As I sit down to write this, I realise that for a photographer, wielding a pen comes less naturally than composing a shot. I am writing after two years, having just returned from a trip up north in the mountains – to Kalpa, Reckong Peo and Chitkul. And I have to say, some parts of the trip were heavy on my spirit.
Our trip began early. We left from Gurgaon, Haryana at 5 a.m – I with my family in our new car – and our destination for the first day was Narkanda. Driving at a 108kms I got a chalan for over speeding near Panipat. Good thing I wasn’t driving at my normal speed of 120 kms.
Anyway, we reached Narkanda at about 5:30 in the evening. My wife and I were horrified to to see what Shimla has become. What ‘hill station’?! – All we could see were hotels, cars and not-so-green mountains.
We were saddened by the evidence everywhere – of how we are playing with nature, and in the name of progress, destroying this wonderful gift. I was saddened to see dams being built, for which mountains being eaten into, trees were being cut and rivers were forced to change course for the ecologically-selfish purposes of us people. To go to a naturally beautiful area and see the dominance of cranes and machinery everywhere is a depressing, depressing prospect. I am concerned – at what cost are we losing our precious, irreplaceable natural resources? Will my daughter one day not remember what a hill station is supposed to be like? At this rate, it’s entirely possible that one day she may not have the blessing of knowing what green, untampered-with mountains and open fields can do to rejuvenate as flagging soul.
To keep such depressing thought at bay, the next day my wife, my daughter and I thought we’d go for a little adventure. So we took off for a walk in no definite direction. We ambeld past pine trees and got a feel of nature and the sense of holiday, and as it turns out, despite what Shimla has morphed into, it was lovely to spend time with my wife and three-and-a-half year old daughter without worrying about work and deadlines and traffic jams back home. We had a great time that afternoon.
Narkanda was just a pit stop. Our main destination was Kinnaur, further north in Himachal – the apple-infested village in Kalpa, where we headed to the next day. As luck would have it, we had just started when I had to deal with a flat tyre. Now, I get scared in the hills if I have a puncture. Fortunately, there are puncture-repair walas at every small town. And the drive up is very nice – that is TILL you reach Bhavanagar. Then the real challenge starts.
It won’t be fair to say the roads are bad. You see, there needs to BE a road before it turns bad! So forget bad, there is no road till you reach Reckong Peo! All you have to negotiate with is a circuitous, narrow, dusty gravel path. And all you see is are buildings of damn constructions everywhere, and no natural beauty. My thoughts on the drive: man, we guys suck! I kept thinking of the lyrics of Michael Jackson’s Earth Song: <Did you ever stop to notice/ The crying Earth the weeping shores?>
So after few kms of bad/ no road we finally reached Reckong Peo, asked around for the way to Kalpa – 7-8 kms further north, and yes! That’s the place I wanted for my holiday. No commercialisation, no tourists, no eating into natural resources, a place you can relax, drink tea, and admire the beauty of the mountains in this little piece of paradise. What else do you want for a break from the city?
We stayed at Himachal Tourism. Take my word for it: there is nothing like that property. Good clean rooms, a sitting area outside from where you can watch snow-clad peaks, and drink more tea – not to forget, where our daughter could play. The property was great. Special points to the big dining area. And, very important: great food!
THINGS TO DO: Other than on walks, you can go on treks, and to visit the village, Rogi, which is 6 kms from Kalpa. It’s a steep drive but the view is worth it.
Kalpa also has a and cute market with a beautiful monastery and a temple. One gets an awesome view from the monastery. Went to Rekong Peo for a day, didn’t find anything exciting about that town. A normal town with a lot of shoe shops. Good for the shoppers.
After relaxing in Kalpa for 3 days, we headed to our next destination: Chitkul. And nothing could have prepared me for the beauty of this supposedly last Indian village before the Tibet border. If Kalpa was paradise, Chhitkul was Paradise on a sunny day and a breeze.
To get there, drive down to Karcham from where the road diverges towards Chitkul. This time the stretch of bad/ non-existent road and never-ending drive can be endured because of the amazing nature enroute.
We crossed Sangla Valley and had lunch there. Then came Raksham – the second last village. The scenes were becoming increasingly breathtaking and that made me even more eager to reach Chitkul. And boy, is it something! The amazing view of the mountains, waterfalls and the river going along. Twice we came to a point where there was no road, and I had to drive my new Indica vista, 1300 cc engine, through water. What an amazing experience! Beautiful valley, river flowing, and an absolutely divine view of the mountains. The view is imprinted in my mind’s eye forever. That’s how mesmerising it was.
There is of course, nothing much to do there except walk, relax, take photos, drink even more tea, and be at peace. Not a place for shoppers but a must for nature lovers. One can find all necessary things there like, 2 hotels, guest houses, a cute village, a temple. Not to forget HINDUSTAN KA AKHRI DHABA, as it’s called.
HOW TO GET THERE: There is no rail route for these places I describe. So options are Himachal Pradesh Bus, Taxi or your personal car. Make sure you are familiar with driving in mountains as a few routes need a 110 per cent concentration driving. And if you are driving by yourself, please be safe from local drivers. Often the overconfident locals don’t follow basic rules of driving in mountains i.e. honk on turns and don’t over speed. I think all the road signs are meant for them. You will not find many hotels in Chitkul but there were two of them operational and one under construction. A few guest houses also have accommodation. In case you don’t want to stay the night, plan your trip in such a way that you spend only the day there. You can see more pictures that I took here.