Kunzum Pass was always a distant dream. When we set out on a Kinnaur, Lahaul, Spiti Trip, we knew it would be the high point of this trip – literally & metaphorically. We had heard tales of this pass opening only for a few months every year. I almost idolized the people who have walked the path that goes through these popular passes. I wanted to stand where they stood and see how the world looks from that vantage point. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Kunzum Pass and Rohtang Pass were the prime motivations to plan this trip.
After spending days in Kinnaur exploring Apples and admiring River Sutlej, after driving through the naked cold desert of Spiti, we headed towards the Lahaul region of Lahaul & Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh. We left Kaza in the morning and drove along the Spiti River passing through small villages. Between the blue sky, patchy green earth, snow-capped Himalayan peaks, muddy channels on Spiti’s river bed, and clouds there was never a dull moment.
Herds of sheep were grazing on the banks of Spiti adding motion to the still landscape. Our cameras loved each frame that we passed by.
Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Morang Village, Spiti
On the way, we met the Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Morang Village. It looked like a fairly large nunnery by the standards of the sizes of villages we saw in Spiti Valley. The building in traditional Himalayan architecture was surrounded by colorful blue flowers. We did not see anyone around so we could not figure out more about this nunnery. It would have been wonderful to meet these women.
Adventure Trip to Kunzum Pass & Rohtang Pass
The eroded skin of mountains stood like an army of warriors standing to defend the mountain or are they just simple mountain men as much in awe of the bounty of nature around as we are? The arches with Buddhist signs on them signaled that we are entering or leaving a village. It was a distance of about 75 km that we had to cover but it takes a few hours to cover them given the rugged landscape and a traveler’s urge to capture as much as possible.
Drive to Kunzum Pass
As soon as the driver informed us we are nearing the Kunzum pass, my senses were in hyperactive mode. I wanted to absorb it with all the senses I have. The meadows started appearing bearing colorful flowers. On a hillside, I see a cushiony bed of yellow flowers. They have just bloomed and carry the freshness of youth on them. Delicate flowers juxtaposed with the rugged mountains against the white snow-capped peaks.
A Shepherd walked leisurely as his sheep grazed on the grass and the young shrubs. The sheep were busy eating and drinking water from the river. I shuddered to think about how cold the water must be and how they drink it – but I am sure they have a way to beat the cold.
A little further, we saw a small Chorten with colorful flags around it. This was an indication that we are getting close to the point. And yes, in a few minutes, we were standing next to the tattered board that announced – it is Kunzum Pass.
Pay Respect at Chorten
We got out of the car posed with the board and took a round of the group of Chortens there.
It is amazing how we have a way of assigning divinity to such places. There is a circumambulation path that goes around the Chortens. Our driver took the car around, and he could see our questioning looks. He told us that it is believed that anyone passing through Kunzum pass must pay their respect to this temple – humans or cars. On that note, I did not see any animals going around. As there were caravans of people and ponies moving around – probably a bunch of trekkers.
A pile of carved prayer stones always tells me about communication between man and his faith. It is like letters to nature asking it to be benevolent, to be nurturing, and to be kind.
We had to drive to Chandratal that day, so we said our prayers, thanking our stars for making this visit possible. Being greedy, I wished for a return soon. We move ahead contended.
After spending a night near Chandratal which gave me one of my most magical moments on the trip, we started driving towards Manali – our final stop on the long trip. Our tired bodies were looking forward to the easy breathing of the planes. However, everyone who had traveled from Chandratal to Manali warned us of fatal streams on the way that we would have to cross. We were told never to drive alone but always move with a few other cars. We followed.
Soon after we started driving the narrow paths made by cutting the frozen ice started appearing. This was the first time I was passing through roads that have walls of ice on both sides. It could have well been a tunnel but for the open blue sky above us.
Chilling Water Streams en route Rohtang Pass
We crossed a couple of streams without much hassle but on the third one, our car got stuck. It took many people to push it out. It was scary to see the car and the people pushing it standing in the ice-cold water. I wondered if it is always the crisis that brings us together as humans.
Roads in Himachal are more like paths that battle the snow and falling stones all the time. They allow the vehicles to pass as peacefully as they can.
Colorful Flowers en route Rohtang Pass
It was the tenacity of the flowers to grow in that harsh rugged environment that impresses you the most. Though we keep hearing of the valley of flowers in Uttarakhand, here on the way to Rohtang pass, we could see sheets of floral beds all over the hills. What is interesting is that most slopes have flowers of one color. So, you have one purple slope, another blue, another bright pink, and many yellows.
Admiring these flowers we moved closer to the Rohtang pass. The ice all around was amazing but the water flowing below the ice was intriguing. This is where you learn how the glaciers move. Half-frozen streams were making their way through the slopes of the hills to meet the river at the bottom.
As soon as we saw a Bhutta (corn) guy, we stopped. Not just to eat something piping hot but also to soak in the view from a vantage point. It was a surreal moment – to see the Himalayas all around you. This is when I realized what they mean by a mountain pass.
Soon we were on the popular Manali-Rohtang Road. We passed by a few patches where we were driving next to an ice wall. However, the landscape around us started getting greener. The hill now wore a green blanket over them, sometimes with patches of pure white snow. We smiled when we saw our car running on a proper road after many days.
In a few minutes, we were in the comfort of Manali – our breathing eased out and our hearts were full of the joy of completing the journey of our dreams.
Recommend you read the following travel blog on my Himachal tour.