It was raining incessantly. Pouring cold showers had cast a gloomy spell. Water flowed from top of the mountains in torrents, the apple flowers taking the hit bravely as the apple orchard stood calmly in that pouring rain. The river little more furious than yesterday was flowing in full swing. It was grey, cloudy and bitter bitter cold all around. My head ached and fingers were frozen. Where was the sunshine and where were those snow clad peaks shining in rising sun? Here we were, trapped in tents buried under loads of blankets and it was just afternoon. The planned hike and tea in setting sun and bright light photography, all the plans washed down by that cold Himalayan whimsical rain! And I thought let me go back to Pune. Pune may be blistering in May heat but then anything is better than this cold and water assault ! I had never thought I would want to come back from lap of Himalaya.
The Kinnaur Himalaya almost tested my patience !!
Our Journey had started from Fagu, the deodar covered hills close to Shimla. From there the journey through some of the most amazing winding roads was as exciting as it could get ! We were headed for the Sangla valley, the heart of Kinnaur. The winding road takes you through Rampur Bushahr, the erstwhile capital of Bushahr state in British India. Rampur is on the banks of Satluj river flowing with roaring waves. Through the maze of yellow Birch flowers and violet Jacaranda blooms, the Rampur houses stacked uphill on the other side looked picturesque. On the way is Sarahan, seat of Bhimkali temple. The Shrikhand Mahadev as a backdrop and massive, impressive temple structure, all stone and wood is a sight to watch.
Bhimkali is one of the several Goddesses prayed in this region. Experts think this could have been originally place for Tantrik Buddhist goddess Bhima which later merged with Pauranik ‘Shakti’ and became Bhimkali. The temple premise is huge. The main temple is rich in wooden carvings A modern building like staircase takes you to the inner sanctum. The silver doors and frames exude the richness. In the premise one can see huge vessels and utensils which are used during big fairs and pilgrimages In a corner stands another temple for Narsimha, built completely in stone and may be more ancient.
Bhimkali temple is a landmark for the area, it is visible from a distance and remains with you even after it has faded from sight.
Satluj,now was buried in deep and narrow valleys, the mountains reaching to sky, the road zooming under patch of blue sky, under canopy of overhung rocks, the mountains closing in from all sides. Karchamm a place where Baspa meets Satluj is also a dam site. A very differently built dam in high mountains, with terraced approach must be a feat in itself. There is already a national geographic ‘Megastructures’ documentary on the scale and innovative design of this dam which is worth a watch.
It was a tilting sun when we reached Sangla. The Banjara Camps was like some divine garden with pink white apple flowers glowing in evening golden rays. The Baspa flowed in an elegant curve around the campsite. The beautiful panorama of tall cedar trees, and high mountain hills, their tops all covered in snow, looked mesmerizing. The evening was well spent along the Baspa river bank, jumping over boulders and marvelling at colourful stones and just listening to the sound of peace.
The next morning was a planned hike to nearest snow point. Sangla valley is a secluded corner of Himachal not too frequented by tourists. The path took us to nearby Batesari village. We started by stopping at the most exquisitely carved wooden temple of Narayan in the village. The villagers sitting in the porch were amused by the clamour of our group and our fascination of clicking the cameras. The temple was modest size with pagoda shaped roof and fierce looking wooden dragons sitting at the corners. The wood was fresh with paint, the deity mostly Vishnu was sleeping and hence doors were closed.
Next a winding walk through rows of small wooden houses, taking in the fresh smell of pines and poplar, crossing the bouncy brook we started the gradual incline. The village faded away. It is something when you walk in the Himalayan silence in the shadow of those hill trees. The ground was covered with leaves and pine cones creating a picturesque mishmash. We slowly reached the foot of a hill where a glacier has come to meet us. The snow has melted somewhere forming poodles and it was cold. In front of us were the mighty snow covered peaks at such a close distance and behind us was the glacier ice. The moments stood still.
And then the weather turned around and the sunrays were gone only to be replaced with cold foggy winds. And within no time the rain drops came down tumbling. Our journey back to camp was with hurried pace and worried minds. The glacier point got engulfed in fog and now the pouring rain had taken over. The Baspa flowed with more roar and clouds covered the vision And the rain did not stop…as I said Kinnaur Himalaya has tested my patience
With the memory of smiling sunkissed apple flowers the day before, we left the Sangla valley.
The journey to Kalpa was most memorable. The rains turned to snowflakes on high mountains in no time. The valley battered so far by rain now got draped in light cover of snow. The air became thick, the few remaining spring blossoms surrendered to ground. The road became dangerous and slippery. The sun must have crossed the zenith but there was no way to know. And sometime later this rage of nature subsided.
The rain and snow fled away. The grey skies cleared a bit, a patch of golden blue appeared on the horizon, visibility improved, the air became lighter and views sharper ! the sun rays landed on high snow covered peaks, transforming them into bright and beautiful vista. The wind blowing the fluffy snowflakes sparkling in sunshine, the Devdar standing on the corner turn, all drenched and cleaned, looked majestic in sun. How magical is a drop of sunshine, not only did it changed the nature around us it but it lifted our spirits too. The road was winding and treacherous, but now the valley looked enchanting, green interspersed with white snow and black soil, all soaked in golden tinge of life, the wooden thatched roofs gleaming, the blue of sky more pronounced contrasting with the vanilla white snow on top of majestic green mountain !
