Considered one of Asia's best road trips, the KINNAUR-SPITI LOOP, in northern India, attracts motorcyclists, mountain bikers and four wheeler drivers from all around the world every summer. The road, which cuts the deep mountain valleys of the Himalayas next to the Tibetan border, tops the list of the trickiest in the world and is the gateway to one of the country's most remote areas. The buddhist influence is seen through the whole trip - from the colorful mantra flags to the centenary monasteries rising from impressive hilltops - and the medieval villages that hosts the visitors are a window to old communities that for centuries face the tough life above 13 thousand fts.
The circuit has two main cities which serve as base to the driver's departure or arrival, depending on the direction you decide go. Those are Shimla, former hill station where English used to run to during Delhi's hot summer, and Manali, a backpacker's paradise. In those two cities it's possible to rent and buy motorcycles or organize a complete 4x4 expedition with an experienced driver and local guide for those who also wish to go trekking. For those seeking a cheaper and independent way to travel, there are mini buses connecting the main villages, but they depart only once a day and may make your trip even slower (the best solution for travelers on a low budget is trying to split a car rent with others).
Leaving from Shimla the road gradually gets higher and… deteriorated. It's the starting point of the emblematic Hindustan - Tibetan Road, a highway whose construction began in the vertical slopes of himalayan hills in 1850 aiming to facilitate the transportation of goods to and from Tibet, and as expected costed the lives of many workmen. With its blind bends, gorges, precarious tunnels and constant landslides, the road is not made for inexperienced drivers nor fragile hearted passengers. The breathtaking sights compensate the scary moments - for both driver and passengers. Down the hills, the valley exhales summer airs after a long and harsh winter and the Spiti river runs fast with the force of defrost water from the mountains. The rocky masses of the Himalayas are so close that it's possible to identify the gigantic glaciers at the top of snow capped mountains rising into the blue sky.
At night, dust covered travelers exhausted from the road meet in the fairytale villages that seem stuck in time with it's stone houses, centenary temples, sheeps, cows, elderly working on the field and shy children. Guesthouses and homestays are ready to welcome you with simplicity and the always delicious local food. It's summertime and nevertheless it gets extremely cold at night. It makes you wonder how life is on the mountains when winter comes and isolates those communities from the rest of the country after the already precarious road gets covered by snow. To enter or leave, only with the Army's helicopter.
Day after day, trucks, motorcycles and a few bikes meet on the way bringing travelers seeking the hidden treasures of Spiti Valley, such as the Tabo Monastery, the oldest in India and one of the oldest in the world, founded in 996 B.C. To chill out and take a break from the road, there's an infinity of tracks that take you to temples, villages, peaks and lakes. The holy Chandratal Lake is at the end of one of those tracks and marks the last night of the travelers who start the circuit at Shimla. The overnight stay at 14.000 ft high camping in the heart of the Himalayas is a farewell that measures up the adventure. In the following day, the exhausting final stretch of the road takes you to Manali, a backpackers oasis where travelers can find comfortable guesthouses, good food, cold beer and wifi (something almost absent during the almost ten days travelling through Spiti).
Excited about the trip? Check out the Spiti Valley loop Itinerary and all tips on how to plan your trip.
Still scared with this roadtrip? Maybe this video will encourage you (remember to activate subtitles)!