Morning view of Kinnaur Kailash mountain range from Kalpa

Beauty And Hardships Of Living in Kinnaur & Spiti Valley During Wintertime

I arrived at a hotel in Narkanda following the one of the most challenging journeys of my life in recent years. It was a nice hotel, and the owner and staff were friendly and very kind.

I visited this part of India before the pandemic (in 2019) and things have changed quite dramatically in less than 3 years. The traditional structures, constructed from stone and wood with slate roofs, were neglected and in disrepair, with some even being destroyed. This was a sad moment for someone like me, who has a profound admiration for the indigenous architecture of the western Himalayas.

Kalpa

As soon as I reached my hotel in Kalpa, a cute husky came to visit. We had so much fun. He returned to his home after a while. 

Kalpa village in the dead of the night.
Kalpa village and fort in the dead of the night.
A Husky dog in Kalpa
A Husky dog in Kalpa

After staying in Kalpa for a few days, I felt a strong desire to visit Spiti valley. I wanted to stay in Dhankar Gompa and hike to Dhankar Lake, but I had heard that the trail was narrow and steep, and it was not easy to climb up the trail for someone like me. 

I am afraid of heights, to the point where I can’t even ride the escalator in my home city because my lower abdomen hurts when the steps move up on the step chain.  

A walk to Reckong Peo

I was planning to visit Reckong Peo for some time. One day I decided to walk down to Reckong Peo from my hotel in Kalpa. I walked down the slope for an hour and a half and reached my favourite restaurant, Little Chef

14 Sept temperature in Kinnaur
Day temperature in Kalpa on 14 September.

There was a large group of Indian bikers, and it was really noisy. I did not like the crowd. Momo were out of stock, so I ordered the spring rolls instead, and they were delicious.

I did not feel guilty about eating because I walked for 4-5 km for having food at this place. After the food, I took a bus to Kalpa and went straight to my hotel room.

It was cold inside, but when walked outside and sat on the balcony to warm my feet in the sun, it felt so hot after a while. 

The sky was azure blue, and the greenery was stunning to say the least, and I can hear the tunes of Kinnauri music coming from the nearby village, as well as the twittering of birds and barking of dogs. It was nothing but beautiful.

Fuliach festival in Barang

The next day, I went to a flower festival (Fuliach) in a village called Barang. It is located on the left bank of Satluj river, opposite to Reckong Peo, with my friend, his wife, and his niece. 

I felt uneasy as I had to wear a Kinnaur Topi (headgear) — it was mandatory — to enter the temple as it was of a larger size than my head. 

Barang is a large village located on a steeper (than Kalpa and Reckong Peo) slope on the opposite bank of the Sutlej River. Its population is approximately 2,500.

Fuliach flower festival celebrations in Barang.

I had only seen the festival in pictures, but it was spectacular! 

My friend who was dancing had so much fun.

Sangla Valley

My next stop was Kamru fort, Sangla Valley.  Last time I visited the fort was about 5 years ago. The woman in charge of the key to the fort door welcomed us while she was knitting. 

A lady from Kamru village of Kinnaur knitting sweater

It was really beautiful all across the valley. Once I crossed the winding road after Karcham dam, the valley opens up wide open in the classic Himalayan U-shaped valley form. 

Charang

Next, I visited Charang valley. It’s so cold! I went to the toilet in the open air for the first time in a while. The path from the village to the Rangrik Tungma Gompa (monastery) was so narrow that if you take a slight misstep, you’d fall into the Tidong rivulet. The people of Charang and nearby villages visit the Gompa even when it is snowing. 

Tidong stream flowing through Charang valley of Kinnaur.
Tidong stream flowing through Charang valley. A steel truss bailey bridge is built here over the Tidong, a left-side tributary of Sutlej River.

We were lucky enough to see a flock of ibex running up the cliff after drinking water from Tidong stream. There were ITBP soldiers at the entrance of the Gompa, and they greeted us first.

Charang village is a small village situated ~60 km from Reckong Peo at 3400m above sea level and with a population of about 200. The village was connected to a motorable road only in 2019. Before that the road was constructed till Shurting ITBP check post. 

The village serves as base camp of parikrama trek around Kinnaur Kailash peak. It is connected to Chitkul village of Baspa Valley through the Charang-La (otherwise known Charang-Chitkul Pass). 

The village is surrounded by towering mountains of the Greater Himalayas and houses are tightly packed together on a small flat area that juts out to the Tidong River. 

