A Ride Through God’s Own Valley

, Breathe

Teetering on the border with Tibet, Kinnaur and its villages are a serene getaway for those who love to be surrounded by winding roads, quiet and tall mountains

Words: Niranjan Das

As I entered Kinnaur, it was drizzling. Suddenly, as if to welcome me, a huge rainbow appeared in the sky. Then as the sun began to set, the temperature dipped as I rode through NH-22, the old Hindustan-Tibet road, considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Cutting through mountains and deep valleys, the endless open road lay in front of me, as I took in the fresh mountain air. Darkness had engulfed the valley by the time I took the diversion at Karcham Dam. There on, it was just the rumble of my Enfield, silhouettes of the giant mountains and the gurgling of a river way below that gave me company till Sangla, 18 km away from the Karcham Dam. The long ride from Chandigarh to Sangla had taken me about 12 hours and all that I had wanted was a quick shower, warm food and a good night’s sleep. My guesthouse in Sangla gave me all.

The next morning, as I opened the door of my room, I was mesmerised with the view that was on offer. Mountains stood tall and stared down at me intimidatingly as the Baspa river flowed languorously below. While clouds covered a few peaks, others had ice caps on their summit.

Sangla is probably the most beautiful region in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh, with its magnificent mountains, gorgeous valleys, endless vistas, winding roads, apple orchards and friendly people. The Baspa river has Sangla on its one bank and Baspa Valley on the other. Post monsoon, the Sangla Valley blooms with ogla fields (a locally grown grain), flowers and apples, spreading an array of colours.

A quick breakfast later, I was riding along the winding road that led further to Rakcham village. Again the mountains and valleys kept me company as I rode on with herds of mountain goats creating traffic jams. Rakcham, which lies en route Chitkul, is one of the prettiest villages in India with typical Kinnauri wooden houses everywhere. A stroll down a meandering pathway took me past many houses and villagers to a wonderful temple with intricate carvings all over. I strolled ahead, and the path led me to a bed of pink flowers, which looked picturesque against the surroundings. There was a bridge there that connected Rakcham village with the Baspa Valley, and it offers a lovely view of the Baspa river.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the landscapes ahead as I rode to Chitkul. Considered to be the last Indian village before you enter Tibet, Chitkul is also the highest village in this valley. With expansive mountains surrounding it, the tiny hamlet of Chitkul seems like the point where civilisation ends. Chitkul lies on the old Indo-Tibetan trade route and as I glanced at the mountains, I imagined the golden time of a borderless world.

Back in Sangla, a short but incessant drizzle greeted me as I headed to Kamru Fort. The intricate carvings on the front door of the fort are quite an attraction. Kamru Fort is more of another vantage point to soak in the gorgeous vistas all around. Apart from a temple, the fort also houses a mahal, which was used by the kings of Rampur Bushahr state earlier.

Reckong Peo, an hour’s drive from Sangla, is a fairly large town and is the administrative capital of Kinnaur. This town is home to Chandika Devi temple at Kothi, about 3 km from Reckong Peo. It has magnificent architecture and a lovely backdrop of the snow-clad mountains. The Brelengi Gompa monastery close by is another famous attraction in the area.

The snow-clad Kinnaur Kailash mountain slowly loomed ahead as the steep roads took me to Kalpa. Believed to be the winter home of Shiva, Kinnaur Kailash is often referred to as one of the most beautiful peaks in the Himalayas. With a mix of both traditional Tibetan pagoda-style of architecture and Kinnauri architecture, the Narayan Nagini temple complex in Kalpa looks magnificent.

Just behind the temple is the Chandika Devi fort, which houses a primary school. The premise also offers views of the Kinnaur Kailash peak and the surrounding mountain ranges. The 1,000-year-old Lochawa La-Khang monastery nearby is another important attraction. With fluttering prayer flags, numerous prayer wheels and a chorten, the monastery stands out against the lovely backdrop.

The last day of my sojourn in Kinnaur began with a ride to Nako, more than 100 km from Sangla. The mountains en route are so craggy that it felt like I was on another planet. While the landscape didn’t change much, the confluence of Sutlej and Spiti rivers with Mt. Leo Prugyal in the backdrop at Khab was a breathtaking sight. The landscape turned colourful when I neared Nako with green and yellow trees lining the road.

Nako is a very charming village popular for its monastery and lake. Though geographically located in Kinnaur, the influence of the Spiti culture and lifestyle is very evident in Nako. The Nako Monastery, perched at a approximate height of 3,660 m from sea level, overlooks the high mountains and the deep valleys. The outer façade of the monastery has beautiful artwork and colours. A short distance away from the monastery is the serene Nako lake with trees and the village in the background.

From Nako, the roads meandered way down and took me to Chango, another small village known for its monastery. Nunnery Kamtsang Thubten Ozer Rabgye Ling is a couple of kilometres away from the main village and is located high up on a mountain. Amidst the colourful interiors, the statue of Buddha looked out facing the gorgeous mountains. I gazed at the mountains for a while before riding back to Sangla, ending my sojourn with a beautiful sight.

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