Kunzum & Rohtang – A Tale Of Two Himalayan Passes

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Flowers & Snow at Kunzum Pass
Flowers & Snow at Kunzum Pass

Kunzum pass was always a distant dream. When we set out on a Kinnaur, Lahaul, Spiti Trip, we knew Kunzum pass would be the high point of this trip – literally & metaphorically. We had heard tales of this pass opening only for few months every year. I almost idolized the people who have walked the path that goes through Kunzum Pass. 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 was one of the prime motivations to plan this trip.

Eroded hills in the cold desert of Spiti Valley
Eroded hills in the cold desert of Spiti Valley

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 by 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 added motion to the still landscape. Our cameras loved each frame that we passed by.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Morang Village, Spiti

Sherab Choeling Nunnery near Kaza, Spiti valley
Sherab Choeling Nunnery near Kaza, Spiti valley

On the way, we met the Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Morang Village. It looked 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.

bridges on Spiti River- Himachal
Driving over bridges on Spiti River

Adventure Trip to Kunzum & Rohtang Pass, Himachal

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

Road to Kunzum Pass
Road 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 of snow-capped peaks.

A Shepherd at Kunzum Pass
A Shepherd at Kunzum Pass

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 how cold the water must be and how they drink it – but I am sure they have a way to beat the cold.

Chorten close to Kunzum Pass
Chortem close to Kunzum Pass

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 that is called Kunzum pass. 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.

Chortens & Prayer Stones at Kunzum Pass
Chortems & Prayer Stones at Kunzum Pass

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.

Alka & Me at the Kunzum Pass Milestone
Alka & Me at the Kunzum Pass Milestone

A pile of carved prayer stones always tells me about a communication between man and his faith. It is like letters to the nature asking it to be benevolent, to be nurturing and to be kind.

Valley of Yellow Flowers - Kunzum Pass, Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh
Snow capped Himalayas & valley of Yellow Flowers
Green valleys, white peaks near Kunzum Pass
Green valleys, white peaks near Kunzum Pass

We had to drive till Chandratal that day, so we said our prayers, thanked our stars for making this visit possible. Being greedy, I wished for a return soon. We move ahead contended.

Rohtang Pass

Drive to Rohtang Pass, through the cut glaciers
Drive to Rohtang Pass, through the cut glaciers

After spending a night near Chandratal that 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 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 few other cars. We followed.

Driving along the River crossing Nallah's
Driving along the River crossing Nallah’s

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

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.

A melting glacier
A melting glacier

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

It was tenacity of the flowers to grow in that harsh rugged environment that impresses you the most. Though we keep hearing of valley of flowers in Uttarakhand but here on 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.

Blue flowers slope on way to Rohtang Pass
Blue flowers slope on way to Rohtang Pass

Melting Glaciers

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.

On way to Rohtang Pass
On way to Rohtang Pass

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.

Manali-Rohtang Road

On the Manali - Rohtang Road
Somewhere on the Manali – Rohtang Road

Soon we were on the popular Manali-Rohtang Road. We passed by 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.

Snow peaks near Kunzum Pass
Snow peaks near Kunzum Pass

In few minutes, we were in the comfort of Manali – our breathing eased out and our hearts were full of the joy of completing a journey of our dreams.

Recommend you read following travel blog on my Himachal tour.

  1. First Thoughts on the Himachal Odyssey.
  2. Chandratal – Blue lake of Lahaul-Spiti valley.
  3. Eternity stops to see Kinner Kailash at Kalpa.
  4. Drive to resolve the curiosity of Giu Mummy.
  5. Nako, Himachal Pradesh – A sacred lake and ancient monastery.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Beautiful post, great pictures! 🙂 I missed this trip last year due to a last minute emergency, now.. this post makes me regret that more and makes me even more determined to make it this time! 🙂

  2. For a long time I am thinking of a trip to Spiti Valley. However, it is not happening. May be after my retirement in this year. You picture make me feel that I am travelling myself. Can I suggest something to add to your travel notes ? If you are mentioning the month of travel in your blogs, it will give an approximate picture of what one expect in that month.

  3. Nice read it was. I am planning for a circular trip to Spiti valley in monsoon months. Will start through Kinnaur valley and end via Spiti and Lahaul. Could you guide me which would be the suitable month?

    • Manu, I did the trip same way. Started from Shimla, did Kinnaur and then entered Spiti to finish at Manali. I did the trip in July. I think July-August is the best time to do this route. In August you would get to eat apples from the trees, in July they were not as ripe yet.

  4. Thank you Anuradha for putting this article on net. I know the beauty of this route. In 2013 me and my friend from Chandigarh went to Baba Amarnath Yatra and after that we decided to go to Jalandhar via Leh and Manali. We took Himachal Pradesh’s bus. It was indeed a terrific experience. We visited everything in Leh, Ping pong lake, and that highest place ,I just forget its name. Awesome beauty of nature. I refreshed my memory to see the photographs you had published. I also made a thorough movie. Thanks.

    • Glad that your memories of Himalayas were revived from this post on IndiTales. I think you are referring to Khardungla Pass. Traveling on those routes is an unforgettable experience. All of us who have travelled these roads are indeed blessed.

  5. Thanks Anuradha to share us your experience, routes, best time to travel..as everyone has shared his or her memories of mountain trip to read this article so how I can be untouchable…..Its remind me, our trip to Manali in 2008 and Joshimath-Hamkund Sahib in 2013. Soon I will share my experience of this route and Baba Amarnath to you all.

  6. Very nice post Madam.I have not visited those places but it is through your post could see the beauty of those places. Thank you madam.

  7. amazingly narrated, I have been contemplating for long to travel, your blog has inspired me further. Now i surely would plan a trip to HP. However I need some advice if I am to travel alone do you recommend any groups I could join for this trip

    • Thank you, Abzi.

      I am sure there are groups that go there but I am not aware of any organized trips. I think just go by yourself or ask one more person to join you. Group may take away the serenity of this place. I did this trip with another friends and it was just 2 of us for 17-18 days.

  8. Anuradhaji, you showed me so beautiful natural scenes, that I never thought and saw in life time so far. Thanks a lot…

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