Visiting Kinnaur and spending some time with the locals was high on my bucket list for a long time. Finally, I got a chance to check out the Chitkul village in Sangla valley before our Lamkhaga Pass trek in May 2017, thanks to the impeccable planning of Gautam Baliga ji. On the 18th of May, Gautam, Aashish and I boarded the only Shimla to Sangla(altitude 2300m) direct bus to reach our destination for the day – the Sangla valley.
After an 8 to 9-hour journey on the HRTC bus, we reached Sangla at 5 pm. Tucked in the lower Himalayas in the district of Kinnaur, the Sangla valley is one of the most picturesque valleys in Himachal, located around 25 km away from the Indo-Tibet border. Sangla derives its names from a Tibetan word Sangala which means “passage of light”.
We checked into Baspa guest house in the valley and after a few minutes of break, we headed out to explore the Sangla valley. After 10-15 minutes of walk, we reached the Bairing Nag temple.
After reaching there, we came to know that outsiders are not allowed inside the temple. But it’s still worth a visit for the amazing exteriors of the temple and the peaceful surroundings.
A few hours into Sangla, I could feel that the best thing about this place is not just the beauty of it, but also the most friendly and amazing locals in this place. We had a great time in the Bairing Nag temple playing a game of volleyball with the kids and clicking pictures with the locals visiting the temple.
The next day, we visited the Sangla Buddha temple/monastery. One of the monks in the monastery had done a part of his monk studies in Bylakuppe, and he got immersed into a long chat with us after he came to know that Gautam and Aashish were from Bangalore. With our visit to Sangla happening just after the release of Baahubali-2, it was evident from our conversation with monks that the Sangla valley was no exception to the bahubali fever that had gripped the entire nation that time. The monks in Sangla told me how several locals in Sangla had traveled to Shimla to watch this movie as there were no theaters in Kinnaur.
If you are one of those traveling to Kinnaur. no matter how much packed your itinerary may be, you must take a day off to explore the beauty of Sangla and Kamru. Sangla is undoubtedly one of the most idyllic spots I have visited in Kinnaur, thanks to the natural beauty and the super amazing locals there.
Places to visit:
Bairing Nag Temple Sangla Buddhist Monastery Kamru
Reaching Sangla Valley
Sangla is 360 km from Chandigarh and the travel may take 15 to 16 hours. Delhi to Sangla is approx 580 km. Below is the approach route for Sangla: Shimla ⇒ Kufri ⇒ Fagu ⇒ Narkanda ⇒ Rampur ⇒ Jeori ⇒ Tapri ⇒ Karcham ⇒ Sangla Public transport: There is a Chandigarh-Shimla-Sangla daily direct bus that starts from Shimla at 6 am. 2-3 buses also start from Reckong Peo for commuting within Kinnaur that stops at Sangla.
Best time to visit Sangla:
Best months to visit Sangla village is from mid of May to early October.
Day #4: Gundar to Lamkhaga advance base camp (Kinnaur side) (One may break this climb till base camp 1 and next day to advance base camp…….we skipped)
Day #5: Advance base camp to Upper Kyarkoti after crossing Lamkhaga pass (Again, you may camp at Lamkhaga pass base camp of Gangotri side followed by trek till Kyarkoti…….we decided to continue beyond base camp and camp at upper Kyarkoti)
Day #7: Upper Kyarkoti to Kyarkoti
Day #8: Kyarkoti to Gangnani
Day #9: Gangnani to Harsil
This is a remote pass and very few groups have finished this. Thus it could be a good option for all those who love to visit the under-explored!
After a long delay, finally posting pics of our winter trip to Kalpa, Charang Village & the Charang Rangrik Monastery. Charang village is the last village on the Indo-China Border. The last ITBP post is located in this village.
Winter in Kinnaur
For the city folks, the village offers a complete escape from the busy city life. No network coverage — bosses can’t call you. For a comfort trip seeker, I will recommend Charang only during summers. In winters, with the temperature plunging to about -15 ºC & heavy snowfall blocking all the roadways for weeks — the place is either for the brave hearts or for ignorants like us.
Hikes around Chini village of Kalpa valley
We reached Reckong Peo early in the morning and headed for a beautiful Chini village in Kalpa. We strolled there for an hour or two and visited Kalpa Buddhist monastery and newly built Narayanas temple. We spent the rest of the day at a friend’s place in Reckong Peo and took rest after 12 hrs enduring journey in the Chandigarh-Reckong Peo HRTC bus.
