Monday, December 26, 2011

Enchanting Himachal – Sangla & Chitkul

Enchanting Himachal – Sangla & Chitkul
(The show piece of Kinnaur)
The spendour of Sangla valley
Kinnaur – is the land of fairy tales and fantasies, where the natives believe themselves to be between the God and humans. Kinnaur vista displays a spectacular terrain of lush green valley, orchards, vine-yards, snow clad peaks and cold desert mountains. It is a border district of Himachal Pradesh. Kinnaur is also rich in flora & fauna. The culture and language is different from other parts of the state. Kinnaur, the tribal district of Himachal Pradesh, lies 250 km away from Shimla and is situated on the NH - 22 (Hindustan Tibet Road). The landscape of the area varies from lush green orchards of the scenic SanglaValleyto the stark magnificence of the HangrangValley, we were now heading to the famed land of Kinnauris and that was the SanglaValley.
1_PICT0172 by S Roy Biswas
View of Sutlej River valley
Hanging bridge connecting village across the mighty Sutlej River

We started from Narkanda sharp at 9.00 A.M., as we had to traverse a distance of 178 Kms. to reach Sangla and one cannot maintain a steady pace in the hills due to unforeseen reasons that may occur in the mountainous regions. The road was smooth & wide for most of the journey upto Rampur, except for a stretch of about 25-30 odd Kms. in between. The road heads downhill uptoRampur and is interspersed with wide valleys, with fruit laden orchards at the higher altitudes and stepped fields growing cereals & vegetables, at lower altitudes, as we head lower down towards Rampur. We passed by many nondescript villages and some bigger villages like Kingal & Sainj before reaching Rampur.
Passing by Theog

Anokhe Lal of Bareily selling Channa Kulcha at Talai near Rampur

The huge statute of Lord Hanuman at a temple complex beyond Rampur

Rampur is the district headquarters of the present district of Rampur, the capital of erstwhile kingdom of Rampur-Bushair whose rulers ruled all over the Kinnaur valley upto Kullu. Situated on banks of river Sutlej, it is a very fertile valley and still houses the palace of the erstwhile rulers. Being situated in the base of the valley, at an altitude of barely 1162 meters, it is quite hot in the summers. This quaint little township is bustling with activity all around and host of modern facilities, as required for any district Headquarters. Having passed by Rampur, wherein my wife saw some fellows selling some Matar-Kulchas, she had an immediate desire to partake some, but as there was no place to park the vehicle in the middle of Rampur, we had to drop the idea. But it appears that the lady luck was favorable towards her and just as we went pastRampur, we saw a series of street vendors selling Matar-Kulchas at a nondescript place called Talai. This place, as we found out later on, was a favorite haunt of the local students, transporters et al. The vendors were selling boiled Channas (Bengal gram) garnished with boiled Potatoes diced finely, chopped fresh Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Chillies etc. Having being prepared with garden fresh ingredients, the dish tasted fabulous & extremely cheap @ Rs.10/- per plate. However, we were missing the Kulchas, as the vendors had not received their supply for the day, but suddenly a Jeep arrived with loadfull of freshly packed & baked Kulchas (a sort of thin bun) and we purchased a packet of 6 Kulchas for Rs.20/- (per packet) and had a sublime lunch. In the meanwhile I had chatted up the vendor and found that his name was Anokhe Lal and he was from Bareily district of Uttar Pradesh. He confessed that the business was good here and no harassment from Local goons or the Police of any kind, he had been selling his wares since last 8-10 years.
Entering Kinnaur

Typical topography - road carved through sheer rock wall

View of Jakhri Hydro Electric Power Plant

View of Naptha Hydro Electric Power Plant

Dam at Wangtoo

Bridge across Baspa at Karcham

The famed Sangla Valley panaromic view
Having had our breakfast, as we were headed towards Sangla, we came across a big temple on edge of a cliff on the road side that housed a huge statute of Lord Hanuman. Being a Tuesday and day designated for worship of the famed Monkey God, of whose I am an ardent devotee, we stopped the vehicle for offering our salutations. The temple, as such, is dedicated to the Goddess Durga and is reverend by all the local residents around. Having gone past the temple, we came across the oldest Hydro-electric power station of Jakhri. Having gone past Jakhri, we came across the gate declaring that we were about to enter the sacrosanct land of Kinnaur, which is also referred to as the Dev Bhoomi.
View of the Chill Pine tree that yeilds Neoza or Chilgoza

Panoramic view of Sangla Valley from Kamru fort

Kamkhya Devi temple inside Kamru Fort in Sangla

Almonds growing in Sangla

The topography of the region now starts changing, the road cuts through sheer rock face, with the river Sutlej flowing deep below. We went past a series of Hydro-electric power stations, which have been built by putting dams across the mighty Sutlej. We first went past Naptha (of the famous Naptha-Jakhri fame), followed by Wangtu & Karcham, which are being developed by the Jaypee Group. In between we crossed many a nondescript villages and also Bhaba, which is the gateway for the Bhabha valley pass/treks. The road conditions from Wangtu onwards was worst, with the entire road having been turned into a dusty stretch of dirt track. Although the Jaypee Group, responsible for the carnage, does waters the stretch with a fleet of water-tankers spraying water, it does not really help as the track dries up quickly and the dust starts flying and when the road is wet, it covers your whole vehicle with muck. For going towards Sangla, one has to take the diversion across the bridge across Karcham and the ascent towards Sangla begins from here.