Unlike the architecture of houses in Baspa Valley, most of the homes here are made of mud or stones, and the walls are covered with cow dung, similar to Tibetan houses. Tibetan culture has heavily influenced this region.

Two nuns live in the Rangrik Tsungma Gompa which was built in the ~11th century. It is distanced about 2 km away from the village and a narrow trail along the Tidong rivulet joints it to the village. 

The main prayer hall here was far more beautiful than I imagined, and it feels like a smaller version of Tabo’s assembly hall. Buddha statues are placed randomly on the surrounding walls, and murals appear dramatic in the dimly lit space.

From the moment I entered the main hall, my heart was filled with gratitude, and at the end, a nun wrapped a red string amulet around my hand and patted me on the back. After that, I had some chai, and when I left, I was given an apple, dried fruit, and some nuts.

Apple, dried fruit, and nuts offered by Charang monastery nuns
Apple, dried fruit, and nuts offered by the monastery nuns.

Back to Kalpa

I was planning to visit Spiti Valley for some time. One day, I walked 5.5 km to Reckong Peo to apply for inner line permit for Spiti valley. I got it done (for 400 INR) in about 20 minutes. Since I had plenty of time to spend, I stopped by Little Chef café for spring rolls. For me, the best part of visiting Reckong Peo is eating something here.

A dismantled building of a home in Kalpa

Ever since I first visited Kalpa seven years ago, I loved walking past this old house built on a slope covered by trees. It was completely dismantled when I walked past by this time. What a loss of heritage and memories. 🙁

Pangi village

It was the first sunny day in the last 4 days! I hiked to Pangi village; it was about 10 km hike away from Kalpa. En route, the aroma of the forest was similar to the smell of Nara Park. The only sound I could hear was of the wind, the chirping of birds, and the sounds of wind howling and whistling through the Deodar Cedar and Pinus Girardiana trees.

View of Sairag valley from Pangi village
View of Sairag valley from Pangi village. September 18, 2022

In hindsight, I feel visiting Pangi was a prudent choice. Though there was no place to drink chai/coffee. I was wrong in thinking that since it was a decent village, there would be a dhaba or something. 

The last bus from Pangi was at 6pm. I wondered if it’d run or not? That day was Sunday, so there were fewer buses running from Pangi to Reckong Peo.  The people at Pangi bus stop advised me to share the ride with a guy who was planning to drive to Reckong Peo. The guy offered me a free ride, but I refused. In retrospect, I feel, the guy offered me the ride just out of kindness. 

Batseri village

A large-scale rock fall occurred here in July 2021. During previous visits, I always thought of visiting this village while passed by it — and visiting Rakcham or Chitkul — and finally I was able to visit this little paradise of Sangla valley. 

I had been suffering from cystitis symptoms for a few days and had a strong urge to pee. I just kept looking for a place to use the restroom and ended up at Banjara luxury glamping facility. 

I never thought that in such a remote village deep in the Himalayas, one could eat delicious sandwiches like those found in cafés in Kathmandu. The facility costs Rs 7,000 per night and is very clean, even the toilets were immaculate. Perhaps because a lady runs the facility.  There were flowers planted everywhere and they were well-kept. Next time, I would like to come and have a laid-back lunch.

A Nepali worker working in Sangla valley of Kinnaur
A Nepali migrant worker cuts down leafy branches of a tree to feed the livestock. There were Nepali workers in apple orchards, in road construction, in every village I visited. I wondered how much they get paid, and where do spend the night? I wondered how many Nepali workers come to work in this region alone at this time of year?

Batseri is a relatively large village located on the left bank of the Baspa River. It is just over 2 km away from the place where a connecting road diverges to Batseri from Sangla-Chitkul road. The damage to the Batseri bus stand seemed to be due to the large scale rockfalls happened on 25 July 2021. The bridge that fell down had been rebuilt and no sign of the disaster could be seen here. 

Back to Kalpa

It was raining, raining, raining all day long. Yesterday, roads were blocked due to landslides on the Rampur-Kinnaur-Spiti route, leaving cars stranded. 

When I have free time, I think about food all the time. It would be great if this place had the same facilities as in Japan and I could go to the public bathrooms and work about 3 days a week.  

Morning view of Kinnaur Kailash mountain range from Kalpa
Morning view of Kinnaur Kailash mountain range from Kalpa. September 25, 2022.

I opened the curtains in the morning and screamed, it was finally sunny! The sun, sunlight, and a fireplace are extremely important surviving winters in this northeastern part of Himachal Pradesh — esp if you live in the Himalayas.

