We buy biscuits in Peo because were not sure about food availability on the way. More gorge down to Karchham and the turn to Sangla. A deep, green valley, with terraces scattered on the hillsides opposite. The road climbs seriously in a big zigzag, before heading up the valley. Now the fun starts. The hillside becomes more and more vertical. The road is steep in places. The hillside becomes a cliff 300m above the river, the road blasted into the side; its terribly narrow and there are no guard rails. I quiver at the recollection of it. It seems to last forever, but it doesnt, and you reach the end of the moraine debris that fills the higher valley. For one of the Himalayas most beautiful valleys, the enormous gravel works comes as a nasty shock. Sangla too is a disappointment, too many new concrete buildings going up. We eat in the hopeless Trekkers guesthouse.
6km further up is the turn to the Banjara Camp its a further 2km down a track. At Rs. 3000 its surprisingly expensive for a tent, but its a well run operation, and generous amounts of good food are included. The manager is friendly and helpful, and good to talk to. Over the bridge is the village Batseri. The people seemed shy whether through too much tourism or very little, we dont know. But the village is built with care. A few years ago the temple was destroyed by fire, but its been rebuilt with love and devotion, in the beautiful local style, an elaborate cusped roof that looks Burmese. In the true spirit of Hindu inclusiveness, there are carved: Shiva, Moses, Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha and Guru Nanuk.
Notes: It is 18km from Karcham to Sangla. Most of the climbing in in the first 13km. There are no supplies along this part, even from sidestreams.
We took an instant dislike to Sangla, an ugly ill-kept place where the children need a lesson in behaviour. Bill Holters party suffered some petty theft here. This is a shame because the old town, Kamru, with its 5- or 7-storey Killa, looks pretty. But you cant visit everywhere, and Batseri too is worthwhile. The camp at Batseri is at much the same altitude as Sangla.
A km or two after the turn for the Banjara camp is another tent hotel, the Kinner camp. This might be more economical.
Tues: Day trip to Chitkul (44km, 725m of ascent)
Chitkul is yet another attractive village of stone and wood houses. Theres an impressive fort in the middle, and cute, slightly wonky, storehouses scattered around. Houses all seemed to have their best brass pot on show.
At the Thakur guesthouse we negociated food in the usual 20-questions game.
What food have you got?
Omelette, toast. [Despondent looks.]
Have you got dhal and rice?
Yes, we have dhal. [Faces brighten.]
Yes, we have chow mein. [Faces ecstatic.]
Ooh well have that.
(Nooo! you forgot to ask for the Lobster Thermidor.)
Note: There are several places to stay on the road to Chitkul.
Weds: Batseri Sarahan (100km, 1255m of ascent)
A long day to finish with. The descent down the valley takes ages the bumpiness of the roads doesnt make too much of a difference when youre climbing, but it kills your speed descending. Plus, today, if you take a bend wrongly, or swerve to avoid a car, its 300m to instant death.
The road continues to climb gently, then with 10km to Jeori the valley opens out and the road drops. Jeori is very busy compared with where weve been. We start the longish climb to Sarahan. Its hot and we feel back in the tropics the hillsides are lush and fertile, there is bougainvillea, there are a lot of rather too energetic schoolchildren. Its a lovely road but Colin suffers on the climb.
Sarahan is much higher than most maps admit (though the HPTDC map gets it right). The HPTDC hotel is dilapidated but the restaurant is good, and we start the week-long end-of-tour festivities with chips. We tour the Bhimakali temple and contrive to take photographs missing out the pylon thing that has appeared recently.
Thurs: Sarahan Shimla (42km, 165m of ascent, plus a taxi-ride from Rampur)
At last we can enjoy the 1000m descent! Except that it was freezing all the way to Jeori youre in shadow in the morning and there are uphill sections on the way to Rampur. We had a late breakfast in the HPTDC restaurant a little way out of town, then rode back to find a taxi. Now the monsoon was over, we had the views of the montain ranges that wed missed on the ride out.