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Hindustan Tibet Road- An Engineering Feat

Updated on October 21, 2017

The Hindustan Tibet Road

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Baspa River flowing near Chitkul, the last inhabited village near the Indo-Tibet border.  Following the old Hindustan – Tibet route one goes through the villages of Jeoti, Wangtu, Tapri and Karchham.Snow capped peaks of Rohru Valley. Tranda Dhank on the way to Kinnaur alongside satluj riverSteep rugged mountains on both sides of the SatluDangerous road at Spiti Valley & Kinnaur
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Baspa River flowing near Chitkul, the last inhabited village near the Indo-Tibet border.
Baspa River flowing near Chitkul, the last inhabited village near the Indo-Tibet border. | Source
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 Following the old Hindustan – Tibet route one goes through the villages of Jeoti, Wangtu, Tapri and Karchham.
Following the old Hindustan – Tibet route one goes through the villages of Jeoti, Wangtu, Tapri and Karchham. | Source
Snow capped peaks of Rohru Valley. Tranda Dhank on the way to Kinnaur alongside satluj river
Snow capped peaks of Rohru Valley. Tranda Dhank on the way to Kinnaur alongside satluj river | Source
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Steep rugged mountains on both sides of the Satlu
Steep rugged mountains on both sides of the Satlu | Source
Dangerous road at Spiti Valley & Kinnaur
Dangerous road at Spiti Valley & Kinnaur | Source
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The Hinduatan - Tibet Road ends at Chitkul, the last inhabited village in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh at Indo-Tibet Border

Prologue

The construction of Hindustan Tibet road in Himachal Pradesh began in 1850. It is an exquisite feat of human endeavor, on one of the highest ranges of the world. The half tunneling, done manually through the rocky stretches, speaks volumes of determination and dedication with which the highway was built. The tunneling done through huge rocks at "Khimring Dhankh" or cliff, on the Hindustan Tibet road is still considered to be the largest stretch tunneled for a road through the rocks.

The 500 Km road from Ambala to Kaurik is also Known as National Highway No. 22. It passes through the foothills of Shivalik Ranges, Shimla, Kingal and then runs along the river Satluj and thereafter passes through Rampur, Poari, and Pooh. From Khab to Sumdo, the road runs along the river Spiti. From Kalka to Wangtu, the 335 Km stretch is under the control of Himachal Pradesh Public Works Department. While from Wangtu to Korik, it is under the Border Roads Organisation.

The road once connected the erstwhile princely state of Rampur Bushair, the major entry point to Tibet. But over the years it fell into disuse and was abandoned due to strained relations with China. To revive the local economy, and to boost the trade with Tibet, through the Shipki—La border post on the Indo- China border, the road is getting importance as a reliable alternate to the National Highway 22 and is being repaired and reconstructed. Because the strata of the Hindustan-Tibet road is more stable.

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It is the oldest, and the only road in the past, between India and Tibet. A great journey and trek  along the sutlej river.It was the British Governor General of India Lord Dalhousie (1848-1856) who ordered work to begin on the Hindustan Tibet Road in June 1850.Hindustan Tibet Road / NH22, KinnaurTaranda is the place where most accidents occurrNH-22 at the Sutlej gorge before WangtuThe Sutlej Gorge at TrandaNext 60kms to Losar in Spiti valley on the Hindustan Tibet Road
It is the oldest, and the only road in the past, between India and Tibet. A great journey and trek  along the sutlej river.
It is the oldest, and the only road in the past, between India and Tibet. A great journey and trek along the sutlej river. | Source
It was the British Governor General of India Lord Dalhousie (1848-1856) who ordered work to begin on the Hindustan Tibet Road in June 1850.
It was the British Governor General of India Lord Dalhousie (1848-1856) who ordered work to begin on the Hindustan Tibet Road in June 1850. | Source
Hindustan Tibet Road / NH22, Kinnaur
Hindustan Tibet Road / NH22, Kinnaur | Source
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Taranda is the place where most accidents occurr
Taranda is the place where most accidents occurr | Source
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NH-22 at the Sutlej gorge before Wangtu
NH-22 at the Sutlej gorge before Wangtu | Source
The Sutlej Gorge at Tranda
The Sutlej Gorge at Tranda | Source
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Next 60kms to Losar in Spiti valley on the Hindustan Tibet Road
Next 60kms to Losar in Spiti valley on the Hindustan Tibet Road | Source

