KINNAUR-the wonderland of nature

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The administrative district of Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh lies north east of the state capital, Shimla. This is an area that has long been renowned for its natural beauty and a local legend maintains that Kinnaur with all its charms fell from the heavens as a gift from the gods.

The district is cris-crossed by several rivers and streams-the fast-flowing Satluj being the main one and the Spiti being the other. At a height of just 3000 meters, the Satluj enters India from Tibet near the village of Namgia and divides Kinnaur into roughly two equal parts. Kinnaur also has several beautiful side valleys like the Sangla and the Bhaba that rise along the banks of these courses of snowmelt and most of the popular destinations lie close to the valley floors.

Backed by snow-covered peaks whose height varies between 5,180 meters and 6,770 meters, here lie two the world’s great mountain ranges, the Zaskar and the Greater Himalaya. There are thick forests of Himalayan cedar, the quite legendary ‘deodar’ and these woods are liberally garnished with trees of spruce and the unusual birch, the ‘Bhojpatra’, whose peeling bark served as parchment for ancient Indian texts. Picture-perfect villages, orchards, and fields fill the valley floor.

Most of the population of the district is literate and agriculture, horticulture, and their allied industries still employ most people.

Travelling from the direction of Shimla, the town of Rampur and the settlement of Sarahan are the entry points of Kinnaur. Kinnaur may also be visited as part of a longer circuit that encompasses Spiti and Lahaul.

DESTINATION AND ATTRACTIONS

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Nigulsari-This is a small village at the start of the district from the direction of Rampur and has an attractive temple.

Nichar(2150meter)-This lies on the alignment of the old Hindustan Tibet road and is approached by a side road of 16km that turns off near the Sholding Khud on the present highway(NH-22). This has thick forests dotted with orchards and a variety of wildlife that includes bears, ghoral and the thar. The pagodal temple dedicated to the deity Ukha(Usha) is an excellent example of local craftsmanship.

Sangla Valley

 

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Of all the side valleys of the river Satluj, the Sangla valley is perhaps the most beautiful. It is certainly the most famous, (Older books and travelogues refer to this curving valley as the ‘Baspa valley’ after the river; more recent ones call it the Sangla valley after the main village). Unlike most other major streams of the area that flows north to south, the river Baspa rises in the mountains of adjoining Uttarakhand and flows north-west to meet the churning torrents of the river Satluj at Karcham.

The 95km long valley gets off to a fairly unimpressive start and it along this stretch that one sees the determination of the ‘chil’ pine that grows out of sheer rock faces and whose cones yield the tasty Kernel, the rare’dry fruit’ the neoza( or chilgoza). And after this corridor, like curtains tossed aside to reveal the setting of a grand stage, the valley bursts open at the Kupa. From this point on, every turn and every angle reveals a valley that is strikingly beautiful. As if to savour all this, the waters of the Baspa also slow down and the little river that moments ago had shown the visage of a savage mountain steam, now turns calm and welcoming.

Like the rest of Kinnaur, there are no urban centres in the valley and like most other parts of the administrative district, the people of the valley practice an unusual mix of Trans(Vajrayana) Buddhism and Hinduism.

Between Kupa and Chitkul (3450 meters)-roughly halfway up the valley-the area is fairly populous and cultivated. Human habitation ends at Chitkul and from then on to the lofty Chung Saghgo Pass, it is a trek route through raw rock and snow that leads to the hills of Uttarakhand.

Places of Interest in the SANGLA VALLEY

 

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Sangla Village-Set above the right bank of the Baspa, this village has the main market of the valley where essentials are available. Some hotels and rest houses are based here.

Kamru-A kilometer or so above Sangla village stands the tower-like fort of Kamru. This wood and stone structure was the original seat of the rulers of Bushair. With a population of about a thousand people, kamru is a dense cluster of houses and is surrounded by fields and orchards-and incidentally, some of the finest apples of Himachal Pradesh come from here. The main gate of Kamru has an image of the Buddha whose blessings are sought before entering the confines of the village. A series of low gates through the hamlet lead to the tower that rises five stories high. It serves as an excellent example of an architectural style that is unique to this part of the world. The stronghold has an image of the Hindu deity, Kamakhya Devi(Kamakshi) installed in the upper storey. This image is said to have been brought here several centuries ago from Assam. The village also has a fifteenth-century temple of Badrinath.

