A Himachal Pradesh trip report through Kinnaur and Spiti - April 2008
By nayan. Created on Sep 15th, 2012. Last updated on Sep 29th, 2012.
We casually asked our parents to join us and quite surprised to hear a very enthusiastic YES as a reply. It seems visiting Spiti had been a lifelong dream for my Dad.
Thanks to IndiaMike.com, we purchased the HRTC Volvo return tickets Delhi-Shimla on http://www.sugamhimachal.org/hrtctickets/. It was an extremely painless process. The site was user friendly and allowed us to choose some very nice seats.
Next came the flight bookings to and from Hyderabad to Delhi and Kolkata to Delhi. The rough itinerary was fixed up, thanks again to generous help of IndiaMikers. We spoke to Manmahesh Tours (reference from IndiaMike.com) and arranged for a Tavera at Rs. 2,000 per day. The parents were the most excited of the lot. I think by the time they left home there was not one person in a radius of two kilometers from home who did not know about the great trans-Himalayan expedition my parents were embarking on.
Packing included thermal vests, jeans, t-shirts, sweaters, jackets, caps, scarves, candle, torch, camera and accessories, common medicines and at least one kilo of print outs – including IndiaMike.com threads – government phone numbers, Lonelyplanet printouts, and Google maps
Day 1 – Hyderabad to Delhi
Our flight from Hyderabad to Delhi was Spice Jet at 10:15am. This was the first time we would be using the new Shamsabad Airport. We took the 8am Aeroexpress bus from Mehdipatnam and reached the airport in forty minutes. The airport is gleaming with newness. The signage, cafes, bookshop, etc. have quite an international look. Certainly a very big change for those used to the chaos and crowd at Begumpet airport.
We reached Delhi around 12:30pm and went straight to Connaught Place. We had thalis at Rajdhani and my husband purchased a Nest and Wings map/info book about Kinnaur and Spiti from the Jain book stall. We then took an auto to Humayun’s Tomb and spent a fantastic two hours.
Then it was time to go to the airport to pick up the parents and proceed to ISBT Kashmiri gate. It took nearly one hour in a prepaid taxi to reach ISBT from the airport. We were informed by the counter folks that the bus would start from counter seven and we waited accordingly. It was 9:50 pm and still no sign of bus. I grew nervous and walked towards the exit of ISBT, and the bus was waiting there. It seems the day Volvos leave from counter seven and the night Volvos leave from near the exit. It was my husband who had brought the counter seven info, so I guess I will never let him live it down. He would have made us miss the entire trip.
Nothing special to report about the journey other than it was comfortable as usual and provided two rest stops. We spent the night sleeping soundly. Not even the blaring of a very silly movie “One Two Three” could keep us awake.
Day 2 – Shimla
We reached Shimla at 7am. We were greeted by Ramchandra and his Tavera at the bus-stand. We went to a hotel to freshen up. As we had come from the April plains we were not wearing any woolens, also Shimla had a bout of rains/cold wave for the past 2-3 days. We were literally shivering. We put on all the woolens we had brought, drank tea, freshened up and left for Sarahan around 10am.
Due to the rains the city appeared quite gloomy and we were thankful to be out of it so fast. On the way out, we bought heaps of dry fruits, bottled water, chocolates, biscuits, cup noodles, chewing gum, etc.
By the time we had reached Narkanda there was watery sunlight all around, and we could see dustings of snow on the mountain slopes. The pine forests at Narkanda are extremely beautiful and we planned to stay there some time. We had a lunch of rice, dal fry and alu matar at a roadside dhaba. As a side note, I had heard that food availability and variety could be an issue in this route but we never found it so.
All the hotels and roadside dhabas, even at Tabo and Kaza which were almost completely shut down for tourists, had tasty food. We gorged on alu parathas, chowmien, omlettes, rice, roti, alumatar, and salad all through the trip.
We crossed Rampur and then Jeori and took the turn off NH 22 for Sarahan. Lower Sarahan has two medium sized townships of ITBP and SSB. Upper Sarahan is a two-horse village with the Bhimakali temple, five or six guesthouses and a small market. The temple could be seen from a long way below while we were driving up the mountain road.
We reached Sarahan at 4:30 pm and headed straight for the temple rest house. We had not pre-booked any accommodation and so were quite nervous to see a big crowd of vehicles outside the temple. It seemed it was mostly locals from other parts of Himachal Pradesh and not out of state tourists. Navratri had just started so people were coming in droves to offer puja to the shrine. We even saw a family in an Innova take a goat inside the temple for sacrifice!