Reckong Peo to Akpa Check post bus ride & Long walks along the NH-05
Now coming to our next day’s experience I consider this as an achievement. Trekking on steep slopes for 20 km on snow for 8 hrs continuously. With no one to your rescue walking endlessly with those baby steps on snow…having no idea that we will be alive in the next 1 hr or not. We missed the early morning Reckong Peo – Thangi bus and had to take another bus which dropped us near Akpa check post around noon. We started walking along the highway, reached Moorang around 1 PM and took a taxi to Lambar ( the last motorable stop) in winters.
Moorang bridge, Tidong valley, Kinnaur
Moorang to Thangi village taxi ride & the long hike to Charang village
We started the trek from Lambar at around 3 PM and reached Charang at about 11 pm. In the 20 km stretch, there were only three of us walking continuously. Because in that extreme weather a comma means full stop. If you stop you will freeze within minutes. At about 5 pm there was complete darkness…and even a slight sound nearby will flash images of a snow leopard or wild bears in your mind. Trekking in the night without a torch..the only thing to our rescue was the moonlight and the marks of the steps of the ITBP jawans on the snow…which kept us hopeful that we are heading in the right direction. Each one of us was having plenty of dry fruits but none of us was having the energy to stop & take those out of the bag. We were three friends Pawan Ranta, Amandeep Dhiman & myself. There is one ITBP post on the way to Charang which served as a base camp to the post at Charang. Thereafter traveling for about 14 km we got some warm water to drink. That warm water was like ‘amrit‘ and we thought that “ab hum bach jayyenge“. We stayed there for 15 to 20 minutes & then about 8 pm we started our trek to Charang with new hope & determination…but then again after traveling for about 1 km, we were regretting that why we didn’t stop there & request those ITBP jawans to allow us to stay there till morning. Now again, we were at the mercy of the mountains. We were not able to even speak….we were just moving & moving. During the complete trek, I was reciting God’s name and was hurling abuses & curses at Pawan who gave the idea of that trek. After traveling for another 6 km, there in the dark near the entrance of the Charang Village, were Sonu bhai, our savior standing there in the dark waiting for us. Sonu bhai took our backpacks and gave us new hope. And again we said ” Ab to lagata hai bach gaye“. Sonu bhai offered us shelter in their house offered food & saved our lives. Raante credit goes to you also. We sat near the bukhara and ate food thanking God for keeping us alive. I started chanting my daily mantras thanking God.
In the western Himalayas, bordering along with Tibet and Garhwal, the Baspa valley—also called Sangla valley—of Kinnaur has been open to visitors since the early 90s. The valley got its name from the Baspa river which originates from Chung Sakhago pass and meanders for around 30 km before meeting Satluj on its left bank near Karcham.
Baspa valley, Kinnaur:
Unlike the Spiti valley and Hangrang region of Kinnaur, the Baspa valley is green paradise in largely barren mountains. Baspa valley or Sangla valley is known for fruit-laden orchards, cedar covered slopes and flower crusted meadows. Bhojpatra tree is abundantly found in the Chitkul region.
A land of blue skies, buzzing Baspa river, soaring peaks, deep valleys, apple orchards, and syncretic culture — Baspa valley a place for people who are seeking genuine peace and soul-calming solitude far, far from the madding crowd.
The fort of Kamru is another landmark in Baspa valley. As Gandhi once remarked that ‘the soul of India lies in its villages’— villages like Chitkul, Rackcham, Sangla, Kamru and Chansu are the soul of Baspa valley.
The lush green valley, snow-capped mountains of Kinnaur-Garhwal region and melodically flowing Baspa river are the hallmark of Baspa valley. There are many trekking routes that lead to or end up in the Baspa Valley. Some of the prominent ones are the following.
