Kinnaur in northeast Himachal, surrounded by Tibet in the east, is the least explored and the second least populous district, after Lahaul & Spiti, in Himachal Pradesh, India. The old Hindustan-Tibet road, the ancient Silk Route, passes through Kinnaur along the banks of Sutlej River. Kinnaur Kailash is a peak (6500 meters) in Kinnaur, considered the abode of Lord Shiva, and sacred to Hindus & Buddhists. The Kinnaur Kailash Parikrama trek is one of the toughest in the Himachal Himalayas.
Rusklang village of Ropa valley, Kinnaur
Most of Kinnaur is inaccessible mountainous area cut-off from the rest of the world. The valleys of Sutlej, Bispa, Spiti rivers and their tributaries are some of the most gorgeous ones I’ve seen! Ropa valley near Puh/ Pooh is famous for shawl-weavers, apple orchards, and the finest metal artisans.
Kinnaur is the most tribal part of Himachal, and the people, called Kinners, have lived in isolation since thousands of years and have a strong culture, heritage & religious beliefs. They mostly follow Hinduism or Buddhism and speak a dialect of the Tibeto-Burman family known as Kinnauri and wear distinct green caps.
On the banks of Ropa river is the tiny beautiful village of Rusklang. Houses, streets and almost everything made of wood and stone, apple orchards and a bunch of warm & friendly people 🙂
How To Wear Kinnauri Ethnic Dress: A first timers guide 😅
Walking around in the village we met a family who invited us over for tea and generously served walnuts & almonds from their crop. They even brought out the traditional Kinnauri costume they wear during festivals, for us to see! Excited to see such exotic hand-made textiles and jewelry, we asked if one of them would dress up for us, and they obliged with much more! They dressed up one of us and we all had a good laugh 🙂
A Kinnauri traditional dress is a handwoven woolen shawl with a bright colored border, wrapped around the body with pleats at the back. A hand-stitched green jacket worn over it with the green cap and finished with traditional hand-made intricate gold and silver jewelry.
Rusklang was my first experience of a village in Kinnaur. And the untouched natural scenic beauty & the heartwarming experience with the people made it a memorable one!
Kinnaur is the most beautiful and least explored part of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh, India. Surrounded by harsh mountains, Charang is a small village of wood and mud houses at an altitude of 3500 meters in Morang, accessible only by foot, a beautiful trek through Thangi and Lambar. Less than a hundred families live in Charang and every home here has solar panels, their only source of electricity. They have been living here in this remote corner of the Himalayas, with almost no connection from the outside world. Proximity to Tibet has a Buddhist influence on the people and culture here. The PWD guest house is a great place to stay with the beautiful view of the river, chorten & the village in the distance. The gorgeous village and heart-warming people were as much a delight as the amusing kids! 🙂
A two-hour trek from Charang village is the ancient Rangrik Monastery – one of the most sacred and beautiful monasteries in India, in my next post.
My first ever trek was to Kedarnath in Rudraprayag, Uttarakhand, a small town in the Garhwal Himalayas flanked by snow-covered peaks, famous for its Shiva temple. Almost a decade later when I got the opportunity to do the Kinner Kailash Parikrama trek, I was thrilled! After traveling in public transport, bikes, and cars, what I enjoy the most is to walk.
Beginning of the trek to Charang, from Thangi through Lambar in Morang is a moderate one; the challenge starts after crossing Lalan Ti pass all the way to Charang La pass till you reach Chitkul. It is one of the more challenging & difficult treks in the Himalayas in Himachal, once in a lifetime experience!
Charang is a delightful little village near the Indo-Tibet border in Kinnaur – the less explored & non-touristy part of Himachal Pradesh in India. The Kinner Kailash Parikrama is considered incomplete without receiving blessings at the ancient 11th century Charang monastery also called the Rangrik Shungma – the holiest temple of Kinnaur.
Just 2 kms from the Charang village, it’s more like a stroll on a narrow path along the river up to the monastery. And we walked leisurely, through fields surrounded by harsh rocky mountains, chatting with the friendly locals we met on the way.
It’s a gorgeous monastery made of mud, stones, and wood but very different looking than any other I’ve visited before. Once a center of learning & worship, it has some of the oldest Buddhist texts, murals, and Thangka paintings. Brightly colored flowers manicured all around the temple complex and a room with a collection of bone and ivory knives & daggers, which only men could view!
Two Buddhist nuns take care of the monastery and live there; they greeted us with endless cups of butter tea! One of the nuns at the monastery was suffering from fever and chapped lips caused by the extreme cold and dry weather at that altitude. We offered her some medication and she remembered my brother! Pointing at the holy thread around his neck, as she could barely talk with her broken lips, she said, “Oh I remember you. You were here last year and had offered some medicines then too! How have you been? You are still wearing the holy thread; get a new one this time. It’s so nice to see you again!”
