INDIA TRAVELS - INDIAN HIMALAYAS

TRAVELING BEYOND SHIMLA INTO THE KINNAUR AND SPITI VALLEYS

WHERE THE AIR IS THIN AND THE SKY IS VERY BLUE

TRAVEL A FEW CENTURIES BACK IN TIME

This is a journey of a lifetime and should not be attempted in a hurry. If you zoom through, in a tourist sort of fashion, you will achieve nothing and benefit not at all. There are fancier places to visit if that is what you want, and if you are in a hurry go to Manali and Leh you can do that in a hurry. Manali is beautiful and not at as high an altitude, you can even go to Manali in the winter and ski! There are fancy hotels in Manali and some nice hotels in Leh. You can fly to Manali now, but if you fly to Leh you may be in for an altitude sickness shock.

Below: Tiny train stops part way up to Shimla ( Simla) from just north of Chandigarh. Jet Air flies from Delhi to Chandigarh daily. Shimla is an old British 'Hill Station', cool in the summer and full of Indian tourists, monkeys, hotels, restaurants and the last little train stop.

You can hire a car and drive up to Shimla from Chandigarh, but I advise you do not do that as the road up ( and down) is quite nauseating! The little train ride is great.

 

 

After Shimla you will need a car or, for the very brave, take the bus - best in increments! ( Advice: Check the tires of the jeep and driver you rent before committing!) You may wish to hire a Kashmiri guide to accompany you, they usually speak good English and are very nice people. Since they are a displaced people ( Kashmir is in such turmoil there is not much of an economy there now) they have come out of Kashmir and work odd jobs for very little. You will need to pay their expenses as well as a reasonable daily fee. Be fair!

The first stop beyond Shimla can vary, there are many wonderful destinations even before Sarahan Temple complex, a restored historical treasure. You have not entered another world until after Sarahan. Sarahan is still part of the world we live in, even though it is remote.

Do NOT try to go beyond Sarahan between mid October and March! The passes close for the winter, you could be stranded and they do not have central heating! . Depending on your nationality, you might try to get help from your consulate if you do get stranded in the winter. If the only way out is by helicopter.

Kalpa is an excellent place to spend a few weeks waiting for the passes to Spiti to open ( between April - May and June usually). It isn't only snow that closes the passes, the monsoon will close the lower roads as well, usually in July.





 


The Kinnaur Valley road follows the Sutlege River and Kinnaur River Gorge all the way up. Occasional side branches go up a tributary river valley. These photos are of a side trip up to Sangla. The Sangla Valley and Chitkul are extraordinarily beautiful but can only be reached with a lot of faith, or foolishness! I think the Sangla road was one of the scariest ones, but certainly not the only scary road in the Himalayas.

Our driver stopped to pray at each little temple on the side of the road, but then, he worried more about rocks falling and damaging his paint than us going over the side! An amazing feat of engineering, blasting these roads out of the granite mountains. Even though the roads are usually pretty good, there is an obvious reason why few tourists visit Sangla. It is a land that time has forgotten, the villages perched on the sides of the mountain have not changed in the last century. A few Indian adventure companies offer tours up here during the summer. Sangla is also know for good trout fishing.

 
I am not sure what happens when two trucks meet head on. There was not much traffic.

This trip is not for the faint hearted!


Doors back in time to another world. You will never feel the same again!


Kamru is a tiny wooden village perched on the side of the mountain above Sangla. If you have seen the movie 'Dreams' by Akira Kurazawa you might get a hint of what Kamru is. It was the seat of a prince some time ago and has not changed in any way since then. Well worth the walk up the path.



KALPA IS ABOVE RECONG PEO IN THE KINNAUR VALLEY

Kalpa Kinnaur Valley India Indian Himalayas view fom my window
View out my guest house room window! I could lie in bed and watch the clouds go by!



One thing I never figured out about Kalpa was if there was any reason to ever leave! Winters are severe though, many of the residents of Kalpa go down to Recong Peo for the long winter. My guest house, along with many of the houses of Kalpa, was in an apple orchard. I saw the apple trees in bloom and would like to go back to eat one of the apples when they ripen ( September I think)

Rumor has it that Lord Dalhousie was so enchanted by Kalpa ( in the summer) that he wrote to the King of England and suggested that India be 'ruled' from Kalpa during the summer months. To which, allegedly the King of England wrote back and suggested that if he could rule India from Kalpa, he may as well rule India from London! At that time it took two weeks by donkey to reach Kalpa from Shimla.