It is a fairly remote trek and is now regarded as the classic route from Gangotri to Kinnaur, which was first crossed by Marco Pallis in 1933. The trek is also known as Chitkul to Gangotri trek or Harsil to Chitkul trek. It trek can be done from either side. The beautiful route takes you through some of the most remote areas of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, like the Jalandhari valley that is covered with flowers post monsoon. The snow in the early season could impede your progress. Harsil is famous for Wilson’s Cottage built in 1864. Gangotri is a short drive from Harsil, while Chitkul is the last village in the Baspa valley
Borasu Pass at a height of 5450 meters (17880 feet) above sea level is a high mountain pass connecting the Indian states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and is located at the border of the two states. This trek goes through the famous Har-ki-Dun valley and we witness the beautiful glacial lakes of MorindaTaal and Zhupkia Glacier. The trail for this trek passes through a glacier, narrow ridges, vertical show slopes, meadows, and boulders. Overall a very adventurous experience not to mention the unforgettable views of the mountains.
Mount Kinner Kailash is located in Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh. The trail provides a panoramic view of the whole range of Kinner Kailash mountain peaks. This region is located on the Indo-Tibet border and gives a wonderful introduction to the confluence of Hinduism and Buddhism. The landscape of the area varies from the lush green scenic valley of Sangla Valley to the snow-clad mountains of the Kinner ranges. This trek is packed not only with some of the best views of the mountains but also provides an insight into the rich history of trade, religion, and diverse ethnic groups, the experience of which leaves one enchanted.
5. Khimloga pass trek
It is a trade route mostly frequented by Sheppard from either side of Baspa of Supin valley of Uttrakhand.
6. Rupin pass trek
Rupin Pass is a high altitude pass across the Himalaya mountain range in the state of Himachal Pradesh. It lies on a traditional shepherd and hiking route which starts from Dhaula in Uttarakhand and ends in Sangla in Himachal Pradesh. The path itself is located across mostly uninhabited areas in the Himalayan ranges at an elevation of 15,250 ft (4,650M) above sea level
7. Yamrang la pass (5570 m) & Gugairang La
These two passes connect Baspa valley to Tibet.
Easy to moderate trails in Baspa valley:
1. Karcham to Barua
Karcham is a small town on National Highway 5 at the confluence of the Satluj and Baspa river. The trail passes through Sapni village (Visit to snake god temple is recommended) and ends up a Brua Village.
2.Brua to Chansu trail
After a gradual descend one needs to negotiate Brua Nallah and then Climb up to Chansu village.
3. Sangla to Kamru fort trail
Kamru village was the capital of the erstwhile principality of Bushahr. The Kamru Fort, a 15-minute walk from the Sangla town, houses quintessential wood-and-stone buildings with curved, peaked roofs. On the way up is the Badrinath Temple, a classic example of Kinnauri religious syncretism with both Hindu and Buddhist shrines. There are several folklores associated with it and according to one legend, there are crores of devi- devta residing inside the fort. Entry inside the fort is restricted – only into the courtyard in front of it – but the views of the surrounding mountains are good, anyway.
Sangla serves as a base to hike to nearby villages like Kamru, Batseri, Rackham, and Chitkul. It offers an uninhibited rendezvous with nature — walks, treks and strolling in narrow alleys of Himalayan hamlets, lively bonfires by the river. If you’re an angling enthusiast, the swirling current of the Baspa is home to both the Rainbow and Brown Trout.
Chaka meadows are mountain meadows high above Kalpa village of Kinnaur. It is a hike recommended for the ones in tireless twenties who have just started their trekking journey or for the people ones in late forties a time when knees begin to protest against the gradient and you start appreciating the least challenging of the mountain trails.
Kalpa To Chaka Trek
The Chaka(also spelled as Chakka) is the quintessential Himalayan mountain meadow — some people call it Chaka peak but there is no peak as such — located at an altitude of around 3800m above sea level.
The trails start from a point on Kalpa Roghi road near charming Kalpa (Chini village) which is around 10 km from district headquarter, Reckong Peo. One doesn’t need any prior trekking experience but a sound pair of lungs. I would say it’s a modest trek with great returns. The hike is steep though. We started hiking from a trail near the hotel Rakpa Regency which leads to Chaka Meadows. Early morning start is advised because it gets quite arduous when the sun starts hitting on the face and suddenly you start feeling the backpack load.
A good trek is not measured just by the physical coordinates of cool heights attained and scenic ridges traversed. Perhaps more crucial is the inner satisfaction that derives from walking with companions who stay agreeable under testing conditions and whose sympathies remain as a warm afterglow. The marvelous sunrise from the Kinner Kailash mountain, breathtaking views of the mountain range and beautiful views of Kalpa village are major highlights of the hike.