The Kinnaur District

The major part of the Hindustan-Tibet Road passes through Kinnaur valley. It goes along the bank of river Satluj and finally enters Tibet at Shipki La pass.

The headquarter of Kinnaur district is about 235 km from the state capital Shimla. It is surrounded by Tibet in the east and is the northeast corner of Himachal Pradesh, The valleys of the Satluj, Spiti and Baspa rivers along with their tributaries are enclosed in Kinnaur by three high mountains ranges in Kinnaur, namely, the Zanskar, the Himalayas and the Dhauladhar, The district was opened for the outside world in 1989.

The Route of the Hindustan Tibet Road

This road has been featured on the History Channel as one of the most “Deadliest Road” in the world. Built in the 19th century, the Hindustan-Tibet road, also known as the Silk route or the National Highway No. 22, begins from Ambala in Haryana, as an offshoot of NH.1.

It runs 40 Km through Punjab and is known as Ambala Chandigarh Expressway. From Chandigarh, it runs north towards Zirakpur and meets NH.64. Thereafter it goes to Panchkula- Pinjore- Kalka and then enters Himachal Pradesh at Parwanoo.

With the change in the terrain, it becomes a mountainous road, full of hairpin bends and continues north-east up to Solan and then goes northwards to Shimla. It joins the NH 88, where it repeatedly crisscrossed and goes along the Kalka-Shimla Rail track, which is a "UNESCO World Heritage Site".

Then it heads north-east towards the Tibetan frontier from Shimla. About 569 km from Delhi and 28 km from Sangla, the village Chitkul in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh is the last inhabited village on this road on the Indo-Tibet border.

The road reaches the border town Khab and then runs for a short distance through Namgyal up to the Shipkila pass, and ultimately enters Tibet. Here the Indian side of the road ends at the Line of Actual Control.

Actually, the road does not lead to the actual border. It closes about 90 km before the border and then rest of the road is under the control of ITBP, the Indian Paramilitary force guarding the frontiers.

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The new NH22 has replaced the bridle path or the Hindustan Tibet RoadMap showing the national highway network in India.After Rampur there is a dramatic climb, clinging to the cliff, to KinnaurThe Cutting of RocksThe section of NH 22 connecting the Sairag with Jangram region in the Sutlej ValleyEnchanting RideTo Baspa on the other sideThe Dangerous Gushing Water of Satluj RiverAlong SatlujThe Steep cliffs
The new NH22 has replaced the bridle path or the Hindustan Tibet Road
The new NH22 has replaced the bridle path or the Hindustan Tibet Road | Source
Map showing the national highway network in India.
Map showing the national highway network in India. | Source
After Rampur there is a dramatic climb, clinging to the cliff, to Kinnaur
After Rampur there is a dramatic climb, clinging to the cliff, to Kinnaur | Source
The Cutting of Rocks
The Cutting of Rocks | Source
The section of NH 22 connecting the Sairag with Jangram region in the Sutlej Valley
The section of NH 22 connecting the Sairag with Jangram region in the Sutlej Valley | Source
Enchanting Ride
Enchanting Ride | Source
To Baspa on the other side
To Baspa on the other side | Source
The Dangerous Gushing Water of Satluj River
The Dangerous Gushing Water of Satluj River | Source
Along Satluj
Along Satluj | Source
The Steep cliffs
The Steep cliffs

“Seven Years in Tibet”

Translated into 53 languages, the Seven Years in Tibet”, is an autobiographical travel book. It is about the real-life experiences of an Austrian mountaineer Henrich Harrer during his stay in Tibet, between 1944 and 1951. This was the period of the Second World War and the time of the invasion of Tibet by People's Liberation Army of China in 1950.

