The last village before the Indo-China border. This is how I got introduced to Chitkul. Now I don’t know why but since the moment we were introduced, Chitkul had got a hold on me. Maybe it was because of the sense of foreboding of going almost till the end of your country or because of the romanticism of a small far flung village by a riverbank or just because of the gorgeous photos that I had seen but Chitkul had certainly become a not-to-be-missed-at-any-cost destination for me. Hence on the third morning of our trip we set out to visit Chitkul.
ROAD TO CHITKUL
We started for Chitkul from our hotel in Sangla at 8 a.m. The journey was extremely picturesque with the area around Rakcham village especially beautiful and green. We saw a campsite down in the valley located on the banks of Baspa River and couldn’t help but imagine how amazing it must be to spend a night in those camps. During our entire journey the colour of the mountains kept alternating between green, brown and white presenting a stunning contrast. We must have come across hundreds of small streams on the way. The road itself was not that good with long stretches devoid of any bitumen. After about an hour on the road, we finally reached Chitkul.
CHITKUL (3,450 m)
The village with old wooden houses and slated roofs was situated to the left of the main road but we could also see many newer constructions with tin roofs sprouting up. To be frank, these newer constructions had stolen away some of the beauty of this quaint little village. We had been to Europe last year where we had observed that they had strict rules about preserving the characteristics of their villages and historic areas and all construction in those areas was strictly regulated. Maybe we should also take a leaf out of their book so as to maintain the charm of villages like Chitkul.
We had read that there is a path from the village that goes down to the riverbank. Now instead of doing the intelligent thing by asking someone about that path, we did the stupid thing by continuing on the main road through which we had come thinking that we will find a path somewhere that leads down to the riverbank. Here we learnt an important lesson that sometimes stupidity also pays dividends. No, we did not find the path that led down to the riverbank but after almost an hour of walking we did find some superb locations for photography.
After that we came back and spent some time exploring the village. The main attraction of the village was a temple complex which consisted of intricately carved wooden structures much like those we had seen in Hatu and Sangla. The other attraction was Chitkul fort which looked more like a watchtower from the Age of Empires games. I was half expecting to see an arrow fizz past me as we approached it.
After exploring the tower we came back to the main road where our vehicle was parked and lo and behold, that path to the riverbank was right next to it. Feeling slightly sheepish, we took the path down into the valley. There are not many moments that can match up to sitting beside a river flowing with wild abandon while being surrounded by towering mountains. We spent close to an hour there savouring the heavenly setting and then returned to Sangla.
We reached our hotel by 1:30 pm and checked out at 2 p.m., which was two hours past the check out time. Due to this our hotel charged us Rs. 500 extra but we didn’t mind it in the slightest as that money had given us two hours extra in Chitkul.
There were a couple more things to see around Sangla, most notably the Kamru fort but since everyone was tired we left directly for Kalpa.
ROAD TO KALPA
From Sangla we drove back to Karcham where we crossed the Sutlej-Baspa confluence again and then rejoined the NH5. In another couple of hours we reached Reckong Peo – the administrative headquarter of Kinnaur district. The road from Sangla to Reckong Peo was mostly in a bad condition and quite dusty. From Reckong Peo, a 30 minutes ascent got us to Kalpa.It would have been more convenient for us to stay at Reckong Peo but then we would have missed out on the old world charm of Kalpa and some astounding views it had to offer.
Our day 3 route in brief: Sangla (2 pm) ->Karcham (2:45 pm) ->Reckong Peo (5 pm) -> Kalpa (5:30 pm)
KALPA (2,960 m)
Kalpa’s claim to fame is that it offers magnificent views of the famous Kinner Kailash range. We could see the range during the ascent itself but as we reached our hotel, we were able to witness it in all its majestic glory. Our hotel – The Monk – was a triple storey building with decent rooms. We had booked three rooms (breakfast included) for a cost of Rs. 5175. During our return journey we again halted at Kalpa and stayed at the same hotel.
After settling in and washing off the dust accumulated during the journey, we left to explore the town. There was a path a few metres from our hotel which led down into the valley where the main market of the town was situated. As we descended through that narrow path we could distinctly feel the timeless atmosphere of a small mountainous town. A stream of icy cold water flowing downhill, clothes spread out on slated roofs of houses for drying, people growing wheat in small yards were among the many things that created this atmosphere.
Once we reached the market, we kept walking further ahead and came across the Hu-Bu-Lan-Kar monastery. It was a small monastery with nothing much to see. Further ahead of the monastery was a temple but by this time our stomachs had overpowered our desire for exploration so we went back to the market and had some delicious momos and thukpa (a type of soup) in a small eatery. Those momos and thukpa definitely helped us in making the arduous climb back to our hotel.
It was almost dark by the time we reached our hotel and temperature had also started dipping alarmingly post sunset. It was the coldest evening of our entire trip. After a couple of hours we found solace from the cold in the piping hot dinner prepared by the hotel staff (which consisted of just two young guys). After the dinner we sat in the porch at the entrance of the hotel for sometime enjoying the ambience and then finally called it a night.