11th April 2012 – In Kalpa
I was almost certain that the mountains would be enveloped in low hanging clouds that would hide the majesty of the view and prevent identification of the major mountains. My misgivings were belied; the clouds were not so low and the sun had risen to sparkle on the entire range of mountains. The views of the entire range of mountains particularly that of the Kinner Kailash, were majestic. All the villages in Reckong Peo face the majesty of the snow clad mountains of which the Kinner Kailash is regarded as one of the mythical homes of Lord Shiva. The mountain at 6400 metres is not to be confused with Mt. Kailas which is in Tibet. By the side of the mountain is a 79 foot high rock formation that resembles a ‘shivalinga’. It is told that the formation changes colors during the course of the day and seven colors can be seen using a set of powerful, field binoculars. A 7/8 trek covers the ‘parikrama’ around the base of the mountain. There are reported to be 9 major mountains in the range, which apart from Kinner Kailash are: Ralgang (5499 mts), Gushu (5607 mts), Pishu (5672 mts), Phawarang (6400 mts), Jorkanden (6473 mts), Shipki (6608 mts), Leo-Pragial (6691 mts) and Shilla (7025 mts). The inhabitants of Kinnaur believe that the spirits of the dead of Kinnaur reside in the peak of Raldang.
After enjoying the morning spectacle I got ready for my visit to Chitkul and Sangla. I was informed that the first bus to Sangla would leave Peo at 9.30 AM. However, I left early for Peo with a few school kids from the neighborhood via a short cut to Kalpa. As luck wouod have it there was a service at 8 AM, which promptly deposited me at Sangla before 10 AM. What strikes you en route are the massive hydel power projects on the Baspa River undertaken by the Jaypee Group. They have also put in place many CSR projects like schools, bridges, soil erosion measures, etc.
I found Sangla colder than Kalpa, even though Kalpa is supposed to be the coldest place in Kinnaur, along with Chitkul. Sangla village is above the right bank of the Baspa River and is the main market in the area. A vehicle had been arranged by my contact in Peo for the tour of Sangla and Chitkul. The youngster at the wheel, Lokesh, was of the opinion that KIinnaur is blessed in every way except the condition of the roads. I tended to agree with his observation but not so much with the manner in which he negotiated them.
On the way to Chitkul are a few quaint villages. The first of them is Batseri which is set on the left bank of the River. The surrounding of the village is used by camp organisers who set up trekking trips of varying difficulties. The village is reputed to have a huge prayer wheel housed in a shelter that is turned by the stream’s waters. The village of Rakcham is at an altitude of 3115 metres. The name of the village is a derived out of two words, rak and cham, the former meaning rock and the latter bridge. The local belief is that the river waters corroded a stone dam, thereby creating a natural bridge on the spot. Chitkul is the last inhabited village in the valley and is at an altitude of 3450 metres. Vast snow fields, rocky terrain and high mountains separate the village from Tibet. The village also has a flour mill housed in a shelter, the wheel of which is turned by the waters of a channelized perennial stream. Cold winds make the place extremely harsh. Watching a lady washing woolen clothes in a running stream almost turned my blood cold. The people in the villages have Tibetian features and the food is predominantly of that region. On the ride back to Sangla I had a panoramic view of the Sangla Valley. I presumed that September/October would be the right time to appreciate the beauty of the 95 km long valley for the valley would then be green and with the Baspa River in full flow. The Baspa River flows north-west against the normal north-south flow of other rivers. The River that rises in the hills of Uttaranchal meets with the Sutlej River at Karcham.
While nearing Sangla I felt a few mild pangs of hunger particularly when Lokesh mentioned that the village has a few good Tibetian eateries. However, the one he chose for me dished out a pitiful preparation of Thupka and momos that tasted strange. Normally never the one to waste food I was forced to this time because I suspected I would take ill if I went any further. The last destination in Sangla was the Kamru Fort. It was the original seat of the rulers of Bushair. I was not prepared for the steep climb to the Fort; I was under the impression that I could drive up in the car up to the Fort. The entrance to the climb is guarded by the image of the Buddha. Summoning my reserves of will power and woefully inadequate lung capacity I made it up to the Fort only to be told that it would open only late evening. Disappointed though I was of not accessing the Fort, the views of Sangla and that of the surrounding areas were lovely. Moreover, as with most places in this lovely region of Kinnaur, the air is clean and almost aromatic. It is in times such as this that I regret having spoilt the lung by wanton smoking.
I had to wait for just a half hour for the bus back to Peo. I must have slept through the trip and I was gently woken up by the young conductor on arrival at the stand. I made it back to the CH just in time, once again, before it started raining heavily.