Charang Monastery , Kinnaur :  blog by Ritu Saini.

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 travelling in public transport, bikes and cars, what I enjoy the most is to walk.

Kinner Kailash parikrama: on top of Charang La pass
Kinner Kailash parikrama: on top of Charang La pass

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 village and chorten
Charang village and chorten

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 most holy temple of Kinnaur.

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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.

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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!

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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!”

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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!

View of Charang village in the distance from the monastery
View of Charang village in the distance from the monastery

This ardous 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 honoured and it inspires me to travel more and share my stories! 🙂

Rangrik or Charang Monastery
Rangrik or Charang Monastery