River is our favorite Himalayan river that has shown us paths to reach the untravelled and explore the unseen. Over last many years, we have developed a special relationship that strengthens further whenever we take a road trip along this famed river. This intrinsic reverence towards Satluj make Khab very special for us road trippers specially as here Spiti merges with it. Road trips along Himalayan Rivers is a sheer joy and blessed are us who keep experiencing it.

Uphill Drive From Khab To Nako & The Ka Loops

In all of Himalaya where i have driven so far, 35M drive from Khab to Nako qualifies as one of the most scenic drives. This 1 hours drive starts at 2438 meter from sea level and ends at 3662 metres high Nako. High point of this drive is to meander through serpentine Kazigs or Ka loops which are a series of hairpin bends.

Capture Photogenic Roads & Rivers Of Kinnaur Valley

kinnaur make you a photographer for its every bit is photogenic and even with no photographic skill set, you will end up clicking best photographs of your life. I have done photography here with mobile phone with DSLR and Gopro, and trust me results have always been almost same. The roads, the rivers and might Himalaya when create a frame, you will the ecstasy and a bit of this feeling always remain in your ind and soul.

The self drive road trip to Kinnaur Valley in March was another trophy for us. Everything during this himlayan road trip was perfect and we could come back refreshed and revitalized which was so much needed specially after a long covid induced travel break. A road trip to Kinnaur and specially Chitkul is akin to revisiting old school postcards where snow capped mountain, free flowing river and clouds used to tickle our senses. We can take this road trip again and again for its the closest to what we define as Heaven on earth.

If you feel motivated, please share this blog post with your loved ones so that they can break the mundane cycle of everyday life and explore the world.

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