Kalpa/Sangla/Chitkul (Mar 2010) – II


Kalpa (2960 mtrs ASL) is a sleepy Himalayan outpost, with abounding greens, offering a vantage view of snow clad Kinner (derivative is the newer version, Kinnaur) Kailash. The place has true Himalayan flavour, devoid of hordes of noisy, haranguing tourists seizing the area. Even the locals are hard to come by, localities being far and spread. This also offers a myriad of trekking options. The place remains closed during winter (usually from Dec to mid March) due to layers of snow. While we were there, a few hotels were readying for the oncoming season though most were still under lock and key.

Kinner Kailash range of Greater Himalayas is one of the important mythical abodes of Shiva, others being Kailash Mansarovar, Kailash Parvat, Chhota Kailash etc. Kinner Kailash overlooks Kalpa from about 15 kms (as the crow flies). Trekking to Kinner Kailash, however, starts from Powari, a place beyond Peo on the way back to Rampur. Kalpa also offers a great sunrise view, Kinner Kailash being eastwards of Kalpa. The first rays of sun gliding across the snowy peaks would undoubtedly make anyone’s day.

Kalpa has a large number of apple orchards – the main source of income (a very handsome source – I was told and that is reason not many kinnauris seek employment – Govt or private). Sadly, though, we could see just the flowered down version of apple trees – leafless, bare awaiting the next round of leaves and flowers, which usually starts by Apr. The apples become ready during and after the summers. Apart from the majestic Deodars and pines, we also spotted apricots in bloom, endowed with artful white or pink flowers. Kalpa has a heritage, being a main township in the area and erstwhile district headquarters. When the govt realised that Kalpa was being burdened and withered by administrative calls, the Dist HQ was shifted down to Rekong Peo, some 15-20 years back. The place is said to have captivated Lord Dalhousie so much that apart from creating the Hindustan -Tibet Road (presently NH 22) connecting Kalka/ Shimla to Tibet through this place (during 1850s), he became a regular visitor to Kalpa. The original building of Circuit House, next to the new structure is said to have housed Lord Dalhousie during his jaunts to Kalpa. An interesting piece of information was given by Mr Shyamal (mentioned later), who tells that the road passing behind Circuit House/PWD Guest House (road that leads to Roghi village) is the original Hindustan-Tibet road, which deviates from NH 22 somewhere in Karcgham.
Peo has a petrol pump (no Speed please), which caters to areas as far as Chitkul in Sangla valley. Parking is usually not a problem in Peo as well as Kalpa.

Stay. In Kalpa, Circuit House offers the best stay, if you can manage it. Equally attractive is the PWD Guest House, next to Circuit House. They are booked through DCP, Peo office. There are also a number of hotels in Kalpa, apart from many of them in Peo. While walking around, we came across Hotel Aucktong, a cosy set up offering imposing views from its spacious terrace, and its owner, Mr Shyamal (da) Debnath. To our surprise, we realised that many a bongs own hotels in that area, primarily to cater to Bengali tourists. Since no asset in Kinnaur can be owned by outsiders, all these people have an arrangement of taking hotels on lease from the local owners. Shyamal da was a very friendly person whose kitchen also provides typical bong cuisines like posto (something for which we have to undertake long drive all the way to CR Park in Delhi), tomato chutney etc, to the guests. He had arrived the previous day and was in the process of cleaning /readying up the hotel for the oncoming season. Room prices vary from approx. 700/- to 1200/- depending on time of the year. Hotel Auktong, with own parking and arrangement for drivers, is located on the road to Roghi village (well paved, reasonably wide at least till end of Kalpa). This road houses, apart from Circuit House/PWD Guest House, around 8-10 more hotels, including HPTDC Kinner Kailash, an impressive looking set-up with expansive area and commanding view. All these hotels generally offer clear view of Kinner Kailash ranges/peak.

Kalpa was windy in the evenings turning to extremely cold in nights. Ice chunks were still visible on roadside and in nooks and corners. During day-hours, one can make do with a jacket/pullover thanks to a bright sun. Drive from Kalpa to Roghi village is quite adventurous. One can spend a few days doing nothing but meandering through the green ups and downs. The place is a tranquiliser for the soul, especially for most of us unfortunate city-dwellers. Sadly, though, the mobiles work there, contrary to reports I had seen on the net; and they repeatedly draw you back to the lands of mud and grime, if not switched off.
The best part in Kalpa was – since we are not much of trekkers (all our trekking we let our car do)- sitting through the day, staring eternally at the Kinner Kailash. The peaks are reputed to change shade/colour over the day. Night watches merit special mention, when we would sit fully clad amid chilly winds in the darkest of surroundings (they were new moon nights), watching the silhouette of Kailash ahead and skyfull stars above.

