The Lamkhaga pass trekking is an amazing but exhausting experience. We trekked through beautiful villages, farm terraces, river streams, forests, and suspension bridges. Jaw-dropping views compensated for the boulder-strewn terrain & strenuous climb. 8 to 12 hours of trekking on average every day.
The route to the Lamkhaga Pass is exceptionally scenic with the bhojpatra forest, small glacial lakes and a mosaic of flowers(particularly pink rhododendron) adorning the lower Kyarkoti valley. The loose scree before the pass posed a challenge but at last, we were atop Lamkhaga pass that divides Garhwal from Kinnaur district of Himachal.
After a gap of 1 year, It is the mountain that has been calling me, and it’s time to answer said my heart this September. We, a team of 8 people decided to climb the Lamkhaga pass (Approx. 18000 ft.) one of the toughest, roughest and challenging terrain in Baspa Valley on Indo-Tibetan border that connects Chitkul village of Himachal Pradesh with Harsil in Uttarakhand. A journey of around 100Kms in 9 days at an altitude of above 12,000ft.
Climbing the mountains to embrace the challenge, to enjoy the air and behold the view has been my passion; it’s just not about the view which comes after the toughest climb that makes the Body, Mind & Soul fulfilled, but the happiness and growth that occurs while you are climbing it with your team.
I have been an avid traveller/ trekker in the Himalayas and the last time I climbed was Pin Parvati ranges in 2017 and my lust for the Himalayas only grew year after year since my visit to Kailash in 2004. I call this a Lust because this seeking never gets fulfilled.
Living in a city is having a completely entangled life, not necessarily engaging or involving. The luxury of spending time with self is a challenge & we are always connected with the outside world but hardly get time to be with our own company in this mad race.
The mountain scenery is breathtaking, quaint villages are beautiful, living is stress-free & so it’s easy to see intense life and spunk in people’s eyes. Learning to embrace the moment is truly a humbling experience. As the Chinese proverb goes, be calm and take things as they come, The Journey clears the mind from the constant chatter; you are at peace with self and you get to see priorities, Goals & people in your life with whom u would like to spend time. It improves relationships & quality of life. It is said “A man with clarity reaches his goal sooner than the man with confidence”
Trekking or mountaineering is the only option where there are no chances of saying sorry. If you commit a mistake that too at 5K plus altitude, life would be the one saying sorry to you, anything can happen on the mountains, yet you keep the faith on mother nature and pursue your journey and enjoy every minute of it.
We pace our walk to catch our breath. However, if we walk too slow or stop too long in between, We might reach the tent after dark that too in biting cold weather.
This is equally real in our working life. Many years, we work hard to climb the corporate ladder. There are always a few resources, yet many things to accomplish in the organization. Those who stay positive, agile, and focus on the goals always succeed to the top. For them, the goal is purposeful Therefore, a purposeful goal inspires everyone to be agile and stay focused. Above all, to support one another in reaching the destination on time.
The journey also opens up conversations on various subjects from the world economy to how much pepper to be added in dal to make it ideal, it was physically exhausting and muscle numbing but the spirit to reach the top boosted the soul. Trekking means a travelling experience with thrilling excitement.
On reaching the top of the mountain, I could feel that both my heart and lungs were pushing their best, the panoramic view of the majestic Kinnaur & Garhwal Himalayas, mesmerized and sunk me. I was excited with tears in my eyes but equally calm, as a kid, I always looked up the blue sky and wished for wings to fly up to the mountains. I Believe I can fly… I live in that moment every time I climb the Himalayas. Nothing like being on top of the world.
Change is an unpredictable journey, experiencing the predictable and expecting little unpredictable ones always spice’s up the journey. It’s not only on the climb to the Himalayas but also for life. Travel teaches as much as or sometimes more than a teacher, Travelling shouldn’t be just a tour, it should be a tale. When I reflect upon the journey I realize, be comfortable with the discomfort to reach new heights. Embrace the present & sometimes, it is perfectly okay to get bruised.