Kinnaur Kailash mountain peaks garlanded with clouds.
Morning glory from Kalpa

For the next eight dark, damp days, I couldn’t even dry a single towel. I felt like I was going to get sick. 

Nako

Nako for the first time in 7 years. I’ve been using a car to travel to Spiti for the past few years, so it’s been a while since I took the bus. All the way to Nako, the asphalt surface of the road was smooth.

It was smooth enough to make you want to go roller skating. Roads were also expanded. What an evolution, considering that we used to have to stop many times to clean up boulders that fell on the road. 

The village of Nako is aesthetically pleasing even from afar, and once one has arrived, the quaint houses and monasteries erected along the intricately woven pathways are even more captivating. There was also a small emerald artificial lake, and there was a selfie point above the lake where one could get oneself photographed with “I Heart NAKO”. 

Since I came all the way from Kalpa, I woke up early and went to the rotate prayer wheel near Chorten that I could see on the top of the hill. It was a great spot, and when you get close to it, it makes you fall in love with it.

Spiti valley

I briefly thought it would be a long slog to go on a 3-day, 2-night trip to Spiti in late autumn, but in hindsight, I’m glad that visited this Shangri-La of Himachal Pradesh. 

Morning temperature reading of Tabo on my smartphone.

Tabo was my destination, but Nako was a pleasant surprise too, and both places were overwhelmingly quiet and peaceful. There were a few tourists, probably because the tourist season was over.

Bus conductor on Reckong Peo-Spiti bus
Bus conductor on Reckong Peo-Spiti bus

Most of the road up to Nako was layered with freshly laid asphalt, it was a lovely drive! The section between Nako and Chango was a dirt road, and because I was sitting in the last row, my lower back was getting jarred most of the time, and I thought I was going to get a spine injury.

Hurling village of Spiti
Hurling signboard

Chango to Tabo road section was half-paved and was bumpy at some places. There was construction and road repair work going on. 

Spiti river flowing through a gorge
Spiti river flowing through a gorge. October 1, 2022.

A migrant worker was sleeping along the road in the blinding sunshine. Another worker was filling a bucket with sand and carrying it to a truck.

A woman was using a broom on a dusty road. Her younger brother and sister worked at a homestay. This trip really made me realize that this region cannot survive without migrant workers. 

A dog in Hurling
Cute dog in Hurling

The HRTC bus from left from Reckong Peo at 12:00PM, and it reached Dubling check post at 14:45.  This police check point used to be at Akpa (near the bridge). The bus reached Nako at 15:50PM. On the way, we took a meal break at Spillo. The bus ticket was 123Rs (female discount applied) and tickets were sold inside the bus, not at the ticket counter.

In Nako, I confirmed the departure time of the Tabo bus with the bus driver and hotel staff.

The next day, I boarded a HRTC bus from Nako. It departed from Nako bus stop at 10:10AM, reached Chango at 11:15AM, Sumdo Indian Army check point at 11:40. At 12:00PM in Hurling, it stopped for lunch (for 30 minutes).  The bus reached Sumra at 12:47PM, 13:08PM at Lari and finally reached my destination, Tabo at 13:20 PM. 

Bus ride from Tabo to Reckong Peo.

On the way back, the same bus conductor guided me to a sit next to the driver’s seat. The seat beside the driver’s seat was quite comfortable and spacious. 

Tabo

A morning Tabo village. The stream flowing by the village was frozen. The sky was azure blue.

Pin valley

My 3-year-old dream to visit came true! Finally, I visited Pin valley!

Gatuk Homestay in Mud village of Pin valley
Gatuk Homestay in Mud village. My abode for stay in Pin valley. November 18, 2022.

I had always wanted to see this beautiful valley in summers, but winter is the best time to see the surreal beauty of this place. It was more rustic than I had imagined.

Kalpa Again

It was raining the heaviest since I first arrived here. Yesterday was a sunny day and I hung all my blankets and my laundry to sun dry.

A winter morning in Kalpa
A winter morning in Kalpa
Early November morning in Kalpa
Late autumn landscape of Kalpa, Kinnaur

Another day in Kalpa. Today was freezing. The temperature difference was just too drastic.

Cloudy winter sky view from Kalpa
Cloudy winter sky.

Cloud? or Fog? In the evening, the mountains on the opposite bank, including Jorkanden peak, were covered in pure white snow.

