The NH22 / Hindustan-Tibet Road

“We’ll take a 10-minute break here,” announces Doreen, our tour organiser and manager, as our convoy of 3 vehicles comes to a halt.

‘Here’ is somewhere on the road to Kalpa from Sarahan. It’s 10.30 am on a cold September morning and our 3rd day in Himachal Pradesh. As the rest of my group disperses to stretch their legs or use the washroom, I notice our drivers lock the vehicle with what seems like undue haste and almost sprint towards a temple that we have just passed.

That is when I notice many vehicles stopping and their drivers, and sometimes also the passengers, getting out and entering the temple. Curious to know more about this temple, I make my way towards it as well.

NH22, Hindustan Tibet Road, Himachal Pradesh, Taranga Devi TempleBy the time I reach the temple, the drivers are already out and on their way back to the vehicles. But on seeing me approach, Pawan (the driver of the vehicle I am travelling in) stays behind.

“What is this temple?” I ask.

“This is the temple of Tarandaa Devi,” Pawan replies. “She is the guardian deity of the road, us drivers, and all those who travel on this road. It is she who protects us and keeps us safe from accidents on the road.”

“The temple seems like a recent construction. Is it new”?

“Well, the construction is new, but there has always been a temple here. And the Tarandaa Devi idol is hundreds of years old.”

“Do you always stop by to pray here?”

“Always. No matter how rushed or how late, I always stop here. Tarandaa Devi has protected me and my family for many, many years. I was born in a village close by and have a very close association with this road — the NH22.

“Really? Tell me more about it.”

And over the next few days, in bits and pieces and fits and starts, Pawan told me about his association with the NH22 or National Highway No. 22.

NH22, Hindustan Tibet Road, Himachal Pradesh,
The 3 drivers. Pawan is the one in the yellow T-shirt

Pawan’s father was the contractor for constructing major portions of the NH22. This meant that Pawan and his siblings practically grew up on the road or in a village located close by. Pawan narrated how the road was built by widening an existing stretch or creating a new one by literally gouging the road from the rock face. Men would suspend themselves on ropes to do this; at some places the rocks were blasted with dynamite to create a way.

NH22, Hindustan Tibet Road, Himachal Pradesh
The NH22 cuts through the rock to create a rock tunnel

Road-building was dangerous with many workers losing their lives or forced to retire due to injuries. Pawan watched his family’s fortune grow, only to see it all disappear towards medical expenses for treating his mother after she was injured during a road blast.

NH22, Hindustan Tibet Road, Himachal Pradesh
Hairpin bends

When he was younger, Pawan vowed to stay far away from the road, but family responsibilities and financial compulsions forced him to become a driver. “The road is my home now,” he said. “Especially the NH22 and the Hindustan Tibet Road. Once you drive on these roads, you can drive anywhere else. The concentration, discipline and skill required to drive on these roads are qualities that only mountain drivers possess.”

NH22, Hindustan Tibet Road, Himachal Pradesh
Sweeping curves …
NH22, Hindustan Tibet Road, Himachal Pradesh
… and a bend in the road

Along the way, Pawan also shared how increasing traffic and development had changed the region around the highway. While the NH22 had brought about connectivity and resulting economic boom, it had also brought in large hydel projects that were changing the environment and the ecosystem. Frequent landslides, river pollution and silting were becoming more common in the region.

NH22, Hindustan Tibet Road, Himachal Pradesh
The River Sutlej flows below
NH22, Hindustan Tibet Road, Himachal Pradesh
Bad roads near Karcham
NH22, Hindustan Tibet Road, Himachal Pradesh
Blasting in progress on the highway
NH22, Hindustan Tibet Road, Himachal Pradesh
Landslides on the left shows the vulnerability of roads and road connectivity

“Did you know that this road is considered to be among the world’s 10 most dangerous roads?” Pawan asked.

“No !” I exclaimed, not without some amount of trepidation. “Aren’t you worried when you are out driving on these roads?”

“Of course, I am worried. But I have Tarandaa Devi’s protection with me all the time. And I always say a prayer each time I pass a roadside shrine or temple. I always drive carefully and never lose my cool. Driving on these roads is all about cooperation and there is no scope for one-upmanship or road rage or overtaking or showing off. You will always find us helping each other out; that lessens my worry.”

And I did see this in action during all the times we were held up due to a landslide and waited for it to clear or the time we were stranded in Sangla. The drivers of all the vehicles on the road shared information and helped the more nervous drivers cross tricky stretches.

