Ask me my favorite bike trip to date, and my answer is always Chitkul!
A tiny hamlet that seems straight out of a wall-painting, Chitkul or Chittkul is the first village on the banks of Baspa River Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh and the very last inhabited outpost on the Indo-China border. Situated at the height of 3450 meters (and 600 km from Delhi), it lies nestled in the Himalayas, surrounded by hills on all three sides with a single-way road leading up to it, interspersed with creeks and herds of sheep. This tiny outpost is also the last point in India covered by a motorable road where you can travel without a permit. Beyond Chitkul lies only a trekking track meandering among a rough, inhospitable mountainous terrain till the China border.
Yes, Chitkul is just an out-of-this-world experience! It is among the best hill stations in Himachal and one of the best places to visit in India – at least for me!! Though, if someone asks, I must confess there isn’t anything in Chitkul that could count it as a touristy place. It’s just a small little hill-hamlet that offers you far-from-the-maddening-crowd experience. Beautiful landscapes and picturesque locales in the backdrop of snow-clad mountains, quaint wooden houses interspersed with blooming apple orchards, happy faces and a small population of about 600 locals that will win your heart with their warmth and hospitality – that is what sums up Chitkul for me!
Weather in Chitkul
No matter what time of the year you plan to visit Chitkul, irrespective of peak summers or winters, Chitkul is always quite cold, never crossing the 10-degree Celsius mark! Even in summers, you may experience a sudden dip in the temperature. Nights are typically cold with temperature dipping below 0 degrees. Winters arrive with September, and by October the village becomes completely inaccessible for almost six months up till February with the whole place covered in heavy snow.
Undoubtedly, given the weather conditions, it is but prudent to carry heavy woollen clothes when you visit Chitkul. A warm, windproof, hooded jacket and water proof gloves and shoes are an absolute must. If visiting during the monsoon season between July and August, don’t forget to carry proper rain gears including a good umbrella.
Best time to visit Chitkul
While anytime between March and September is good to visit Chitkul, I would recommend that you plan your visit to Chitkul around September, when the Baspa valley comes alive with flowers and lush greenery all around. In winters, between October and February, the road to Chitkul is mostly cut-off due to heavy snow, and it is not advisable to go there around this time.
How to reach Chitkul
The road to Chitkul is one of those longest and most dangerous of bike trails in the Himalayas.
If you own a bike, get your bike checked for faults and prep it up for the ride. If you don’t own one, you may rent it out. If you are looking to rent one, the best place to rent a bike is Chandigarh. In any case, to reach Chitkul, you first need to reach Chandigarh and from there take either of the two routes i.e.
Either, the shorter and easier route via Shimla that runs across the following route:
Chandigarh – Shimla – Narkanda – Rampur – Jeori – Karcham – Sangla – Rakcham – Chitkul
Or, the other longer and more challenging route via Manali across the Spiti valley that runs past:
Chandigarh – Manali – Rohtang Pass – Gramphoo – Batal – Kunzum Pass – Kaza – Dhankar – Tabo – Nako – Pooh – Karcham – Sangla – Chitkul
While the route via Shimla will place you in Chitkul the very same day, if you give an early start around 3 or 4AM in the morning from Chandigarh, the route via Manali shall take you almost three days. Before you enter Chitkul, you would have to register at ITBP check post with a valid photo identity.
Here’s a sample itinerary for you if you are planning a bike trip soon. Of course, you can add more places to it if you expect a more extended trip.
Day 1: Delhi to Narkanda
Distance: 404 km
Time Taken: Approx. 10 hours
Starting from Delhi, it will take you the entire day to reach Shimla. You can have a quick bit in Shimla and continue towards Narkanda, which you would touch around early evening. A night halt at Narkanda makes sense as it is less crowded compared to Shimla while also cutting down on your time on Day 2! Take some rest here and if you have some time, do plan a trek to the majestic Hatu Peak in Narkanda for an awesome view.