Shopping Kinnaur is supposedly famous for yields of heeng (asafoetida), kaala jeera, giri (apricot seeds, tastes close to raw almond), rajma apart from the kinnauri caps and shawls. Kinnauri caps are different and more expensive than the Kullu caps. The shopping avenues, however, are better in Peo. Tibbeti market in Peo is a miniscule cluster of 5-7 shops, but boasts of good local collection. One can also procure turquoise here, sourced from further north, at a bargain price. Sharmi zeroed in on a local jeweller (located on outskirts of Peo), who prepared some silver trappings (was it maala or ear-rings or perhaps some other funny stuff which can be worn around the neck; or is it the head?), with local designs. On such occasions, she suddenly turns extra ebullient and starts picking on my virtues. Her exuberance and lightness of being abundantly outpaces my manifested nonchalance about lightness of pockets.

Society Most striking aspect about Kinnauries is their remarkable beauty. This beauty supposedly finds mention in our scriptures (as I brought out in the previous article), where they have been perceived as some sort of demi-Gods because of their looks. That’s the reason I will contend that Kinaur is the ‘real Dev Bhoomi’, despite the fact that the term has now been appropriated by every agency from Himanchal to Uttaranchal. Kalpa also has its share of Tibetan (Mongoloid) and plains people, but the Kinnauries always stand out in their surrounding.
Limited sections of the tribal society continue to practise fraternal polyandry. The phenomenon is linked to legal system in the area wherein if an outsider (non-Kinner) marries a Kinner girl, the girl and her daughter get to inherit the property of her parents. Non-Kinnauries are not permitted to acquire property.

Kalpa to Sangla, Rakcham (Day-5) – A Memorable Drive

We started from Kalpa towards Sangla (a distance of approx 45 kms) at around noon on Wednesday, driving back the same route till Karcham, from where rather than going towards Shimla, we turned left towards Sangla. The stretch of road in this sector needs special and repeated mention due to its awful state.


The real adventure starts once you enter Sangla Valley, a few kilometres down the road from Karcham. For the records, Sangla Valley is a part of Kinnaur laying along the Baspa River, which is a tributary of Satluj, the confluence point being Karcham. The valley is barren during this time of the year, but the entire place turns lush green (comparable to Alpine meadows, I was told) during May-Jun and yield rich harvest of flowers and grains. The road to Sangla runs more or less along Baspa river.
The broken surface of the road, it’s somewhat narrowness, lack of embankments on the valley side of the road; regularly falling stones on one side and steep fall to Baspa on the other side, do set the adrenalin in motion.
The local buses and maxi-cabs, however, are friendly and understanding enough, therefore, you usually do not have hassle crossing them on these narrow tracks. Problem occurs when you have an outsider, driving a big vehicle. We came across a big TATA Truck, belonging to some Para-military set-up, with a CH-01 (Chandigarh, what else) number plate. On a narrow ledge, naturally, both of us stopped face to face. The driver from that big fat truck came out and eloquently explained that he expected me to move to the right of the road and cross the truck. The catch, however, was that our right was a borderless steep fall into Baspa from the road. I, seriously contemplating getting into the act of squeezing to my right, was assessing the scene when Sharmi had a brilliant idea. She simply and naturally spoke to the driver and offered him to get into our car and carry it across; the way he was claiming was possible as she said ‘please, aap hamari car shift kar dijiye, ham bahar wait karenge’.
That move was a real trump, knocking him off. There was no response from the driver but for some incomprehensible grunts and mumbles. Thankfully, soon there was a local maxi cab in the scene and it’s driver vehemently disagreed with truck driver’s proposition. Finally I backed my car to the left in a slightly wider space and the truck happily drove past.
We reached Sangla (2680 mtrs ASL) at around 4.00 pm. But the place appeared quite barren and somewhat commonplace. Snowy Himalayas being at sizable distance, we planned to move further ahead. The decision was also driven by the fact that having arrived at Sangla in almost one piece, we felt confident enough to plough on till Chitkul, which is about 30 kms beyond Sangla. A journey through now familiar terrain brought us to Rakcham, about halfway between Sangla and Chitkul. And this little known village with a population of 800 was stupendous to the true sense of the word.

Rackcham.