NH22, Hindustan Tibet Road, Himachal Pradesh
A huge statue of Hanuman near Rampur

NH22, Hindustan Tibet Road, Himachal PradeshI travel well and am a very relaxed traveller. I also don’t suffer from travel or motion sickness of any sort. But travelling on the NH22 or the Hindustan Tibet Road was a different experience. While I did not feel sick, I was keenly aware of every hairpin bend, every twist and turn of the road, every time we encountered bad roads…

Perhaps, it was because of a heightened sense of the story and history of the road. Or perhaps, I was just a little bit nervous. Or excited about seeing the Himalayas for the first time. I’m not really sure which. I’m also not sure if I should be really analysing the road trip so much. 🙂

But what I’m sure of is that I thoroughly enjoyed the road trip and a large part of it due to Pawan’s confident driving. In fact, when Pawan invited me back to Himachal for the Kulu Dussera, I said it would do it only if he would be the driver and share all the local tales with me ! 😀

PS: According to Wikipedia, “National Highway 22 is a 459 km National Highway in Northern India that runs from Ambala through Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh up to Khab on the Chinese border. It is also known as Hindustan Tibet road.”

I always assumed that the NH22 was the erstwhile Hindustan Tibet road. But while searching for some background information on the internet, I came across an article by Devil on Wheels who says that both the roads are different and are not to be confused with each other. You can read that article here.

33 thoughts on “The NH22 / Hindustan-Tibet Road

    1. Thanks for the lovely information on the Hindustan Tibet Road! U really made it come alive specially with the mention of the driver Pawan and his connection to the road

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      1. Welcome here, Celina. So lovely to see you here and so glad that you liked the post. From your words, I assume that you have been on this trip with Doreen and met Pawan? 🙂

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  1. Yeah, those are different and have different start/ed points, mainly confusing due to the landmarks installed for Kaurik at most places. I have been to some many such roads over last fours years of my travel in trans-Himalayas but this one is my favorite among all !! As always, it leaves you with a different experience of this world while actually driving there 🙂 🙂 … Cannot hold myself for another drive over this treacherous road of the world in next 14 days ….

    Blessings from Tarandaa Devi is all we need to make a successful trip over this highway again and as they say, in Mountains, they have their own gods and we all must respect it …

    Thank you for making me relive these moments again !!

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    1. This was my first trip to the Himalayas and the first road trip after 15 years. So in that sense it was very, very special. Putting together this post made me want to go right back and right away too. Maybe I will be able to make a trip later this year. fingers crossed

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    1. Thanks, Monishikha for your lovely words and encouragement.

      No, I have not considered writing a book on my travels as I don’t think my writing has the quality or depth necessary for a book. It’s fine for a blog for now.

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  2. Your post brings back memories of my trip to Ladakh on the Sriangar-Leh National Highway. Our bus drivers had to negotiate extremely bad roads, very often driving precariously at the edge of the road. The Zoji-la (pass) maintained by the Army then, was the most tricky.
    Beautiful pictures and may Tarandaa Devi continue to protect and guard the drivers and passengers.

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      1. No, they were Muslims. We actually had a bad experience on our return trip. As we were students then, we woke up late. This angered the driver and he threatened to abandon us or drive us over the cliffs if the roads closed. We were ultimately provided with protection from the Army – three soldiers accompanied us to Srinagar- what a drama that was.

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    1. Thanks, Ilakshee. There is another formation that I could not photograph – it is locally called eagle face as the profile looks like that of an eagle’s curving beak.

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  3. Love the photographs. I’m glad you did a post on these because I’ve come across similar temples growing up when we would travel to hill stations. Almost al dangerous routes have something similar. I’ve always enjoyed just stopping or looking at Mandirs on route to places.

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    1. When you go travel through the Bhor Ghat, or the old Bombay Pune Highway, there is a shrine that everyone from the driver to the passengers would throw coins from the slowly moving bus. The buses would never stop, just slow down. The Tarandaa Devi temple encourages people to stop with a little parking lot, a washroom and food stalls.

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  4. Sudha, you literally bring your travels alive. On Doe’s tours to North Sikkim we travelled on similar roads. That combined with hailstorms and rain and very poor visibility got this very hardy traveller – or so I thought – to the brink of her seat and with her heart literally in her mouth. But. as you say it is the drivers who are the heroes. Their cool confidence is astounding.

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    1. Thanks, Mags. I agree 100% with your statement that “the drivers… are the heroes”. Listening to Pawan talk about the road and his association with it made the road come alive and I guess this post too. 🙂

      And Mags, you have to go to Himachal with Doreen.

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  5. Reading your post made me feel that I was on that road, having the conversation with Pavan! It seems so real! The roads in Leh-Ladakh are similar with temples and shrines where people hoist flags for Divine protection! How well we human beings cope!!! Great post Sudha!!

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    1. Well, well, well. Look who’s here after so long. Welcome back, Jayess. 🙂 And I don’t like you very much for bringing up Leh-Ladakh, especially when all my attempts to visit that place have been jinxed.

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  6. Hello,
    Great article. I think people like you and Dheeraj from DOW really help travelers like us. Can you share the details of the driver though (Mr Pawan), as we are planning to go there in Nov.
    We are looking for a good driver and someone is good in price too.
    Many thanks,
    Pooja

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