Do you believe that everything good comes with a price? Well, the price I paid to reach the gorgeous Kinnaur district situated in the northeast part of Himachal Pradesh was a straight up 21 hours bus journey. Nevertheless the route after Shimla is spectacular but by the time you reach the headquarters of Kinnaur district, Recong Peo, you can hardly feel your lower body (this is the most polite way of putting my feelings into words).
Kinnaur is like a place from a dream where the mountains of Greater Himalayas, Zanskar, and Dhauladhar Ranges are so close that you can stretch out your hands and touch them. You feel terribly small standing against the giangtic snow-clad peaks, it’s one of those realizations that is enough to make you forget your ego and prejudices. Kinnaur is the second richest state in Himachal, and is particularly famous for its apples, the Royal Golden Apple (Golden Delicious) is a major highlight from the district. Even if you aren’t visiting the district during its apple-picking season (October), you can still relish a panoramic view of sprawling apple orchards along which runs the scenic Baspa River. The tiny hamlets, villages, and towns of Kinnaur are a delight to witness. Most of them are dotted with traditional houses made of stones and wood complimenting the surreal background where you could live forever. Here’s my story of how I ended up visiting Kinnaur, and why should you plan trip to this paradise of a place in Himachal Pradesh.
Kalpa was on my radar for last two years, in fact it made an important part of my travel bucket list in India. So in the second last week in May 2019 I sat in my workstation looking for places to visit in the last week of the month. Kalpa emerged as my second choice, the first being Munsiyari in Uttarakhand. Although, when I researched more about the two destinations, I felt a strong inclination towards Kalpa. Now don’t get me wrong here, I honestly feel Munsiyari is equally stunning, but like they say ‘what is meant to happen, will happen.’ Kinnaur was finalized then with a plan to visit Kalpa, Sangla, and Chitkul, the last inhabited village in India on Indo-Tibet border.
I chose to take a direct bus to Recong Peo, the district headquarters which is only 7 km from Kalpa. The bus from Delhi to Recong Peo/Peo leaves at 8:10 pm from ISBT Kashmiri Gate. This is an ordinary bus, which construes no AC and seat reclining facilities. If you want to travel in comfort, then head to Chandigarh and board HRTC semideluxe bus that leaves at 5:50 pm and reaches Recong Peo at 7:00 am. The roads are good for most part of the journey but there is construction work in progress at some stretches around Karcham and they do get narrow as you enter Kinnaur District.
If you decide to drive on your own to Kinnaur, you can take NH 44 and 5 from Delhi that should take around 18 hours to reach.
From Kumarsain, which is some 80 km from Shimla, one can witness the tip of the snow-clad mountains. You start to get a fair idea of what to expect in Kinnaur and by the time you reach Rampur Bushahr (44 km from Kumarsain), you start to thank yourself for planning this trip to Kinnaur. The snow-covered peaks makes you restless because now all you want to do is to be amidst them. But it isn’t before 5 hours, any of your desires will fulfill. The landscape oh! starts to become such a tease, I tell you.
It was around 4:30 pm I reached Recong Peo or Peo as the locals call it. Before the main bus station, there is a stand where buses for Kalpa depart. Everybody planning to visit Kalpa has to get down here to catch another bus.
At the stand there was an empty bus that I boarded. Government and private buses both operate on this route at regular intervals. The buses would mostly leave when they are full giving me sometime to spend relishing my first meeting with Kinnaur Kailash Range. The breeze were chilly, and the sky was full of grey clouds indicating rain. Peeping from behind the grey clouds were spectacular Jorkanden (6473 m), the holy Kinner Kailash (6050 m), and my personal favourite Mt Raldang (5499 m). It was indeed a view to behold, and a rendezvous to remember. I haven’t been to any place before Kinnaur where the Greater Himalayas were at such a close proximity. Watching them from such a close distance honestly got me breathe heavy. It was a sight, that I could have possibly cried witnessing if there was no one around.
The bus left around 5:00 pm and would take approx 20 minutes to reach Kalpa, however, I had to get down at Yuwaringi (3.5 km from Peo) where I had booked my hotel in advance. The clouds start to get thick, and the rumbling sound of the thunder ensured I get my first lesson learned – when in the high mountains, always carry an umbrella (a lesson I had already learnt back at my hometown in Nainital but had forgotten with the course of time living in Delhi). By the time I reached my hotel in Yuwaringi, it started to pour heavily and became dark outside indicating it was the day to stay in and rest through the night. But the mountains have their own way of surprising you. After a refreshing bath when I thought of going to bed early, I noticed too much of light coming from my window, I walked towards it to have a glimpse of the outside and drew the curtains off only to find the jaw-dropping sight of Mt Raldang soaked in the light of a beautiful setting sun. My heart raced in a way I can’t describe. I quickly picked my phone and the camera and ran to the terrace from where I can get a better view of the mountains. I have to confess it was most beautiful view I had come across in last 3 years.
My excitement to watch the first rays of sun falling on the Kinnaur Kailash range compelled me to wake up at 5 in the morning. Since it was still dark, I decided to re-pack my bag as according to the travel itinerary I had to head to Sangla and Chitkul. By the time the dawn broke, I was ready with my camera, a pair of eyes, and a fluttering heart. The sun rays first hit Chokas Rang Peak (5000 m approx) that is situated next to the Kinner Kailash Massif. Next was the turn to Kinner Kailash Peak to be greeted by the sun, and how beautiful that entire scenario was. Mt Raldang was the last to be touched by sunrays, and when it did, it felt as if the peak was gilded with gold.
