Monday, November 7, 2011

Killer Kinnaur - Chitkul

On the 26th of May, we left Kalpa at 8:30 in the morning and took the same road back up to Karcham. From there we turned left towards Sangla. There was a tunnel just beyond the small bridge that we were crossing and initially we were all excited to drive through the tunnel. However, when we reached there we saw that it was still under construction and we took the road around the tunnel. As usual, the road was in pretty bad shape. Actually from a distance I could not see any road at all. So when our driver was telling us that we were not going to take the tunnel, I was confused since I did not notice any road after the bridge except the tunnel way. 

Our car stopped at a roadside temple for a couple of minutes which is probably considered auspicious by the local drivers. The priest came and offered us some prasada and prayed for our wellbeing and safety. We took our tea break in the market area of the town of Sangla. The town is quite a big one in the neighbourhood and most of the tourists stay at this place only and go for sightseeing elsewhere. However, on recommendation of some of my friends, I had booked our accommodation in Chitkul which is a small village with a few lodging options. 

We filled ourselves with pakoras and sweets along with desi chai in a small but clean tea shop. Whatever we had eaten in the breakfast had already been digested and we anticipated having a late lunch at Chitkul as there was still some distance to cover.  The view of the Baspa river and the mountain range was enchanting from Baspa. It lifted our spirits all the more thinking about what we would have in store at Chitkul. 

The view on the road from Sangla to Chitkul was awesome. And although the road was narrow, it was in a relatively good condition. And there was hardly any traffic on the route. I was sitting in the front beside the driver and tried hard to capture the surroundings with my lenses. The view was changing at some times ranging from lush green trees on the mountains to dry and barren places with boulders and stones lying all around. The temperature was also a pleasant one. In fact I kept my windows down and caught a little cold. On the way we noticed some nature camps which provide tourist accommodation. Our hotel was however further up. 

Initially, we had booked Hotel Shahenshah which is owned by the same person, Sandeep Karar, who runs the hotel Rakpa Regency at Kalpa. Since there was a large tourist group (whom we noticed at Kalpa itself), he requested us to stay at Panchali Resort, which is also owned by him. Panchali Resort is the last hotel at the end of the motorable road. However, what we heard over there is that the road would be extended a further 25 Kms. So, new hotels would crop up I guess closer to the mountain range. The hotel had an exquisite view of the mountains. Once we opened the windows of our room, there was nothing between the mountain and us. However, the cleanliness and service of the hotel was not good. Also, food options were limited and there was a huge delay between the time we ordered and we got our food. Perhaps they were also running short of staff. 

After having lunch and a little rest, we went to the riverbed in the late evening. The clear blue water of the Baspa river surrounded by the mountains and the snow covered peaks at stone throwing distance formed a breathtaking view. In fact back at the hotel, people told us that the place was not far from the Tibet border, Chitkul being the last village. The river water was very cold and it had a good current too. The riverbed was studded with small pebbles and large stones and we rested for a while on those stones taking in the superlative beauty of the place. There was a school nearby. We envied the location but at the same time pitied for the students who have to come so far away every day. 

When it was time to return, I proposed to take a different route which I noticed further up. Only Bappa agreed to accompany me in this adventurous detour. Now the only question was how to go up and be on that path. We started to follow the way what seemed to go up and meet our target path but after some time we were kind of lost and doubted whether it was the right way. After some time we met a local man with a cow. He assured us that we were on the right track and when we enquired whether the path was tough, he commented that even his cow could use that comfortably. Our confidence was restored and we continued our walk but the path was becoming all the more difficult with little waterfalls in between and it was tough to breathe as well. Anyway I have a breathing problem and the high altitude was taking its toll. I was feeling sorry for Bappa. Though he has healthier than me, but he was also feeling exhausted and he had only agreed to come with me so that I am not alone. We stopped for a while and contemplated whether we should go back. When we looked back we did not find any one of the team so they must have returned to the hotel already. Just then we noticed two young girls coming down. They were not locals but tourists. They were confused whether they could go down to the river following that route. We told them we have followed that route from the riverbed itself so they could continue walking down. And they assured us that we would find the way back to the hotel if we continue moving up. We were encouraged that if they could do it so could we and started walking upwards. But after some more time we were again confused as we could not find any way further. We stopped for a while to catch some air as we were breathing heavily by then. Ultimately we found our way back to the hotel amidst the cultivation land which was being prepared for step farming. On our way back we met some military personnel from Indo-Tibet Border Force, who were returning to their check posts at the Tibet border. 

When we finally reached the hotel we found the other members of our group worried and anxious as a long time had passed and the fact that they could not contact us over our cell phones (there was no mobile tower) made them more tensed. They were a little bit comforted they were told by those two girls that they had met us some time before. We found Mukherjeekaku had returned to his room much earlier as he was not feeling well. Even Chhotomasi was having some breathing problems. I on my part did not disclose that I experienced some spasms myself and went to my room to take rest. During night I was running a mild temperature and Chhotomasi rebuked me for my bravado. I was disheartened and agonized by the fact that my body did not respond positively to the small trek and was worried about how would I go to places which involve fair bit of walking in hilly terrain. 

The next day was the last of our sojourn in the Himalayas. We took our way back to Kalpa from where we boarded the return train, halting at Narkanda in between for the night. It was time to bid goodbye to the picturesque Kinnaur and return the routine chores of city life. 

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