Day 2: Narkanda to Chitkul
Distance: 184 km
Time Taken: 6 hours
An early start from Narkanda (around say 7am) will quickly get you to Chitkul by 2-3PM. The next stop is Rampur where you can catch a quick lunch before starting your ascend to the Kinnaur valley. Here the roads get a little patchy, which may stall your progress to a degree. Do wear knee and elbow guard to ensure a safe ride over this bumpy patch! At the base of the Dangle ascent, you pass through the scenic outpost of Karchham and cross the Sangla Valley. From here, the highway gives way to the road to Chitkul, which quickly ascends through the valley becoming narrower and steeper. Remember to refuel yourself at Sangla as you continue your journey to the last Indian village for you won’t find any pumps ahead!
Check into a hotel and rest for the day to gear up for the next day in Chitkul!
Day 3: Chitkul Village Sightseeing
Keep this day scheduled for the village sightseeing. Start with the short 4 km trek to the ITBP check post, the last point where anyone can reach without any permit. A visit to the Kagyupa temple and the Buddhist monastery next could be a good idea. Spend the evening at the “Last Indian Dhaba” and indulge in some good food – a rarity here!
Day 4: Around Chitkul
Spend the day taking a trek, going trout fishing or indulging in some nature photography. If you are an adventure-sports enthusiast, try some of the options that this place has to offer. A trip to the nearby town of Sangla to visit the Kamru Fort could also be a good idea.
Day 5: Start back Home
Day 5 you can give an early start back towards Shimla, retracing the same route back to Delhi.
Road Conditions to Chitkul
From Delhi to Chitkul, you would be covering more than 1000 km through unfamiliar terrain. And, not to make mention that the bike ride entails a ride down the infamous and treacherous NH22 (the old Hindustan-Tibet Road) – one that is touted as one of the “world’s deadliest roads.” Undoubtedly, certain stretches present a terrible ride. While the road trip from Delhi to Chandigarh until Karcham is good, the ride gets a little discomforting from there. The last 40 km. between Karcham and Chitkulcan become a bit tricky with some bad patches. The Spiti circuit especially is quite bad, especially between Kaza and Manali. So, be prepared for a rough ride around some places.
When in Chitkul…
Chitkul doesn’t have much to offer apart from scenic beauty to its visitors. Come to Chitkul, and all you will see is stretches of densely-forested deodars, an abundance of Apple orchards and stately Chilgoza before you. Yes, Chitkul is a nature lover’s delight, but little else in terms of tourist attractions. But, the nearby towns of Sangla, Kalpa,and Sarahan have some great attractions that one visiting Chitkul may be inclined to indulge in, especially if you have few days in hand. You can check out the Kamru Fort or the Nagesh God temple in nearby Sangla.
Here are some of the other attractions in and around Chitkul that can keep you occupied while you visit this last village of India.
This Himalayan hill-station in Himachal offers one of the best trekking experiences among all others. With the panoramic backdrop of the Kinnaur range and the picturesque Sangla Valley, one can go for short and long treks and overnight camping expeditions around Chitkul.
Chitkul is also the starting point of two of the most famous treks – Lamkhaga Pass trek and Borasu Pass trek.
Some other treks from Chitkul include the Ranikanda Meadows (a 10 km trek from here) and the trek to Nagasthi ITBP Post (a 4 km trek to the last Indian outpost on the Indo-China border).
• Trout Fishing
Chitkul is known for its trout fishing – a favourite sport here. The meandering Baspa is an angler’s paradise and home to a variety of trout including the Rainbow and Brown trout.
• Rakchham Chitkul Wildlife Sanctuary
A decent trek from Chitkul takes you to the Rakchham-Chitkul Wildlife Sanctuary, an abandoned national park where you may get to spot some snow leopards. Though, one should be careful not to fall prey to one!
• Mathi Temple
The Mathi temple is a beautiful edifice situated right in the middle of the Chitkul village. This 500-years or older temple is famous for its exquisite architecture and beautiful art forms engraved on its walls.
