Drive from Pune to Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh

  • A comprehensive account of experiences whilst driving from Pune to Spiti+ lovely pictures, travel and driving tips and how did the Isuzu vehicle perform. See the highest post office in the world & village accessible by road.

Completed my dream trip to Spiti from Pune recently with the help of HVK and his outstanding team.


After doing Ladakh from Pune in 2013 in my FIAT Palio 1.6, was raring for another road trip for the last couple of years in my Isuzu VCross. Spiti eventually happened after a lot of planning and of course help from HVK and team.


The route we took was Pune was Nasik-Dhule-Ratlam-Chittorgarh-Chandigarh-Rampur and thereafter the road which leads to Kaza in Spiti Valley.


It took us fourteen days to complete this trip from Pune to Spiti and back. We drove app 5,000 kms. I was joined on this trip by two school friends. We not only enjoyed this adventure together but also got to know each other much better than what we did before.


Chief and the CHD team not only took care of the route plan but also supported with stay arrangements at each place. We planned some of the stay options ourselves during the return journey for personal reasons. After finalizing the plan with Chief we made some changes on the fly because of weather conditions and time constraints.


Day 1 Pune to Chittorgarh (Rajasthan)

The first two days were from Pune to Chittorgarh then to Chandigarh. Both were long drives (880 kms and 835 kms respectively). Every year I do a road trip to my native place Mangalore, which is about 750 kms one way, so doing 800+ drives back to back was a first for me.


My other school friend (Vishal Pawar) had an injury on his left hand, hence could not drive. I was more than excited about the challenge and drove close to 1700 kms in two days. Our co-traveller (Anoop Mahajan) was supposed to join us later on in the trip i.e. from Kalpa since he took a Pune Chandigarh flight. Hence, it was just two of us at the start of the trip.


The Pune to Ratlam stretch has good open highways but I found this route to be a tad boring since there are very few good eateries along this stretch and the route lacks character as is found via Gujarat and Rajasthan. The only thing that got me excited was the magnificent view of mountains on the outskirts of Nasik. I was familiar with the Gujarat-Rajasthan highway to get to North India so we wanted to try a different route i.e. via Nasik-Ratlam.

It is amazing to see how the food, attire, accents and of course scenery change as you cross from one state to another. I was expecting some impediments by cops in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh but we had no problems whatsoever. As we crossed into Madhya Pradesh, the landscape essentially flattened out and we could maintain good speeds. We had excellent breakfast of missal-paav on the outskirts of Nasik and since we were feeling reasonably full even into late afternoon we decided to skip lunch and munch energy bars instead.  


We saw wheat plantations almost endlessly as we traversed through MP. It was in late evening that we crossed into Rajasthan and made it to a Chittorgarh hotel.


Day 2 Chittorgarh to Chandigarh

We left Chittorgarh at around 8.30 am. Most of this stretch has excellent highways except for a few diversions which slowed us down a bit. The highway from Panipat to Chandigarh was a dream tarmac drive. We reached Chandigarh by 7.30 pm.


Day 3 Chandigarh to Rampur 

Our journey from Chandigarh to Rampur began on a late note since we had to pick up snow chains from one of the hotels in Chandigarh. It was almost 12 noon as we hit the Himalayan highway from Chandigarh to Shimla. Roads are excellent and we got a good sense of the climb that was ahead of us as we started spotting the Himalayas on the horizon.


It was Maha Shivratri that day, i.e. pretty big in Himachal Pradesh. Hence, we could spot crowds at several Shiv temples along this highway. We had to actually take the Chail route to Rampur in order to avoid the crowds at Shimla bypass but we probably missed a turn so we ended up bypassing Shimla anyways. Even though we were not caught in traffic jams at Shimla, we were slowed down by the touristy crowd arriving and departing from Shimla.


It was the first time for Vishal and me in this part of the country so were aghast how much of the mountains was ransacked for human pleasure. All the construction on top of these mountains was actually an eye sore as we bypassed Shimla. We saw many stalls of Kinnow juice along this stretch. I had never tried kinnows before so we stopped by and picked some. They tasted heavenly. Their sweet taste and pulpy texture made a great snacking option as our heads got a bit fuzzy with the non-stop climbing we were experiencing on this stretch.


We had our first snow sighting at Kufri top. It was fellow traveller Vishal’s dream to see snow. He was as excited as a small kid when he saw the snow lining up both sides of the roads. As we got down from Kufri and started climbing up again at Narkanda, we got our second sighting of snow.


