“NH 22 ” reads a road sign standing aloof on the edge of a bumpy road.
I roll down the car window and inhale the crisp, chilly mountain air. Breathe deeply and look down. It’s a sheer drop of hundreds of feet. The River Satluj flows peacefully cutting through the deep gorge.
There are no railings. The roads get narrower and the bends get sharper and at most places unpredictable.
As the car turns sharply on the curves, I notice the chiseled mountains with rocks protruding from the right, hanging precariously.
He maneuvers the car skillfully while narrating anecdotes from his life on NH 22 and pieces of factual information that he gives out at every bend on the road.
The NH22 is one of the deadliest roads in the world ( and rightly so).
This road is nothing short of an architectural marvel, crafted till perfection by hundreds of construction workers who have toiled night and day to ensure people can ferry to and fro.
Most of my Kinnaur trip was on the NH 22 and traveling on it is nothing short of a pure adrenaline rush.
You will witness the respect and understanding among the folks of the hills, as they let each other pass in patience and co-operate with each other on the narrow , mostly single road.
You will see the waters of Satluj and Baspa meet at their confluence at Karcham.
And you will find astoundingly clean public loos ( trust me, I am not lying!)
The NH 22 also known as the Hindustan – Tibet road starts at Ambala and goes all the way to Khab village near the Indo-Tibet Border.
The highway was our constant companion throughout the trip and I shared an unspoken bond with it.
When I saw the imperfectly yet perfectly perched rocks on the mountain.
When I stood on the edge and looked down at a truck fallen in the gorge.
When Pawan, Sunny and Lucky ( our three musketeers) who drove the cars , prayed to Taranda Maa for protection. Goddess Taranda Devi is believed to be the protector of all the people traveling on this road. She’s the deity that every driver will bow down to when he’s traveling on this stretch.
When I saw how tiny a car appeared on a road far away on the hill. Showing how insignificant we are in this awe-inspiring landscape.
When we lost our way on the old Indo – Tibet road and the road became narrower and it was difficult to hold on our nerves. It was adventure yes. But the road was practically leading nowhere and for one minute when the car was reversed, I actually felt we might be hanging off the cliff. ( no I wasn’t heroic enough to imagine it then).
When you travel with people like Pawan who drive on the edge of the cliffs daily, yet adore their job. They teach you to value the present and be grateful for ‘now’ because forget tomorrow, even the next moment is a question mark.
When I saw the numerous hydro electric plants on the Satluj and the Baspa rivers, promising mankind development but at the cost of natural sustainability. The blasting of mountains have caused the area to be extremely landslide prone and it is disheartening to see a gorgeous natural stretch reduced to a construction site rubble.
Of all the lessons I learnt traveling on this road the biggest one is on belief.
When you entrust your safety in someone’s hands and they don’t let you down. In my case it was Pawan.
His confidence was infectious. It was not the reckless kind of confidence. It’s was the “I-know-what-I-am-doing” kind of confidence. And that very confidence put us all to ease.
His love for these roads reeks in his conversations and his passion for the mountains twinkles in his eyes. He knows every bend, every curve on these roads. But it felt the other way round. The roads knew him well too: Every bend, every curve.
That is the sort of camaraderie he has with this road.
And as we traverse back and forth on the NH 22, I find it slowly warming up to me.
The mountains are still raw, rugged and craggy. The roads still seem treacherous. The rocks still hang precariously.
The route followed on NH 22 was Chandigarh- Fagu-Rampur- Sangla- Chitkul – Sangla- Kalpa.
A big shout out and a heartfelt thank you to Pawan, Sunny and Lucky for being part of our NH 22 adventure and ferrying us to and fro, so effortlessly yet responsibly.
Watch a snippet of the journey here: