This trip was originally planned last year, but due to sudden cloudburst in Uttarkhand and Himachal, with heavy heart I had to cancel our plan. After a long wait of a year finally our plan to visit beautiful Himalayas finally got realised this March (March is end of winter).
I have put down my itinerary. I know it looks quite elaborate but my idea was to record everything I have seen, heard and felt. Here’s the first part.
17th March’14 - Mumbai – Pashim express – When I planned our trip, we were not sure of the dates and the delay landed us in sleeper class coach. I need not say how much we suffered as we boarded the heated train from Mumbai. The nights were better though and the prospect for cooler coming days gave us the strength.
18th March’14 - Shimla
Once we reached Chandigarh, we met Mr. Vinkal Handa whose car we had booked, and started our journey to Shimla. We had suffered enough in train and were desperately waiting for the cool Shimla breeze. But as our car crossed the borders of Haryana and entered Himachal, we noticed the change in climate and our minds started finding its peace. It was approx four hour journey and we took a break on the way to have hot Maggi and Tea. By the time we reached Shimla, it was dark and we hurried to find a suitable hotel for one night. Our driver, Vinkelji, suggested Hotel Sangeet where rooms were available but I thought it expensive for just one night stop. We were supposed to leave the next morning.
But after the endless train journey, searching for hotel sounded a big task. Hotel Sangeet too was full by then and we had to drag our feet to look for others. We met two helpers, Mr.Nari and his brother who took us to hotels per our requirement. Finally after checking 2 hotels we settled for hotel Sea rock. The room was more of a enclosed box but we were good as it had hot water and it was just a matter of one night. If you ask for review I would rate it 2*.
Next morning, we strolled through the Shimla market and bought a few winter items for dad. The market was reasonable and we got some good deals. I found the locals walking to their offices in trendy clothes. It was a pleasant morning and we were happy, finally satisfied to be there.
Shimla also known as Simla, is the capital city of Himachal Pradesh. Most of the town lies between 2,100 m and 2,300 m. Shimla is well known as a hub for India's tourism sector. It is among the top 10 preferred entrepreneurial locations in India. Its name has been derived from the goddess Shyamala Devi, an incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali.
19th March’14 – Sarahan
We skipped sightseeing in Shimla and started our journey for Sarahan at noon. It was a long road along the beautiful landscaped mountains and we took stop at Narkanda for lunch. The hotel owner was Tibetan and chatted with us as we paid the bill. She had been to Mumbai few months ago in December for fortnight trip. They had also been to Ajanta & Ellora caves and enjoyed the trip. We left with smiles and with her good wishes for our journey.
Sarahan is small town and has the famous Bhimakali temple, dedicated to the mother goddess Bhimakali, presiding deity of the rulers of the former Bushahr State. The temple is situated about 180 km from Shimla and is one of 51 Shakti Peethas. The town is known as the gateway of Kinnaur.
It has an average elevation of 7,589 feet.
The temple is made of wood and has intricate beautiful carvings.
We reached Sarahan at around 6:30 pm. I asked Vinkelji about hotels. He mentioned his friend's hotel Green valley. I still went to see the guest house in Bhimakali temple but decided in favour of Green valley which had better view than the Bhimakali guest house which was nothing more than a close room without windows. By the time we freshened up and reached the temple by 7:15 pm, (the Aarti starts by 6:45-7), the Aarti was finished and the temple was closed. The next morning we got ready and visited the deity. We were impressed by the temple’s peculiar architecture and by it’s intricate wooden carvings. The premise is spacious and we sat there for some time taking in the beauty of the temple and basking in the sun in the chilly morning.
20th & 21st March’14 Kalpa
Sangla Valley or the Baspa Valley starts at Sangla and ends at Chitkul. The Baspa River flows in the Sangla Valley which is rich in pine nut orchards, Royal red apples, cherry trees, and glacial streams with trout. The main villages in the valley villages include Chitkul, Rakcham, and Batseri.
Sarahan was the last town in Shimla district and was also the last with proper roads. As we entered Sangla Valley, after a few kilometres, the roads got narrower and crude. Those who are afraid of height may find their BP rising as the car treks it’s way thousand feet above the steep slope. We took stop at the Mata temple which was built by military to please deity for frequent accidents on the road. There we met an appointed military personal from Maharashtra. He was pleased to find someone from his homeland and so were we.
We followed the steep path, in awe of the skilful driver as our car passed along the edges, with River Sutlej flowing below. Our itinerary was for Sangla/Chitkul but due to weather havoc, the road was closed, so we headed to Kalpa. We took halt at Reckong Peo for lunch. Reckong Peo, also simply known as Peo by the local inhabitants, is headquarters of Kinnaur district. It is at a height of 7,513 ft.
Kalpa is a small town in the Sutlej river valley, above. Inhabited by Kinnauri people and famous for its apple orchards. Apples are a major cash-crop for the region. It has an average elevation of 9,711 feet. It is located at the base of the Kinnaur Kailash snow-capped ranges. The Shivling peaks rise up to 20,000 feet. Kalpa is among apple orchards, pine-nut forests and the stately deodhars. It is above the town of Reckong Peo, the district headquarters of Kinnaur, which has a hundred-year-old Buddhist monastery.