Luckily we got the only two remaining empty rooms in the rest house. It cost Rs. 300 for a suite on the first floor with an attached dressing room and western style toilet, a geyser, and an amazing view from for the parents. And for us, we paid Rs. 150 for a double bed room on the ground floor, with an attached Indian style toilet, geyser and no view. We were extremely impressed with the accommodation. It was very clean and convenient with adequate furnishings and very heavy quilts.
Next, we went to the temple and saw the aarti being performed. Though I am not a very religious person, I felt a sense of peace and grandeur and none of the chaos that I usually associate with temples. We next went prospecting in the local market, purchased Kinnauri caps, ate momos, gleaned a lot of local information, and returned for dinner with hearty appetites.
Day 3 – Kinnaur
We woke up at 6 am to see bright sunshine and amazing view of the Shrikhand peak. The helpful and chatty canteen boy who served us tea told us about the yatra he had taken to the peak. It’s very touching for us city folks to hear the strong sense of faith that the people living so near to nature display. We clicked some photos and started for Sangla.
We saw lots of children going to school, even in very small settlements. It seems Himachal Pradesh has quite high literacy rates. We crossed Kinnaur-Dwar and had prasad at the roadside GREF temple and officially entered Kinnaur. The road till Karcham was ok with lot more greenery than the route the previous day. By now we were so used to the view of snow peaks that we would not even turn our heads to see one.
There was a lot of construction activity going on along the road because of the hydro electricity plants right from Rampur to Powari. There was a lot of sludge and mud on the road and a steady line of Tippers and bulldozers were plying to and fro.
We had breakfast of alu parathas at Tapri, an extremely dusty town by the highway and proceeded to Karcham and took the turn for Sangla. The road from Karcham to Sangla was a winding narrow mountain road all the way. The views are amazing, combination of snow peaks, lush green slopes, bare brown rock ridges and the fast flowing Baspa River flowing over boulders. As we neared Sangla the snow peaks seemed to close in on us, and finally when we reached Sangla we seemed to be surrounded by snow peaks, whose snow lines seemed to start from the ground level. We were separated from us by the swift flowing Baspa river.
As it was still off-season not all the guest houses were open. On the recommendation of our driver Ramchandra we settled for Prakash Hotel (Rs. 550 per room) about half a kilometer away from the market on the road to Chitkool. It was an excellent choice - with great views, modern comfort, tasty cooking and an excellent open courtyard to laze in the sun and gaze at the snow sloped mountains barely a few kilometers away across the river. We were their first customer of the season; they had not been expecting tourists this early and were busy washing curtains and towels for the season.
On hearing about the trout farm across the river my husband immediately left to get us some fresh fish for lunch, Bengalis that we are. He had forgotten to take a bag with him and had to bring back the two fishes in a piece of sack given by the farm people. The fish were still alive and were jumping out of the sack all through the return trek. My husband had to run after them every five minutes. Luckily the fish fry was tasty enough to justify all this effort.
We spent the afternoon looking at the views. An attempt to conquer the Kamru fort was aborted very early when we realized that we would have to walk a little way uphill. We were too satiated with the magic views and a great lunch and did not want any hard work. On nightfall we watched the clear starry skies for some time, and then retired for the night after an excellent dinner of Khichdi and what else… fried fish.
Day 4 – Chitkool
We checked out of the hotel and started for Chitkool. A little later our driver showed us the site where the Banjara camp used to be before it was washed away in a cloudburst last year. The entire way to Chitkool was full of heaps of snow on the sides of the narrow road, snowmelt streams gushing across the road, pine trees and beautiful local kids going to school.
We reached Chitkool and we seemed to be the only tourists. The views that we saw at Chitkool are so beautiful that I will not attempt to describe them. All that I had read on the internet and all the photo blogs and promotional material I had seen were absurdly inferior to the real thing. I cannot describe the beauty. You have to go yourself and see it, preferably in April when the snow has not yet melted too much.
The chowkidar at the PWD rest house was willing to let out rooms for Rs. 275 but no guarantee of water, as the pipes were still embedded in deep snow. The owner (I suppose) of the Thakur guest house was playing in the sun with his little boy, and most graciously showed us around his property too. Some more new guesthouses (looks more posh than the existing one) are coming up and will be open this season.
The parents sat down to have tea outside the small dhaba with some carom-playing locals and we started on the path towards the river. It was a short downhill path going past the local school. We reached the river bank, sat down on the boulders, sprayed each other with the ice cold water and took a million photos, unfortunately none of which will give you a true idea of the utter magnificence of the place.