Sipping on delicious tea amidst conversations I wondered how it would be to live in this remote little place tucked deep within the mighty Himalayas cut off from the world, with nothing but the beauty and fury of nature. And as exciting as it felt, I shivered at the thought of it. But in retrospect, I guess this thought prepared me mentally for what was ahead of us – the Kinner Kailash Parikrama! And I feel fortunate to have had this opportunity. It would be another challenging experience to visit Charang in winter, all covered in snow!
This arduous trek was special in so many ways and it got even more memorable. One of my landscape images (Panorama from Charang La pass – beginning of this post) of the Kinner Kailash Parikrama Trek, adorns a center spread in the book Guge – Ages of Gold! The book is by Peter Vam Ham, a Frankfurt-based author, and photographer who has researched Himalayan culture for nearly thirty years and documented it in a dozen books to date. It showcases breathtaking views of the temple complexes, relics from the era that have survived to the present day, from both the Indian and the Tibetan side of the old Kingdom of Guge. I feel honored and it inspires me to travel more and share my stories! 🙂
Mostly done by pilgrims, it’s a difficult trek and there are no specific directions to follow, just a few stones kept on top of each other by former trekkers marks the path. There is no cellular connectivity here or any villages on the way, so unless you have a compass and a map, or a guide, you’re sure to get lost. It’s a non-touristy, difficult trek and the most difficult part is the climb up Charang La pass and ends at one of the most beautiful and remote places in Kinnaur – Chitkul village. We did the last 50 Kms of the trek starting from Lambar, near village Morang to Chitkul. It took us 6 days, a lot of courage, determination, and faith to complete the trek. It was a test of stamina, character and fitness, and a once in a lifetime experience that’ll live in our memories forever! 🙂
The trek from Lambar to Charang is moderate even though it is a long one. We reached Charang by evening and stayed at the PWD guesthouse for another day to acclimatize and to visit Charang village and Rangrik Shungma or Charang monastery, which is a 2-hour trek from Charang village and is considered the holiest monastery in Kinnaur. A few landscapes from the trek through Charang village to the beautiful Rangrik Monastery.
After a nice and peaceful day in Charang, we started the next morning to Lalan Ti and had no clue about the ordeal that lay ahead of us. The trek from here is in complete isolation. We didn’t have a guide or a compass and almost got lost just after crossing Lalan Ti pass the first day! The mountain air with less oxygen made us dizzy and we had to rest often. We re-filled our water reserves when we found a stream.
After hours of trekking through the treacherous landscape, we couldn’t see any hut next to the river, as mentioned in the resources we’d collected. With limited information about the trek and not a soul around to ask for directions, we didn’t have anything else other than the pile of stones to follow and it was getting dark.
We pitched the tent and were worried all night if we were going the right way! According to our map, we were going right – parallel to the river. So we headed in the same direction the next morning following the pile of stones – our only hope.
Climbing through massive boulder-like stones, by noon we saw finally the hut, but it was on the other side of the river! Which left us wondering again if we were supposed to be on the opposite side!
Despite the doubts, we kept following the river and reached Lalan Ti – the beautiful emerald lake. From here it took us another day to reach Charang La base camp and finally we could see Charang La pass through the binoculars!
We’d see the pass through the binoculars at almost every rest point as it seemed closer than it was, and that somehow gave a little more confidence and inspiration to keep walking. 😉
After we reached the Charang La base camp, we decided to trek up to the foot of the ascent to the pass, so we were closer to the most difficult part and could start the climb straight away in the morning. But after we trekked up we realized that there is no place to pitch a tent!
There was just a frozen patch of land with different sizes of loose stones around – gravel size to huge ones. We managed to spend the night somehow on a huge slanting rock, the largest we could find. The hard part of climbing the pass was still ahead of us!
We woke up to the view of the pass and the tiny prayer flags fluttering at the pass. This was a real test – the climb up the pass and the descent down to Chitkul village. It’s a really steep ascent with not much to hold other than gravel-like loose stones.
It’s tricky and dangerous but we reached on top of the pass by noon and that didn’t seem difficult after what we had already endured. The pass is like a ridge, no more than a few feet in width, on the other side of which is an even steeper fall!
The descent to Chitkul was a never-ending walk through huge sharp stones and boulders, with no stream of water till Chitkul. We’d finished our water and the village was nowhere in sight. The sun had set and it was a matter of minutes before it became completely dark, and we had no idea how much further we had to trek. Soon our torches were out and we followed the same pile of stones that got us till here.
After a long scary trek through that terrain in the light from our torches, we reached Chitkul around 11 pm that night. I couldn’t believe that we’d finally reached and it was all over! The next morning was the most beautiful morning I’d seen ever! It felt divine to have reached Chitkul after the rigorous trek: like entering the gates to Heaven! 🙂
The trek was a kind of meditation and gave a sense of sublime, where I got to contemplate and reflect on my life. I got a fresh perspective towards life and I feel fortunate to have experienced the adventure of living in the Greater Himalayas, even though it was for a few days. It’s a divine place where the earth meets the sky and only nature rules – it’s magnificent desolation!