There is tourism in Kalpa now. There is a lovely new hotel and a smattering of guest houses, restaurants and marvelous views.




Beyond Kalpa this road is a wonderful walk to the smaller town of Rogi. Views are dramatic down to the river bed way below.


One of the nicer things about staying in Kalpa for awhile is the many paths and roads to walk on. There is usually a nice, fairly level path following the irrigation canals through the woods to the stream they come from..




All water comes from snow melt and is cleverly channeled to everyone. Each person has their turn and each farm is responsible for opening and closing the channel to their farm at the scheduled times.

This lady is a Kinnauri woman and wears the typical Kinnauri hat. The Kinnauri people are considered a tribal people by the Indian Government and certain types of aid are given them. Medical and economic help. The Kinnauri language is not connected to any other language of India.



Ahh, the road to Pooh!



CHANGO, LAST TOWN BEFORE TURNING LEFT TO SPITI

CHANGO, elevation 3,058 Meters, however I do not believe the government signs give the correct elevations. There is a nice guest house below town on the main road. The town itself is magical. A stiff walk above Chango to a ruins of a Gompa rewards you with frescoes on the walls.


This land is above the monsoon, the Himalayas shadow the monsoon and little rain ever gets through; all irrigation is of the snow melt from passing clouds. This creates a very dry climate that has preserved the beautiful frescoes on all the Gompa walls. Chango is an oasis of green in this high mountain desert land.

After Chango you will need your interline permit ( obtainable in Shimla or Recong Peo) to go further. The road is only 12 KM from the border with China and a military presence is felt in this area. In fact, the Kinnaur Valley road is well maintained to be able to get the military in and out as needed.




GULLING SIDETRIP
IN THE PIN VALLEY

Waiting for the bus from Gulling to Kaza. Stayed with a family.




DANKHAR GOMPA IN THE SPITI VALLEY. TIBETAN BUDDHIST.

Dankhar gompa in the Spiti Valley of the Indian Himalayas

Although the Dankar Gompa is no longer in daily use, it is magnificently placed! Photo Elena.

Though there was much more to come, getting here, to be able to take this photo, was one of the most amazing moments of my life! I only wished I had more lung capacity to be able to run around these mountains like others seemed to do! My breath was short and even my walking was slow!

Taking the time at each higher elevation, getting adjusted to the lack of oxygen slowly, is very important. Some do better than others. I did better than I expected; some simply could not and others had no problem. I did not do any hiking once in the Spiti Valley, I used jeeps.

Gulling and Kaza were the hardest ( highest) for me. I was beginning to adjust by the time I left. It took a week to feel comfortable walking across the small town of Kaza!

Ki Gompa ( Kee Gompa) was the highest Gompa we visited and I did not go across the Rhotang pass to Manali but turned around and went back down through Kinnaur.. Many people had no problem going across the pass and on to Manali or Leh, but I chickened out. Or maybe I just had enough and felt like going back to Kalpa, where life was sweet and easy to breathe!

I did find everything I was looking for.



TABO GOMPA. 996 AD

Tabo Gompa temple complex Bodisatva statues along the walls of the main temple

There was a Buddhist monk from Tibet who established many Gompas ( Buddhist temples) in this region in 990's AD. He brought a talented artist from Kashmir to Tabo to paint all the inside surfaces with frescoes, which are still in very good condition today, even without preservation efforts. Tabo Gompa is renown for its art, several books have been published about it. You are not allowed to take photos inside without a permit ( from authorities in Delhi).

It is said that the Dalai Lama will retire to Tabo someday. He visits often and he also visits Kee Gompa above Kaza, although I have heard he arrives in Tabo/ Kaza by helicopter. It may be possible for anyone to charter a military helicopter to come here from Shimla. It is inadvisable to come for an overnight stay by helicopter, much better to reach this altitude step by step. Several days or a week should be spent before going higher each time. Altitude sickness is a very serious illness if you are so unlucky to get it badly. Altitude sickness usually only becomes life threatening when people move to a high altitude too quickly, as happens when people fly to Leh.

Altitude sickness is a funny thing, it is not ones health nor age that determines it. You bodies blood chemistry must change and some people simply are able to do this better than others.

Tibetan Buddhist monk Tabo Gompa in Spiti India

What secrets lie inside this exquisitely painted Gompa! Under the deep blue skies.

TRAVEL GUIDE TO PUERTO RICO