From Shimla we cycled into the Kinnaur Valley via the infamous Hindustan-Tibet Highway. “Highway is a little generous! For much of it’s length, the highway is little more than a rough rocky road blasted out of the steep mountainsides and ravaged by landslides and rockfalls.”
The Hindustan-Tibet Road, rises from the plains up to Shimla, and then northeastward to Kinnaur Valley, with a branch leading up through Spiti and Lahaul and another earlier branch to Ladakh. This project was commissioned by Lord Dalhousie in the spring of 1850, and utilised hundreds of thousands of labourers in the course of its five-year construction. Over 60% of the labour used was unpaid, furnished by the individual hill states as part of an agreement to offer indentured service (known as begar) to their suzerain rulers. The justification for the huge investment and massively complex project was that Lord Dalhousie wanted to create trade ties with Tibet and to improve access if an invasion of Tibet was required.
Today the road is still a remarkable feat of human endeavour and persistence through very difficult terrain, that is consistently changed and affected by rain, snow, ice, mudslides and earthquakes.
It was a joy to ride again. But we found it remarkable that in the 10 years since our last visit, and despite all the road building – it was still a terrible road. The big difference this time was that there was about ten times more traffic, and dust and diesel pollution.
The village of Chitkul at the end of the Sangla Valley
Looking towards the Tibetan border. We could not get ant further due to an army checkpost.