Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Killer Kinnaur - Kalpa

We left for Kalpa on the 24th of May after having an early lunch at Sarahan.  The road looked dangerously appealing being curved out of the mountain walls, at times with hanging cliffs over head. The beautiful Baspa river was flowing beside the road on the other side but the water was still muddy. After some time however, the road condition deteriorated considerably and our bodies became stiff and pained absorbing the shocks. I have read before, in trip reports of some travel forums that the road between Wangtoo and Karcham was particularly bad. However, the road after Karcham did not provide us any relief either. In fact it was worse; the road was broken at many places due to landslides and too narrow for comfort. 

Major construction was going on at Karcham where a major dam is located and probably the cement and the dust made the water of river Baspa muddy, since after Karcham the water was blue and clear. The road for Sangla took off on the right and we continued straight ahead towards Kalpa. At places, the road was so narrow to commute that long queues of cars resulted. A few times our car came so tantalizing close to the edge of the road that some of us cried aloud cautioning the driver. Although our driver had a rock steady hand, he too became tensed a couple of times and requested us not to panic. In fact, afterwards, he admitted that on those occasions he was a bit nervous as well. 

When we reached Reckong Peo, the district head quarters of Kinnaur district, we knew we were not too far from our destination. After driving further up for some more time when we finally reached Kalpa, it was 5 o’clock in the evening.  We had booked Hotel Rakpa Regency in advance and were delighted with the view it offered. A friend who had earlier stayed at the hotel mentioned that Room 406 has the best view and Runa and Abhishek had the good opportunity to occupy that room. However, I think the corner room that I stayed at had an even better view of Kinnaur Kailash. Surprisingly, the owner of the hotel, Sandeep Karar, is a Bengali from Howrah. Most of the staff, except the manager, was Bengali as well.
Kalpa is known for its golden apple orchards and beside our hotel itself there were a whole lot of apple trees but unfortunately it was not the time for apple harvesting.

After evening tea, I went for a leisurely stroll along the deserted road. Suddenly I heard a strange hymning sound followed by some drum beats. It was near the Hotel Kinnaur Villa. I was trying to figure out the origin of the sound and after some time realized that it is coming from a small hut up in the hills. It was quite far away and hidden behind the trees, so at first I could not locate it. Actually, it seemed some people were dancing to the mystic tune in some ethnic dress. Probably it was some sort of ceremony. I noticed some stone steps going upwards from the road and an idea crossed my mind that I might try to go nearer to the place to comprehend what it was all about. But the steepness of the steps was disturbing me and I found no one in the vicinity to ask how far the path leads up to. Meanwhile, it started drizzling and suddenly the temperature dropped considerably. I decided it would be wise to return to the hotel and not get wet since I am susceptive to cold. Back in the hotel, I found my folks were getting apprehensive about my delay and the fact that they could not reach me over my cell phone (there was no tower) made them tensed. 

The next day, we woke up early but there was no spectacle of sunrise to speak about. It was cloudy to begin with and the sun abruptly came out from behind the mountain range. However, as the day progressed, the sun shone brightly and apart from Kinnaur Kailas, Parvati and Shivling peaks were clearly visible. The Kinnaur Kailash peak appeared so close that it seemed as if we could just reach out our hands and touch it. Chhotomasi mentioned that its shape is similar to Mt. Kailash near Manas Sarovar and hence the name. While we were zooming in our lenses to take closer snaps, we observed a black spot in the white snow that covered the mountain range and it changed position a few times. It seemed larger than to be possibly any bird and the hotel staff told us it was still not the time of the year when trekkers go around. So, it remained a mystery to us. Chhotomasi jokingly declared that it must be some Yeti then. 

At breakfast we noticed a really large tourist group coming all the way from Bengal and there was pandemonium all around. The manager of the group was shouting all kinds of directives to his own staff who were running around doing all sorts of errands. After breakfast, we went to visit the nearby Rodhi village. From a local shop there we bought some walnuts at really cheap price. The view of the other peaks (which were out of sight from our hotel) from that place was also fascinating. So, we were dumbfounded when some tourists were complaining about the place arguing that there is nothing to see. Now, what else does one need; one can behold the majestic Himalayas all around and still people grumble! 

A short cut path from the village led us to the monastery we noticed from the balcony back at our hotel. The actual village of Kalpa is probably located around here. We noticed many local small huts but surprisingly most of them were under lock and key. Not sure if that was because the people had gone to work or they had moved to some other place. The monastery was small and nice and comes with the traditional Buddhist prayer rollers. 

In close proximity to the monastery, resides a Durga temple. It had some intricate woodwork and it was queer to see those wooden dragons decorating a Hindu temple. The temple was unfortunately closed and we could not see the deity. However, back at the hotel, I noticed a picture, which was some amateurish replica of an old and celebrated picture, illustrating the temple and the original painting was done more that hundred years ago. 

The weather changed drastically in the afternoon and there was a heavy downpour restricting us to the interiors of our respective rooms. Even in the evening, when the rain stopped, it was still very cloudy and the wind was chilly. Since we could not go out for a walk, I spent some time in the terrace but soon it became so cold that I had to return to the warmth of my room. From the balcony, I could see a thick layer of cloud down below where the monastery was located and soon the cloud engulfed the entire hamlet. 

The rest of the night was uneventful except for the drop in the temperature. I was literally shivering when we went to take dinner in the ground floor. The fact that I was not carrying any heavy woollens was upsetting as my jacket was not giving me much comfort. One of the Bengali staff who is from the Burdwan district told us that the hotel is entirely covered with snow in the winters and remains closed from the end of November until March, and when they come back in March they have to clean the thick layers of snow and how painstaking a job that is. Luckily the next morning the sun was shining bright and after having breakfast we started our journey to Chitkul.


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