We all have some journeys that stay in our heart forever. The bus ride from Manali to Kaza was one such journey for me. When decided to travel to Spiti, we checked a lot on internet about how to reach there and decided to take the bus. Manali to Kaza is one of the toughest but the most scenic roads in the world. I knew that there is no surety about the bus service, bad weather can block the road at any time.
When I started from Chennai, my only prayer was that there should not be any problem on the bus route. Reached Manali on a fine morning, the first thing to do there was to make sure our bus is running next day. The bus station is in the town itself. We got the good news from the man behind the enquiry counter and booked four tickets. That was a big relief, the only alternate option to reach Spiti was in a shared taxi for which I am not really ready.
The next morning, we reached around 3.45 AM at Manali bus station. We were informed that the bus will leave at 4 AM. There was a big crowd but we were happy as we have the reservations. I saw people waiting to have a glance of the bus so that they can run towards it, enter and find a seat before everyone.
So finally at around 4.30 AM, the bus came to the station, everyone entered. The bus had mixed crowd: some going back to their home in Kaza, few travellers, a couple of government officials and some monks. Not everyone got their seats, some are not even aware of the reservation facility. I saw some jealous eyes looking at us and our seats.
We started at 5 AM, it was a pleasant morning. The views on the way were beautiful. Everyone looking out through the windows, admiring the beauty of the world before them. By then those who standing started to make friends and began discussing when they will get a seat. The conductor was a cool person, he talked to everyone while checking the tickets, asked everyone how they are and from where they are coming. The greenery, the mountains, the waterfalls, the Beas river flowing beside us; kept the bus ride more alive. After 2 hours, the bus stopped for breakfast and then we started our ascent to Rohtang pass.
The bus ride was quite different, the driver was not in a rush at all, he stopped at few places on the way. Till Rohtang pass, it was misty and the temperature was cool. Once we took the diversion to the Kaza road, things started to change gradually. The roads became more and more unrecognisable, the mountains slowly lost its green and turned barren. Huge rock formations began to follow us all the way. And the sun was at its extreme above us.
Sometimes, the bus has to stop before streams, the driver would go and check the water and call us. He then instructs to put stones in particular areas for the bus to move. Everyone was ready to help vehicles which were struck on the road. Unlike cities, the vehicles coming from the opposite are ready to give side and wait for others to pass. In some parts, there were literally no roads, all we could see are rocks and the bus moved over them swaying.
Many rivers start their journey from these mountains. Snow melts from the glaciers, comes down as small streams which join many such to form even bigger ones, again comes down to the valley either as a waterfall or a stream to finally meet the river. These rivers grow in volume as it goes down, meets civilisation and ends their journey in the sea. We can witnesses every stage of its growth along these roads.
Huge rocky mountains accompanied us throughout the journey, it was the same scene outside for hours. Most of the passengers lost their interest in the views and looked drowsy; except one guy in front of me who was very alert and clicked pictures whenever he saw a mountain with some snow.
By the time for lunch, our bus reached Batal. There are few dhabas in Batal. Few travellers got down there to go Chandratal. The bus started its journey again, slowly climbed Kunzum pass. It is the gateway to Spiti valley. Kunzum pass top is little bit green, we can see many big glaciers from here. Among them, the Bara Shigri glacier is one of the biggest in Himachal. There is a trek from Kunzum pass top to Chandratal lake. Later on the way back from Spiti, we trekked down from there to reach Chandratal.
Once we reach the other side of Kunzum pass, Spiti river starts to flow with us. Losar was our next village, the district of Spiti and Lahaul starts here. Many milestones passed behind slowly, reminded us that our destination is nearing. Many villages began to appear, the bus which was literally quit after the lunch became alive when people from the villages began to board. They were waiting for the bus, few passengers also got down at these villages. The Spiti valley began to unfold slowly before us.
Chichong, Kiamo, Pangmo, Hull and Rangrik, these Spitian villages on the way were beautiful. Around each village, there were fields, women working in them. Few monasteries stood isolated between the villages, prayer flags waving all around them. We can see Key monastery on the opposite side of the valley at a distance. The valley was big, huge mountains guarding it on both sides. Spiti river, now big, flows down over the valley. Finally, our bus entered the town of Kaza.
Things to know before your Manali to Kaza bus ride;
- Himachal Pradesh Road Transport Corporation runs one bus service from Kullu to Kaza every day.The bus service starts from mid-July up to October. The surety of the service depends on the road conditions and weather.
- The bus starts at 4 AM from Kullu and leaves Manali around 5 AM. Reservation facilities are available at Manali bus station. The ticket will cost you around 370 INR per person including reservation charges. It is the best option if you are travelling on a budget.
- This is a long journey and takes almost 12-13 hours to reach Kaza. We reached Kaza that day at 6.30 PM. It will definitely test your patience.
- The bus will reach Batal by noon, if you plan to visit Chandratal, you can get down at Batal. Chandratal is another 14 km from Batal. After Batal, the next stop is Losar. It is the first village after Kunzum pass
- The reservations for the return to Manali journey only starts when the bus reaches Kaza. You have to wait at the station for the bus to come. Don’t think that there won’t be much rush, getting a ticket is little difficult.
- The return bus to Manali starts almost around 4 AM and it will reach Batal between 8-9 AM. So if you are in Chandratal, reach Batal before 8 AM to go back Manali. There are also accommodation facilities at the dhabas in Batal.
- If you didn’t get the bus, no worries, you can hire a taxi. The shared taxi will cost you around 1000 INR to reach Kaza. It is pretty expensive than the bus.
- Sometimes, suddenly the road may close due to bad weather. In that case, you can reach Rampur from Manali and take the buses going from Shimla to Kaza.
Hope you got all the information looking for. I suggest everyone to take this bus to reach Spiti valley. It definitely saves some money and time compared to that from Shimla, more than that it will be a different experience. You won’t find roads like this anywhere else.
Read about Tashigong, the highest village in Spiti valley. Do visit this remote village if you like to have a different perspective about the life in these high mountains.
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I will be writing more about the Western ghats, another beautiful mountain ranges in the south part of India. These ranges are beautiful and mostly unexplored. Check them out.
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