Snow clad peaks emanating serenity, cool breeze whizzing past your eyelids, mixed chirping of uncommon birds sounding like mellifluous music and gentle rays of the sun filtering through the canopy of tall trees. If anyone wishes to experience sensations like these, then Himachal Pradesh is the place to go. Himachal Pradesh is certainly one of the most well-developed and well planned mountainous-state of India. It has prospered into a state with a booming tourism industry as it boasts of many popular hill stations like Shimla, Manali and Dharamsala. But rapid industrialization and unrestricted construction work has made some of these popular destinations devoid of the real natural beauty that many of us seek when we pack our bags for a trip. For the same reason I wish to highlight two places in Himachal Pradesh that have been left virtually unexplored and untouched from the pace of modernization, Sangla and Chitkul.
How to get there
Sangla (2900 M) is situated in the Baspa Valley in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh with Chitkul (3450 M) being just 25 km from Sangla. One has to first reach Shimla either by road, rail or air. From Shimla it is a drive along the NH-22 for about 250 km till Karchham, the point where the road diverges for Sangla and Chitkul. Taxis and bus service is available from Shimla. The entire 250 km journey is an exhilarating experience accompanied by perpetual splashing of waters of the Satluj which flows on the left. The scenery is tempting as one can see snow-covered peaks at a distance, apple orchards intermittently present on the roadside, seasonal fruits being sold all along the route for tourists and well maintained roads augmenting the pleasure of driving.
After we turn towards Sangla from Karchham to cover the last 18 km of our journey, one can feel the vast difference between Sangla and any other hill station. The mountains are greener, air is fresh and population is sparse. You just fall in love with it at first sight. A lively market greets you as you enter the town of Sangla. One can find most of the things of day-to-day utility, a small cyber cafe, local sweet shops and local handicrafts. There are few hotels in the area as the state government has encouraged local people to accommodate tourists in their homes under the ‘Home Stay’ initiative. This provides the people with a source of earning and a unique experience to the visitors who eat, sleep and pray with the family as a member of the family.
Places to visit
Staying in Sangla, casually roaming in the market, interacting with the locals, having hot coffee at the Tibetan Coffee House, capturing some breathtaking natural beauty in your camera; all this constitutes the real magnificence of this town. One can also go for an early morning 2 km walk up to the old Buddhist Monastery in Sangla. Chitkul is a mere one hour drive from Sangla but the entire topography undergoes a drastic change in that short distance. With a difference of 550 M in the height above sea-level of these two towns, Chitkul is much colder and even more unexplored. Chitkul is the last Indian village on the route as the road ends. Only habitation thereafter is the camp of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), 2 km from Chitkul. Once there, you can literally see the snow melt to form River Baspa, a tributary of Satluj. The entire town is surrounded by snow peaks from all four sides making a ring like formation that gives a feeling as if the entire town rests in the lap of Himalayas. Temperatures remain in single digits even in summers. Many trekking routes stem out from both Sangla and Chitkul. Hiking and mountaineering are also common among adventure enthusiasts.
People, Culture and Cuisine
Simplicity defines the people of this area. Every person you find will be dressed in his traditional dress with a ‘Himachali Topi’, a green hat on his head. People are rather friendly and helpful. Local delicacies include a special ‘Baal Mithai’ and Rajmah chawal. A few government schools are also up and running. Paying a short visit and interacting with the kids can be an ecstatic experience. The evenings are accompanied by tolling of bells and singing of songs at various temples, giving a sanctified aura to the place.
Both Sangla and Chitkul are must visit destinations if you want to spend some time away from the chaotic daily life of yours. Those cacophonies of urban life will be replaced by smooth music of silence that one finds in this place. These snowbound recesses and vistas of unsurpassable beauty are waiting for you.