The book deals with the story of an escape of Harrer, and his friend from the British internment camp in India. They traveled across Tibet and reached the capital Lhasa, and lived there for the next seven years. The book provides a detailed description of the contemporary life and culture of Tibetan.

In 1954, the book became a bestseller and about three million copies were sold in the US. Two films based on the book were made in 1956 and 1997. Besides the album of David Bowie named “Earthling” contains a song, titled “Seven Years in Tibet”.

In 1948, Harrer became a salaried official and a court photographer of the Tibetan government in 1948. His job was to translate the foreign news. He introduced ice-skating in Tibet and made a film on it on the directions of the 14th Dalai Lama. He became a tutor friend of Dalai Lama.

Dalai Lama praised the work and said that the book was the most important contribution to the cause of Tibet and had introduced millions of people to the life and culture of the Tibetan people.

Harrer wrote in “Seven Years in Tibet”, “Wherever I live, I shall feel homesick for Tibet. I often think I can still hear the cries of wild geese and cranes and the beating of their wings as they fly over Lhasa in the clear, cold moonlight. My heartfelt wish is that my story may create some understanding for the people whose will to live in peace and freedom has won so little sympathy from an indifferent world".

History of Old Hindustan Tibet Road

In order to create the trade links with Tibet, and to initiate the monitoring access to far off regions under the government control, the British Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie (1848-1856), ordered the commissioning of the construction work of Hindustan Tibet Road in June 1850. Besides this, the timing of construction of the road coincided with the historic moment of sending the "Young Husband Mission" to Tibet.

"Sir Charles Napier", the then Commander-in-chief of British Army in India, designed the map of the road. The entire resources and immense machinery at the disposal of the East India Company were put into the service for the execution of the project. Hence the work on the Great Hindustan Tibet Road began and continued for the rest of the second half of the nineteenth century.

There were various reasons for constructing the road to Tibet. At that time the system of forced labor without salary called "begari" was prevalent in the hill states of Himachal Pradesh. These unpaid laborers were pressed into all types of service like transport of timber, goods and even the Govt. files to Shimla. The Governor General Lord Dalhousie was greatly disturbed by this system and he wanted to improve the conditions of the road these men trudged for errands. Therefore for his own trip to Kalpa in Kinnaur district, and to create trade ties with Tibet. he ordered the commissioning of the Hindustan-Tibet road.

The Southwest end of the road is Ambala in Haryana, while the Northeast end is Khab in Himachal Pradesh. Beginning from Kalka, the first lap went up to Shimla and was used for the vehicular traffic by 1860, when the 560 feet long traffic tunnel was constructed beyond Sanjauli in Shimla.

The stretch of 228 miles of the route from Shimla to the Shipki La pass on the Indo- Tibet border goes up to Shipki village in Tibet. It is the same "Shipki La" pass through which the author of "Seven years in Tibet" came to India.

This mule track built and maintained by British was brought into focus by Lord Dalhousie, but the area had long been on the ancient "Silk Route" to China.

The items like musk, borax, wool, livestock, dry fruits, precious and semi-precious stones were traded across the route to Tibet, Kashmir, Ladakh, and Yarkand, ever Since 1300 BC.

For inter-border trade the local traders used other passes also, like Lukma-La or Gongma-La pass; Yamrang-la pass; Gumarang-la pass: Shimdang la pass; Raniso-la pass; Keobarang pass etc. The traders of Himachal belonging to the Baspa valley and the adjoining areas used Yamrang-la pass and the Chor-Gad valley.area to reach Tibet.