We started from Chitkool around 12 noon and reached Recong Peo around 3pm, had lunch, tanked up on petrol and started the uphill drive to Kalpa. We checked a few hotels before settling on the Kinner Villa, Rs. 700 per room offseason rate. Here again, we were the first tourists of the season. We dropped our luggage in the hotel and proceeded to a drive to Roghi, the village beyond Kalpa, the last stop for the government buses. We met one such bus on the way and had a few harrowing minutes while our jeep had to reverse along the serpentine roads. This episode also gave us full confidence in the driving skills and play-it-safe attitude of our driver.
Back in the hotel we sat down to watch the play of sunset colours on the Kinnaur Kailash range. We had a huge disagreement about the Shivling. All four of us had different ideas as to which was the Shivling feature, and the sincere efforts of the hotel staff were fruitless in resolving it.
Day 5 – A failed journey to Tabo
woke up early to see the sun rise from behind the Kinnaur Kailash, and then got ready to start on the long journey to Tabo. But our driver brought the bad news that the road to Spiti was blocked. We still kept up our hopes and decided to go ahead. But the bad news was true. About halfway between Powari and Akpa, near a baily bridge, the road was blocked due to a rock fall from the mountains. A few trucks and local vehicles were waiting. Work was going on to clear the road but it would take at least another three hours for the road to be passable. We decided to turn back for Kalpa.
On the way back we had mixed feelings. We were sad that we may not be able to visit Spiti, but on the other hand we were OK with the thought of spending another three to four more days in Kinnaur. Luckily we had planned our trip with a buffer day so we decided that if the road opens tomorrow we will make another attempt for Spiti. We spent that day relaxing in Kalpa. My husband trekked to Chakha pastures after lunch and brought back some nice pines cones as gift for me.
Day 6 – On to Tabo and Spiti!
Hubby woke me up around 7:30 am with the good news that he had called up some Government official and was informed that the road to Kaza was wide open now and buses were going through. We were ready in record time, stuffed ourselves on alu paratha, packed huge quantities of the same for lunch and left Kalpa by 9am.
We crossed the site of the previous day’s rock fall with trepidation but all was well this time. We were behind a small army convoy carrying horses and related veterinary equipment. They were going till Puh. Even before we reached Akpa the colour green had drastically reduced from the landscape. There were a lot of glacier-melt streams flowing over the road. Some of them were gently gurgling but some others were flowing with a lot of force. After Akpa came Spilo, and then Jangi where we had to stop at a check-post. Till now all the way we were travelling with Sutlej flowing beside us. We reached Khab next – the confluence of Sutlej and Spiti. Sutlej was a muddy brown and Spiti was aquamarine.
We next reached Nako around 1pm. According to older maps Nako Lake was a detour of more than 10 kms from the main NH22. But the new road (made so that Malling Nalla can be crossed at a higher point) has made Nako just a 1km detour. Our car stopped in front of the hotel Reo Pargil. It had not yet opened for the season but a small shop adjacent to it was open.
The four of us walked about 200 metres to see the Nako Lake. It looks better in the pictures than in real life. It’s more of a pond for water storage for locals than a beautiful natural high Himalayan lake. You are really not missing much if you decide not to visit it. We liked the place for a different reason. By the time we came back to the car we found our driver talking to a local lady. He had already fixed a deal to buy a carton of Spiti golden apples from her. She fed us an apple each. I have never in my life eaten a better apple. We bought two kilos from her and also some apricots. For the next few days these were our regular munchies during the long drives.
Next was Malling Nala. The road was non-existent at this point for about two kilometers. Three BRO bulldozers were standing in the beginning, middle and end of the stretch, which was reassuring. All the Sumos,Qqualises, Taveras and Scorpios, even piddly Altos made it safely through. But we saw a lorry stranded in the middle. Our driver showed us the lower road which had existed earlier. It was no longer in use now and completely ruined. It seems the lower road used to give even more problems, which is why they have built the new road much higher. But more about Malling Nala later.
We next crossed Changi and Sumdo. Now we were officially in Spiti. The roads were good but completely deserted. Between Sumdo and Tabo we scarcely found another vehicle on the road. It often gave us the feel that we were the only inhabitants of a parallel universe.
We reached Tabo at 5pm. The prominent features of the place is the monastery, the monastery school, a hostel and a hospital - and a large “om mani padme hum” written on the mountain face. Other than that there were very few guesthouses, shops, an IPH and a PWD guesthouse. As it was not yet tourist season, all guesthouses were closed. GREAT!