How To Reach Kinnaur?
The nearest railheads are Kalka & Shimla. Kalka is 300 km (10-12 hours drive) from Reckong Peo. Reckong Peo is the administrative headquarter of Kinnaur district.
If you are a foreigner, you’ll have to register and obtain an Inner line permit for the trek. For Indians, proof of identity is required which is checked at the ITBP (Indo Tibet Border Police) check post.
It’s recommended to take a guide along for this trek and not attempt this trek on your own.Food & medical supplies need to be taken, as there is nothing but the beauty and fury of nature all the way from Charang to Chitkul!
Baspa River originates near the Indo-Tibetan and Himachal-Uttarakhand border. The valley of Baspa is named after this river. It is also known as the Sangla Valley – one of the most scenic valleys in the Himachal Pradesh. The Chung Sakhago Pass lies at the head of the valley. Baspa river is fed by the perennial Chung Sakhago glacier and shares the catchment area with a tributary of the Bhagirathi river, Uttarakhand.
After a cakewalk on the first two days, we geared up for adventurous things lying ahead for us. With extreme cold conditions leading to dry skin, some wheatish faces in our group had started changing to white faces coated with layers of sunscreens by the start of day 3.
After a 2km walk from our campsite, we arrived at the Karu Devta temple. Karu Devta is the presiding deity of Dumti. A small Shivling and Karu devta is present in this temple.
Happy ji was telling us that even ITBP had been following the traditions and practices of locals to offer a prasad in this temple every morning before starting to cook for that day. He added that if any villager is taking his goat or sheep beyond this point, the villager would sacrifice one of his goats/sheep here before proceeding further.
The trail beyond Dumti had given us some wallpaper views, however, the reality hit me as we stepped into the rocky trails. A mild pain had started in my ankle after we crossed the flat surfaces and started walking into the rock patches. However, it was very mild pain and I was confident of finishing off the day’s walk and was hoping for late-night magic for much steeper ascents waiting for us near the Lamkhaga pass trek.
We came across herds of thick-skinned cows chilling out and grazing in the valleys of snow-capped peaks. The cows that had been left near Nagasthi had traveled to this point.
Happy ji was telling us that the thick-skinned cows cannot survive the slightly hot weather after winters, hence it’s left to graze on its own in the high hills for 3 to 4 months.
He added that the villagers manage their living with one cow for a few months till the winter and would go on search of the herd during the beginning of winter. It was interesting to hear from him that no wild animals roamed in this part of Kinnaur and the herd of cows left to graze here would usually be found in its full count by the villagers.
We were also joined in the trail by ITBP jawans who had to camp at Nithal tach. The ITBP jawans were reminding us every now and then to hydrate ourselves, protect ourselves with the monkeys’ caps instead of exposing our ears to the heavy winds of these hills in our yet another long walk along the river. And, there started the second round of conversations with ITBP jawans.
From current affairs to experience in the Indian army, we had talked about almost everything that had flashed into our minds then. Then the conversation drifted to Gundar Nala crossing that lay ahead of Nithal Tach. ITBP jawans passed us some energy drinks to us and we had stopped for a short break. The commander of Dumti started describing how the ITBP personnel crosses the Gundar Nala if the situation demands them to do so. He said every time when someone in ITBP needed to reach Gundar, they would apply mustard oil all over their body, walk through the super cold waters and then cross it as the water level may sometimes even reach their shoulders.
With our trek happening in the last week of May, he added that we might just get a little lucky as water levels may not be that high in May. Having had a long break here, it was time to move ahead.
After a walk of a few minutes, the Yamrang peaks were just in front of us. After an uneven patch, we had finally come down to the valley and the flat river beds greeted us. Time just flew away as we walked along the river bed hearing out the adventures of few ITBP jawans.
It started to snow as we were just a few minutes behind Nithal. Few of us moving in the mountain trail with ITBP could see the dwarfed figures of the rest of our trek group crossing the Dumti meadows from a slightly higher inclination. Nature keeps reminding us that humans and their problems are so tiny in front of Mother Nature. However, despite our tiny size, we, humans continue to use too many of our natural resources at an alarming pace ignoring the warning signs from every other natural disaster.
Cheerfully schlepping our groceries, tents and sleeping bags, few porters got past us in the mild snow as they had to rush through and set up the campsite before the weather becomes worse.
Camping in high hills, far far away from the human habitation and yet experiencing the luxury of tasty cooked food and some good sleep in thick sleeping bags/tents is an inevitable dream without the support of the porters, who carry heavy loads of groceries and other items just for a few hundred rupees a day. The physical support provided by the porters to fulfill the dreams of a few trekkers despite the challenging weather conditions is often overlooked. They are the indisputable guardian angels of a mountain expedition.