Lamkhaga Pass (5282m) (Chitkul to Harsil), May 2018 This Himalayan high pass divides Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh from Uttarakhand in India. We followed the following route: –Chitkul to Rani Kanda -Rani Kanda to Dhumti -Dhumti to Gundar -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) -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) -Upper Kyarkoti to Kyarkoti -Kyarkoti to Gangnani -Gangnani to Harsilsn This is a remote pass and very few groups have finished this. Thus it could be a good option for all those who loves to visit the under-explored! Raacho Trekkers team did the first recce of the route from Kinnaur side in 2014.
28th May: Reach Base Camp Chitkul by road from Shimla
Day #1 29th May: Chitkul (3435 meters) to Nagasthi – Rani Kanda (3700 meters) 10 km 5 hr trek.
Day #2 30th May: Rani Kanda to Dumti (4050 meters) – 9 km/5 hr trek.
Day #3 31st May: Dumti to Gundar (4450 meter) – 15km/7 hr trek
Day #4 1st June: Gundar (4400 mtrs) to Lamkhaga Pass Base Camp (4400 meters)
Day #5 2nd June: Lamkhaga Pass BC to Base Camp 2 (Kinnaur)
Day #6 3rd June: Lamkhaga Pass BC(Kinnaur) to Lamkhaga Pass BC (Gangotri Side) via Lamkhaga Pass (5282 mts/17320 ft) / 14432 ft) 11 km/6 – 7 hr trek
Day #7 4th June: Lamkhaga Pass Base Camp to Kyarkoti (3820 meter) – 16 km/7 – 8 hr trek
Day #8 5th June: Kyarkoti to Harsil (2400 meter) – 14 km/6-7 hr trek
CHANDIGARH- SHIMLA: Pahadi Hospitality at its best: All restaurants were closed by the time we reached Shimla. After searching for food nearby passport office without any vehicle(our driver had left after dropping us at the hotel) we failed to get one. It was 12 am, the hotel manager and his assistant had to specially prepare rice and dal for us from their own personal kitchen.
SHIMLA-KALPA Enchanting Kinnaur, Irritating hydro-projects, awesome curvy drive, and the humble driver: First of all, thank you Vikas for arranging the car. Will make sure to recommend him to my friends if needed at all in the future. Today’s journey began with Aloo paranthas and a glass of bournvita just on the outskirts of Shimla. While eating parathas, we never thought that we will be hating paranthas so much at the end of our journey and we still do while I type this, however you will come to know as the Tlog progresses. Weather was pleasant and eating fresh Narkanda cherries was surely a ‘cherry on top’ to add in this journey. The tea and the mischievous kids playing at Wangtoo tea house was fun. One layer of cloth comes out of the bag at this place.Brrrrr! Though we were driving on NER, the vistas were getting more beautiful. We reached Rakpa regency at Kalpa @10pm passing through muddy Karcham-Powari stretch to the beautiful dark town of Reckong Peo, through clouds and rains which got vanished later when we entered our room. The moonlit Kinner Kailash range was the most beautiful vista ever and the long tiring journey was totally worth it for this.
KALPA – Hike to CHAKKA KANDA (~4000mtr)- KALPA and drive to CHITKUL
Chakka is a small peak which lies behind and above Kalpa town. Though a small hike for a little bit more than 1000mtr, it is a very good place for acclimatization for all the trekkers/travelers in that region. Just below the peak, lies Chakka Kanda, a lake that is culturally important for Kinnauris. It takes 2 -3 hours to reach. We hired a car to Chitkul at 4 pm from Kalpa after descending down from Chakka Kanda.
Hotel in Kalpa: Rakpa Regency & Hotel in Chitkul: Shenshah/Shahenshah/Shen Sha or whatever you call it. Both the properties are run by Mr. Sandeep Karar. All the rooms were charged 1500 INR/room after immense bargaining in advance as we did not had any options left. The stay at Kalpa has to be the best for its hospitality and views.
Hotel to Chakka Kanda Time taken: 2 1/2 hours Height gained: 800 meters. Just before lake, we stopped due to time restrictions.