The caretaker of the IPH guesthouse came to speak to us. He would have offered us hospitality but unfortunately there were water and electricity problems. We would be better off in the PWD guesthouse. We also checked the monastery guest house but found it was only ok as a last resort. Thankfully the PWD guesthouse proved to be quite nice for such a deserted place. We got two nice rooms with attached baths, geysers and all. And all this for a princely sum of Rps. 250 per room. The caretaker was ready to provide tea and simple meals too.
We took a walk around the place and saw young lamas playing cricket. We went to the monastery and roamed about in the courtyard amidst the mud chortens. It was very strange to think that 1,000 years ago people had undertaken so much hardship and come to such a remote place and built those chortens.
We had a nice dinner of salad, rice, chapatti, dal and alumatar at the Tenzing restaurant. The owner was a chatty fellow and told us that he was from Nepal. He had come here five years ago to avoid the turmoil of his country, saw a nice business opportunity, set up his restaurant, married locally and was now living happily ever after. On the way back to the guesthouse we were safely escorted through the dark streets by the two dogs from the restaurant – one ahead and one behind our little party of five. These dogs are supposed to be highly prized watch dogs - they sleep all day and guard all night.
Day 7 – A trip around Kaza, Kye, Kibber, and back
started at 7am for Kaza. We passed small villages with signposts showing the number of inhabitants. We saw Dhankar monastery on a hilltop and decided to visit it on our way back. The day was not so bright and it was snowing on the mountain tops. We reached Kaza around 9am and had breakfast at a small restaurant beside the petrol pump. Kaza was also totally shut down for tourists.
We next proceeded for Kye and Kibber. The route between Kaza and Kibber is surreal. The mountains do not look like any mountain you have seen in picture books. They look like a big, big mound of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce carelessly poured on them. And they are not in a distance. They are right outside your car window. After going mad for fifteen minutes clicking pictures, we gave up.
We were given tea by the monks in Kye. In Kibber we took some nice pictures of a shorn yak and a tube-well wrapped in blankets. We came back to Kaza around 2pm and filled the fuel tank for the long return journey ahead of us tomorrow.
On our way back to Tabo we were tired and decided to drop the Dhankar detour. We were about 15kms from Tabo when a few small rocks fell from the hills to the road directly in front of us. We crossed the place in full speed and then stopped. Our driver told us to look up the hill side. Halfway up the hill were four ibexes. It was astounding to see how they could climb the steep hill. They usually stay in the Pin valley and must have come out due to snow there.
Reaching Tabo we visited the monastery again and saw the frescos. I and my husband took a walk along the highway. Later, another good dinner at tenzing restaurant and we retired early anticipating a long day tomorrow.
Day 8 – An adventurous trip to Rampur
We started at 7am again. Our driver heard through the driver’s grapevine information that Malling Nala had been closed since midday yesterday. This was not good news. So today we played only Vaishno Mata Bhajans on the car CD. We needed serious divine help. Even then, Mata seemed not very pleased with us. We had our first (and only) puncture of the trip just ahead of Sumdo. Then we reached a spot where BRO trucks were blocking the narrow road to pick up rocks. No entreaties from us could move them an inch. We were at a total loss about what to do now. The truck looked like it would stay in that place for another 2 hours at least. We were desperately offering Mata halwa, puri, chana, jagrata everything. And then She relented. An army officer’s Gypsy appeared from the other side. The BRO truck disappeared from the scene in record time and we again took off.
From Changi we got the news from other vehicles that Malling was still closed. We reached Malling at around 10:30 am and saw a long queue waiting on both sides of the landslide. A lone bulldozer was halfheartedly trying to clear the road. The other bulldozer was out of action due to a ruptured chain. We heard it will take 1-2 hours for the road to clear. After 2 hours had passed it became clear that it could even be 1-2 days before it cleared. It turned out to be one of the most memorable days of my life. Bonding happened between all the people stranded. There were no other tourists. We met local lamas, government officials, kullu shawl sellers, Kaza grocery shop owners, generator mechanic from Uttaranchal. Everyone had their own opinion about how the work should be done.
Around 1pm a truckload of BRO road workers came to assist the lone bulldozer. This was the routine-
- Bulldozer pushes the earth and rocks
- Labors shove it down the hill side
- Fresh rock and landfall occurs …. And the cycle continues
It appeared to be a losing battle for the humans.
In the middle of it, an army station change was in progress. A group of Dogra Scouts was going to their new post in Sumdo. We saw trunks, rucksacks, suitcases, crates of cabbages, spinach being carried on foot, and also a herd of goats shepherded by a young bashful looking jawan. I am sure he did not want any acquaintance to see and report this scene at his native village.
