All About the Hindustan-Tibet Road (History and Route) - WanderWisdom - Travel
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All About the Hindustan-Tibet Road (History and Route)

Travelling on the Hindustan-Tibet Road was a marvelous experience. I was astonished by the sheer effort it took to build this road.

The Hindustan-Tibet road is commonly referred to as one of the most dangerous roads in the world.

The Hindustan-Tibet road is commonly referred to as one of the most dangerous roads in the world.

The Hindustan-Tibet Road Connects Communities to Trade

While traveling along the Hindustan-Tibet Road, I was astonished by the sheer amount of effort that was put into its construction. It is incredible that they built the road with hand tools, without the help of modern machines.

Construction of the Hindustan-Tibet road in Himachal Pradesh began in 1850. It was quite the challenge, as it is located on one of the highest mountain ranges in the world.

The half-tunnels, manually carved through rocky cliffs, speaks volumes of the determination and dedication that the workers who built the highway had. The tunneling through the huge rocks at "Khimring Dhankh", a cliffy region of the the Hindustan-Tibet road, is still considered to be the largest stretch of rock tunneling for a road.

This 500-km road, stretching from Ambala to Kaurik, is often erroneously called National Highway No. 22 (NH 22). It passes through the foothills of the Shivalik Range, Shimla, Kingal and then runs along the Satluj Rive and passes through Rampur, Poari, and Pooh. From Khab to Sumdo, the road runs along the Spiti River. The 335-km stretch from Kalka to Wangtu, is under the control of the Himachal Pradesh Public Works Department, while from Wangtu to Korik, it is under Border Roads Organisation's jurisdiction.

The road once connected the formerly princely state of Rampur Bushair, the main entry point to Tibet. Over the years, however, it fell into disuse and was abandoned due to strained relations with China.

The road is gaining attention as a reliable alternative to NH 22 so that the local economy and trade with Tibet—through the Shipki La border post on the Indo-China border—could be revived.

That is why the road is now being repaired and reconstructed—the strata of the Hindustan-Tibet road is more stable than NH 22.

The Route of the Hindustan-Tibet Road

This road has been featured on the History Channel as one of the “deadliest roads” in the world. Built in the 19th century, the Hindustan-Tibet road, also known as the Silk route, begins from Ambala in Haryana as an offshoot of National Highway 1.

It runs through Punjab for 40 km in a section 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. There, it joins NH 88, where it repeatedly crisscrosses the Kalka-Shimla railway, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From Shimla, it heads northeast towards the Tibetan frontier.

About 569 km from Delhi and 28 km from Sangla, the Chitkul village in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh is the last inhabited village on the Indian section of this road before the Tibet border.

The road passes through the border town Khab and then runs for a short distance through Namgyal up to the Shipki La pass, where it ultimately enters Tibet. The Indian section of the road ends at the Line of Actual Control.

In reality, the road does not lead to the actual border. It ends about 90 km before the border—the rest of the road is under the control of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the Indian paramilitary force guarding the frontiers.

The Kinnaur District

The main part of the Hindustan-Tibet Road passes through Kinnaur valley. It follows the bank of the Satluj River and finally enters Tibet at the Shipki La pass.

Reckong Peo, the capital of the Kinnaur district, is about 235 km from the state capital Shimla. It is bordered by Tibet in the east, and is the northeastern-most district of Himachal Pradesh. The valleys of the Satluj, Spiti and Baspa rivers are neighbored by three high mountains ranges in Kinnaur; namely, the Zanskar, the Himalayas, and the Dhauladhar.

The district was opened to foreigners and the outside world in 1989.

The History of Old Hindustan-Tibet Road

The road was built under British rule in order to create the trade links with Tibet and to help the government access and monitor far-off regions beyond its control.

The British Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie (1848-1856), commissioned the construction work of the Hindustan-Tibet Road in June 1850.

It is important to mention that the timing of construction coincided with the historic "Younghusband expedition" to Tibet.

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

Why the Road Was Constructed

There were various reasons for constructing the road to Tibet. At that time, a system of unpaid forced labor called "begari" was prevalent amongst the hilly states of Himachal Pradesh. These unpaid laborers were forced into all types of work, such as transporting timber, goods, and even government documents to Shimla.

Governor-General Lord Dalhousie was greatly disturbed by this system and wanted to improve the conditions of the road these men traversed. Therefore, during his own trip to Kalpa in Kinnaur, he commissioned the construction of the Hindustan-Tibet road to develop trade ties with Tibet.

Where Does the Road End?