Temple complex gate in Kamru village, Sangla

Inside the temple complex

Of all the side valleys of the river Satluj, the Sangla valley (literal translation means - ‘Sang’ is light & ‘La’ is pass - in Tibetan) is perhaps the most picturesque one that curves along the ‘Baspa river’. Unlike most other major streams of the area that flow north to south, the river Baspa arises in the mountains of adjoining Uttrakhand and flows north-west to meet the churning torrents of the river Satluj at Karcham. Sangla is situated at a distance of about 98 kms. from Rampur and is on the hind side of the Kinner Kailash range. The valley is about 95 km long, starting from Karcham (1899 m) at one end to Chung Sakhago pass (5242 m) at the other. The famous village of Chitkul (3450 m), is situated in the middle of this valley, is the last inhabited village here in India-Tibet border. The 95 km long valley gets off to a fairly unimpressive start, as one starts the ascent from Karcham, except for an occasional glimpse of snow capped mountains at a distance. Along this stretch that one can find the ‘chill’ pine clinging tenaciously across precipices and out of sheer rock faces, their cones yield the tasty kernel, the rare ‘dry fruit’, the neoza (or chilgoza). The road also offers us with views of deep valleys running alongside the road and across the river bank far below. The road is narrow & steep and just before entering the Sangla valley, you will find a small temple erected on a cliff head, on side of the road, where a old Sadhu will offer you Prasad for some small donation, ensuring your safe journey across the treacherous stretch. After this corridor, like curtains suddenly drawn aside, the valley bursts open at Kupa. From this point on, every turn and every bend reveals a valley that is of sublime beauty. As if in queue, the torrents of BaspaRiver also appear to slow down here, as if to imbue this magnificence, enhancing this sublime environ.
Chatting up with some local guys in Sangla - all ready for marraige party in traditional head gear

The PWD Rest House in Sangla

A local Kinnauri lad in traditional head gear - ready for marraige party
Apples growing in Sangla

We had booked the Prakash Guest House in Sangla, which is located away from the market, towards the road leading to Chitkul and reached here at about 3.00 P.M. and after ordering & partaking some snacks, we went out to explore Sangla. The first place we explore was the village of Kamru that is situated about two kilometers above Sangla. A small motorable road reaches upto the village gate, wherefrom one has to take a steep climb that entwines through the village and takes about an hour’s ascent to reach the top, for the people from the Plains below. This was the seat of power of the erstwhile rulers of Kinnaur and the coronation of all the rulers of this kingdom used to take place in this tower like fort, which houses a temple hosting the idol of Kamakhya Devi brought here centuries ago from Assam. The people of the valley practice an unusual mix of Trans Himalayan (Vajrayana) Buddhism and Hinduism.
The back or hind side of Kinner Kailash range - as viewed from Sangla

The next day we headed for Chitkul that is situated at a distance of 26 Kms. from Sangla and we started at about 10.00 A.M. Between Kupa and Chitkul (3450 m), the area is fairly populous and cultivated. The biggest village enroute after Sangla is the Batesari village, which is situated right on the banks of the Baspa river and one has to take a side road running downhill from the main road. The next village right on the main road itself, of some importance is Rakcham, which is located about 14 Kms. from Sangla and has a few hotels also. Human habitation ends at Chitkul, which was the last trade post in the Hindustan-Tibet trade route, leading therefrom to the lofty Chung Saghgo Pass, beyond which lies Tibet (now China). One has to seek special permit to trek beyond Chitkul. Chitkul is base for the trek route through raw rock and snow that leads to the hills of Harsil in Uttrakhand.
View of Batesari Village en-route to Chitkul

View of Rakcham Village en-route to Chitkul
Chitkul is famous for its potatoes that is grown during the short summer season starting from June till September, but is fairly costly because of its taste and texture. Another aspect of Chitkul that catches the eye is the typical wooden houses with slate planked roofs. Chitkul is also the last point of the famed Kinner Kailash Parikrama (starts from Thangi – 65 Kms. from Kalpa). In conjunction with the local concept of mixture of Hinduism & Buddhism, there is a big temple in Chitkul dedicated to goddess Mathi. The temple is a remarkable piece of local architecture, adorned with fine carvings in Walnut wood, the structure of the building with stones & wooden planks interspersed is also typical Kinnauri style. The beauty of the temple is to be seen first hand to feel its serenity. As per the local legend, the Goddess is related to the Gangotri temple in Uttarakhand and the local people reverend this place and believe that the abundance of food & wealth came upon the Sangla valley after arrival of the goddess in the Valley. There is a small monastery uphill that houses a highly valued old image of Shakyamuni Buddha, a wheel of Life mandala on either side of the doorway. The view from Chitkul is resplendent with views of snow capped mountains and dazzling Baspa flowing by. A spectacular visual treat etched in memory for ever.
Famed Chitkul Village - last inhabited village at Into-tibet/China border

Baspa River flowing past Chitkul

The temple dedicated to Goddess Mathi in Chitkul
New temple being constructed in Chitkul - in same complex

The small monastery in Chitkul

Being an almost virgin area with minimal human interference, there are a lot to birds to be spotted and photographed, here is a sample by an amateur in this field.
Probably a blue fronted Redstart

Probably the Great Himalyan Tit

Can't identify

Another Great Himalyan Tit

The actual depth of the panoramic vistas of Sangla & Chitkul cannot be captured in a still camera, may like to watch the video of the place -

Sangla & Chitkul

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