Our trek group had our lunch amidst the mild snow in Nithal, while Sonu Negi ji was helping the porters cross the river beyond Nithal. It was the same sight that the commander of Dumti had described us. From the top, we could see the porters removing their layers and crossing the river with the luggage on top of their heads.
Just after the snow intensified, the commander of Dumti came to us and announced that they have worked out a jugaad for us to cross the river. As he had to immediately head back to Dumti, we bid him goodbye with some final handshakes and wondered what was in store at the river crossing.
Luckily, the water levels in the spot chosen for us to cross the Gundar nala wasn’t that high as we had imagined. After hopping through a stretch of rocks and crossing a proper bridge, we were standing in front of the two more water crossing points.
Water was flowing in its full force. Happy ji and some more support staff brought a ladder and positioned it for us to cross the river. We realized this was the jugaad that the commander of Dumti had mentioned to us back in Nithal.
With the ladder in its position, it was time for an initial load test. Happy ji and a support staff hopped and jumped crazily over the ladder to check if it could withstand our weight. Chetan Phalke from our group captured a small part of Happy ji’s crazy hoping to reach the other side.
Then, it was our time to cross the river with the ladders. With the first one done with ease, we had one more water crossing lying ahead.
There hasn’t been a day that has passed without me lamenting to people on my inability to put on weight despite my hearty appetite. However, my less weight proves to be a great blessing when it comes to climbing or jumping over boulders and rocks. This time a river crossing with a ladder was done and dusted with ease :)
After the river crossing and some slow walk along with the uneven patches, we finally arrived at the Gundar campsite. The ankle pain had intensified on the third day and reduced my pace. After campfire and a tasty dinner, it was time to hit the bed.
In every walk of nature, we receive far more than what we seek. We have blessed with some mesmerizing views of snow-peaked mountains as we hopped over some more rocks to cross the rivers.
The trails had turned uneven after Nithal and we came to a screeching halt near the Baspa river crossing, about 2 km from Gundar. We had to cross the river to get to the other side and about 3 feet of water was flowing in its full force. A walk in the super cold water was on the cards.
First Gautham ji and Kohinoor removed off some of their layers and went to the other side. Then, Happy and Rajeev along with three of us held each other’s hands and we formed a chain and crossed the river. Thanks to the lovely capture by Gautham ji (view video in above FB post), this memory (me, Chetan and Hiren crossing Baspa river) is as fresh as it just happened yesterday.
After some hiking beyond the Baspa glacier, we had finally reached the lower basecamp of Lamkhaga pass by 12 noon.
After a long halt of lunch and some tutorials from Happy and Rajeev on snow sliding, we moved further ahead. With a major part of the day still left, it was indeed a sensible decision to skip camping in the lower basecamp and go further ahead. The path beyond Baspa glacier has been steep and the path ahead wasn’t going to be an easy hike.
With the legs washing off my pain killers, my legs literally went on a toss walking over the rocks and uneven surface. The treacherous uphill climb was like adding fuel to fire to an exhausted and injured ankle.
But I wasn’t the only one doing the zombie walk. Almost the entire group had become tired few meters up. It was like a never-ending hike.
All of us in the group had become completely exhausted. We were counting our steps and taking a break after every 30 to 50 steps. We had been walking, and walking.. and walking.. but the campsite was nowhere near sight. The thought of hiking up with an injured ankle is always easier said than done. With ankle pain turning deadly with every step, I was unsure if I could even make it to the campsite and just hoped I don’t crash or faint somewhere in the snow.
It was 20th May 2017, and as per schedule 10 of us were to start for the Lamkhaga pass trek from Chitkul village in the morning after our breakfast. Even before the beginning of the Lamkhaga pass trek, I had got an adventurous start for the trek in Chitkul.
Back in our room early morning that day, Gautam ji and Aashish had motivated me not to quit the trek in haste and that they would try to support me and keep me moving throughout the trek. Thanks to the encouragement provided by all my 9 fellow trekkers and some timely medical help from Kohinoor Indrani (the engineer turned pharmacist in our group), I was finally able to make up my mind and go ahead with the trek with a crepe bandage & painkillers.
Though I was trying to appear normal, I could hardly take a few steps. A nervous Sonu Negi ji, who had discussed the condition of my leg multiple times with Gautham ji, was hoping that all goes well throughout the trek. After a briefing by Sonu Negi ji following our breakfast, we started hiking up and within a few minutes, Chitkul was out of sight.
The fairly flat walk in the jeep trail along a frisky Baspa river
We followed the frisky Baspa river in our gradual ascent beyond Chitkul along a fairly flat walk in the jeep trail to ITBP checkpost.
With the exception of the few army vehicles and cowherds passing by, there were hardly any tourists in the trail beyond Chitkul. 4 km from Chitkul, we were greeted by well-built army personnel from Himachal with a huge moustache. We had reached the Nagasthi check-post and halted there for a few minutes to show our permits to move further.
