Unexplored, Unparalleled and Unique Himachal Pradesh – Lahaul and Spiti

Dear  Globetrotters, it had been over a week of my parents circumnavigation trip and they had been experiencing a different kind of world (click here for Part I, Kinnaur). Even though I was some 800km away, I was having my own share of their experiences. Sitting in increasingly hot summer of Gurgaon I was jealous of the increasingly cold weather they were facing. They were spending money on buying more woollens like caps and pullovers since the ones they carried proved to be insufficient and I was eating 5rs ice cream bars after lunch. Then they were struggling to stay in touch; fortunately my mom’s BSNL mobile came to the rescue but my dad could use his Airtel neither to make calls nor to access internet. In fact it was after ages that they had to use the PCO to make a call to me.

Kaza, Lahaul and Spiti and a World of its Own

That PCO call came from Nako lake (Read Part I, Kinnaur to find more, click here ) and my dad told me that they were then planning to go to Kaza (click for location and how to reach Kaza) the next day and that part of the journey was perhaps the most exciting of their entire trip. The road was along the amazing Spiti river and their bus took almost 7 hours to cover a distance of 100km and once they reached Kaza after 9pm, it was pitch dark with no soul to help them go anywhere. Thankfully two bank officers just happened to turn up and became the rescuers. The nice chaps in fact had a torch with them and actually took my parents to the rest house where dad had made their reservations in advance. Had they not turned up, my parents would have had the worst experience of not just the trip (spending two hours in rain in a broken rain shelter two days ago would not even come close) but perhaps the life.

The beauty of Kaza (click for location and how to reach Kaza), which is situated at an altitude of 3,650m/11,980ft in the Spiti Valley of Lahaul and Spiti district, that they experienced the next day took away all the tiring experience of the day before and they felt content considering they had now reached the exact middle point of their circumnavigation trip (510km from Bilaspur). This was definitely going to be the point of return since the road beyond this place was closed and as dangerous as it could get. The weather may have played spoil sport with their circumnavigation plans, but while visiting such terrain, you must always be prepared for the worse things to happen.

The adventures continued even during journey back home

They started their journey back and stayed the night at Reckong Peo and the adventure was not over yet. Their plan was to stay the night and take early morning bus to Shimla where they would have reached in like 11 hours after travelling 225km and then take late night bus to reach home at Bilaspur after another 3.5 hours and 90km. But some surprises were still left. The road was closed thanks to a landslide and they had to stay out for one more day. Even when they started the next day, they first had to take a bus to the point of landslide, then shift to a smaller vehicle that could only cross the affected area, then again take a bus to finally reach Shimla.

And then eventually they reached home in Bilaspur at midnight after 11 days and 1020km. The call that I got from my dad once they entered home brought relief to all of us considering the challenges that were thrown at them by the ever changing scenarios. But my dad’s voice had another story to tell – it was filled with satisfaction of having seen so many places, excitement of having lived those moments, sadness of having missed completing the circumnavigation and above all anticipation of looking forward to his next trip.

How to reach and where to stay in Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti?

If you are a frequent traveller then you know this and if you are not then take note of this, visiting offbeat tourist destinations can be tricky, always full of surprises and devoid of usual facilities and that is something that adds to the excitement.

To reach there, only option is by road and best way is to use state road transport buses. The roads are scary and difficult to drive on, you never know when snow or landslide will force you to abandon your own vehicle and shift to another one and it’s so far off that driving can tire you off. One more thing, these buses are not tourist buses so don’t expect any kind of luxuries at all.

For stay, you’ll easily find hotels in all the places that I have mentioned. These may again not be the luxury hotels you may be used to but are neat and clean and reasonably priced. And I don’t think you can make reservations online, but no harm in searching and trying. My parents were able to find a hotel everywhere easily after reaching there and I don’t think they had to pay much for any of those.

One trip in one life time, that’s bare minimum and will do too

I know these places are so far off and do not promise a smooth trip but I think they deserve to be visited. One trip in one life time, that’s a must. My dad had been to most of these places before, for my mom it was the first time and frankly their age is not really on their side and they were travelling alone too. But for travel aficionados like them visiting new places is one of the things matters, rest all is secondary.  Proud of my DNA, proclivity for travelling and inspired by them, I’ll definitely make this trip my own one day and share my first hand experiences, something I like more and never miss a chance of.