Rakcham, situated halfway between Sangla and Chitkul, is in a bowl shaped valley on the banks of Baspa river; snugly surrounded by the Greater Himalayas. Starting from the main road, a 10-15 min walk in any direction will see you climbing the swooping ranges.
And major potion of the place was still under snow. Remember those picturesque, outlandish cards with snow flaked trees standing proudly on the slopes of snow mountains,,, unblemished whites interspersed with a canopy here, conical shaped trees there….a river with crystal clear water flowing past…? Well, imagine all those beautiful frames you might have seen during childhood, in movies/posters/cards or even dreams; stored in recess of memory……(what I describe frivolously is far less than what I saw; and what my eyes absorbed standing there is far less than the emotive cataclysm I experienced)… …Rakcham appeared to be a blend of all those pictures created to the perfection.
Mesmerised by what we saw, there was no way we could have made any decision but to stay put there for the night, rather than proceeding to Chitkul. We were unloading the packs from car in Rakcham by 05.00pm on Day-5.
Rakcham deserves a full report, so I hold this for next article in the series. Hope you guys enjoyed the post. Thanks.

27 Comments

  • Mahesh Semwal says:

    Dear Aurojit,
    Rackcham pictures are awesome.
    Looking forward to see the detail write-up on it.

    • sanjay srivastava says:

      Hi Aurojit

      Indeed pics are very beautiful and seems to be raw beuty and offbeat place. I love to go to hills but i,m scared too narrow lanes, roads specialy driving etc.
      pls let me know how safe these roads are to kalpa, kinnnor etc,

      regards

      sanjay

  • Adi says:

    Hi aurojit…. Nice to see your comeback with Part II…..Your experiences has been your’s but your photographs gives me a complete experience of what kind of the place and the journey would have been for you. Must be very adventurous ….. you know in this hot humid weather of the east when i see your photographs with the mesmeric beauty of our land which is unheard off attracts me very much. Only the point for me is that i can experience the same towards sikkim , gangtok, or bhutan by car. Your phtgraphs are too good. By the way i saw a thin line of crack on your wind shield in one of your photgraphs. Is that correct ,what i am thinking, that it might be a gift from god on that heavenly piece of earth with a little more gravity in it. Please explain. :)

  • Virag Sharma says:

    Wow …. what a nice place :-)

  • Pictures are very beautiful !
    I am sure many will be attracted to these places after seeing these pictures.
    Whats best is that these places are far from hussle and bussle of city life.
    Few days off to them will be very relaxing.
    In my future surely will be planning a visit there.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Aurojit,

    I simply can’t find words for the brilliance of your description, what to talk of excellent supporting pictures. Your sense of photography is par excellence.

    All through I was reminded of my trip to Switzerland, the only difference being the availabilty of infra structure at the Swiss resorts. It is a pity that such beautiful regions, which can easily match any of the beauties of the world, are still labelled as “backward areas”. Well on the positive side, it could be a blessing in disguise, as one can still find the virgin lands around us.

    Shall look forward to your write up on Rackham, a lesser known place.

  • aurojit says:

    Thanks again Mr Dhall, for all those nice (albeit undeserving) words.
    I have one issue over here, though. I will contest the tag of ‘backwardness’ – who defines this term and on what benchmarks – is it based on the standard marketing stuff defined by structured commercial hierarchy, the only parameter being the ability to enhance the bank balance (individual’s or that of the bigger organisation) and such horizon which is permanently fixated westwards.
    Let people create resorts in the area – it will be done at the cost of nature and locals….May I leave it at that…
    Looking forward to your next post, as I prepare Raksham prose.Thanks.
    Auro.

  • nandanjha says:

    We gave a miss to Kalpa but after your description, If I make a trip to Kaza again, our 2nd night would be there.

    Once the HP Power Plant work gets done, probably roads would improve. I agree that Karcham-Sangla is really one driving experience. :-)

    Not sure whether you had a chance to look at it but I wrote a small road review of this section – https://www.ghumakkar.com/2009/08/11/shimla-to-kaza-a-road-review/

    On to Rakchham

  • gopal sharma says:

    hi aurojit , kinnaur is one of the best and beautiful region in the world, kinnar trek is one of the best trek i have done.thanks for the beautful desription of this region.