Starting our day with super hot chai with amazing clouds in the sky. Parathas and Omelette were the only options for breakfast. It was an acclimatization day for all and we decided to start it by 11 am. Our guide and the support team reached at Chitkul at 5 pm. There were 8 porters and 1 cook along. They camped on the banks of river Baspa. Meanwhile, we unpacked and packed our rucksacks again just to make sure the weight is balanced accordingly that day.
Time taken: 2 hours Height Gained: 130mtr, towards Nagasthi ITBP and a small hill on the left.
Who was Marco Pallis and why Lamkhaga?
A Greek-British author and mountaineer who was famous for his writings on Tibetan Buddhism. He made the first ascent of Leo Pargial(6790m), one of the highest in Kinnaur Himal(not be confused with Reo Purgyal) starting from Harsil all the way via unexplored/climbed LAMKHAGA PASS and then into Sutlej-Spiti valley to climb the peak in 1933. Well, we are doing the right opposite to him what he did.
Can this trek done from both the sides?
Yes. It takes ~7 to 10 days from both sides depending on the weather.
What is the route? From Chitkul : Chitkul-Nagasthi-Ranikanda-Dumti-Nithal Thatch- Base camp(Baspa Glacier)-Advance base camp- Lamkhaga pass- Base camp(Harsil side)-Kyarkoti-Harsil
From Harsil : Harsil-Banswari nalla- Gangnani -Kyarkoti-Base camp(Sukha thal)-Advance base camp(aka Pass ke neeche)- Lamkhaga pass-Base camp(Chitkul side)-Dumti-Ranikanda or Chitkul. Personally, I feel the ascent from Harsil is more daunting. Continuous ascent! unlike gradual incline at many places from the Chitkul side. But both are equal in difficulty.
Do we need an Inner line Permit for this trek and from where to get it?
DC office in Reckong Peo for people starting from the Chitkul side.
DC office in Uttarkashi for people starting from the Harsil side.
Porters are easily available from Uttarkashi or Gangotri(UK) and Reckong Peo(HP) and NOT HARSIL OR CHITKUL.
Must Equipment: Ropes, Ice Axe, Gaiters, Alpine tents(neither t3, nor t2 please) and yes Microspikes will be helpful in the month of May-June. Altitude: I am still confused with its altitude. According to our altimeter(G-shock) which was well calibrated, showed up 5300metres on the pass. Old maps say 5284metres and some source says 5326metres. Best Time: There is no best time to visit higher regions, the weather takes a toll on any day/anytime. Still it is doable from Mid-May till Mid October. Grade: Difficult
TREK DAY 1.
Chitkul -Nagasthi(ITBP Checkpost) -Ranikanda.
A simple walk for 4 hours takes us to the beautiful Ranikanda camp site at 3700m which is situated just few metres away from Baspa river. Where we faced rain, a little headache, cold and dramatic sky. Had the most delicious Khichdi and the soup for the lunch and Roti- Sabji-Salad for the dinner.
TREK DAY 2.
Ranikanda – Lal Dhang – Dumti
8am:- AP’s struggle with rucksack weight and severe AMS.
It was a long hike that day going up to 4050m. Though the weather was clear, we had no trust in it either. Soon AP informed us he was having a mild headache but was okay to continue. But from the previous evening, it did not get any better, even after acclimatization walk up to 500ft nearby. He was walking slowly along with few members and porters. He gave up just before Lal Dhang at 10:30 am. His headache remained the same. VB who was walking along with him and me took his heavy rucksack, which he was carrying and in return gave his small camera bag to AP. Meanwhile, our guide Negi saw us from the edge, which was far away on Lal Dhank. He knew something was wrong and waited for us to cross the tricky part. Things were getting serious at that moment.
Negi’s views on AP:- Returning back to Chitkul did not make any sense as it is already at 3450m. It would take 5 -6 hours to reach from where we stood and descending further till Sangla (2800m) after that was completely out of the question. Continuing all the way till Dumti, which is at 4050m is again a threatening act to do. But Dumti had an ITBP camp. It had medical facilities. It had oxygen tanks but nothing in Chitkul. The only struggle was that tough scary walk from Lal Dhang till Dumti for 4 hours in the worst weather with poor visibility, wind, snow, and drizzle along. On one side it was Baspa river which was invisible and ferociously flowing down below and on the other side falling tiny rocks and slippery slopes to negotiate. All team members were separated and were just following the broken trail. Negi was taking care of AP and was slowly walking far behind holding his hands.
