Practical problems as well as HR conspiracies have been scuttling my Kinnaur and Spiti plans for the last three years or so. Spiti still remains elusive but probably the wait will soon be over by the next month. However, I finally managed to make my first foray into Kinnaur. My original intent was much more adventurous but for the time being I had to control myself and do a very basic trip through the Sangla Valley up to Chitkul, the famed “last village” on the Tibetan frontiers. This by no means will be my last Kinnaur trip. It seems the district has far too much to offer even beyond the known destinations. Anyways, let us get back to the point now.
Arriving at Sangla:
I landed at Kalka from the train at around 5 am and almost immediately got a bus going directly to Reckong Peo along with a nice window seat. Omens could not have been better, I thought. But once it was past Shimla, the pace slackened seriously and finally I got sick and tired of the bus ride and gave up at Rampur Bushahr for the night halt. I am aware of the rich history of Rampur but did not have much energy left to explore anything. However my room at the Hotel Sutlej View, as the name suggests, offered a good view of the Sutlej.
Next day I boarded another bus on the same route. It went well for an hour or so and I also managed to spot a few small points such as Jeori and Choura (They will be important for some of my future trips). But after that the bus technically entered Kinnaur district passing through a gate announcing the same. As it progressed, my back began to feel the gradual decline of road conditions and finally it reached a point where it took close to two hours to cover a 10 km long stretch of non-existent road.
This was the stretch between Tapri and Karcham, site of the gigantic Karcham Wangtoo Hydroelectric Project run by Jaypee Group. I am not sure if the road is being repaired or a new one is being constructed but as of now this stretch is in a torturous shape. Thankfully it ended at Karcham as I left the Hindustan Tibet highway and took another bus to Sangla.
It was afternoon by the time I reached and settled down in Sangla. Not much time was remaining to do anything. But the light was excellent, so were the weather and the sky.
Into the Sangla Valley:
The Trek… or the Walk
The Sangla Valley or technically the Baspa River Valley opens up at this point and is at its best during the post monsoon season. The next morning I inquired about the bus to Chitkul but was told that the next bus was coming at 12 noon. It was 9 am and my trip so far had been far too straightforward and safe. So, I decided to trek or walk, whatever is required to reach Rakcham. Chitkul was close to 24 kms from Sangla and according to my estimates, Rakcham was somewhere in between and more importantly the hike was not too steep. So, I thought I will walk up to that place in a few hours and the bus will also arrive there by that time and then I can catch the bus and move ahead.
The plan may seem far-fetched but it actually wasn’t. There was only one road and the bus was going to arrive at some point anyways. On the other hand, in this route, the few buses that run are obliged to stop for anyone who raises the hand at any point. More importantly, walking gave me more time for photography. The day was bright and brilliant… probably a bit too much as some of the images turned out to be over-exposed. Nevertheless, the western sky in the morning was magnificent with dark azure sky and resplendent mushroom clouds… of the nontoxic kind.
The Apple revolution in Himachal becomes evident as soon as you cross Narkanda, barely 65 kms from Shimla. It gets even better in Sangla and it was actually the perfect time in case you enjoy watching fully loaded apple trees more than eating them. Almost every household here deal in Apples. Larger orchards are also visible from the top by the side of the river. I tried various ways to capture these Apple trees in full bloom but could never really capture the full extent of that carnal sight. As the cliché goes, it must be seen to be believed.
Valley of Colours:
As I gained bit of altitude, the complete valley along the Baspa river become visible in its full glory. Apple was not the only crop here. There were different plots growing different crops with pink, yellow, orange and myriad of other hues splattered all over the green. There were various other fruits like apricots, pine nuts and some other things I failed to conclusively identify.
Also, there were those ubiquitous mountain goats who stare at the men.
The Pink Revolution:
The pink plots were the most intriguing and I wanted to have a closer look. But they were much further down, on the banks of the river and I was going upwards. But then suddenly at one point after a turn I saw large swathes of pink staring at my face. Apparently they are some kind of local millet but I am not completely sure. Apparently pink is not also considered appropriate for naturally macho people like me. But I don’t care anymore. I love pink!
I finally reached Rakcham (pronounced more like “Rakshyam” by the locals) after 3 hours of slow hiking. It was not really tiresome as the ascent was very gradual and plain at multiple stretches. It is a small village with several lodges and hotels as well as more of the aforementioned cultivations. I had tea at a hotel cum restaurant called Apple Pie Hotel although they had no pies to offer. As I came out of it, I saw my bus approaching slowly. For once, I’d timed it perfectly.
(To be continued…)
Read the next part on Chitkul here.
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Update: The Sangla Chitkul Traveller FAQs is up now.