Distance from Kalpa
The trail is around 3 kilometers long and it runs along a stream. It passes through fields of Chini villagers and Cedar forest below the meadows. It’s a day hike and one can comfortably descend back to the Kalpa – Roghi road in the evening.
Chaka-Kalpa Trek During Winter
Winter offers some of the prettiest, most serene trail adventures you can ever hope to have. Cleary sky, little or no crowd and snow-laden peaks are some of the perks that come with a winter hike. Unlike in summers when you need to start early in the morning, one can start to hike in late morning in winters. Hiking in winters has its inherent dangers. So one is advised to carry good gear and dress in layers.
Besides staying fit and keeping the moral high it is also important to know what things one need to carry how to pack a backpack efficiently.Believe me, A backpack packed efficiently can work wonders.After you have decided to buy a backpack depending upon its size , durability , ergonomics and comfort, the next job will be packing it well. Proper weight distribution in your backpack is what could make the difference between comfort and serious back pain. The most important thing is how it feels after lifting the backpack onto the your back. Following is the picture of general methodology that I follow while packing the backpack.
Trek essentials :
Backpack (70-90 liter) for multi days treks.
Trekking Boots – High ankle support boots.
Trek Gaiter – To prevent snow/moisture seeping inside the boot.
Bhabha pass is located between the Kinnaur and Pin valley of Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh. From the beginning of the trek to the end, one experiences wildly vivid landscapes, people, languages, and religions.
Pin valley,Spiti to Bhaba valley crossover
Bhabha Pass Trek can be done in either direction, from the Mud village of Spiti and from Kafnu village of Bhabha valley, Kinnaur. Normally it takes 4-5 days to reach the Mud village under normal weather conditions. Bhabha Pass connects two contrasting valleys of Kinnaur and Spiti. Lush green meadows of Bhabha valley transforms into barren moonscapes of the Pin valley of Spiti region.
Highlights Of Pin Bhabha Trek:
Moonscapes of Spiti valley.
Kara stream crossing.
High altitude mountains.
Pin-Bhabha Pass Itinerary:
Day 1: Kafnu to Mulling (2,400 m to 3,200 m)
Approx. Trekking time: 6-7 hours,
Trek gradient: Easy walk on a moderate slope.
Day 2: Mulling to Kara(3,200 m to 3,500 m)
Approx. trekking time: 5-6 hours
Trek gradient: Moderate.
Day 3: Trek from Kara to Phustirang (3,500 m to 3950 m)
Approx. trekking time: 4-5 hours
Trek gradient: Moderate to tough
Day 4: Phutsirang to Mangrungse over Pin Bhaba Pass (4,107 m to 4,900 m Bhabha pass to 4,100 m Mangrungse)
Approx. trekking time: 8-9 hours
Trek gradient: Difficult. Ascent to the pass followed by a gradual descent.
Day 5: Trek from Mangrungse to Baldhar (4,100 m to 3850 m)
Approx. trekking time: 3-4 hours
Trek gradient: Moderate
Day 6: Baldhar to Mudh (3850 m to 3700m)
Approx. trekking time: 3-4 hours
Trek gradient: Easy
Kafnu: Kafnu is situated in the Kinnaur district. It is around 201 km from Shimla. Drive on NH 22 from Shimla will take you to Kafnu via Rampur & Wangtoo.
Distance from Shimla to Kafnu: 201 Kms.
Mud village: Mud village is situated in the Spiti valley of Lahaul & Spiti district. First, reach Manali then take a drive to Kaza which is 201 Kms. from Manali. From Kaza, Book sumo & reach Mud village.
Distance from Manali to Kaza: 201 Kms.
Distance from Kaza to Mud village: Around 50 to 60 Kms.
Nako is a lakeside village in the barren Hangrang valley of Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh. Some of the highest peaks like Rio Purgyil ( 6816 m ) are located in the valley. Nako is also a focal point for trekking trails like Nako to Chango village, Nako to Hango village and Nako to Somang village trek via Tashigang.
“How will you know the way, the weather is bad, there is a lot of snow,” the senior officer said. “I’ve hiked all over the Himalayas, I hiked the Pin-Paravati pass in a snowstorm,” I retorted. “Ok, I’ll give you permission if you write a statement that you take responsibility for your safety.” And that’s how I got the permission to hike the Kinnaur Kailash Parikarma on my own.
