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.
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.