Mountaintops of Kinnaur Kailash range covered in snow as seen from Kalpa
Snow dusted mountaintops of Kinnaur Kailash range. October 11, 2022

Even though it was so cold that my fingers were numb, I saw people with cameras on the balconies of nearby hotels, and tourists wearing down jackets walking outside. The air was crisp and bitterly cold. 

I was drawn to a nearby village by the sound of drums and Shehnai, but I was afraid that if I entered a temple during a sacred festival without wearing a Kinnauri hat, I would be chased out. So I saw the festival from outside and came back.

Autumn in Kalpa

Autumn in Kinnaur is a fleeting jewel, arriving late in the year to paint the landscape in fiery hues. It arrives late in October and ends in early December.

Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in sunny autumn day in Kalpa
The intensity of the sun is truly great in the high-altitude regions of the Himalayas, and even though it’s mid-November, the sunny days are warm. The sky is azure blue.

In Kalpa, the fall foliage colors of apple and apricot tree leaves creates a riots of colors and the landscape transforms into different shades of amber, orange and yellow. In early Autumn, the weather remains pleasant, and the day temperature hovers in 4–10 degree Celsius range.

A home built in Indigenous architecture Kalpa village of Kinnaur
You can often see this type of house with small windows in the villages, but in the Himalayan towns, more and more buildings are being torn down and made of concrete.

Sunlight warms its south-facing slopes, while shadows cast by snow-dusted peaks hold a lingering chill. The night temperature starts falling below zero degree Celsius with the arrival of autumn.

In late Autumn — in the second half of November — the weather turns frigid cold. In the past, there have been many instances of light to moderate snowfall in Kalpa even in second week of November.

Batseri Again

When I visited Batseri, the first time, it was raining, and I felt like peeing all the time. The second time the bus broke down. 

People waiting to get the bus to fixed in Sangla
People waiting to get the bus to fixed near Sangla.

There were only 2–3 buses a day, but even if a bus gets broken down, no one complains — which is nice. One can chat, smoke, or just sit around and wait for the bus to get fixed.

Maybe I was getting used to it because this kind of disruption happened almost on a daily basis. In Japan, I used to get annoyed when JR trains were even a few minutes late in the winter.

This year, it was raining and cold in September, but even in November, it was warm through the daytime though it was cold in the morning and evening.

Lavi fair, Reckong Peo 

Himachal’s Police’s band was going to be performing in on the last day of Lavi Fair in Reckong Peo. I wanted to see the band performing live but was not sure if I could resist the cold and the freezing night, so I gave up. 

The next day, I explored the Reckong Peo market. The main road was blocked for traffic and shops were lined up on both side of the road. It was a crowded place. I had lunch at Little Chef restaurant. Tandoori roti and paneer were delicious.

Snowfall in Kalpa

One day, I went for a walk on Kalpa-Roghi road. Just 20 minutes up the road, I saw traditional wooden houses, livestock, people washing clothes in the stream, children playing with goats. 

The first snowflakes this winter started to fall. I could hear the mantra of om mani peme hom being chanted by monks in Kalpa Monastery.

It was a trip to Kinnaur seven years ago that made me fully recover after a setback at the first hospital and a broken heart. Due to this connection, I return to this place again and again.

A dreamy winter night in Kalpa
A dreamy winter night in Kalpa

A friend of mine took me to Rolla Dokhang (formally Suicide Point) after he finished his campaign work. I visited it the first time since the fence was built. There was a snow blizzard that made it hard to see. 

The dried apple I received at Tabo the other day was really delicious. The mother at the place where I’m based had also made enough dry food for three roofs, so I asked her to share it with me, and she brought a big bag full of it I picked it up and ate it while drying it on the balcony. How delicious.

I suffer from extreme sensitivity to cold. For people like me, it is too painful to be at the high altitudes when winter begins. I had been feeling stiff in both my shoulders, probably because I put so much effort into my body. I was split between wanting to stay here and wanting to go somewhere where it’s not that cold. 

Comments

4 responses to “Beauty And Hardships Of Living in Kinnaur & Spiti Valley During Wintertime”

  1. Beautiful blog and interesting experiences! Wish I would get a chance to visit this region!
    Yoroshiku
    SG

    1. Mayuko Okamura Avatar
      Mayuko Okamura

      Thank you.

  2. Mashanta Romani Avatar
    Mashanta Romani

    Your love for Kinnaur & Spiti Valley is very obvious ! You were very brave to visit these areas especially after news of heavy rain, landslides and road blocks. A nice blog !! Hoping to visit next year.

    1. Mayuko Okamura Avatar
      Mayuko Okamura

      Thank you the uplifting and kind words.

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