It is that time of the year again! The time when we pack our rucksacks, throw in a camera and head off towards the mountains. With the dreaded summer looming ahead, a break, somewhere up in the hills, makes perfect sense. So to come up with exciting recommendations for you it was necessary that we did our own recce first. And now, we are sitting in the midst of picturesque landscapes penning our story. We look around us and see mighty peaks topped with snow on all four sides. But where are we? To find out, keep reading...
4 AM: On a Thursday morning, we started our journey from Azadpur bypass, moving towards the Chandigarh highway. Unlike our last trip, where we had encountered patches of bad roads, this one seemed like a smooth ride with highway work almost through. Within no time, we had crossed Karnal, Ambala and were on the Zirakpur crossing, which would take us towards Shimla. Even this stretch, which was a nightmare during our last drive, had improved 10-fold. All the flyovers were open and we made it to Parwanoo in no time. Now the real climb began...
10 AM: After reaching Kalka, our drive was stalled a number of times by the toy train and its level crossings, but we still managed to cross the ‘very concrete’ queen of hills, Shimla, in good time. And it was now that we came in for a bit of disappointment. The road from Shimla to Narkanda was nothing short of a nasty dirt track and our poor vehicle, a Skoda Laura, with its low ground clearance had to pay heavily for it. Every now and then we had these nasty rocky structures taking a shot at the underbody of our car.
1.30 PM: Somehow we managed to make it to Narkanda, but a distance, which should have taken nothing more than two hours took us a good three and a half. However, what made up for all the messy drive were the gorgeous views from Narkanda. But we had no plans to stop there and quickly set off towards our final destination, Kalpa. On the way we crossed the cities of Rampur, Reckong Peo and lots of monstrous structures built by a private construction group. With the Sutlej flowing by our side, what should have been a beautiful journey was totally ruined. So many dams had been built on this massive river that there were places where there was nothing more than a trickle to keep us company.
7 PM: After lots of bad tracks with just a sprinkling of tarmac on them, we finally made it to Kalpa. Though initially our plan was to spend the night at Reckong Peo, the higher altitude of Kalpa made us change our mind and we ended up staying at a cosy little hotel, Kailash View. The prolonged bumpy ride eventually culminated in a breathtaking destination and we soon forgot our bodyaches! Surrounding us from all sides were mighty snow-capped peaks; the temperatures dipping below 10 degree C. Apart from a small monastery and old wooden houses there is nothing much to see here. But if you have the mettle, there are lots of amazing treks possible. We walked around the winding roads, panted a lot due to decreased oxygen levels, forgot our camera bag at a lonely stretch and then ran back to retrieve it! Kalpa is one of those places where you won’t find a designated view point as there is a magnificent view available from any spot you look from. Just sit back with a cup of coffee and simply relax!
NOON: After soaking in the beauty of Kalpa for a night, we decided to set out towards Chitkul, the last Indian village before the Chinese border. This time our route was through the Sangla valley, and as we nudged closer to the destination, the snow-capped peaks that we had seen from Kalpa seemed to get closer. In a bit there were massive ice sheets and clumps of snow lining the road we were driving through. Upon reaching Chitkul, it seemed as if we had walked right into a deep freezer. This village has a population of about 650 people. And this is where the road ends. All you have is a river gushing by the side with snow piled on the banks. We took up rooms in the PWD guest house and were set for another wonderful night with chilling winds and cups of hot tea.
8 AM: After spending two days driving through the Kinnaur valley and staying at lovely places we decided to head back home, by breaking our drive to Delhi in half. Setting out towards Narkanda, we first reached Rampur and then drove via Thanedar, another village which sits atop a mighty hill. We reached Narkanda in the afternoon and set off towards the Hatu peak, which houses a Kali temple.
6 AM: Sitting in our room in Narkanda while completing this story, we look back at our last three days of travel. We have covered about 800 km, gone from sea level to about an altitude of 3,400 m. We’ve driven through one of the most beautiful terrains of our country, some of them have been trashed, some in the process of getting ruined. Time is running out. If you really want to enjoy the Kinnaur valley, hurry up with your plans.
SIGHTS TO SEE
Unlike Rajasthan and the rest of India, you won’t find ancient and famous man-made structures in Kinnaur district. This place is more about the drive, the views and the treks.
FILL UP YOUR BAGS
Apart from apples, litchis, plums, walnuts there is nothing much to take back home. Yeah, you can always take back an experience and it doesn’t cost anything at all!
The most common pahadi food includes rice and lentils apart from momos and thupkas. When you cross Narkanda, look out for the New Himalayan Hotel on the main road. For just 100 bucks you can have the amazing American breakfast comprising a thick omelette stuffed with veggies, two slices of toast, fried potato and tea/coffee.
On the way from Shimla to Narkanda you’ll find lots of people selling fresh honey. Squeezed out from the beehive right in front of you, it’s divine. Get some packed for home.
Carry some blankets as most of the hotels will provide you thick, but tiny, ones. If you plan to drive down, try to take an SUV as most of the roads are in a dilapidated condition.
We were using three service providers - Airtel, Vodafone and MTS. Airtel was quite efficient as it had connectivity throughout the journey. Vodafone was rather disappointing as we hardly had any network coverage after getting off the highway, but the surprise package was MTS which showed signs of life at most places.