What a journey ! Until we reached the Satluj Valley. Swelled because of recent rains, Satluj moved ahead with force. The deep valley and the scary river bed added to the evening anxiety. The sun had not set, but the craggy walls of Himalayan mountains reached far up in the sky to allow any brightness to trickle. The muddy flow of Satluj kept us company on that rocky road till Reckong Peo. Peo is the district place of Kinnaur region. For Kalpa, you have to pass Peo, then leave the highway leading to Spiti and take a good amount of mountain turns to climb up.
Kalpa was sleeping when we reached, the rains had subsided completely, and biggest proof was shining in the sky, a full silver moon ! It was a different nightfall, a soothing moonlit silence covering the perky pine leaves and soft apple blooms.
The next morning in Kalpa brought back everything that nature promised in the May morning. As we got ready and came down the stairs, the splendid panorama of massive Kinnaur Kailash Himalayan range covered with snow opened in front of us. The weather was crisp and sunshine bright, the delicate apple blossoms smiling and snow faces of hills dazzling like diamond dust !
Kinnaur Kailash is a religious pilgrimage which many people take in the month of August. Starting from Tangling village, after crossing the mighty mountains the pilgrims reach the base of stone pinnacle representing Kinnaur Kailsah at 6050 mtrs. Kinnaur Kailash is also supposed to represent the Kailash Peak in Tibet and a ‘Parikrama’ around Kinnar Kailash is also taken up by devotees. Shrikhand Mahadev is also a similar pilgrimage taken in Sutlaj valley downstream further west. Kalpa enjoys unique geographic location. It is completely surrounded by tall Himalayan mountains who are covered in snow throughout the year.
The first stop in todays sightseeing was at the renowned temple of Goddess Chandika at Kothi. The temple has 2 parts, one newly built and one which looked centuries old. Photography was prohibited in the inner part of the temple. All the temples in this region which belongs to goddesses have a very strong influence of local traditions. The wood and stone panelled walls, the distinct architecture of tall columnar area with pagoda roof, the animal horns, animal hair blankets, carved animals on corners, the different traditional musical instruments, all of them have a wonderful local flavour. Just before we reach the main temple, there are 2 more beautiful structures, again a temples for local goddesses. The temples here exquisite wooden carvings often with Tibetan influence. Also remarkable are slate roofs which adorn temples and huts alike and protect both from onslaught of winter snow.
The next stops was a Brelangi gompa, a Buddhist monastery situated near Recong Peo. The golden roof gleamed in bright sunshine. The monastery was crowded but not noisy. The monks were chanting and it added to the serenity of the place.
Kinnaur is a unique place as it has both Hindu and Buddhist influence. The lower Kinnaur is predominantly Hindu whereas northern Kinnaue shows distinct Buddhist characteristic. The Hindu influence is visible in several gods and goddesses temple which have their roots in local legends and folklores. The Buddhist influence can be seen in various monasteries or Gompas which can be seen as we move ahead in Spiti valley. Experts also identify a buffer zone where Hindu and Budhist deities and worships converge and still retain their local roots.
Kinnaur, in Indian tradition is land of Kinnars, the semi celestial beings who are experts in dancing, singing and performing arts. Although today we can discard such notions as myths, the tranquillity of this land is unmistakable. This part of Satluj valley is now big orchard, thanks to apple cultivation. But still being remote, it is not the favorite for the usual ‘touristy’ tourists. This is an advantage ! because those who take this route are bound to find that inner voice as it resonates easily with the outer calm and natures blessings.
And how evident it was as we walked from Kalpa to Roghi, another small town across the mountains. This walk was on a deserted tar road but still close to nature. Leaving the Kalpa apple orchards behind, the tall devdar trees took to themselves to line the path. Such a huge majestic tree, straight-to-heaven trunks with large perimeter and those small leaflets forming the perfect branches, all winged out, that dark green magnificence and the cool, blissful shadow. Adding to the glory was the constant company of Kinnaur Kailash range, all silver snow and blue tops, the mountains so high, that Satluj flowing in the valley would look like a water rope. The wanton wind, blowing the clouds and ruling the valley, the craggy hills bravely facing the double assault of Sun and wind, the herd of sheep followed by a shepherd and a lone village woman easily walking up , her face shining and pace self -assured. This was one walk we did not want to end !
The small temple of Roghi, again the devotion more prominent than the modest temple, the large apricot tree shade, a mini waterfall bringing the celestial waters again to be used for earthen purpose of washing clothes. It was that peace, nature and simple rustic life we all crave for…but again a brief chat with village women telling us that forget Delhi, they have not even seen Shimla ! Not to mention the hardships they all have to go through living this ‘simple’ life is not for urban dwellers likes us. The realization was quick to follow.
And the Kinnaur Kailash peak stood tall in the distance, the cottony clouds gently moving, the white pink petals of spring blossom swaying in the icy wind, the Kinnar Veena strummed somewhere, possibly in my mind !