Although, Kinner Kailash circuit route is a traditional pilgrimage route around the sacred mountain of Kinnaur Kailash, technically foreigners are either supposed to have a group of four or be guided.
I got off to a bit of a slow start jumping on a bus to Lambar where I would start the trek with a bus driver who loved taking his time, stopping the bus and shaking hands with everyone he knew. Then he decided he really didn’t want to finish is route so he turned around about 4 km before Thangi and 10 km before Lambar under the pretext that there was a landslide blocking the road ahead.
There was no landslide, so much for my theory that bus drivers in India are the only government employees who do their jobs the way they are supposed to be done. Maybe this guy had previously been a postal worker, for whatever reason he dumped me and the other passengers alongside the road. I walked for about 15 minutes before managing to get a ride in a jeep to Lambar with some of the other locals from the bus. After a lunch of rice and dhal in Lambar, I headed off a bit later than I would have liked.
But not before a local advised me that not to go over the Charang La, “too much snow” he said. “So I keep hearing,” I replied as I walk off towards the Charang La.
My map showed Charang village (my attempted destination for the day) on the north side of the river so when a bridge went to the south side of the river I stayed on the north bank about a half-hour later I passed the Indo-Tibetan Border Police checkpoint which was on the opposite side of the river.
The men at the check post told me I had to cross the knee-deep ice-cold river to sign in. I said they could bring the book to me but I didn’t want to walk through the icy river. I showed my permission across the river. After a semi audible discussion across the rushing river, one of the officers crossed to my side, a man from Meru who spoke the best English of the lot. It turned out I was on the wrong side of the river heading to a village I wasn’t supposed to go to.
I reluctantly crossed the river to the side of the camp. By the time I finished tea with the officers and signed in it was about a half-hour away from darkness. I decided I didn’t have enough time to make it to Charang. They invited me to stay at camp for the night, an accommodation that included a nice hot meal and several glasses of whiskey and water.
The following day I visited the friendly and picturesque village of Charang. After an hour of looking around and some tea with the locals, I headed over the ridge above town up the steep-sided valley towards the Charang La. The valley widened as I approached the snow line. It was mid-afternoon and I decided to camp just before the snow line knowing the snowfields would be difficult to cross in the heat of the afternoon. I found a small patch of grass and a nearby spring suitable for the purpose and pitched my tent.
Early the next morning I headed out across the snow towards the pass. I got my first view of the “pass” known as the Charang La. I had heard the pass was difficult but this wasn’t a pass it was a cliff. A steep snow-covered slope leads up to a notch between the mountains.
I reached the base of the pass before noon. Any path that had existed was completely obscured by the snow. I decided it would be best to attempt the pass the following morning, but hiking up the steep snow-covered slope with my full pack would be extremely difficult. I set up camp on the snow beneath the pass. I figured if I carved out a path in the afternoon it would firm up overnight making the climb much easier the following morning. It took me two hours to climb the pass making footholds along the way.
While the view was great, my campsite was less than ideal, it was a cold night sleeping on snow at around 5,000 m. Furthermore, there was no water at my campsite, but lots of snow which take a surprisingly long time to melt even in the bright sun. What water I had managed to melt was frozen by the morning. A bigger problem was that it had entered in my shoes. They were frozen solid and I couldn’t get my feet into them. I had to delay my start until they had thawed out enough from the morning sun so that I could at least put them on.
The footholds that I had made the previous day made the hike over the pass much easier. I reached the top in about an hour loaded down with all of my gear. I couldn’t have asked for clearer weather to enjoy the view atop the 5,266 m (17,275 ft) Charang La over the snow-covered landscape. I spent a good hour enjoying the fruits of my effort before descending the steep slope down to the pleasant village of Chitkul four hours away.
The village of Chitkul is an idyllic place at the end of the road that winds its way up the Baspa Valley. I would have stayed longer than the two days I spent there had I not left most of my things back in Kalpa. In the interest of reducing weight for the trek, I had only one set of clothes with me, a set of clothes that I was anxious to change out of after 4 days of trekking. But as it was I had time to explore the village a bit and hike up above the village before catching a bus back to Kalpa.