It was called The Hindustan-Tibet Road, built by British to connect India with Tibet via Shipki Pass. The existing highway has been stretched to to connect the remote areas of Himachal Pradesh including the Zaskar valley and Spiti Valley.
When in 2007 winters I had visited Narkanda, that lies on this route, my fascination for this highway started. It was my dream since then to travel from ISBT Delhi to Kaza in a continuous journey of a state transport bus. The total journey in those green local HPDC buses is around 36 hours long, costing about as cheap as 20 dollars(!).
I finally got my chance in 2014 to come back to this area. I was lucky to be travelling in the month of April. Early spring is the best time to travel in the Himalayas, especially in Himachal Pradesh where the apple, cherry, apricot orchards begin to blossom. The dream which is seen in early 20ies but lived in early 30ies requires one to make a few essential adjustments. I booked the AC Volvo bus to and fro Delhi-Shimla part to get as much comfort as possible during the trip. After reaching the hilly region, beyond Shimla, I decided to rely on local advice to choose the best way of commuting through public transport. This seemed like a crazy plan but a dream is a dream, however insane; I had to give it a try and tick it off.
I love ISBT in Delhi. Over the years, I have seen it transform from a creepy unsafe unorganized bus terminal into family friendly safe well-scheduled platforms, something which Majestic Terminal in Bangalore was since ever. My bus was on time and when I was comfortably settled in the bus I remembered the dozen odd journeys taken on the same road at different points in life. This highway for me is like home’s backyard for those who have the luxury to stay in same house for decades. I love to wait for different cities to come and go: Karnal, Kurushetra (with rath entrance towards the city), Panchkula and every town which we cross till the town of Kalka appears, that mark the foothills of Himalayas. At the dead of night, the Kalka market street, which is also a national highway, is so peacefully different from the usual hustle bustle of daytime; but the narrow lane and thousands of small shop booths on both sides still clearly stand out.
Next morning when I reached Shimla before sunrise, I was not so tired and ready for another long unknown road journey. Though my plan was to go until Kalpa, I was ready to change my plans as per the transport situation, weather etc.
I boarded the first bus to Kalpa which had a halt at Lal Bazaar for half an hour before taking off again. This bus was not an express, which meant it would stop for anyone anywhere. Initially that bothered me as mine was the last stop on a long journey, but eventually I found a good companion in a fellow traveler who was a school teacher. My interactions with her are recorded in a previous post here.
Until Rampur, which we reached a little before noon, the journey was really beautiful. The winding hilly roads through blossoming orchards and cool morning breeze made a nice journey through Theog and Narkanda. After a brief halt at Rampur around noon, the sun made its presence felt a tad too warmly and the roads started disappearing slowly. Roads completely disappeared after Jeori, giving way to pebbles, dirt, rocks, and sand. The rest of the journey was a bumpy ride through clouds of dust and sand.
Honestly, I was shocked. Saddened. Angry. Disappointed. Scared. I didn’t want to die and vanish on a trip like this. The valley was deep and fall could be fatal. We were a few inches away from the cliff at many times. I looked at the passengers around me, now that the bus was overcrowded and people were hanging through the bars. This is what they do regularly. Risk their lives to meet their families, to run their businesses. Fuck. What a reality check this is.
But this is not how it was supposed to be. Garhwal roads were superb more than decade back. What crap had happened here? These roads are worse than Baran roads, the poorest tribal rural area I have seen in remote India so far. Wasn’t this area supposed to be a rich with all the fruits and nuts plantations? Why then are the roads non-existential? This question stayed with me not just for that trip, but for many months to come.
We stopped for lunch at some local dhaba where I had momos, as they are the local delicacy. There I met two girls who were my co-passengers and were going home during their college break. I realized this bus is only going till Peo and Kalpa is still a good one hour away from Peo. When we disembarked in Peo, the two girls offered me ride in their dad’s car till Kalpa’s market road. But I wanted to go further up till HPTDC hotel. It was already evening and intercity buses had stopped running for the say. I went to a government travel agency office and they helped me get a taxi till Kalpa. The taxi driver was also a funny and interesting chap, but that is another story.
When I finally entered my room in the Kinner Kailash (after changing the initial room which has visible creeping bed bugs eeeeeekkkk!!), the view from my room was my reward for the last 24 hours of torture of a journey!
From my journal: “Phew! The last 24 hours was like a roller coaster ride, only emotionally and physiologically more consuming! “