We reached Dumti at 2:30 pm and along with Negi reached at 3:30 pm. But soon, he started hallucinating!
3:30pm: AP Hallucinations at Dumti
Our cook, Rathiji prepared “sheera“(they call it halwa) after a small darshan at Karu temple. We served a tiny portion to AP in the tent. It took him 20 minutes to gulp 2 serves. He did not know what he was eating, neither he was responding to anyone. His oxygen levels started deteriorating. We immediately took him to the ITBP camp which had medical facilities as I have mentioned above. We made him sit in one of the bunkers for the warmth, but soon he started dozing off. Meanwhile, we literally requested the medical personnel to give him supplementary oxygen as soon as possible. He was made to lay down by holding his hands on the medical bed. We played music in the background so that he won’t sleep which would turn out to be fatal in such conditions. It took 15 minutes for him to get back to normal, which stayed temporary.
Well, when we asked him how was he feeling? He did not remember how and what had happened. He did not remember anything, neither the “sheera” nor the supplementary oxygen. Every half an hour, he was given supplementary oxygen till 6:00 pm for 5 minutes and some medicines(NOT DIAMOX). Meanwhile, few members from our team had won the cricket game against the ITBP team.
AP was my tent mate. I kept on checking his oxygen levels throughout that cold night. Luckily he was OK the next morning but had to send back with one of the porters.
TREK DAY 3
Dumti-Nithal Thatch- Gundar
The day began with Parathas and Bhindi subzi for breakfast following with the small pooja at Karu temple. A walk by banks of River Baspa all the way till Gundar Camp at 4450m. It was an easy but long walk over rocks and slight height gain. We reached around 2:00 pm. SC fell in the water while crossing it just before the camp and while rescuing her, Nishchay fell too. Quite a tough moment for both of them.
By 3:30 pm, we hiked up 1000ft for acclimatization. Due to the weather, things got worse again. And it was again Parathas for lunch.
TREK DAY 4
Gundar to Immediate Camp( 2 hours before Baspa Glacier/Lamkhaga Base camp).
Probably the most beautiful morning we witnessed here. The night was just out of the world with millions of stars and the bright moon and the lit on high peaks, but it was freezing at the same time. It was difficult for me to remove the camera from the bag and tripod at that time. However, I would like to say that, those irregular nature calls in the middle of the night have given us a lot of positive opportunities to see the actual beauty through naked eyes. Words are less to describe, so does the camera.
We woke up at 4 am and had Chapatis for breakfast with Achar and papaya porridge. It had snowed a lot. The first step of the day was snow. There were pug marks of some kind of animals parallel to us. First, we presumed it to be snow leopards……LOL. But it may have been wild fox’s, we partially confirmed after immense discussion with each other. A few days after looking at the photographs, we thought that it would be some bird’s footsteps. Maybe!!!
We had to cross the Baspa stream that day. There was an icy and slippery layer on the stones. So balancing on top of stones and crossing would make us fall in the bone freezing water. It took us half an hour to cross it. But Karan fell in the water while helping out RS and she was all fine. It was a funny but frustrating situation. Snowfall increased as we move further when Negiji finally had to stop. Because going further in that bad weather and pitching tents on glacier camp would be dangerous. It took 2 hours for the porters who were behind us. Finally, at 1:00 pm, we pitched our tents with all the wet boots and wet bags.
TREK DAY 5
Immediate Camp – Baspa Glacier -Lamkhaga Base camp – Lamkhaga Advance Base Camp( aka Pass ke neeche)-5100m
We were already running behind the schedule( say 5 hours time). We started to climb at 4am. It was freezing and the weather was deteriorating again. Rathiji our cook, lead the team members, whereas our guide led the team of porters. In no meantime, all porters overtook us and waited on the snowy slopes.
