A Day At Kunzum Pass: My experience & pictures from Kunzum La
So desi Traveler went to Kunzum, or rather I should say I passed from Kunzum Pass on my way to and back from Spiti. You need to pass two main passes on the way to Spiti, via Manali one is Rohtang La and second is Kunzum La. Technically, height wise Kunzum is bigger and higher and better to photograph. But Rohtang is more notorious as it is closer to Manali and our tourists are happy to visit it after hours of struggling in traffic and then play in the snow for a few minutes before hogging on Bread Omelets, Chai and in the good old days some Maggi.
So if we go by Bollywood tradition Kunzum and Rohtang are brothers, just like Tourists and Travelers, all the touristy types go till Rohtang and come back claiming “ Pancho Badee Sardee hai, daroo khol yaar”, while the traveler types wait to cross Rohtang and continue towards Kunzum, so that they can take breathe in air devoid of diesel fumes. But in all this brotherly love-hate relationship of Rohtang La and Kunzum La, let us not forget their cousin the bad ass Bara-lacha Pass at 4,890 m or 16,040 ft.
Compared to Bara Lacha Rohtang looks a pygmy with little tangs, at only 3,978 m (13,050 ft), that is almost 3000 ft shorter in height from Bara Lacha ( now you know why it is caller Bara ? Bara = Big in Hindi, but don’t go by my desi logic, check the meaning in Tibetan also 🙂 ), but this post is about Kunzum the good brother, the best for photography among the three passes. At 4,590 m or 15,060 ft Kunzum is higher than Rohtang but still a good 1000 ft shorter than Bara Lacha.
But both Bara Lacha and Rohtang are known as the bad ass passes for the unpredictable weather, snow storms and countless deaths that have occurred here since the time people discovered them and started using then to go to Ladakh on one side and Spiti and further Tibet on the other side.
Rohtang gets one of the highest snowfalls among these passes as it is in the rain-fed area while Kunzum is in the rain shadow area.
So like I said Rohtang is not very photogenic what with 100s of vehicles in the traffic jam and 1000s of tourists trying to take their selfies. But the moment you cross Rohtang not only the scenery but also the gentry changes. No longer you have hundreds of honking Mrootis and Indicas and Innovas, suddenly the road is empty and goes to unroad and your #untravel begins. You encounter some mules now and then and herds of cattle, goats, and sheep, who are clearly never happy to see you.
The pictures I am sharing in this post of Kunzum are from the return journey from Kaza on the way to Chandra Taal. We met a group from Mumbai on the way to Kunzum and chatted with them on one of the photography breaks. These guys were planning to trek from Kunzum to Chandra Taal, while we planned to go in our vehicles. I had gone on a trek to Dhankar lake above Dhankar Monastery just 2 days ago and only had respect for these guys for they will be passing through some of the most beautiful scenery that no road no matter how bad or desolate can offer.
Anyways back to photographs that I took at Kunzum La. BTW if you are wondering why I am doing all this La La, it has nothing to do with Ooh La la, or even Hi La of Amir Khan, it simply means pass in Ladakhi / Tibetan. This brings us to the fact that Rohtang and Kunzum besides being important trade route also acted as natural barriers between civilizations. A predominantly Hindu god worshipping people in Kullu and a Buddhist belief system in Ladakh and further in Tibet. Interesting fact that needs deeper pondering is when Buddhism traveled to Spiti / Tibet etc. how come it did not stay in Kullu and nearby areas, did it traveled from Rohtang and Kunzum towards Spiti and Tibet, or it came from the other side and took a longer route via Sikkim, Arunachal and halted in Spiti ? I don’t know the answer probably it is in one of the many manuscripts preserved in the monasteries in these ranges. Or maybe it is in one of the hundreds of manuscripts that British and Indian scholars like Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan (who is also the original desi Traveler who did hundreds of Solo trips in India and surrounding countries like Nepal, Tibet, etc.), studied and brought back with him.
The Kunzum Devi Temple at Kunzum signifies the confluence of cultures here. Dedicated to mother goddess Kunzum (a name for Shakti or Parvati), the temple is surrounded by Buddhist style Gompas and hundreds of colorful prayer flags seen on Buddhist monasteries. It is a tradition to pray at the temple and do Circumambulation around the temple. It is a common practice in these hills drivers who will be in a hurry will not get down from the vehicle and go around the temple/shrine in their vehicle itself.
As we approached the Kunzum La, I started clicking pictures, in the bright Sun. The challenge of these high altitude mountains is that there is no tree for shade and you cannot use an umbrella for the wind speed will either tear it off or make it useless. Just look the picture of the flags flying in the air. They were moving at such high-speed that it was tough to freeze their motion. This close-up picture was clicked at F 9 at 1/8000 Th of second, from Nikon D7000 body with a Nikon 18-105 VR lens.
Oh and please totally ignore the gentlemen in the left bottom corner of the picture. He is there just to prove that “ Kashmir say Kanyakumari tak, Gujarat say Guwahati tak Bharat ek hai. Meaning -From Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Gujarat to Guwahati India is one.Now let me add to the same: “Kunzum say Kashi tak Bharat ek hai”, as we Indians can piss anywhere, on the Ghats of Holy Ganga in Kashi aka Varanasi, to Kunzum La; we have no qualms about it. We may be different in food habits, language, religion but when it comes to emptying our bladders, all of us are exactly shame shame jee.
But the worst was yet to happen at Kunzum, as I was moving around looking for a good angle to click the picture and avoid Mr. Pissman in my frame, one of our fellow travelers suddenly collapsed just like in movies. Our friends from Mumbai were around and they helped me in reviving him by sprinkling some water on his face. We put him in our van and immediately started the descend towards Chandra Taal or the moon shaped lake. Later we realized he was suffering from AMS, though it was a bit surprising as we were already in Spiti for about 7 days and he got AMS on our last night in Spiti. Fortunately we had trained guide with us, who was able to take care of him, but initially, we were very worried and were willing to cancel Chandra Taal Trip. But I am glad we did not for our friend was OK in the morning after he rested the of the trip at Chandra Taal. But that dear reader is another story.
What to do at Kunzum Pass ?
Well besides clicking pictures, enjoying the breathtaking beauty of the desolate mountains and gawking in awe at Bara-Shigri the second longest glacier in the Himalayas, you can pray to the Kunzum Devi, for your safe travels. Kunzum pass is not something you visit as a destination like I said earlier you just pass from Kunzum pass but those moments that you will pass there will be etched in your memory for a long time to come. For there are few places like Kunzum anywhere else in the world not the biggest, not the best, not the highest not the baddest but still worth every second you will spend there. Three cheers for Kunzum the middle brother La on the way to the middle land of Spiti.
Some useful information about Kunzum: Height: 4,590 m or 15,060 ft.
Kunzum distance from nearby places
Rohtang Pass to Kunzum Pass : 76 KM
Kaza City: 78 KM
Keylong: 112 KM
Losar Village (nearest permanent human habitation): 19 KM
Chandra Taal: 9 KM by trek and about 14 KM by motorable road.
Manali to Kunzum: 128 KM about 4 hours depending on traffic at Rohtang
Note: I was on my trip to Spiti with photography mentor and founder of Darter Photography Arun Bhat. Darter regularly conducts photography tours to the Himalayas in the leadership of passionate photographers whose love of Himalayas is reflected in their pictures.
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