  • Biswajit Ganguly says:

    Dear Aurojit,
    Although only last summer I was in Kalpa, Sarahan, Sangla and Chitkul but the kind of description you have made it is almost as if some new paces you have explained. Wonderful pictures, immaculate presentation and very heartfelt experiences makes it very exclusive reading. I have been a great fan of Himachal and can certainly claim that himachal no competitor for its virgin places and mythical effect. Do keep writing, I look forward to many more to come. thanks

  • aurojit says:

    Thanks Biswajeet for your comments. Hope you have gone through Part III as well. tHANKS.

  • Sahil says:

    Hii Aurojit ,
    Very nycly posted again…Can our M800 survive these rough patches…

    • aurojit says:

      Sure, in fact we came across enough M800/Alto both in Kalpa and Sangla sector (atleast upto Rakcham). My only advise would be that have ample time in hand so that you can drive without hurrying things up. Would love to provide any further clarification. Enjoy your trip.
      Auro

  • Shobha says:

    hi Aurojit.
    i am leaving for Sangla Kalpa Kaza Keylong on June 1.Reaching Kalpa on 6 June.Will the cold be managable.I had a very bad experience at Kedarnath last May,and am worried after that.I have once before gone trekking till Chitkul,in the month of May.Can you tell about Kalpa in June ?

  • auro says:

    Hi Shobha,
    Expect Kalpa would be at the most mil cold, doable with perhaps light woolens. If you have been to Chitkul in May, Kalpa will be something similar and surely not worse. Also, your preparations for Kaza will adequately take care of weather in Kalpa.
    Have a great time.
    Auro.

  • puneeta says:

    hi I am travelling to Sangla ,in June am still tossing up o decide how many days at sangla ? Rakcham looks great can it be an alternative to Sangla ? where to stay in kalpa other that hptdc hotels .

    travelling with two six year olds !!

    Any comments will help

    thanks in advance .

    Puneeta

  • travellers says:

    Hi Puneeta,
    Kalpa has numerous options, almost all of them offering a view of Kinner Kailash. Though HPTDC appeared to be quite reasonable, you can also try Mr Debnath of Aucktong (09816179457). Speaking to them would give you a fair idea of weather, crowd scene and accommodation availability.
    Don’t foresee any hassles for the kiddos, if they get a good journey and breaks in between.
    Any other issues, do ask.
    Wishes,
    Auro.

  • travelbug says:

    Have finally booked at Hptdc as they had just a few rooms left and did not want to take a chance !

    We were plg to base ourselves in Sangla and do day excusions or treks . Do you have any recommendations .

    also we are driving an Innova so i guess we should be okay .

    Puneeta

    • travellers says:

      Hi Puneeta,
      HPTDC has two hotels over there.
      Based in Kalpa, you can cover Peo and undertake extensive trekking all around. Kalps itself is a heaven for trekking enthusiasts.
      Innova certainly will be good.
      Have a nice time.

      Auro.

    • travellers says:

      PS – Just got the info that Kalpa had a high temp og 30 deg Celsius on Friday.
      Auro.

  • GAM says:

    How well you describe these places. I would love to visit them, more so after reading your post. Are there forested places for easy walking (as opposed to trekking) around Kalpa? Thanks

    • travellers says:

      Hi GAM,

      Forests around Kalpa are as much walkable as they are trekkable. In fact entire Kalpa offers easy walks across hills.

      Thanks.

      Auro.

  • Debashis says:

    Rakcham is indeed the hidden paradise of Kinnaur. Have recently shifted to this place from Mumbai. Please let me know if any of you are planning a trip to this majestic valley. Check my webiste http://rakcham.com for info and pics.

    Cheers!

    – Debashis

  • Tekzo says:

    Aurojit,

    I have been really lazy in putting comments on websites but your narration somehow managed to stretch me out :-) Really awesome,point blank frank and relevant description, great community service… thanks :-)

  • Vishal says:

    well visited your blogs while searching about my restaurant….just a co incidence i visited chitkul in 2010 as well…..have a read

    http://vish4uall.blogspot.in/2011/01/another-dip-in-beauty-of-mountains-with.html

  • Deepak Vashisht says:

    Dear Aurojit

    Nice description u have posted..thanks..
    Iam so much willing to visit beyond shimla.please advice about the trip.
    is it advisable to travel in my i10 car with family…iam a average driver…have driven upto dharamshala last year. is it safe with family(2 kids 6 & 13 yrs)?
    what precautions shud i take?
    boarding and lodging options.
    are the roads safe to drive for a driver like me?
    best time to travel
    Pleese reply..
    thanks in advance.

  • Sharmila says:

    Hi! Can you give us some details about accommodation at Chikul? We are planning to go there this October.
    Best wishes
    Sharmila

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