Those who have travelled in the hills would know that travel is measured, not in terms of kilometres but in terms of hours. Short distances can take you a fairly long time due to the winding roads and usually two lane fairways only unlike the straight four or six lane highways in the plains. Soon enough, it was dark and we took a tea break somewhere around Chalan village.


The tea cost Rs 20/ for two cups of tea but the owner of the tea shop was warm and welcoming that he offered us Mahashivratri Prasad. It was a local delicacy made of oils from a variety of expensive nuts, stuffed with potato and some local vegetables and fried into a Puri like consistency. We thanked the tea shop owner not knowing that this was just the beginning of the hospitality from the people of Dev Bhoomi Himachal Pradesh.

Breakfast at Rampur Bushair Hotel. 

We reached a wonderful property at Rampur called Bushair Regency and went for the suite which was comfortable and luxurious. The staff was very warm and welcoming. This was one of the best stays of the trip & at very nominal charges.


We were told that Sutlej Cafe nearby serves excellent food so we went there. It was about 9 pm. There was a Manager and solitary cook. We asked the manager to serve us what they could make soon. In the next 15-20 mins we got some excellent mushroom masala and mixed veggies that left us licking all our fingers. It was almost 9.45 pm by the time we finished.

Dinner at Hotel Sutlej. Great hospitality and food. 

We asked the Manager and the cook to wind up and have food themselves. It was only then that we got to know that being Maha Shivratri, the manager and cook were fasting for the day. They were waiting to get off duty and break the fast with their family members. When we heard this we felt guilty that we had made them stay back.


Both of them told us that guests were most important and their closing time was 10 pm anyways so they were more than happy to serve us. Having heard this, we quickly finished dinner so that the staff could leave home on time. This was another experience of Himachal hospitality for us.


During the stretch from Pune to Rampur we did not drive at night. We did a few hours in the evening as we reached Chandigarh and Rampur but it was not late night driving.


Day 4 Rampur to Chitkul, bypassing Kala-Sangla and Raksham

The famous cliff overhangs as you enter Kinnaur.

On the Rampur-Kaza highway before Powari, at the Chitkul turnoff on the right.

Chitkul is the last Indian village near Tibet border (old Indo-Tibet road).

View from our room at Hotel Saama, Chitkul. We got a taste of the Spiti winter at Chitkul.

We spent one night at Chitkul when it was -7 degrees. Chitkul, at 3000 metres altitude, is regarded as the "last village" before the Tibet border, and nestles on the banks of the Baspa River, surrounded by rugged Himalayan peaks. The village itself is snowbound in the winter and is the place to visit to see some great specimens of old Himachal architecture.

Kalpa is the base if you wish to visit Sangla, Raksham, Chitkul and Spiti Valley. Roads go via Kalpa. If coming from Simla you can bypass Kalpa and drive directly to Sangla Valley/Chitkul as we did. From Chitkul to Spiti we stopped by at Kalpa.  We spent two nights at Kalpa, the first when we drove in from Chitkul. The next morning we went hiking to Suicide point Kalpa. Due to the snow the previous night, the Himalayas were just looking gorgeous in the sunshine that morning.  

To see Kalpa pics of 2001

View of Kinner Kailash Valley on the day of the early morning hike. 

The truck parked at Hotel Rollingrang, Kalpa.

Temples Kalpa.

Fantastic view of the Himalayas at Kalpa

Our lovely home stay at Tabo. 

It is called Mud House and managed by a super hospitable lady Anita Bodh. Her number 91 90151 75185.

Sea buckthorn tea. 

Sea buckthorn is a wild shrub which grows in abundance in these parts. Its berries are known for their anti-cancer properties.

The oldest running monastery in India. 

Tabo town viewed from a vantage point nearby.

To see 2001 album on Spiti Valley

To see 2013 album on Tabo


Also read Tabo Monastery, Ajanta in the Himalayas


Enroute to Kaza we stumbled across this bridge in snow covered terrain, loved it so clicked.  

Our home stay in Kaza.

It is Phuljung Home stay (not like the traditional home stay in Tabo but had a tandoor room heater in every room). Service and food was decent. Contact 8988355559/8988465809

 Sleeping Snow Leopard. 

KOMIC, supposedly the highest village accessible by road. 

It is not that far from Kaza distance wise (about 20-25 kms) but it can take a few hours to reach here especially during the winter months of December through March due to heavy snow fall in these parts which can made the roads difficult to navigate. We saw several bikers and cars giving up on this road half-way since they could not navigate the snow. The Isuzu’s 4x4 capabilities were put to good use in this stretch and we were able to sail through. 

