Kinnaur Road Trip — Part 1 Sangla

Kinnaur district in Himachal Pradesh, was our plan B for a much awaited break. Cancellation of the bookings for ‘valley of flowers’ (our Plan A) due to some government regulations forced us to look for alternatives. Then suddenly & fortunately Mru (my wife) came up with a plan, Kinnaur - a remote district of Himachal mostly unknown to normal tourists & more famous for hosting one of the World’s most dangerous as well as treacherous roads.

We planned our trip to Sangla, Chitkul, Kalpa, Reckon Peo, Nako, Tabo, Dhankar and all the way to Kaza. Most of our plan was inspired by one the best compiled travel article about this area by Shikha Gautam.

Very Soon I realized the eternity of Murphy’s Law! Things were derailing right from Day 1. Early morning the cab for airport, never really show up. We took an auto & almost missed our Pune-Delhi flight. Late in the evening, when we reached Chandigarh, another surprise was waiting for us! Another cab company from whom we booked ‘Indigo’ for this whole journey, refused to visit beyond Kalpa, sighting bad roads. Solution was to upgrade to a 4WD vehicle by paying almost twice the amount or to drop locations such as Nako, Tabo, Dhankar & Kaza. It was like choosing between twice costly trip or two trips.

It was a ‘judgement time’ because less than 12 hours were remaining for the much awaited break, you have traveled almost 1700 km & the decision will be spoiling your trip either way. We went with option 2, i.e. dropping Nako onwards destinations with an idea that we can have some alternative arrangement once we are in Kinnaur. Our driver seemed to be a happy-go-lucky punjabi guy, who was also coming to Kinnaur for the first time, Sirji raampur se aage kabhi nahi gaya mai! (Sir, I have never been to the area beyond Rampur) he clarified beforehand.

We left Chandigarh early morning & after taking a long break at Theog Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, where my wife was an exchange student few years back and then we reached Rampur.

Scenic himachal road, well frequented by army vehicles & Royal Enfield bikes, really keeps you enchanted with natural beauty.We took our time to take photos & were somewhat disappointed about the so called most dangerous highway, because it was nice so far! By sunset we reached Tapri, a small riverside village and got another surprise. A traffic cop at Tapri told us that the regular road to Sangla is down because of enormous landslide & will not be available any soon. Only alternative is to take a bypass which will add 27 km more to our travel. Bypass road is more of ‘Work In Progress’ single road, without any tar/concrete or any safety railings on the side. It was going up on the nearby hill with countless hairpin bends. When we reached up at another village on the hill it was almost night & remote peaks shining in residual sunlight were appearing like Mount Doom of LOTR. Bad road, rash driving, no sign of safety measures, unaware of where to go & no one to ask on the road, we were only going forward, forward & forward…!

Beginning of Bypass road, decent enough to start with

Lesson : If You’re Going Through Hell, Just confirm the direction & Keep Going!

We stopped at a junction where roads heading to three different locations, and we saw vehicle lights coming to us at some 200 meters. It was a TATA 207 small truck, we asked him Bhaiya, Sangla ka rasta? (Bro, which way goes to Sangla?). He almost yelled at us, Don’t stop anywhere in this road. This area is of shooting stones. 3 Days before a tourist car was destroyed in landslide, no bodies are recovered yet. Go this way to Sangla & Rush now! We were already terrified, as it was darkest nights, in the remote area, with a guy as a driver to whom you do not even know for 12 hours and the only thing you know is the road on which you have to travel some unknown distance and no maps working.. Yes..! Because the bypass road is not mapped by Google or Bing!

Lesson: Anyone can be atheist in an Air-conditioned office, However when there is no other hope, you will always remember THE GOD!

Finally we reached a place which was looking like an Army / BRO camp. We asked for directions & the guy replied “its still 50 km.” It was 9.00 PM already & we have to travel on such hell-bender road for 50 more kilometers.

At one point our driver simply stopped the car at a tiny sub-road, saying Trucks are coming! We found an array of lights traveling towards us with a thundering sound. One after another after another atleast 30 of them, it took some good time to pass on. We were standing at a point on a landslide area, frightened with so much of noise & vibrations all around us which were sufficient enough to trigger a shooting stone making our return air-ticket useless! Finally after many calls to our homestay owner, we reached the place almost at 10.45PM. It was Negi Cottage, Kuppa, 9 degrees outside & we preferred to have dinner. Somewhere in my mind I was rethinking about how to get out of this place without going from that disastrous Bypass road.

I was never an atheist, but I used to consider myself as a person who thinks of god scientifically, as some common origin of universe etc…etc.But that night I understood why people write all those chants, bhajans & other things.

Next morning when I got up, I realized that we are in the middle of an Apple orchard (Kinnaur Apples are known for their quality), with a breathtaking view of valley all around us. With fresh hot Aaloo Paratha & two cups each of hot tea, in the pleasant weather was refreshing enough to fade away the memories of last night & we were ready to visit a place Chitkul - considered to be the last village on India-China border. Road was similar to the one we traveled earlier, just the daylight made it more attractive. On the way, I asked for a direction to two guys standing roadside and then I realized even they are tourists. They shown us the way by hand & we drove on that road. Neatly arranged himachali villages, wooden houses, farms, rivers, mountains, all forms of natural beauty were all around. Snow clad mountains slowly started registering their presence.

The dreamy landscape of himalaya was right there… In front of us!

Entering Chitkul village

Chitkul is the last village on china border & according to the Indian tradition to celebrate uniquness, we got a sign pointing to India’s last Dhaba (Restaurant). Unfortunately that dhaba isn’t operative anymore, but there was a hotel & lodging available next to it. Chitkul has a temple, called Chitkul mata temple. Influenced by Tibetian style, wooden craved temple, was closed at that time. By this time, light rain had started & snowing on nearby peaks was visible. To our surprise. Two guys to whom we had asked for directions shown up at the temple. My guess was right, they were tourists too. We had a chat & got to know that they belongs to My city, PUNE. We exchanged contact & we left for lunch.

On our way to Sangla, there was a tibetian restaurant. Sangla is a peaceful village, with all basic amenities required including school, hospital & ATMs. There is also a castle/fort. We were told that car can take you halfway, but I bet its a a task for a skilled driver.

Sangla Fort

The idea of Kila (Fort) is different than our regular understanding. It’s situated on a hill top and there is a tower. The temple is located on the topmost floor of that tower. Now the access is regulated to the actual temple, but there is a Devi (Goddess) temple & one Buddha temple on the Sangla Kila - a must visit place where you can get a bird’s eye view of Sangla, Kuppa & nearby locality.

Mr. P. L. Negi, ex-Serviceman,
local activist &
owner of Negi Cottage

Later while discussing with Mr. P. L. Negi, local activist & ex-Serviceman, the concept of kila (Fort) was justified as the area was frequented by raiders from Nepal & Tibet. To keep temple safe, they constructed it in the tower. Mr. Negi has some good collection of local folklore, documents and information about the Sangla & nearby places.

The day ends at Sangla!

Next destination KALPA — Part 2.