The Himachali general who had served 15+ years was astonished to notice a woman trekker in the group of 22. He happily shared his views on how many women have started scaling the challenging peaks like Everest and are becoming on par with men in most of the fields. He shook hands with all of us to meet again in Dumti the next day. Sometimes the mere company of our jawans and a few pats from them are enough to recharge us to continue further.
The so-called Indo-Tibet border starts from Nagasthi and extends for 100+ km along with the Yamrang ranges. Civilians are not allowed beyond this point. Due to security reasons, photography is not allowed nearby ITBP checkpoints or in the army camp zone.
Kohinoor, who carried the heaviest bag amongst all of us with a lot of medicines & homemade food for the entire group, gave some generous amount of the tasty homemade rotis to our group and the army personnel there. The homemade food would have been a great change for the ITBP jawans, who survive on the packed food most of the times. After a short rest in Nagasthi, we moved towards Ranikanda.
A couple of hours beyond Nagasthi, we were greeted by our porters who passed on some snacks and an energy drink. And after an hour’s walk, we were finally in Ranikanda, welcomed with some hot lunch to feast into.
After a short rest in our tents, few of them suggested an acclimatization hike, and so 9 of us started ascending up a nearby hill. It was a steep ascent of 100 metres and it took close to 45 minutes to reach the top. After Aashish, who had diverted to the other side of the stream finally reached the top, it was time for the group pics.
There is no more rewarding feeling than being among the first few to reach and explore a destination that others haven’t yet had the pleasure of witnessing. After enjoying the virgin beauty of the valley from the top and some chit-chats for an hour, it was time to descend down.
We descended amidst some really heavy winds. At least, I was not the last one to get down this time. Niren who had ascended so quickly was telling me that descents were his weakness. The hot soup waiting for us in our dining tent was our motivation to rush back to the campsite. With some more time left for the dinner, Kohinoor got his pulse oximeter and we were having some fun time testing it out and measuring the oxygen levels of all of us. It showed my reading as 87, so Kohinoor suggested to take a deep breath and take the reading once again. This time it reduced further. Since everything was appearing normal, we didn’t bother much about it. After this incident, the oximeter was packed up and never taken out for the rest of the trek.
After some hot paranthas with Govardhan ghee for dinner, it was time to settle down in our own tents. Aditya, who was particularly looking for a tent with people who don’t snore, slept with Gautham & Aashish. Aditya had to quit his Lamkhaga pass trek in Dumti (in 2015) due to altitude sickness, however, he finished off the 2017 Lamkhaga pass without any issues. His brisk walk on all the seven days is probably attributed to his sound sleep and his tent partners. Now, we know that the choice of tent partners also impacts the completion of an expedition. Jokes apart, the rock-solid determination of each of the ten trekkers in the team and favourable weather conditions played a major role in the successful completion of this trek.
After a good breakfast in the morning, we started our trek around 8 am. After the oximeter readings, Vivek had suggested me to have 4 to 5 litres of water for proper acclimatization and the aftereffects of drinking loads of water were showing up while walking along the trails. We could see the ITBP jawans, the communication engineers and the mule herders making their way to Dumti to set up their checkpoints.
The walk with ITBP jawans made me realize how thankful we Indians are, to have a defence force, who give up their families and a comfortable life to guard our borders, while we sleep peacefully. Though the Tibet border beyond Chitkul is considered a friendly border without interruptions, the high altitude and the unpredictable weather conditions don’t add up to an easy daily routine.
The ITBP jawans walking with 40kg backpacks and heavy rifles heard out from us on why a frustrating city job requires a long break in mountains, and we got to hear from them on how badly they miss their families, the tasty home food and the luxuries of city life. They thanked us for the tasty homemade food provided by our team (obviously the credit goes to Kohinoor) and invited some of us for having Chole bature for dinner in Dumti campsite. We realized that walking the entire stretch of 14kms with ITBP is a tough row to hoe. With some handshakes to meet soon in Dumti, the forces moved ahead at a fast pace.
At regular intervals, Happy Negi ji kept reminding us to slow down as he felt all of us were going at a rapid pace. After some sauntering and enjoying our walk along the meandering paths, we stopped for our lunch a few minutes before the Dumti campsite.
Since the porters were behind, we had to wait for them to get past us with the tents. After reaching Dumti, we were told that the tea would be served only after offering prayers to the Karu Devta temple, about 2.5 ahead of the Dumti campsite. As the ritual goes, cooking in Dumti campsite starts only after offering the cooked prasad to the Karu Devta, and for years together, ITBP has been following the tradition introduced by the locals. Happy Negi ji, Baliga and few others went to the Karu Devta temple for the prayers as we settled down in the campsite.