• Adventure Sports
Chitkul offers some treacherous curve and rough mountain terrain – perfect for mountain sports like off-road riding and mountain biking. Undoubtedly, the Chitkul trail is a mountain biker’s paradise. Other adventure sports like mountain climbing, bouldering, etc. are also quite favourite among adventure enthusiasts here.
• Monastery at Chitkul
The monastery in Chitkul adds the spiritual touch to the tranquillity that this small village has to offer, far from the city lights and noise. Do visit this place and experience the descent of God right here!
Where to stay in Chitkul
While there are several hotels in Chitkul, you would mostly find budget accommodations here. So, do not go expecting anything fancy in this part of the world! On average, most hotels offer decent accommodation at around Rs. 700 – Rs.800 per day. You would also find an HPPWD rest house in Chitkul at around Rs.500/day, though it is not a great place to put up! Home stays can also be a good option giving you a taste of the local flavors of life here.
Best places to eat at Chitkul
Being a remote village, Chitkul offers only basic food and eateries. Besides a few tea-shops and small eateries, you may not find much on offer here.
While you may not find any special dish here, the budget hotels and small-time dhabas offer basic north Indian dishes. However, you may discover Tibetan-styled momos and the famous thupka, that can make a good meal, if you prefer the Tibetan cuisine.
A meal at the “Last Dhaba of India”, a roadside eatery claiming its share of fame at the far end of the country, may also be a good option. Do carry some packed food or some instant food items with you, if these options don’t appeal to you.
Shopping Possibilities in Chitkul
If you are a shopaholic, Chitkul isn’t the place for you. This quaint little remote village has nothing to offer in the name of shopping. However, if you still want to collect some trinkets for friends and family back home, the small town of Sangla may have something for you! The small-town shops offer everything Himachali from handicrafts, shawls and intricate Tibetan-styled silver jewelry bejeweled with turquoise, coral and Tibetan pearls. Dried fruits such as walnuts and almonds, spics and saffron are also available in these markets. And, of course, don’t forget to pick the Kinnaur Apples and peaches on your way back!
Tips for Backpackers
• Make sure you are carrying (and, of course, wearing!!) your protective gears such as helmet, biking jacket, goggles, and Balaclava (for the sun can be harsh in higher terrains!) for a smooth ride.
• Remember to carry enough cash with you as there are no banks or ATMs in Chitkul (the last one being 20 km before Chitkul in Sangla!).
• Be sure to carry your medicinal supply and a first-aid kit as the nearest hospital from Chitkul is also in Sangla.
• None of the mobile networks except BSNL work here. Even the reception with that is not too great. So, you would be cut-off from phone and data connectivity here.
• Remember to refuel your bikes entirely and get your bike checked before you make a start from Sangla, as there are no pumps in the last stretch of about 40 km between Karcham and Chitkul and no mechanics after Sangla!!
• Do pack an extra layer of woollens as it gets colder as you move up from Sangla.
• Rest along the way so that you may acclimatize to the thinning air as you move towards Chitkul. It is best not to overexert oneself at such heights!
• Do plan your trip well, keeping in mind that you would find only budget hotels in Chitkul and the food too would be quite basic.
Our momentous trip to Chitkul
Late one evening, last August, my friends and I were sitting and discussing our travels. The question on top of our minds was – Where next? My heart was set to discovering this beautiful ‘last village of India” on a bike. With my biking friends in tow, we set on our way to this tiny village nestled in the Himalayas.
As always, my trusted Royal Enfield was greased and prepped up for the ensuing ride, and my riding gears readied. Fully packed with all the basic stuff and of course, loads of enthusiasm, we set astride our bikes to Chitkul.
Catch a glimpse of our Chitkul trip through these pics here.
Indeed, it was a trip to remember for a lifetime! Nothing comes close to the biking trail to Chitkul when it comes to taking a bike trip!
View our full journey Video from Delhi to Chitkul China Border (Last Village of India)