It felt rather strange being in Kinnaur so immediately after the humble Spiti valley; as though something beautiful had happened so quickly just so that it could pass off even more quickly. It was a mixed feeling between wanting to let go of something I had cherished and looking forward to another dream- such are the feelings while travelling and it remains my constant pursuit to grasp all the memories I can from everywhere I go, but also understand that nothing is mine forever. With such feelings I stood at the balcony of my room looking up at the majestic Kinner Kailash, that seemed to be peeping back at me.
The morning wasn’t as clear as I expected, but I could feel the mountain so close; the chill touch and soothe my ached body. We took a morning walk with attempts to capture the Kinner Kailash the best we could.
After a hearty breakfast, we hopped on to the bus that was on its way to the Roghi village, from where it would drop passengers at the main bus terminal at Peo, and head towards Sangla and Chitkul, the farhest villlages on the Indo-Tibet border.
The road to and from Roghi village is one of the most scary but mesmerising roads I have ever been on. Narrow and winding, dwindling cliffs including the infamous Suicide Point, and rocky walls on the other side make for an exquisite spectacle. To add to that, the ethnic faces of the Roghi villagers, with their unique head-hats, Mongoloid features and antique jewellery, mostly old, while young done the modern salwar-kameez, and the constant chattering of students going to school made it an interesting ride. If time permits, walking to the village would perhaps be quite fun. We didn’t want to miss the bus to Chitkul, and so skipped taking a stroll into the Roghi Village.
It gets slightly warmer as we meander down towards Sangla, riding on dusty roads, low hanging hills that look so close that they appear as though the door towards the village is being opened for you. We pass by a big hydroelectricity project office, and the roads at such a faraway land are impressively very smooth and well maintained.
Sangla looked like a slightly bigger town, more crowded and already slightly commercial. I immediately dropped my idea of perhaps spending a night here on my way back, while secretly praying that Chitkul was less crowded. A few more tourists hopped on from here, to travel towards Chitkul. I must say! The journey to Chitkul isn’t a short one! Thankfully the views and the local people help make it seem shorter!
It was afternoon when we entered into Chitkul. You could make out how little the village was 🙂 Just a few houses and shops on one side of the hill, the roaring Baspa on the other side of the valley with a narrow road that seemed to end at the border. I noticed instantly how many homestays and hotels were cropping up, that appeared to be in a hurry to be completed within this tourist season.. The beautiful, green hills surround the village, and the lush greenery doesn’t seem to cease to quench my thirst for green hills and mountains!
We found a homestay to crash for the night, but were quickly out in the open, jumping around to explore the little village.
Chitkul is indeed a small village, with most people either running a homestay or restaurant or a general shop, while others are off to tend their farms along with the cattle or are off working on the road project. As we walked around taking a stroll, I observed how different the culture and architecture was on this part of the Himachali state. Wood is used more predominantly here, with shiny slate as roof tiles. The main temple here stood in a peaceful courtyard with its ornate wooden carvings with a Goddess placed comfortably in her shrine in the middle. The locals came out in the mornings and evenings to pray with their offerings. A local we met here also showed us a much smaller temple of the same Goddess at a little distance on the other side of the village. This one was built for the lower caste locals of the village. Although he went on to add that things weren’t as bad as in the older days, they still had their own temple maintained and stuck to using their own. There were smaller wooden huts used as a shed for animals or stock storage. A stream flowed right through the village, around to the school as it joined the mighty Baspa river down below.
We crossed the bridge on to the river bank and took a lovely stroll until dusk. Words fall less to describe how utterly peaceful it felt, while the might river roared in front with the lofty hills and mountains behind us, sitting on a rock, listening to the leaves and tress slowly move and rustle to the cool breeze. It’s also a lovely place to camp out. We had two lovely dogs as company too! 🙂 As we watched them run around and play with each other, slowly women started returning back from their fields too and we came back chatting along with them, back to the village. The few women expressed their concern too on how tourism was welcome and that it would help develop and raise more money for them, but were equally concerned about the pollution and crowd it could create. They mentioned that, this year already they have seen such a high number of tourists and hence the more number of homestays mushrooming. I had mixed feelings just as they did, thinking of how the peace of the place could get easily ruined if the authorities weren’t going to be strict right from the start.