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this is how it looks from inside : The Hindustan Tibet RoadFrom Tapri onwards NH22 near Pooh Rocky, but beautiful. NH-22 after KarchamKhab, the confluence of Sutlej and Spiti rivers
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this is how it looks from inside : The Hindustan Tibet Road
this is how it looks from inside : The Hindustan Tibet Road | Source
From Tapri onwards
From Tapri onwards | Source
NH22 near Pooh
NH22 near Pooh | Source
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Rocky, but beautiful. NH-22 after Karcham
Rocky, but beautiful. NH-22 after Karcham | Source
Khab, the confluence of Sutlej and Spiti rivers
Khab, the confluence of Sutlej and Spiti rivers | Source
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A Tribute to Balkhu

Balkhu, an illiterate Zama dar of village Chail had made a rare contribution by suggesting the alignments of the road at most difficult points along the Sutlej river. Thus this national highway is a tribute to Balkhu.

The Making of the Hindustan Tibet Road

In 1886, the road extended as far as "Karin Khud", about 6 Km beyond Chini, the territory of the erstwhile princely state of Rampur Bushahr. In 1927, it was extended a little beyond Namega, which is the last village on the Indo-Tibet border.

The road remained of great economic and strategic importance and was an international trade route between the state of Rampur and the rest of the northern and central Asia.

Before the Independence of India in 1947, the road was divided into two parts- the old road extended from Narkanda to Sarahan, via Baghi, Khadrala, Sungri, Bahili, Taklesh, Dararaghati and Sarahan.

The development of this National Highway from a bridle path to a black top all-weather road was a long process. Many laborers lost their lives while cutting the rocky mountain with overhanging canopies of rocks. The significant work done by Gurkha laborers on this road would be remembered for a long time.

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Bridge at Khab, The Spiti river at  the centre of the picture meets Sutlej river coming from leftHindustan Tibet Road near Reckong PeoAlong the Hindustan Tibet Road from Kinnaur to the Spiti Ascent to Puh from NH 22Ascent to Puh from NH 22NH 22 before Karchham along the Satluj riverPanoramic view of Hindustan Tibet Road along the Sutlej RiverFrozen Waterfall on NH-22 Ribba (Dakho)
Bridge at Khab, The Spiti river at  the centre of the picture meets Sutlej river coming from left
Bridge at Khab, The Spiti river at the centre of the picture meets Sutlej river coming from left | Source
Hindustan Tibet Road near Reckong Peo
Hindustan Tibet Road near Reckong Peo | Source
Along the Hindustan Tibet Road from Kinnaur to the Spiti
Along the Hindustan Tibet Road from Kinnaur to the Spiti | Source
Ascent to Puh from NH 22
Ascent to Puh from NH 22 | Source
Ascent to Puh from NH 22
Ascent to Puh from NH 22 | Source
NH 22 before Karchham along the Satluj river
NH 22 before Karchham along the Satluj river | Source
Panoramic view of Hindustan Tibet Road along the Sutlej River
Panoramic view of Hindustan Tibet Road along the Sutlej River | Source
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Frozen Waterfall on NH-22 Ribba (Dakho)
Frozen Waterfall on NH-22 Ribba (Dakho) | Source

Landslides and Avalanches on the Road

Nature often expresses its discomfort, and the road often gets blocked due to landslides and rockslides during heavy snowfalls and rainfalls. The road from "Solding Nullah" to "Sumdo" is prone to avalanches as the stretch falls in the "Great Himalayan Zone" and receives heavy snowfall about 150 cm every year. The "Malling" area is a sliding area affecting the communications of Lahaul & Spiti district. It has thus become essential to identify the landslide prone stretches by conducting the study of all hill slopes along the NH 22.

The "Geological Survey of India" has associated itself with the road alignments and the stability of the slopes along the highway. It has carried out investigations for the stability of the Hindustan-Tibet road, and the safety of various hydroelectric projects situated in the Great Himalayan Zone.

The Importance of the Road

Today the road is the lifeline of Solan, Shimla, and Kinnaur districts, besides connecting the Spiti valley and the outer Seraj areas of Kullu district through various state highways.

