The Road to Sangla- The World’s Deadliest Roads

The road to sangla has been cut through a sheer precipice (sanjay austa austa)

The ‘Sandwich Road’ to Sangla, HP

The story first appeared in the Deccan Herald, Aug 2014.

Kinnaur , even for a Himachali like me, is a strange place. The religious affiliations there are very flexible. Some Kinnauries are Buddhists , some Hindus –while others swing both ways.  Their women don’t wear dhatus like the women from our part of  Himachal , but caps like the men. During   weddings, women drink openly and gift home-brewed liquor to the baratis. Kinnauris  have distinct Mongoloid features making them look more North Easterners than Himachali. Prudery has not infected them yet.  And when it  comes to a crunch, their women,  a la Drupadi, takes on many husbands.

But the most memorable Kinnauri experience for anyone– Himachali or not-  is perhaps the road to Sangla – the small village in Kinnaur district.

I have seen winding roads that go on  endless loops up steep hillsides but the Sangla road is something else.

Road to Sangla- Kinnaur. (sanjay austa austa)

Road to Sangla- Kinnaur.

Firstly,  like all mountain roads, the Sangla road has  not been carved on a mountainside but rather bored through  a rocky precipice.  Therefore  the road has an  overhang of rock giving you a feeling that you are driving  through  a tunnel. At one stretch,  you feel frightfully  hemmed in,   prompting travellers to christen it  the  ‘sandwich road’. If you dare  to get off and look down from the ‘sandwich’, which inevitably every tourist does for selfies, there is a sheer drop of a few hundred feet.  Down below in the stone strewn gorge, the  Baspa river- a tributary of Satluj-  appears  but as a trickle of water.

It is not for nothing that this road has been called one of the world’s deadliest roads and has been a subject of   numerous adventure documentaries. But the  road is dangerous in the sense that if you  tip over the edge,  there is instant death. Except at some stretches, the road is otherwise broad enough for two vehicles to cross each other. 

If one is driving from Shimla, going  past Kufri, Narkanda, Rampur and Jeori in Shimla district,  one is for hours in the comfortable embrace  of the broad well metalled National Highway (22).

The women in Sangla don't wear dhatus like the women in other parts of Himachal. They wear these Himachali caps worn also by men. (sanjay austa austa)

Kinnauri women don’t where ‘dhatus’ but caps that men wear in Himachal

And after the highway loops down from Narkanda to Rampur, its runs alongside the Satluj till Karcham,  lulling you into  visions of a quite hill drive. But at Karcham when you leave the relative luxury of the  highway and take the Sangla road you are rudely jolted out of your  reverie.

From here it’s an 18km adrenalin-pumping road to Sangla. The weather beaten  road has potholes and at long stretches is broad enough only for  one vehicle to pass.

The famous stretch, a  sheer mass of rockface through which the road is bored, after  which  the road earned it ‘dangerous road’ sobriquet, is called by the locals simply as the  Taranda  Dhak .

The road gradually evens out into a valley as you reach Sangla. The village is part of lower Kinnaur and the houses are not very dissimilar from homes in other parts of Himachal at the same altitude.  The landscape is however more majestic. High  above this sleepy tribal outpost,  snow-capped mountains stand thousands of meters tall.  Among them standing at 6050 meters is the Kinner Kailash Peak.

Two curious boys and their mother, Sangla.



The people here grow apples and cherries just like the  orchardists in Shimla and Kullu district. But because the soil here is much more fertile the quality of their fruits is much better. Kinnauri apples are famous for not only being juicy and crisp but unlike the hail -beaten  apples of Shimla district , Kinnauri apples have perfect shape and colour.

A recent novelty in Sangla is the asparagus. And I found that quite by accident. Ravenously hungry after the long journey, I barged into the first dhaba in sight and ordered what eateries at such remote places are best in rustling up- Maggie. The owner, who was just seeing off a brood of foreign travellers accosted me and suggested  I  sample asparagus soup instead.

I reluctantly agreed but was surprised by how delicious it was. The owner was watching my expressions all along  and refused to charge me for the soup but insisted I visit his asparagus  garden.

Apart from a orchard walk, (if a local privileges you with one) it’s a good idea to trek upto Kamru village which sits just above Sangla. It makes for not only an  excellent trek but is  a good lesson in local history. There is an ancient Kamru fort here where the local rajas  once had their coronation ceremony.

One can also trek to Chitkul, the last village on the Hindustan Tibet trade route 22 kilometers away.

The road to Sangla is cut out from sheer precipices like this one. (sanjay austa austa)

The Sangla road and the Bapsa river, Kinnaur

How to get here. 

Sangla is about 194 kilometers from Shimla. Its best to break your journey midway in  the pilgrim town of Sarahan to which one has to make a 14 kilometers detour from the highway.

From Sarahan you go via small villages of Wangtu and  Tapri to reach Karcham where one leaves the highway to take the 18kilometer road to Sangla.

Where to Stay: 

Sangla has a lot of budget options.  One could stay at Hotel Royal Castle or Hotel Prakash Regency. Both of them are close to the town, with clean rooms and good views.

Leave a Reply