Mild snow showers started as we were sipping the hot tea in our dining tent and we rushed back to our tents to give space for the porters and support staff in the dining tent. The snow continued for about an hour. When I came out of my single person tent at 7pm in the evening, a thin blanket of snow had covered the campsite and the views were amazing.
The conversations of the Pune group were the only sounds that could be heard in the silent and the peaceful Dumti campsite. With a long time left for dinner, I joined them for some intense card games. Abhinav, the master strategist was winning most of the games and he gave us little chance for us do work out our tricks. Finally, with Happy Negi ji calling us for our dinner, it was time to wrap up our game.
After a tasty dinner, Sonu Negi updated us that after two days of easy walk, we might be greeted with rocky terrain and some challenging river crossing the next day. It was evident from his briefing that some adventures were waiting for us on day 3.
The signboard read “हिंदुस्तान का आखरी ढाबा” (The last dhaba of Hindostan) as we reached Chitkul after witnessing some amazing views of Sangla village and exploring the trail to Chitkul village beside the Baspa river.
Chitkul, The Last Village of Sangla valley, Kinnaur
Kinnaur, the land of the mythological Kinnauras is almost divided in half by the Sutlej/Satluj River. Due to its geographical setting, Kinnaur has two distinct climatic zones – the wet and the arid.
Baspa valley, Kinnaur
Best time to visit:
May to October
Baspa river, Chitkul Mata Temple Ranikanda & Dumti
Treks/Hikes around Chitkul:
Lamkhaga pass trek, Trek to origin or Baspa river, Borasu pass trek, Ranikanda meadows hike, Dumti meadows hike, and Nagasti camp trail
Only the area south of the Great Himalaya (Sutlej & Baspa valley) receives monsoon rains.
In the upper reaches of the district, the monsoon showers progressively decrease and one can notice the beginning of the completely arid zone from Spillo and Kanum village.
Chitkul is located in the wet climatic zone of the Kinnaur district. The road to Chitkul village diverges from Karcham–a small town on National Highway 5– that is around 180 km from the state capital Shimla.
The winding road along the Baspa river is pothole-ridden & narrow. There are two landslides zones, one near the Karcham dam and second at Rutrang, just below the Sangla town.
During the rainy season(July-August), the valley turns foggy, reducing the visibility & falling boulders makes driving dangerous through the landslide zones.
The 22km journey from Sangla village to Chitkul is nothing short of a roller coaster ride when it’s done with HRTC buses, thanks to the bumpy pathways.
Chitkul found its place in the limelight when the people got to know that it is the last village of Himachal Pradesh& Kinnaur as well. The last doesn’t mean there is no human settlement beyond Chitkul. There are two ITBP posts, first at Nagastiwhich is around 2 kilometers from Chitkul and the second one at Dumtiwhich is around 7 kilometers from Chitkul on Indo- Tiber border.
With a lot of tourists flocking this village every day, it isn’t the same remote and peaceful village it used to be several years back as a lot of commercial guest houses and eateries have come in here.
Though Chitkul is a lovely place, it’s the first view that may seem to a dampener after Sangla and Kamru in terms of natural beauty after all the buzz about Chitkul. Some irresponsible tourism and rampant construction have made this village a thriving business for a few.
After reaching Chitkul, we met the Lamkhaga pass group with Happy Negi, Rajiv, and Sonu Negi and checked into a guest house.
We were ten trekkers and the plan was to start the Lamkhaga pass trek the next day from Chitkul. The group of five from Pune had booked a SUV from Chandigarh and reached Chitkul a few hours before us. Kohinoor and Hiren from the group were telling me how calm and serene Chitkul used to be two years back when they both had come here during a bike trip. Aditya from Bangalore had reached Chitkul two days prior to the trek for better acclimatization. Anand had rested for a day in Kalpa before boarding the bus from Reckong Peo to Chitkul, and we had met Anand on the bus that we had boarded from Sangla to Chitkul.
After lunch and some rest, the five-member Pune group decided to hike up a few kms for their acclimatization walk till the ITBP check post, while Anand, Gautham, Aashish and I were out to explore Chitkul, starting with the Mathi devi temple.
We reached the Mathi devi temple to find two small kids– Anirudh and Rishabh. Anirudh, with all his childish innocence, was telling Rishabh how Katappa had killed Bahubali in part 1 and the revenge that had followed on part 2. With the Bahubali fever gripping the entire nation in May (Bahubali part 2 had released in May 2017), I could never imagine that it’s waves would have reached the last village of India. This was one of the cutest memories I can recall from my Chitkul visit as Anirudh in all his innocence narrated a few scenes to his friend. Probably for the first time in my life, I felt motivated to go and watch a masala movie the way Anirudh had described it.