It is due to the road that the new townships have come up in Reckong Peo, Bhavnagar, Jhakri and Jari. One just cannot recognize the old towns of Theog, Narkanda, Ani, Nirmand, Rampur, Pooh and Tapri.

The road has brought about the transformation in social services, which were earlier unheard of in the area and enjoyed only by the people of plains, like the educational institutions, shopping complexes, residential houses with modern amenities, health institutions.

Today all interior and fertile areas of upper Shimla are connected to the Hindustan-Tibet road through the feeder roads.

The widening and tarring of NH 22, has brought about a sea change in the living standards of the people. The trucks laden with fruits and goods can be seen moving day and night on this road, where only mules could be seen earlier.

The trade on the Hindustan Tibet road began in 2004 when India and China revived the bilateral relation. As a result, the traders from Kinnaur have made several trips to China, but surprising not even a single trader from Tibet has visited Indian border villages since then.

The Indian traders carry spices, oil, jigger, tea leaves and utensils to the Shipki Village through the Shipki La pass at the height of 14583 feet above sea level. These items are in great demand in villages of Tibet. They return with the items like shoes, jackets, crockery, goats, Chumurthi Horses etc which are sold during the LAVI fair at Rampur.

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The map of Himachal PradeshThe Hindustan Tibet Road follows the alignment of the Sutlej river from Shimla to Kaza on the HP/Tibet borderPanoramicc view from the Hindustan Tibet RoadThe deep gorge on the roadState Highway 30.
The map of Himachal Pradesh
The map of Himachal Pradesh | Source
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The Hindustan Tibet Road follows the alignment of the Sutlej river from Shimla to Kaza on the HP/Tibet border
The Hindustan Tibet Road follows the alignment of the Sutlej river from Shimla to Kaza on the HP/Tibet border | Source
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Panoramicc view from the Hindustan Tibet Road
Panoramicc view from the Hindustan Tibet Road | Source
The deep gorge on the road
The deep gorge on the road
State Highway 30.
State Highway 30. | Source

Inner Line Permit

The foreign nationals visiting the protected areas of Lahaul & Spiti Valley and Kinnaur district are required to get the inner line permits or ILP. The foreigners have to submit their copy permits at Sumdo police post and get themselves registered because the region is near the “Line of Actual Control” and is within the inner line permit zone.

The Indian domestic tourists are not required to have any permits. For an Indian a valid photo identity proof of nationality is enough.

Difference Between Hindustan Tibet Road & NH – 22

Often there is confusion about the difference between the Hindustan Tibet Road and the National Highway No.22, and both are not aligned together for the majority of the parts. While traveling to Spiti valley from Shimla, one partially travels the Hindustan Tibet Road and partially the NH 22.

The Hindustan Tibet Road includes Shimla – Narkanda – Rampur – Gaura – Sarahan – Nichar – Wangtu – Tapri – Urni – Roghi – Kalpa – Pangi – Jangi – Labrang – Puh – Khab – Namgya – Shipki La – Shipki Village and may be up to Tibet.

The treacherous highway connects the trans—Himalayan Buddhist area of Kinnaur and the neighboring Spiti valley to the rest of Himachal Pradesh. It largely runs parallel to the mighty flood prone Satluj river in Kinnaur. Close to the Indo- Chinese border at Sumdo, the highway ends.

NH 22 and / or Hindustan Tibet Road run along the Satluj River

A markerSatluj River in Kinnaur -
Sutlej River, Himachal Pradesh
get directions

Difference between HT and the NH 22

The Hindustan Tibet Road
The National Highway No.22
Common Sections
Starts from Shimla
Starts from Ambala
Shimla to Rampur
Ends at Shipki La from Indian side
Ends at Kaurik on sign boards, a village might not existing anymore
Wangtu to Tapri
May extend further to Shpki village into Tibet
Ends officially near Shipki La
Puh to Khab
There is no old and new but only one HT Road
Confusion of old or new HT Road is due to NH 22.
From Sumdo the starting point of Spiti Valley the State Highway 30 leads to Tabo and Kaza
It cuts off at Khab towards namgia– shipki La route
It goes to Kaurik ahead of Sumdo police post to Spiti valley
After Kaurik bifurcation the State Highway 30 leads to Tabo and Kaza in Spiti valley
It ends in Kinnaur valley only
It goes uphill from bifurcation after Samdo police post and leads to Kaurik
The bifurcation after Samdo police post is SH 30 up to towards Tabo and Kaza.