Batseri-Set on the left bank of the Baspa, the village is approached on foot for about a kilometre. The village has some interesting architecture, cobbled paths and the superbly crafted temple of Badri Narayan. There is also a temple dedicated to the Buddha. An interesting little piece of sacred architecture is the large prayer wheel housed in a shelter high up the village that is turned by a stream’s waters.

Raksham-Set before a mass of dark rock, the village of Raksham is at 3,115 meters above sea level. The place name is supposedly a derivative form ‘rak’, a rock and ‘sham’, bridge. The village has some charming houses and rests at the end of a glen with thick forests.

Chitkul-This is the last inhabited village in the valley and past this, come vast snow fields and high mountains and acres of rocky terrain. It also has temples dedicated to the local goddess, Mathi.

RECKONG PEO, KAPLA AND Beyond

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Reckong Peo (2,290 meters), Kalpa (2960 meter)-From the Hindustan Tibet road, the turnoff for Reckong Peo is at Powari (1990 meter from sea level) and 7km at the end of a climbing side-road, this is the district headquarters of Kinnaur. It faces the majesty of Jorkanden (6473 meters) and the Kinner Kailash Mountain (6050 meters). The latter is regarded as one of the mythical homes of Lord Shiva and by its side is a seventy-nine-foot high rock formation that resembles a ‘Shivalinga’ that changes colour as the day passes and is visible to the bare eye on a clear day. The ‘Parikrama’, circumbulation around the base of the mountain is a seven to eight-day trek. Also visible on the stretch is the peak of Raldang (5,499 meters).

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Half an hour’s drive from Reckong Peo takes you to Kalpa which was once known as Chini. This still has a  traditional ambience and much of the old architecture. The Narayan-Nagini temple is an exemplary example of local craftsmanship. There are a couple of Buddhist monasteries at Kalpa-including the Hu-Bu-Lan-Kar gompa said to have been founded by Rinchensang-po.

Ribba-Well known for its local brews, it is a picturesque village. It is 16km from Powari.

Moorang-This is an attractive village surrounded by apricot orchards. It is 26km from Powari.

Kanam-This is a complete monastic village and its Buddhist monastery is of considerable significance and dates back of time of Rinchensang-po. It is 40km from Powari. This is located at the base of the Nessang valley and is on one of the old trade routes that led to Tibet.

Pooh-One of Kinnaur’s larger settlements, this also has an old Buddhist monastery. It is 72kms from Powari.

Khab-This is the confluence of the rivers Satluj and Spiti.

Nako(3,662 meters above sea level)- This is one of Kinnaur’s most picturesque hamlets. It has a small lake and has an important Buddhist monastery and a couple of small temples. A footprint-like impression on a rock is ascribed to the saint Padmasambhava. Nako is also the base to reach the Tashigang monastery and the start for the trek to the Pargial Peak. nako is 115kms from Powari.

Leo(2,438 meters)-This is a small village with an old temple dedicated to the local deity, Tangtashu.

Chango(3,058 meters)-This is just before the start of Spiti and is surrounded by high hills. Chango is famous for the quality of its apples that grow in its aridity and low temperatures.

Other Destinations

Bhaba Valley-From Wangtu, a road turns off to Kafnu. And here begins one of the most beautiful trek routes in Himachal. To the east, the Bhaba valley leads to the Pin valley in Spiti and to the west, the routes move to Kullu through the Parbati valley.

Hangrang valley-With Chango and Nako as entry points, this has some strenuous treks.

Charang Ghati-With Chitkul and Thagi as the two endpoints, this is again a trek route.

Harshil-It is connected by a strenuous trek of 8 to 10 days from the Sangla valley.

Important Distances (Approx.)

Delhi to Shimla 380km (connected by rail, road, and air).

Shimla to Rampur-130km

Rampur to Jeori-23km

Jeori to Sarahan-17kms

Sangla to Powari-31kms

Powari to Recong Peo-07kms

Powari to Kaza(Spiti)-197kms

Fast facts

Location-Kinnaur is in the western Himalaya and lies in the Indian State of Himachal Pradesh.

Altitude-Between 2350 meters to 6816 meters above sea level

Best time to visit-Between April to October

Languages Spoken-Hindi, English and local dialects. Most of the population is literate.

Shopping

The shawl of Kinnaur, its rugs, woollens and gold and silver ornaments are striking. These may be purchased at various shops, through co-operative societies, and from individual craftsmen. Kinnaur’s apples, almonds, chilgoza, ogla, apricots, and grapes may also be bought. Local fairs and festivals are also a good time for making these purchases.