The southwest end of the road is in Ambala in Haryana, while the northeast end is in Khab in Himachal Pradesh. Starting in Kalka, the first section went up to Sanjauli at Shimla and, by 1860, was used for vehicular traffic. After that, a 560-footlong tunnel was constructed.

The 228-mile stretch 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 Heinrich Harrer, Austrian mountaineer and author of Seven Years in Tibet, came to India.

The Significance of the Road

The mule track that was built and maintained by the British caught the attention of Lord Dalhousie, but the area had long been part of the ancient Silk Road to China.

Products such as musk, borax, wool, livestock, dry fruits, and precious and semi-precious stones were traded along the route to reach Tibet, Kashmir, Ladakh, and Yarkand, ever since 1300 B.C.

For national trade, the local traders also used other passes, such as Lukma La or Gongma La, Yamrang La, Gumarang La, Shimdang La, Raniso La, and Keobarang. Traders from Himachal who lived in the Baspa valley and its adjoining areas went through the Yamrang La pass and the Cho Gad valley to reach Tibet.

Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer

I found the book Seven Years in Tibet to be quite an interesting travelogue. Translated into 53 languages, Seven Years in Tibet is an autobiographical book about the real-life experiences of Austrian mountaineer Henrich Harrer during his stay in Tibet between 1944 and 1951. This was during the Second World War and coincided with the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese People's Liberation Army in 1950.

The book recounts the story of the author and his friend's escapade from a British internment camp in India. They traveled across Tibet and reached the capital Lhasa, where they lived for the next seven years. The book provides a detailed description of the contemporary life and culture of Tibet.

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. Additionally, the David Bowie album Earthling contains a song titled “Seven Years in Tibet”.

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

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

In Seven Years in Tibet, Harrer wrote:

“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."

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 formerly 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 India's Independence 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 will be remembered for a long time.

The Importance of the Road

Today, the road is the lifeline of the Solan, Shimla, and Kinnaur districts. It also connects the Spiti valley and the outer Seraj areas of Kullu district with various state highways.

It is due to this road that new townships have been created in Reckong Peo, Bhavnagar, Jhakri and Jari, and you it'd be impossible to recognize the old towns of Theog, Narkanda, Ani, Nirmand, Rampur, Pooh, and Tapri.

The road has brought about a transformation of social services, which were previously unheard of in the area and enjoyed only by the people of plains. This includes services such as education centers, shopping complexes, residential houses with modern amenities, and health institutions.

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

The widening and tarring of NH 22 has brought about a great change in the nearby population's standard of living. Trucks laden with fruits and goods can be seen moving along this road day and night, when previously, only mules were used.

Trade on the Hindustan-Tibet road began in 2004, when India and China revived bilateral relations. As a result, the traders from Kinnaur have made several trips to China. Surprisingly, not even a single trader from Tibet has visited the 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 4444 meters above sea level. These items are in great demand in Tibet. They return with the items like shoes, jackets, crockery, goats, and Chumurthi horses, which are sold in Rampur during the Lavi fair.

Landslides and Avalanches on the Road

Nature likes to express its discomfort loudly, and the road often gets blocked by landslides and rockslides during heavy snowfalls and rain. The road from Solding Nullah to Sumdo is prone to avalanches—the stretch falls in the Great Himalayan Zone and receives about 150 cm of heavy snowfall every year. The "Malling" area is constantly sliding area, which affects the connection of Lahaul and Spiti districts. 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 research the road alignments and the stability of the slopes along the highway. It has carried out various investigations on the stability of the Hindustan-Tibet road, and the safety of various hydroelectric projects situated in the Great Himalayan Zone.

What's the Difference Between the Hindustan-Tibet Road and NH 22?

There is often confusion about the difference between the Hindustan-Tibet Road and the National Highway No.22. For the majority of their paths, these roads are not aligned. While traveling to the Spiti valley from Shimla, you must travel some parts on the Hindustan-Tibet Road and others on 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 continue 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. The highway ends at Sumdo, close to the Indo-China border.

Foreigners Will Need an Inner Line Permit

Foreign nationals visiting the protected areas of Lahaul, Spiti Valley, and Kinnaur district are required to get an inner line permit, or ILP. Foreigners have to register and submit copies of their permits at Sumdo police post because the region is near the “Line of Actual Control” and is within the inner line permit zone.

Indian domestic tourists are not required to have any permits. A valid photo ID as proof of nationality is enough.

