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Sun: Shimla

We stayed at Woodville Palace: good rooms, lots of character, great staff, nice food. Our only problem was with the shower – someone came to try to fix it, failed, then disappeared.

We picked up what information we could about our route and were dismayed to be told that the road had been destroyed at Mailing near Nako by a landslide. People thought that we could get through with our bikes, but until we got there we wouldn’t know.

Shimla
hills

Mon: Shimla – Narkanda (62km, 980m of ascent)

We followed the Mall continuation eastwards, turning left onto the bypass road which eventually takes you across to a suburb on the other side of the ridge. There is a small traffic island where you go right. In a short distance there is a tunnel which is ok to walk through. After the town the road climbs, at times steeply, to a pass, 2450m, and crosses the ridge. From now on it does a good job of contouring. You pass through aromatic pine forests, with great views across huge deep valleys terraced with orchards. If the weather allows, there is a tremendous view of snowy Himalayan mountains on the horizon. There are several villages on the way. The road is fairly busy, but the traffic is not a problem. We stayed at the HPTDC Hotel Hatu, which was pleasant enough and has a garden.

Notes: there are numerous hotels along the way, mostly aimed at Indian tourists.

Sutlej descent

Tues: Narkanda – Khanag (86km, 1850m of ascent)

Fields

Start with a super descent into the Sutlej valley – nearly 2000m. The road is very pretty. At the junction at Sainj, follow the road signposted to Luhri and Jalori Pass. This takes you to a bridge and Luhri, which is a hooty traffic jam where you turn left. It was scorchingly hot – we bought water. The road follows the river down for a few km before bearing right to climb a side vallley. The road is narrow, there is very little traffic, it is pretty, but it can be steep in places. Ani is a reasonable-sized town with shops and dhabas. We bought some more water here and had a crowd gather round to watch us drink it.

Traditional
house

After Ani the road climbs steeply. It follows the valley then tacks up the side of the mountain, Stelvio-like. There are villages on the way and the odd shop; Khanag is mostly off the road. For us the weather changed from hot sun to cloud to drizzle to torrential rain, and we were desperate when we got to Khanag. We had planned to camp but didn’t fancy it in the conditions. There was no sign of any hotel. We passed a couple of dhabas but people walking down the road were telling us “no no no no NO!” and miming water levels, as if there were a deep ford.

Chowkidar

Colin went to search for a camping spot – difficult here because of the steepness of the hillsides. People in houses nearby pointed down to houses lower down; someone else showed us the way and helped us with the bikes. In fact he mentioned the magic words ‘rest house’. Indeed there is a HPPWD rest house here. Rather pricey for foreigners, but on that day it was a miracle. It was a lovely building with a veranda and beautiful garden, and there is a memorial to Penelope Betjeman.

Notes: Bill Weir found a simple guesthouse at Ani. Camping looks possible for the few km after it until the climb becomes steep.

The Khanag resthouse is in fact signposted from the main road, but the writing is purely in Devanagari. It is however a spick military-looking signpost on which the figure ‘100’ can be read, presumably indicating the distance of the resthouse from the road.

Landslip

Weds: Khanag – Naggar (107km, 1800m of ascent)

We’d hoped to make it all the way to Naggar in one day – it would be tough, but Naggar is nicer than Kullu. The morning was fine. With the rubble washed onto the road by the rain, and the steep gradients (17%), it was hard going and we had to walk some sections. Then we saw the landslide – the road had been completely washed away down the ravine. A man (for a fee) and a boy helped us carry the bikes and luggage across. There was a bus stranded on the other side, and later we found three stranded trucks after a smaller blockage. There are dhabas at the pass, where we finally had breakfast.

Jalori
descent

The descent was equally steep, but with less rainwash rubble; it was a lovely road to cycle down, but must be terrifying in a bus. This was our puncture day, costing us an hour.

Shoja,

Shoja

a little way down from the pass, is a gorgeous village with wooden houses spilling down the ridge. Children wave. Later the road levels out more, there is more traffic and there are more concrete houses. You meet the main road at Aut where there are shops and trucks. The Kullu valley road is busy and not very pleasant. There are places to eat, but nothing special. There is a smaller road on the other side, but we stuck to the true right bank to save time. You climb steadily up the valley, but Naggar is nearly 300m above the river, and it is a cruel end to the day. But you do get to stay in Naggar Castle.

Notes: There is a Banjara retreat and a forest resthouse at Shoja and other simpler accommodation lower down.

There is plentiful accommodation in the Kullu valley, again mostly aimed at Indian tourists. Kullu itself is really quite horrible.

Roadbuilding activity is visible on the true left bank of the Beas between Aut and Kullu, perhaps extending the left-bank road. The road on the right bank carries a lot of traffic but is comfortably wide. We were glad to leave it.

Stay clear of the Parbati valley where many tourists have been murdered in recent years. There were notices for a missing person in Manali and elsewhere when we were there.

Thurs: Naggar – Manali (24km, 420m of ascent)

We’d expected an easier day, but it wasn’t so. I insisted we visit the Roerich Gallery, which is worth doing but took most of the morning. The ride to Manali was undulating, and though short, hard given the two previous days. We spent a long time looking for a nice hotel, eventually finding the Mayflower on Circuit House Road, with its luxuriant flowery gardens and well-kept wood panelled rooms. We stocked up on pasta and petrol. There is a good grocers’ near the market.

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