After a quick introduction, Anirudh and Rishabh become our tour guides for Chitkul. They proudly announced to their family members on the way that they have made friends with tourists and are taking them around. The children took us to two more temples which according to them had some more statues, but the temples were closed. Nevertheless, we had a great time there playing and clicking pictures with some more kids in the temple corridor. After some time, the kids took me around the village and though there was nothing much in the village, I ended up seeing their homes, post office and meeting more kids in playgrounds. Then we reached the spot where a lot of children were playing cricket and an excited Anirudh joined them for fielding.
While Aashish and Anand were playing there, Anirudh and Rishabh took me to the nearby playground where more kids were playing volleyball. After some 10-15 minutes in this place, the most unexpected thing happened and I ended up twisting my ankle during the volleyball game. With a strenuous 100km Lamkhaga Pass trek setting to start the next day, I was just hoping that this ankle sprain doesn’t turn out to be a show stopper and some kind of magic happens before the trek.
In an attempt to keep things moving, Anand and Aashish tried convincing me that the pain must subside in a while and that we could just move around the valley. So we moved towards the Baspa river and were joined by Gautam there. After 10-15 minutes of limping, I finally managed to reach the Baspa river. The views from this spot were beyond amazing. After some more time there, I decided to give some rest to my ankles and limp back to my guest house. The rest of the day went by as the people in the guest house tried out all possible things from hot water massage, few drops of kerosene to mustard oil massage to get my legs back to shape and to prevent swelling in my ankles.
The night just went by. It was 20th May 2017, and as per schedule 10 of us were to start for the Lamkhaga pass trek from Chitkul in the morning after our breakfast. I woke up that day with an even more painful ankle. Thanks to the encouragement provided by Gautam ji and timely medicines by our group pharmacist Kohinoor Indrani, I was able to make up my mind to go ahead with the trek with a crepe bandage and some painkillers. After breakfast in Chitkul, we finally moved further up and in a few minutes, Chitkul was out of our view.
The sojourn in Chitkul will stay in my memory for a long time. The time spent with the kids, the mesmerizing views near the Baspa river, badly twisting my ankle and finding the encouragement and support to move ahead with a strenuous trek are few memories that I would cherish throughout my lifetime.
Chitkul is a tiny hamlet set in scenic surroundings. If you are visiting this place while touring around Kinnaur, leave behind only your footsteps here, and not the plastics or your garbage footprints. Irresponsible tourism and rampant commercialization have resulted in mountains of plastics in these remote villages of Kinnaur, which lack the facilities to recycle or process the non-biodegradable waste. Do your bit for the environment by carrying back any non-biodegradable waste along with you instead of littering them in these hills, alongside appreciating the scenic beauty of our “Incredible India”.
Chitkul in different seasons:
The wide U-shaped valley of Baspa offers a panorama of the colored landscape in different seasons. In August and September month the valley appears a green oasis in desolate Kinnaur region.
What are the must-see places to visit in Chitkul?
Chitkul is the last Indian habitation beyond which lay sheer wilderness. There are plenty of activities to do and a few places to visit. Major places of interest in and around Chitkul are Chitkul Mata temple, Chitkul fort, Buddhist temple, and Old houses in Chitkul village. There are many trekking & hiking routes leading from Chitkul village towards the Indo-Tibet border & Kinnaur-Garhwal border. The following are easy hiking trails in Chitkul
Chitkul-Rakcham-Batseri village trail: It is an easy 3-4 hours hike along the Baspa river. The route is well marked and easy to follow.
Chitkul-Nagasti hike: It is an hour walk beyond Chitkul village. The route passes through the fields of people of Chitkul. There is an ITBP post at Nagasti. Entry beyond this point is restricted.
Baspa river trail: Ater crossing a bridge built across Baspa river below Chitkul, a trail takes you along the Baspa river.
Ranikanda meadows hike: Ranikanda meadows are high altitude mountain meadows located around 10 km beyond Chitkul village & Nagasti ITBP post. This place is the first-day campsite of Lamkhaga pass trek route. The entry is restricted and you need to take permission from local authorities to pass through ITBP Nagasti post.
How do I get to Chitkul from Delhi?
Below is the approach route for Chitkul: Delhi⇒ Shimla ⇒ Kufri ⇒ Narkanda ⇒ Rampur Bushahr ⇒ Karcham ⇒ Sangla ⇒ Rakcham ⇒ Chitkul. Shimla to Karcham route is on National Highway 5. From Karcham you need to take the right turn over the Karcham bridge to crossover into the Sangla valley.
Public transport: Direct buses to Sangla are available from Delhi, Chandigarh, and Shimla.
How far is Chitkul from Delhi?
Chitkul is around 590 kilometers from Delhi and the travel through public transport may take 15 to 16 hours depending on the road and weather conditions.
When does it snow in Chitkul?
Winter season starts from late October or early November. The chances of snowfall in the Chitkul region are high after November month. However, this region has witnessed snowfall as early as the first week of October as well. I would recommend late December to early March is the best time to witness the magic of snowfall in Chitkul village.
