In spring of 2013, me and four of my friends from college decided to embark on a journey to the high Himalayan region of Chitkul (District Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh). Owing to the location of our university (perhaps its best characteristic), we were already in the Himalayas at an altitude of about 1300 meters even before we started!
The total distance for our journey was just shy of 300 Kilometers, through some of the most picturesque regions of Himachal and therefore, the world. We stopped over at my family's apple orchard near Narkanda (2700 meters), where we passed the night.
The following morning we were up early and on the road soon after, and only took a break after crossing Rampur, a low lying town (1000 meters) split by the river Sutlej.
All five of us love mountains, but I was the only one born and brought up in the hills. For a large part of my life, I took it for granted and was only able to appreciate where I lived as an adult, thanks to the others in the group, who were blown away even by the littlest of hills. That became me, and mountains became an inseparable part of what I wanted in my experience of life.
While the views we experienced on the way were pretty much typical of Himachal, more pronounced differences came to light as we neared Taranda Dhank, which is where the feeling started to sink in that this isn't an ordinary region of the world.
In Taranda Dhank (Dhank=cliff) itself, what we saw was nearly unbelievable. The road to Kinnaur has been carved out of the nearly convex face of the cliff! Apparently, the Border Roads Organisation has built it. Not a place where you'd want to text while you drive.
Truly nerve-wracking though, are moments when we noticed significant dents in the guard rails, which almost certainly involved fatal accidents, with a drop of nearly 500 meters to the bottom of the cliff.
We tried to calculate how high the drop would be, so we threw a small boulder off the road, and wanted to check how long it would take for it to hit bottom. We saw a small puff of dust come up at nearly 10 seconds, but the sound of impact never reached us.
There were some sections of the particularly narrow most dangerous bits of Taranda Dhank, where there was a little room to allow vehicles to pass. We were half expecting the worst to be over but turns out the rest of the road to Chitkul wasn't a cakewalk either.
Every now and then, we witnessed the sheer damage to the mountains that has been done in the guise of development. People of Himachal are kind, humble and accepting, unfortunately, this is the result of those characteristics.
It was tough to accept that both sides of this valley once looked identical.We reached our overnight at Sangla (estimated at 3000 meters), and we weren't disappointed by the view.
In Sangla, we enjoyed a wonderful Tibetan meal before calling it a night. The next morning, we had quite a sight to behold on our final leg of the journey.
I don't ski, but if I did, what an epic place to do it in.
The road to Chitkul barely has enough road for a full-sized vehicle, this state-run bus barely seems to fit in.
Cars, buses and trucks routinely have to drive in reverse here, sometimes for up to a hundred meters to give way to each other.
Just six kilometres off of our overnight (Sangla), we were surrounded by some of the most awe-inspiring mountains, perhaps in the history of this planet.
In retrospect, it is amazing to me that I was able to just load up four of my friends in a little Suzuki and find myself in a place I haven't been able to top, even after more than 5 years of travelling around the world, both in terms of danger and beauty.
As the valley, the road itself, and for sure the mountains, all became more and more profound, we realised we had reached, our destination had arrived.
I was just 300 kilometres from home but had the world's greatest mountain range in between.
In the distance, we spotted a beautiful patch by the river, where we decided to walk to.
To our surprise, there was a school there by the river, the entrance of which was surrounded by almost a meter of snow.
I repeat, a meter of snow. Children shorter than that go to school there! It's different when it snows this much in the developed world, where it's actually handled. Here, the brunt of the effects have to be bourne by the people.
We sat on boulders in the river and spend a few moments quietly taking in our surroundings. The one thing I remember is, it was windy and the weather changed rapidly. One moment it was sunny and warm enough to warrant removing our jackets, and the other it was freezing cold.
Overall, it was an epic trip! Perhaps my first time as an adult deciding to do something relatively big and memorable. At the time it was the most dangerous thing I had ever done. It changed my view of life, perhaps permanently. I can no longer go too long without being in the mountains.
This trip spoke volumes about the value of cars too, it felt like it was the 6 of us. This little matchbox car took us through what is arguably the most dangerous road in the world, and returned us unharmed the following day as if nothing had happened, purring like a kitten with the eagerness of a puppy asking "Where are we going today?"