By 4:30pm all but the very optimistic had lost hope. Then suddenly……. The bulldozer, with a mighty heave-ho managed to cross the landfall for the first time. A HUGE cheer went up and everyone rushed to their vehicles. By the time the bull dozer had passed it twice more the road was just passable for small vehicles. The vehicles going downhill (ie towards Nako – including ours) were the first to pass. A long convoy of SUVs and Altos surged ahead. Along with us most of them were going to Rampur.
Nako and Khab were crossed in no time. It was dusk by the time we reached Spilo and took a ten minutes break for tea. It was a long drive ahead in the dark – very thrilling….. with sharp bends, bad stretches, almost total darkness and streams gushing across the roads. We were driving almost convoy fashion. We could see the distant tail light of the jeep ahead of us and the headlight of the jeep behind us.
We reached Rampur around 11:30pm. As luck would have it – the HPTDC hotel was totally booked by a college excursion party. We decided to drive on to Narsu – a few kilometers ahead. Finally, at midnight, we crashed into our rooms in Hotel Park lane (Rs 600 per room). After the heavy quilts used over the last few days it was a little strange to use the AC and a thin sheet. We had a Cup Maggie each (made with hot water from the geyser) and were asleep within 10 minutes.
Day 9 – Shimla and back to Delhi
We needed to be in Shimla to catch a 10pm bus and Shimla was just 4 hour drive away. So we decided to rest properly, have a nice lunch and start around 2pm. So, we had a large breakfast and an even larger lunch. The portions were huge. The 1 plate chili chicken proved to be chilli chicken from 1 full chicken!
It was 3pm by the time we started for Shimla. We reached around 6pm. The city looked very pretty this time. We visited an acquaintance and then spent two hours on the mall road buying some souvenirs. By the time our driver dropped us at the bus stand, we were feeling as if we were leaving a long time friend. He had been an excellent driver - slow and steady and never any ego hassles if anyone overtakes him. He also had very good knowledge of the route – road conditions, sites and accommodations – and we are sure our experience would not have been as good without him. We forced a tip of Rps. 1,000 on him which he was initially reluctant to accept.
The Volvo journey back to Delhi was uneventful – but this time they put on a slightly better movie “Sunday”.
Day 10 – Delhi and back home
We reached Delhi ISBT Kashmeri gate before 6am in the morning. It was not yet dawn. We chose an auto and a hotel tout and booked into a hotel in Karol Bagh. I think it was called something like S International, or whatever. Anyway, nothing special. We set up our alarms for 11am and then slept through the morning.
After a shower and lunch at the hotel we got to the airport. It was strange to see the large screen TVs and the discussions on price rise on all the TV channels. We seemed to be so detached from the world around…… we were still in the mountain world.
Anyway, the parents Kolkata flight was announced first and then our Hyderabad one. A two hour flight later we were back at Shamshabad…… and a 375 rupee cab ride later we were home, unlocking the door, picking up the heaped up newspapers from the floor and wishing a speedy return to the Himalayas with all our heart.
Hotel Information and Driver Contacts
Shri Ramchandra 94180 27528
Sarahan Bhimakali temple guesthouse ( 01782 274248)- Rs. 150 - 300 per night spot booking
Sangla Prakash Guest House( 01786-242218, 94182 75062) season rates Rs. 500 - 1100 per night offseason discount 30%
Kalpa Hotel Kinner Villa (01786 - 222006, 226001, 226009) season rates Rs. 700 - 1300 per night offseason discount 30%
Tabo PWD Guest House (contact number not noted) rates - Rs. 250 per night booking at Rekong Peo or spot booking
Nirsu (4 KM before Rampur while going Shimla-Rampur) Hotel North Park (98164 68625, 98165 33096) rates - Rs. 400-1000 per night
Latest comments for A Himachal Pradesh trip report through Kinnaur and Spiti - April 2008
- Join Date:
- Apr 2008
- BARASAT,WEST BENGAL
Been at Devbhoomi hotel at Sangla in October,2008 (through Mr. Saveen Kumar, whose number I posted for you). Was very good at that time with Bengali Foods available ( ALOPOSTO,MACHER JHOL, ALU BHAJA ETC).
Don't know about their status right now.
Anybody having any idea about Prakash guest house Sangla.I called up they said room heaters wont be available,but I feel it will be better with room heaters at night in end November.
What do you people say?
I'm in a fix , can anyone please tell if it is possible to go simla-sarahan-sangla-kalpa in feb' end or mostly 1st week of march? Please reply as I have to replan to manali -dharmasala otherwise.
- Join Date:
- Jul 2002
- Umeň , Sweden
Thanks again, Indiamike.