Would the road to Chitkul be open in December month?
Normally the road to Chitkul remains open during December. In case, there is heavy snowfall, the road may get blocked for 3-4 days. It is advised to confirm the road status before planning travel to the valley. You can get the latest information by calling the helpline numbers of the district administration
December to March is the best time and season to witness snowfall and see the snow-covered mountains of the Baspa Valley. June to September is a perfect time to see the valley in full bloom and greenery. Normally, the Baspa Valley has more precipitation than the rest of Kinnaur. The more rainfall than the rest of Kinnaur has a bearing on the topography and the landscape. Baspa Valley is also known as the green oasis of Kinnaur, and its meadows and forests are revered by locals and travelers alike.
There are many trekking routes leading from Chitkul village. The following mountain passes on the Kinnaur-Garhwal Himalayan range are high altitude crossover to Uttarakhand state.
Lamkhaga Pass trek
Borasu Pass trek
Chitkul- Rackcham trail
Chitkul – Nagasti trail: An easy an hour ramble to Nasgasti ITBP post by the fields of Chitkul villagers.
Charang – La Pass trek (Due to religious aspect attached to trek route, the parikrama or circumambulation of Kinnaur Kailash peak starts from Charang village but the trek is doable from Chitkul also).
Chitkul – Ranikanda hike: Ranikanda is an extensive stretch of mountain meadows on the left bank of Baspa river. It was, and still, it is the camping/halting site for the shepherds of Harsil and Kinnaur. The ITBP(Indo-Tibet Border Police) has built a road connecting Ranikanda to Chitkul however the movement of the vehicles is restricted. Around 3 hours of leisurely walk will take you to the meadows of Ranikanda.
The snowfall or winter season in Chitkul starts in early December(sometimes Chitkul gets snow even in November) and ends in early March. Occasionally the snowfall season gets stretched to the April month. Heavy snowfall often snaps road connectivity to Chitkul during the March month. The local administration and ITBP personal at Mastrang(near Rackcham) employ snow cutters & excavators to keep the traffic moving. Ping us to get the latest connectivity status.
Bewitching Baspa valley, Beautiful birch, and pristine pine forests, stark azure skies, leisure walk by the murmuring Baspa river, hiking trails around Chitkul, and gentle rolling meadows of Ranikanda makes Chitkul worth visiting.
Chitkul is connected to the rest of the world by a connecting road(Karcham-Sangla-Chitkul road). The connecting road from Karcham(located on National Highway-05) has many spots where landslips and falling boulders often cause recurring disruption which could last for many days( sometimes even for weeks!). Early snowfall in December month often snaps road connectivity to Chitkul. The local administration and ITBP personal at Mastrang(near Rackcham) employ snow cutters & excavators to keep the traffic moving. Ping us to get the latest connectivity status.
The last frontier village on the Indo-Tibetan border, Chitkul is often regarded as ‘the jewel of the Baspa valley‘. The English traveler and explorer Captain Alexander Gerard once proclaimed the Baspa valley the most spectacular of the Himalayan valleys. Chitkul is separated from Uttarakhand by the Kinnaur-Garhwal Himalayan range. The two most iconic landmarks of Chitkul are the Thola peak (P6565) and the Baspa river. The peak of Thola is prominently visible above the landscape of the village. The river Baspa, which gives its name to the valley, in its upper course, rolls effortlessly on pebbles with a soft murmur. Chitkul & Sangla was once the focal point of the traders and shepherds of Garhwal & Tons Valley. The numerous shepherds’ trails leading from Chitkul make it a backpackers and trekkers’ paradise.
HRTC and some private operators run buses on the Reckong Peo to Chitkul route. The departure time for the HRTC bus from Reckong Peo is 9:15 a.m. It takes about 4 hours to cover a distance of about 60 km (from the Reckong Peo bus stop to Chitkul). Another bus departs from the Reckong bus stop at 12:05 p.m. You can also get a taxi from the Reckong Peo taxi stop at a fair price.
By Road: A few ordinary (non-AC) Himachal State Transport (HRTC)buses depart late at night from the ISBT Kashmiri Gate. You can take a straight bus from Delhi to Sangla that leaves at 10 p.m. from Kashmiri Gate and drops you off at Sangla the next day at around 3:30 p.m.
The last bus from Sangla to Chitkul departs at 4:30 p.m. and takes almost an hour to cover a distance of 18 kilometers between Sangla and Chitkul. You can also hitchhike quite effortlessly on this route, or you can also get a taxi. You can also take a more comfortable route by taking a Volvo or AC bus to Shimla and taking a 7 or 8 AM ordinary bus from ISBT Tutikandi Shimla to Sangla.
By Air: Nearest Airport is Jubbarhatti, Shimla. Air India’s weekly flight departs from Delhi airport at 7:50 AM.
By Train: The nearest railway station is Shimla. The following is the departure schedule from Kalka.