Heights of Places on Hindustan Tibet Road above Sea Level in Meters

Karcham
1899
Tapri
1683
Shimla
2205
Narkanda
2774
Jeori
1381
Moorang
2276
Speelo
2245
Pooh
2837
Khabo
2837
Khab
3598
Maling
3008
Chango
3058
Shailkhar
3119
Sumdo
3232
Kaurik
3811

© 2014 Sanjay Sharma

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    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image
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      Sanjay Sharma 10 months ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Thanks Ravigoyal for the visit and the comment.

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      Ravigoyal 11 months ago

      very goodjob

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      Rakesh chauhan 16 months ago

      Today I have read about something which I was totally unaware. I met some people from Sikkim few days back. They were mentioning about the difficulties in travel they face at their place.

    • profile image

      Today I have read about something which I was totally unaware. I met some people from Sikkim few days back. They were mentioning about the difficulties in travel they face at their place. 16 months ago

      Today I have read about something which I was totally unaware. I met some people from Sikkim few days back. They were mentioning about the difficulties in travel they face at their place.

    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image
      Author

      Sanjay Sharma 18 months ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Thanks shprd for the visit and the comment. This road in indeed an engineering marvel.

    • shprd74 profile image

      Hari Prasad S 18 months ago from Bangalore

      Your hub is as excellent as the roads that were built to connect the remote locations of our nation. Nice dedication to the people who lost their lifes building the nation.

      - Hari

    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image
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      Sanjay Sharma 2 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Thanks Bhashit for the visit. You are right, the achievement is unbelievable.

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      Bhashit 2 years ago

      Holy crap. This looks incredible.

    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image
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      Sanjay Sharma 2 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Thanks cat on a soapbox for the visit and the comment. I am glad, you liked the article.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 2 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hello Sanjay.

      This is a very-well researched and fascinating hub! I can only imagine the bravery and sacrifice that went into the construction of this road. Wow! I really enjoyed the narrative approach to your presentation also.

    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image
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      Sanjay Sharma 2 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Thanks Akriti Mattu for the visit and the comment. I am glad you liked the post.

    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 2 years ago from Shimla, India

      Being from Himachal myself, it was a pleasure reading your post. Very nicely put :)

    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image
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      Sanjay Sharma 3 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Thanks tikuli for the visit and the comment. You are free to up-link this hub in your blog. Good luck.

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      tikuli 3 years ago

      Thank you for this wonderful Hub. I am writing about my travel to Kinnaur and would like to link your Hub on my post with due credits. Hope you don't mind. My blog is http://tikulicious.wordpress.com/

    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image
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      Sanjay Sharma 3 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Thanks ravi1991 for the visit and the comment.

    • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image
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      Sanjay Sharma 3 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

      Thanks tanveerbadyari for the visit and the comment.

    • tanveerbadyari profile image

      tanveerbadyari 3 years ago

      thanks for the informative hub, i really didn't know about this treacherous road. It is very risky to drive through.

    • ravi1991 profile image

      Ashutosh Tiwari 3 years ago from Lucknow, India

      @sanjaylakhanpal A Great Hub !

      Hats off.

      Can you write more on the engineering marvels of British era ?

      I would love to read and appreciate them.

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 3 years ago from India

      Today I have read about something which I was totally unaware. I met some people from Sikkim few days back. They were mentioning about the difficulties in travel they face at their place.

      Your article has enlightened me

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 3 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Fantastic photographs and a really interesting narrative. Looks like a place I would love to go to!