WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHS RISHAD SAAM MEHTA
From epic mountain passes to leisurely coastal sojourns, we’ve got five great Indian road trips we bet you’ve never thought of
1. CONQUER THE MOUNTAINS
THE ROUTE: From Dalhousie, head towards Chamba and then peel off to summit Sach Pass before descending into Pangi Valley. Drive into the Lahaul District via Udaipur (yes, that’s another one), come out on the Manali – Leh Road at Tandi and then descend into Manali via the Rohtang Pass.
WHO IT’S GOOD FOR: Adventurous couples, groups of friends, or even a family with outdoorsy kids. Definitely not for those prone to vertigo or car-sickness.
BEST TIME TO GO: June – October
IDEAL NUMBER OF DAYS: Seven – 10 days
EXPERIENCES: Great unadulterated Himalayan views with the chance to see huge glaciers up close. It’s a great drive if you’re looking to really disconnect from the world, as there is largely no cellular coverage. It is also a great 3D, real-time geography lesson for children.
THE DRIVE: First of all, carry all your food provisions and camping equipment with you. The 130km drive on the first day is easy enough, and goes from Dalhousie to Bairagarh, at the foot of the Sach Pass. You can stop along the way at places like Kalatop, which has a few tea shops, and Khajjiar, a famous picnic meadow. The road is tarmac all the way to Bairagarh, though it gets narrow after 40km, where it bifurcates. The main road carries on towards Chamba, and the narrower one heads to Bairagarh. This is also where you should tank up, as this is the last fuel stop till Tandi If your car doesn’t have the range, carry spare fuel in cans. There is a chance you might get fuel at Killar but that’s a hit or miss. At Bairagarh, you can sleep at the PWD Guest House or camp on its lawns. The chowkidar will allow you the use of a washroom.
Start early when you head out, because the drive up to Sach Pass will take about two hours – more, if you stop often. At the Satrundi checkpost, your car’s number plate, and all occupants, will be videographed – it is an anti-infiltration measure, as Kashmir is just a few kilometres away.
The approach to the Sach Pass is magnificent, with huge glaciers hanging precariously from the mountainsides. Snowfall can be expected through the year here. The descent into the Pangi Valley on the other side is stunningly beautiful, and, 34km later, you’ll arrive at a T-junction. Here, turn right towards Killar. The Killar PWD Guest House is above the main town, and you could spend the night here though it might be full; call ahead. If so, head back to the T-junction and go in the opposite direction for 10km to Dharwas, where the guesthouse has lawns you can camp on.
The next day, you can drive a bit of the road from Dharwas to Ishtyari. It isn’t in the correct direction, but navigating the road is a hair-raising experience. It is very narrow with no barricades and a sheer, 1,000m-plus-foot drop. After you’ve been sufficiently petrified, turn back and head towards Udaipur. This is about 80km from Killar and should take four hours, because the roads are not metalled for a fair bit of the way. In Udaipur, you can camp by the river or stay at the PWD Guest House. From here, it’s a 150km drive to Manali via the Rohtang Pass, on roads that are usually good.
THE IDEAL VEHICLE: A capable SUV. The tyres need to be in top-notch form and you absolutely must carry an extra tyre apart from the spare.
DRIVE SKILL: Prior driving experience in the hills is a must.
ROAD QUALITY: Expect mostly dirt and broken roads for a major part of this drive.