Kunzum Pass: Home to the World’s Second Longest Glacier
The highest point of Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh, Kumzum Pass is the gateway to Lahaul district. Situated at a height of 4,551 m, it’s one of the highest motorable roads of India. The heavenly glimpse of some of the longest glaciers of the world and rugged mountains in the backdrop of bright blue sky will leave you stunned!
It’s a rough journey from Kaza as the road to Kunzum Pass (75 km) neither is smooth nor predictable. The weather often turns adverse. My next destination was Keylong, the headquarter of Lahaul district via Kunzum Pass. So, I started my road trip early around 8 AM to wrap up the journey by late afternoon and to avoid extreme weather conditions.
Within half an hour from the town of Kaza, I am right in the middle of the cold desert of Spiti. The river valley is dry and only a few turquoise traces of the river are visible, surrounded with rugged mountains. The only sign of civilization are the neatly placed electric poles that stand like aliens.
Taking Halts are Important in this Road Trip
Soon after, a tiny village is spotted along with a small water body and farmlands. I stopped here for a few minutes just to make myself used to the air outside. It was included in my plan to take a few halts throughout the road trip to avoid altitude sickness.
I recommend each of you should take some halts instead of driving straight to Kunzum Pass to avoid altitude sickness. There are a few inhabited villages at various distances as well as extensive areas in the cold desert. It will help you to cope with the altitude differences, withstand the harsh cold winds and keep your mobility normal. The halts also offer diverse landscapes and breathtaking scenic beauty.
The road is mostly bumpy except a few places. Gnarled, unpaved and muddy, the road is quite treacherous. There are also several water crossings leaving no traces of proper road.
The entire route sees the presence of several chortens or Buddhist “Stupas” which the local folks believe to be sacred. They believe encircling the chortens with your vehicles ensure a safe journey on this route. I got this information from my local driver who is a resident of Kaza.
You may take a halt at Losar, 57 km from the town of Kaza. There are very few hotels and eateries here. Losar is a beautiful village with all the charms of Spiti Valley blended together. It is the last inhabited village of India along the Indo-China border at a height of 4,084m.
I stopped at Losar for about 15 minutes to have a look around and most importantly, make myself ready for the altitude difference and the weather. Harsh cold winds often feel like lashing your skin apart. On this route, you can’t spare a lot of time because of the unpredictability of the weather and the road. Driving often becomes difficult and you have limited time to reach Kunzum Pass.
Apart from herds of regular cattle like sheep and cows, here Yak is quite predominant. The villagers use Yaks to plough the fields and Yak is one of the most important domesticated animals in this region. The local people are warm but shy.
I started my journey again. Soon the ruggedness become more intense and snow-capped rugged mountains become regular companions.
The Terrific Cold Desert
The road is smooth now and it is laid right through the middle of the desert. The ruggedness and the sharp winds will make you feel like you have been transported to an unusual place in India. The area resembles Ladakh in several ways. Check out the pictures below.
Nearing Kunzum Pass
A few kilometres from the Pass, the roads become narrower with deep gorges on one side. Thick patches of snow are scattered here and there which only become more frequent as you move forward. The road is laid at such high elevation that the peaks of the mountains feel like a stone throw distance. Soon, the scenery changed into all snow. Spot the changes 🙂
The Kunzum Pass
Finally, I reached Kunzum Pass. There is a temple of Goddess Kunzum (a form of Goddess Durga) which is believed to be very sacred by local folks. There is also a huge chorten beside the temple and the whole temple complex is surrounded with colourful prayer flags which signify the Buddhist influence in the region. All vehicles compulsorily stop here to pay tribute to the goddess before moving forward. It’s also a pilgrimage centre for locals and believers.
This spot offers a magnificent view of the Bara-Sigri Glacier, the second longest glacier in the world. It also offers a beautiful view of the Spiti Valley and the Chandra-Bhaga mountain.
After paying my respects to the goddess and spending about 40 minutes around Kunzum Temple, I started off again towards my destination. A little distance from the temple, the road again becomes jittery with several water crossings. It’s a very bumpy ride. The treacherous road however, gives you a visual treat with ice walls on both sides of the road. As you come down the elevation, the river becomes your companion for some time. Bulldozers stand along the road to clear debris and landslides which are very common in this region.
As a traveller, I can say that it’s one of the finest travel destinations in India. You must visit it at least once in your lifetime. It was an enthralling experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Kunzum Pass is definitely one of the best passes of India.
How To Reach
The nearest airport is Bhuntar (170 km). From Bhuntar, you can reach Manali (50 km) by road and visit Kunzum Pass. The distance from Manali to Kunzum Pass is – 127 km.
The nearest railway station is Joginder Nagar. However, it is a narrow gauge railway station. Chandigarh, Pathankot, and Ambala offer better railway connectivity.
Where to Stay
There are no hotels, guest houses or lodges along Kunzum Pass, just like any other Pass. You can either opt to stay at Kaza, Losar or Keylong. There are several homestays that you can find. You can also search for Zostel, ideal for backpackers.
Best Time to Visit
June to September are the only months when Kunzum Pass remains open. The rest of the year, the Pass is closed.