At Kaza we stayed for two nights. The first night was when we reached there and decided to rest. The second day is when we went visiting Chicham Bridge, Kibber, Langza, Hikkim and Komic. Near Kibber we spotted the snow leopard.

HIKKIM village claims to have the highest post office in the world. 

This is about 20 kms from Kaza but the terrain in winters can mean it takes a few hours to reach.

You can click countless pics at every few hundred meters here.

At 13,596 feet Chicham Bridge is amongst the highest bridge globally.

The bridge in Spiti Valley connects two villages Kibber and Chicham. Look down and 1000 feet below is a gorge. It was constructed over 15 years and opened in 2017.


Also read and see pictures of Chicham Bridge


Our return journey was the route we came by.  (Kaza-Tabo-Pooh-Powari-Rampur)

On the outskirts of Tabo, during out return journey.  

Some travel notes and tips  

1. The lowest temperature we experienced was during the second night at Kaza where the temperature dropped to – 15 degree Celsius.

2. Even though I was thinking about additives for diesel and coolant, I didn’t go for any of the additives since I was told that by early March the colder weather starts receding and additives are not required. I did carry a heavy duty tarp which we used to cover the bonnet of the truck for the two nights in Kaza. We also made sure that we started the truck at midnight (before retiring for the night) at Kaza, Chitkul and Tabo which had the coldest nights as compared to other locations.

3. The truck started in the first attempt on all mornings.

4. The fuel bunk at Kaza and Powari did not have anti-freeze diesel.

5. We didn’t need to use the jerry can that we had carried. Neither did we need to use the sand ladders and snow chains.

6. Crawling mode of the truck got us out of some very tricky situations on sharp inclines at Hikkim, Langza and Komic.

7. We spotted a snow leopard sleeping in one of the cliffs near Kibber. This was a dream come true for all of us. In addition to the snow leopard we were also able to spot snow foxes, eagles and ibex as we approached Kaza.

8. Jio works the best here as compared to other networks.

9. We wore atleast two layers of clothing underneath our jackets in Chitkul, Tabo and Kaza. In Kalpa we could manage with a single layer underneath our jacket.

10. Home stays either have a room heater, bed heater or a central wood fired tandoor. The bed heater is probably the best option as the temperature drops at he night. Then room heater is insufficient and the tandoor dies down once all the wood inside it has burnt out. 

11. Locals throughout Himachal Pradesh are very welcoming and they see tourists as an essential part of their livelihoods. Not a single person tried ripping us for extra money. They don’t ask or expect tips either but we were so happy with the service and care that we tipped them handsomely. It is priceless to see their faces when you tip them. 


On our return journey we stopped at a car wash enroute to Rampur. They did a thorough job and charged us only Rs 250/ but we paid them Rs 500/. It shocked them at first but upon our insistence they kept the money. Their smiles showed our good karma and we got blessings – both of which were needed for the long journey to Pune.

12. People of different age groups are involved in the tourism services. Women seem to have a more prominent role here in decision making compared to men and are active contributors to the tourism economy in Himachal Pradesh.


How did the Isuzu VCross 2.5 litres perform?

The vehicle performed brilliantly.


We had prepared for harsh weather, carried ready to cook food and vehicle accessories like snow chains, sand ladders, showel etc. This was primarily because it was a solo drive, we were not in a convoy. Hence, our payload was quite high as compared to a normal bunch of travellers.


There were a few sections in Chitkul, Langza and Hikkim where the truck had some challenges in climbing up steep inclines from a dead start and I would think this may be the case with most diesel vehicles in such stretches. These were not show-stoppers though. We got out of such situations with repeated attempts at getting the truck to climb up such slopes. Also, we used 4 high in some snow laden roads in Kibber and Langza and 4 Low in some really tricky stretches of the Langza-Hikkim route and a few other places where there was wheel spin. At one point in Kalpa, the rear right wheel got stuck in a huge gap in a gutter and 4 Low got us out of this situation, otherwise would require a rescue vehicle.


We took the Rajasthan-Gujarat route on the return journey to Pune. We had Punjabi food at Pal Dhabha, Chandigarh. Mutton dishes at Handi restaurent Jaipur and Raju Omlette/Rajasthan Kulfi in Baroda. In short, we had enjoyed every dinner. Next time we hope to cover Pin Valley in Spiti and Ladakh. 


Also see albums

1. Drive Chandigarh to Leh

2. Cycling Manali to Leh

3. Drive Leh to Kargil

4. Drive Manali to Srinagar

5. Drive Leh to Zanskar Valley, new route  

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