Differences between HT and NH 22

The Hindustan-Tibet RoadThe National Highway No.22Common Sections

Starts in Shimla

Starts in Ambala

Shimla to Rampur

Ends at Shipki La from Indian side

Ends at Kaurik on sign boards, a village that might not exist anymore

Wangtu to Tapri

May extend further to Shipki village into Tibet

Ends officially near Shipki La

Puh to Khab

There is only one HT Road—no "old" or "new" versions.

The confusion of old or new HT Road was caused by the construction of NH 22.

From Sumdo, the starting point of Spiti Valley, State Highway 30 leads to Tabo and Kaza

Cuts off at Khab towards the Namgia–Shipki La route

It goes to Kaurik before the Sumdo police post to Spiti valley

After Kaurik the bifurcation, State Highway 30 leads to Tabo and Kaza in Spiti valley

It ends in Kinnaur valley

It goes uphill from bifurcation after Samdo police post and leads to Kaurik

The bifurcation after Samdo police post follows State Highway 30 up to towards Tabo and Kaza.

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

Karcham

1899 m

Tapri

1683m

Shimla

2205m

Narkanda

2774m

Jeori

1381m

Moorang

2276m

Speelo

2245m

Pooh

2837m

Khabo

2837m

Khab

3598m

Maling

3008m

Chango

3058m

Shailkhar

3119m

Sumdo

3232m

Kaurik

3811m

© 2014 Sanjay Sharma

Comments

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on December 25, 2019:

Thanks, DavidJohn9865 for the visit.

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on November 14, 2019:

Thanks, Nitin Jaiswal for the visit and the comment. It is a lifetime experience to travel on this road of historical importance.

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on November 14, 2019:

Thanks, Nitin Jaiswal for the visit and the comment. the journey to this route is marvelous.

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on October 15, 2019:

Thanks, MG Singh for the visit and the comment. It is indeed a lifetime experience to travel on this road.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on October 13, 2019:

I just read this article. The photographs are breathtaking. It's a pity that I havent traveled on this road though I have traveled on the old Burma Road to China in the East. Very interesting post.

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on October 10, 2019:

Thanks, Nripane for the visit and the comment.

Nripane on October 08, 2019:

Haven't come across any article as informative as yours on the subject.

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on July 12, 2019:

Thanks, Saptadeepa for the visit and the comment. I am glad, you found this article helpful.

Saptadeepa on July 11, 2019:

Very well researched and put up article on the Hindustan - Tibet Road. It was a lot of insight into this route after I took the Spiti Valley trip via this route. All appreciate the local people's effort taking this route on a daily basis.

DavidJohn9865 on April 12, 2019:

Thanks for sharing this info with us. Keep sharing more info just like this. I also want to share some more information about an amazing holiday destination named "Manali" which has various stunning tourist spots and adventure places to enjoy with lots of best hotels which provides the best amenities to make your trip more enjoyable and remarkable & there are some of the hotels which have special packages are available as well for students, corporate and families. If you are looking for the best Manali Tour Package then visit: http://www.ecohimalayanresorts.com/

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on March 11, 2019:

Thanks, Madan for the visit and the comment. It is a lifetime experience to travel on this road.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on August 22, 2018:

Its a great article. I must travel once on this road. God willing

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on May 30, 2018:

Thanks, Nitin Jaiswal for the visit and the comment. I am glad you liked the article.

Nitin Jaiswal on May 29, 2018:

This article is so well written. I was totally unaware about the historic value of this route. The way author has presented the accurate facts is great. Thanks very much!! I loved reading it.

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on May 24, 2018:

Thanks, Rakesh Chauhan for the visit and the comment. Travelling on the Hindustan Tibet Road is really a marvellous and adventurous experience.

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on November 27, 2016:

Thanks Ravigoyal for the visit and the comment.

Ravigoyal on November 22, 2016:

very goodjob

Rakesh chauhan on June 13, 2016:

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 Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on April 12, 2016:

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

Hari Prasad S from Bangalore on April 11, 2016:

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 Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on May 31, 2015:

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

Bhashit on May 28, 2015:

Holy crap. This looks incredible.

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on May 13, 2015:

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

Catherine Tally from Los Angeles on May 12, 2015:

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 Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on May 11, 2015:

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

Akriti Mattu from Shimla, India on May 10, 2015:

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

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on July 06, 2014:

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

tikuli on July 05, 2014:

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 Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on May 15, 2014:

Thanks ravi1991 for the visit and the comment.

Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on April 06, 2014:

Thanks tanveerbadyari for the visit and the comment.

tanveerbadyari on February 13, 2014:

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

Ashutosh Tiwari from Lucknow, India on February 10, 2014:

@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.

JR Krishna from India on February 10, 2014:

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 from Northern Ireland on February 10, 2014:

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