Seeing the old population of men and women, their simplicity and innocence, the children busy playing local village-made games and engrossed in their basketball reminded me of my childhood days spent at my grandmother’s place in Soureni.
Back at our room, the lady wasn’t very chatty. It seemed like her husband worked out of station and she was fixed on her phone. There weren’t anybody else we could really chat with, so we just rested for a while. We went off for an early dinner down to the one eating joint that everyone seemed to show us. On the way however, we were lucky to catch up with a bigger puja that was taking place at the temple. Men and women had gathered in their warm traditional ethnic clothes as some men moved around with the priest, holding the ‘palki’ with the goddess. They would do so for a number of times, at each direction till she was put back inside the temple. On the side, some women stood singing songs as the proceedings went on. It was getting late and cold, and we were getting hungry. So we headed down but realised how busy the kitchen staff were with the previous orders, Luckily for us, the staff there were from parts of Nepal, and speaking in our dialect we quickly befriended them. In the meanwhile, they helped us with a small bottle of their local drink (a local rice rum similar to the lugdi I had in Manali). When the food did finally come, we finished all that they had cooked for us and thanked them graciously.
As the night ended, it also dawned on me that this was officially the last night of our trip. Tomorrow we were heading back home.We slept like logs and were up early leaving like robbers to catch the 6 a.m. bus to Rakcham. My plan was to head down to Shimla or Chandigarh, whichever came first, so we could book a bus back to Delhi. There was nobody around in the morning to leave the money for the night and so we left the money in the kitchen. Downstairs we met with an old uncle who I guessed was either the father or father-in-law who said that the lady was praying. We peeped in to see her praying inside the cow shed and didn’t want to disturb or get late. So we told the uncle we had kept the money upstairs and said goodbye. I wondered though how easily they trusted people. Such was the place and their people. Anybody naughty enough could have easily slipped away without paying!
We reached Rakcham and after waiting for about 15-20mins a bus to Shimla came by. It was going to be a long journey, but we hopped on. We had to sit right at the back for more than half of the journey, and boy it was one bumpy ride! It was dusk when we reached Shimla and although it was my first time there, I wasn’t really up for exploring the town. It looked and felt like Darjeeling indeed and the fact that it had upper and lower bazaar, and that their Mall Road was further away from the bus station did not entice me at all. I decided to take one of the buses from there to Delhi instead. I’m a hectic traveller and always prefer to get home and rest than spend time taking break journeys and staying at hotels.
What they don’t usually say:
- Chitkul is the last village on the Indo-Tibet border but the actual last point is at the border, much further away from the main village. One can drive down to the border point and get back to Chitkul
- There are options to camp in tents by the Baspa river at Chitkul
- Local food and drinks are not readily available. Shops and restaurants cook and sell what tourists generally prefer instead
- It is no longer one of the off-beat destinations as tourists flock here every year
- ‘Hindustan ka aakhri dhaba’ at Chitkul has long shut, although the board still stands there
- Kinnaur lies in lower hills of Himachal Pradesh and is completely different from Spiti, culturally and topographically. It is greener, lush and the people speak in their Pahadi language
- The Negis and Rawats all seem to come from here! 😀
- The Sangla- Chitkul road tends to get quite dusty and bumpy all the way
- Rakchaam is the point where you either go down towards Shimla or up towards Reckong Peo
- Reckong Peo is like the transport hub for people to get around
- The main road to Roghi Village is about 5kms and hosts the famous Suicide Point on it. It is a narrow one-way steep cliff road with views not for the faint-hearted
- The views of the Kinner Kailash mountain from Roghi Village is simply majestic and beautiful. It appears really close and clear and a good sunny morning
- You get to see lots of apple trees and exquisite little birds at Kalpa and Roghi Village
P.S.: This ends my Spiti-Kinnaur adventure. Here’s the entire travel diary:
The Spiti & Kinnaur Valley Diary
Part 1: Chandratal, you beauty!
Part 4: Spiti Valley: My Tryst with Time
Part 6: Kinnaur: A peek into the Valley