There was fresh snowfall at Kalpa the previous day and most of the hotels were closed due to insufficient staff and water. Vinkalji took us to Rolling Rang resort where we got ourselves a room with direct and perfect view to Kinner Kailash & Shrikhand. We were so close to snow, we gasped at the magnificent mountains as we had a nice hot cup of tea.
The Kinnaur Kailash (locally known as Kinner Kailash) has a height of 6500 meters and is considered as sacred by both Hindu and Buddhist Kinnauris. The pass accessible on the trek is the Charang La at an altitude of 5300m. It is considered as the toughest trek in Himachal Pradesh.
As per legend this shrine too finds its presence since the time of bhasmasur, the Deadly Asur/demon who got a boon/vardan from lord shiva that whoso ever's head will be touched by him, will be turned into bhasma or ashes. Seeing the powerful effects of this boon he tried to bhasma Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva kept on hiding from place to place and then finally came to this place. He resided here for some time meditating with Lord Vishnu. Then finally Lord Vishnu helped him by killing the demon.
Kinnauris believe in the shivling seen on the Shrikhand range as shown in the left pic (picked from net, my camera lens is not powerful enough to capture it). As per locals, the snow never settles on the shivling.
On the second day we went out for some wandering. First on our list was Roghi village. The road to this village is very narrow and it added our admiration for the local drivers. We went by car but there were people who had set out on foot. Along the road was the suicide point with cliff with a terrific fall below. As we reached Roghi village, we found a truck filled with construction materials taking reverse on the steep, narrow, unsettled road. We stood by to look at the operation with eyes opened wide.
Cabbages at the village
I went into shooting spree through the almost-empty lanes with traditional houses & beautiful wooden temples.
Next on our plan was the Tibetan monastery in Chini village a few meters below our hotel. As we reached the temple, a few monks were leaving. We were surprised to see them photo-shooting with iMac. We went around the temple, spinning the prayer wheels offering prayers. It was nice peaceful place like a world in itself. The next morning we could hear a players from the monastery, it’s vibrational rhythmic chants engaging us immediately.
Even though days are warmer in Kalpa, nights get cooler. My parents found it an effort to adjust to the cold. One can also get a heater on rent, thought we came to know about it only on second night.
22nd & 23rd March’14 Rakcham
Next morning we started for Rakcham. Another Bengali group from our hotel was also following the same route. The manager of Running Rang, Mr. Thakur also accompanied us after Sangla. Thakurji is an interesting person and has lots of stories about the place which takes you to closer to the native and makes you more curious about the Kinnaur.
Rakcham is at an altitude of approx. 10,000 ft. Being at higher altitude and almost in the cold mountains, it is quite colder here than Kalpa. So our accidental change of plan in visiting Kalpa proved to be in our favor. It helped our body to get accustomed to cold and direct transfer to Raksham may have proved adversely on our health.
At Rakcham, we checked in at Rupin river, the only hotel there. As it was end of winter, the water pipes was not operational yet and the water was been provided from buckets. Thakurji (who runs this place too), showed us wooden cottage which he said would be less cooler than the cemented hotel. But when he showed us 301 room with a beautiful view to the mountains and the soothing flowing river, we comfortably voted the room over the cottage. But this time we asked for heater which is must here.
After lunch we headed towards the river. It was 1:30 pm and the sun was shining brightly above us. As we trekked down to the bridge, we found the snow under our feet soft and our shoes sinking and getting wet. We hopped our way carefully to the bridge. Even though the river looks calm from the hotel, it is not so calm under the bridge where it is forceful enough to bore multiple holes in the big boulders through which you see water coming through. Next few hours we just sat in the hotel balcony under the sun and soaking in the magnificent surroundings.
Just sitting was never so interesting. In the mornings, we watched people walk easily over the snow (the snow gets hard in the cold morning and begins to melt in the sun) on which we were struggling a day earlier. People carried fodder, wood over their back. There were college students who trekked to the other side in morning and were out in afternoon skiing. We realised that this place has the least of entertainment and I wondered how much time one will have on hand after daily chores. Also I read this place is absolutely free of any form of crime.
After breakfast we thought of just checking around. Thakurji told us that Chitkul (which is the last Indian village before the Tibet Border was on our original itinerary and not Rakcham) had fresh heavy snowfall and one of the cars that had gone there that morning had stuck in the snow and had to be pushed. The road towards Chitkul was breath-taking and we came across a few glaciers. However after a few kilometers, we turned back to our hotel.
Chitkul (Chittkul) is the last inhabited village near the Indo-Tibet border. The Indian road ends here. During winters, the place mostly remains covered with the snow and the inhabitants move to lower regions of Himachal. Potatoes grown at Chittkul are one of the best in the world and are very costly. It is also the last point in India one can travel to without a permit.
After lunch at hotel, we strolled through the village, which unfortunately was mess with cow dung and melting snow. We made our way to the only temple in the village but found it locked. Later we came to know that it opens only once a month, on the day of Sankranti. The wooden walls displayed Hindu dieties and also hint of Tibetan influence with dragon carvings.
** Indented red text is taken from net, mostly Wiki & Himachal gov tourist site for specific details.
…Part 2 to be continued