Around 8:30 am I left from the hotel, I was informed the bus for Sangla and Chitkul leaves at 9:30 am from Recong Peo bus stand. I had decided to walk till Peo which was 3.5 km away from Yuwaringi, and thus, it was a good idea to leave an hour before. There is a bus at 9:30 am from Recong Peo to Sangla and Chitkul that drops you at Sangla around 12 pm, Chitkul is another 26 km from here and takes almost 2 hours to reach. Another bus for Chitkul from Recong Peo leaves at 12 pm and reaches Sangla approximately by 4:30 pm.
I decided to get down at Sangla as some of the travel blogs I read said, it is a gorgeous place to explore, and they weren’t wrong. The plan was to explore Sangla in the day time and then board the bus to Chitkul at 4:30 pm. Sangla is a small town and the nearest place to get all the necessary supplies for the villages nearby. The town is mainly a commercial hub but the stunning Kinnaur Kailash Range in the backdrop makes it for an ideal place to visit in Kinnaur district.
Sangla is also the base point for several treks like Beri Nag Trek, Kamru Village and Fort Trek and Sangla Kande. Around 5 km from Sangla is beautiful village called Batseri which is perfect to savour the view of the snow-clad mountains, apple orchards, and the gorgeous Baspa River.
I spent the day exploring Sangla and its nearby places. There are some small cafes and restaurants, in one of which I relished momos and tea with the view of the lofty snow-covered mountains in the backdrop. By 4:00 pm I returned to the bus station to catch a bus to Chitkul which was scheduled to arrive at 4:30 pm. However, there was no sign of the bus till 5:00 pm. I sat in the bus station, and after a while was joined by a local lady. She initiated the conversation and in a matter of a minute we both got chatty. She informed she was also waiting for the same bus as I but according to her, it leaves from Sangla at 5:30 pm. It was 6:00 pm and there was still no sign of a bus, so the lady offered to show me around the bus station area, so we walked towards the veterinary from where a panoramic view of the valley comes into view. You can see the River Baspa running along the vast apple orchard stretch. Though there was no sign of the bus, there was a sign in the sky of cloud gathering and hiding the sun behind it, a clear indication that there will be a downpour in sometime. The view too, with clouds taking up the sky and hovering over the sprawling valley was again something I have no intention of forgetting.
Unfortunately, the bus never arrived that evening. It was around 6:30 pm or so, a local person with a utility vehicle noticed our plight and offered to drop us to our respective destination. The local lady had her home in Batseri, which was just 5 km from Sangla, whereas I, on the other hand had to go all the way to Chitkul (26 km). We had no option but to accept his offer.
The road to Chitkul is utterly scenic with mountains coming even closer to you. Some of the patches of the road are under construction and it can be a bit of a rough drive but the scenic beauty keeps diverting your mind. I reached Chitkul around 8:30 pm. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could explore during the night. The temperature must have been around 1 degree celcius or degree celcius, so the best decision was to go to bed after a fulfilling dinner.
I was up by 6:00 am because I didn’t want to miss out the sunrise in Chitkul, however, to my bad luck the sun was already out and shining bright by 6. I anyway headed out of the room to enjoy the view. Chitkul is inarguably stunning. From the two balconies of my room, there was a breathtaking view of the snow-capped mountains, Baspa River and a wide valley all the way to Mt Raldang. Ah, you’d fall for this place!
Since I wasn’t sure about the bus timings, I didn’t want to waste time in the hotel room. Chitkul is a small village and at its one end is the Indo-Tibet Border. There is an ancient Mathi Temple which is 500 years old to see in Chitkul. One can even walk through the ITBP Road to have a view of the border as well. The chilly breeze, the stunning background of snow-covered mountains, the traditional houses, and the humble local people, all make Chitkul a must-see destination in Himachal Pradesh.
While exploring Chitkul, I inquired a local about the bus to Recong Peo, he informed about a bus that leaves at 9:30 am and can drop me to Karcham, where I have to board another bus. It was 8:30 already, so I made a decision to head back to as I wanted to visit Kalpa as well. Eventually, I had to cut down by Chitkul visit but I have made a promise to myself to return again to this unmissable place and stay at least 2 nights to enjoy its unparalleled beauty.
It was around 2 pm when I reached Kalpa, I have to admit, I was all tired, and to an extent where all I wanted was to get in the bed and relax. But then here I was in Kalpa, that very destination that compelled me to choose Himachal over Uttarakhand this weekend. I first looked for a restaurant to relish a fulfilling lunch, so that I could get some energy to explore Kalpa. The bus stops at lower Kalpa, where few small restaurants are located. I chose one of those and had a hearty meal of dal, chawal, and sabzi which indeed gave me some energy to explore the major attractions in Kalpa, Chandika Devi Temple, Lochawa Lakhang (Samdug Choeling), and Sapni Fort.
After spending time exploring all these places to see in Kalpa at my tired pace, I wasn’t left with any energy to head to Roghi Village and the famed Suicide Point. Probably, that will also be covered in the next trip I plan to Kinnaur. I took a 5:00 pm bus from Kalpa to Yuwaringi where I had previously stayed. I called it a day at around 7:00 pm as I was scheduled to leave for Chandigarh the next morning at 6:30 am.
There are two ways to get back to Delhi from Recong Peo. One, you can board the morning semi-deluxe bus to Chandigarh. From Chandigarh, there is 24/7 bus facility for Delhi.
Did I tell you that Recong Peo has one of the most pretty bus stations with the amazing Kinnaur Kailash Range surrounding it. I will always remember the scenic sunrise I witnessed here, and Recong Peo and Kinnaur will always have my heart.