We reached Lamkhaga Base Camp at 7 am for a short hungry break of dry fruits and water, as it was not easy to digest Parathas early in the morning. We took some rest and started climbing on a 50-degree incline with deep snow. Plan of the day was to reach the Advance Base camp, just below the pass which was 7 hours far from where we were standing on that snowy conditions. We managed to cover it without much headache. Few people were too fast on snow, while others were the opposite of that. Finally, microspikes came into use. There were many steep patches which itself was a task to negotiate, but we managed somehow. We reached at 2 pm. It was a task to beat the soft snow of 2ft, so that our tent could easily be pitched on hard snow. That day, one porter suffered from Hypothermia and he went mute. He was shifted to the kitchen tent as soon as the tent was ready and was made to rest near the cooking stove for the warmth. We gave him the warmee self-heating pouch. He felt okay later after gulping hot soup and hot water. So white-out conditions, freezing wind, Porter’s health, Highest Camp at 5100m, wet sleeping bags, frozen tents, snow melted “yuckk” water, etc. made it totally worth.
TREK DAY – 6 (LAMKHAGA PASS)
Plan: Advance Base camp to Lamkhaga Pass to Lamkhaga base camp( Harsil side) What did we do? : Advance Base camp to Lamkhaga Pass to Lamkhaga base camp(Harsil side) to Kyarkoti
When we woke up at 6 in the morning, it was all white-out outside. Soon, we started discussing on to pass the cross or not. After a lot of arguments, we planned to go ahead. Waiting back did not make any sense. Descending to Chitkul was against our wishes. It was just a matter of 3 hours of the climb to the pass and it descended all the way down to Kyarkoti – Gangnani – Harsil. If anything worse happens within these 3 hours, nobody had an idea to escape it, except our guide Negi. He was confident about it and he leads us in a Pro way. We stood at the top at 9:00 am on 3rd June.
Looking towards HP unnamed peaks as seen from Abc at 5120m at 530am.
Negi ji had made a zigzag route to the top, due to soft snow and the light was bright. In a meanwhile, a huge layer of ice like a mini avalanche came on our way and took Aditya down a few meters on the slope. Luckily he arrested himself on the gentle slopes and began climbing much faster. It was a horrifying scene when it happened. Somehow we all reached at 9 am on the top.
The pass is located at one of the greatest water source region which divides two great rivers, where one flows into the Arabian sea and other in Bay of Bengal. All we could see is tears of joy in each and every member. It started snowing heavily from the Garhwal side and it was bright in the Kinnaur side. Realising, who was the culprit behind bad weather, we started our deadly descend soon.
The glissading was fun and risky too. Few members had many rolls, with the bags falling on one side and trekking poles to the others. The weather deteriorated and it was white out. This time, it did not stop for the next 8 hours of daunting descent. There was a huge gap of distance among members, a few of us were climbing down slowly with INFINITE no. of falls and breaking trekking sticks. The plan was to descend until the snowline. We reached Upper Kyarkoti, passing through Sukha Tal at 5:30 pm and threw our bags aside our tents.
That evening, our porters went hunting some of the juniper bushes/woods for a bonfire. They excelled in getting a large bunch of wet junipers and some wet trunk of the unknown tree which was lying down on high slopes. There was an excitement within the team on the accomplishment of the trek. We sipped many teas that evening, as most of the things were wet and ferocious bonfire by the side. I was the last one to sleep after taking a few night shots of heaven, Kyarkoti. In fact, all the nights at every camp have been beautiful for us, but this place beats all. As soon as I entered my sleeping and locked the chains of the tent, there was a scratching sound outside the tent. As if, someone/thing is scratching with hands on the outer layer of the tent. Initially, I thought someone was doing mischief among us, but everyone had slept by that time. I woke up and I switched on my tent light, no sounds! Again, I did not bother to wake up my tent mates as they all were snoring too loud. The sound of scratching continued for 2-3 hours that night and that was my last sleepless night of the entire journey.
“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.
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.