Unexplored, Unparalleled and Unique Himachal Pradesh – Kinnaur

Attention Globetrotters: I had never done it in the past, I am not sure whether I’ll ever do it again but I am sure by the time, as a true travel aficionado, you are done reading this two part series (click here for Part II, Lahual and Spiti) and looking at the pics; you would have done more Google ‘research’, started making some ‘travel plans’ of your own, and hope to ‘be there’ one day.

it’s Different… 

Here the scenery is not always green and often black; roads can be dangerous and frequently blocked, accommodation at times sparse and just about OK, mobile and internet connectivity mostly only on public carrier and scrubby, even then I can bet that you would die to be at Kaza town, Spiti river, Nako lake, Sangla valley, Kalpa town, Spiti valley, Reckong Peo town, and so many more of similar absolutely awesome places at least once in your life time and possibly many times. What’s intriguing, till not very long ago in the past, outsiders needed special Government of India permits to visit many of these places considering the nearby Indo-Tibet border. We are now lucky that way…

What did I never do in the past?

Let me first set the context. I write my first hand experiences of places I visit, but this time it’s borrowed or a better word could be ‘vicarious’. My parents went on their umpteenth travelling trip at the start of this May and as they started sharing their experiences from day 1, my desire to be with them and be part of their trip started multiplying with each new place they would visit and describe. And looking at the pictures, I already started planning my own possible trip in the nearest possible future.

Interesting but not really surprising, in fact fairly obvious is the fact that my parents, especially dad, are the primary reason I fell in love with travelling and visiting new, different, distant and not just popular places. Thanks to them, by the time I passed out of college, I had been to at least one place in Assam, West Bengal, Orissa (Odhisha), Andhra Pradesh (Seemandhra and Telangana), Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra and UP, and all this even at the cost of exams at times. Since I am from Himachal Pradesh, I am not including that in the list (just did).

Not just a trip – a 1000+km 15+day circumnavigation

Coming to the current point, one fine evening I got a whatsapp message from my dad mentioning they were planning a trip. And it was an audacious plan of “completing a 1000+km 15+day 12000+feet/3650+m altitude circumnavigation through route Bilaspur – Shimla – Rampur – Reckong Peo – Kaza – Keylong – Manali – Kullu – Bilaspur (click here to see and appreciate it)”. I have myself been to Shimla, Rampur, Kullu and Manali. But rest of the places are in Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh, places not sought for by the usual travellers, some due to lack of knowledge perhaps and also due to its distance, but places which have so much to offer. I said, go for it and there started an amazing journey, full of loads of excitement.

Rampur Bushahr or just Rampur, the popular new town and the old principality 

With everything else in place, my parents started their journey one Saturday morning. After over 220km day long state road transport bus travel from Bilaspur to Rampur, which is in and about 130km from Shimla, my parents made their first night halt. It was dark, raining and a little cold. But they had started enjoying their trip. However, rain and cold in the month of May can be a little worrying too when you are about to make your trip to places which are not easy to approach due to possible landslides and could get really cold due to snow – and all that was waiting to happen and happened over the next 10 days.

In Rampur (click for location and how to reach Rampur), my parents visited the small but impressive palace of the erstwhile rulers, appreciated the mighty Sutlej River and moved on to their next possible stop. Considering the weather they set aside their audacious circumnavigation trip for a while and decided to take it one day at a time. It was an important moment in what was bound to be once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it did turn out to be same albeit they had to return half way from Kaza but with no regrets.

Sangla, Reckong Peo, Nako lake: the unexplored Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh

My parents who had decided to see how far they could reach – a wise decision that stemmed from their vast travelling experience, understanding of the region and my dad’s past trips to some of these places, were now ready to leave Shimla and enter Kinnaur.

Sangla Valley (click for location and how to reach Sangal Valley) located about 100km and 5-6hours away became their next destination. A very important tourist destination with river Baspa flowing through it, this is one place that must be on your travel itinerary. Places like Jhakhri, Nichar, Wangtu fall on the way and are beautiful and important in their own ways.

From there they moved on to Reckong Peo (click for location and how to reach Reckong Peo), more famous for being headquarters of Kinnaur district and known for tourist destination Kalpa. Located at the height of about 2,290 m/7,500+ft, this is important from commercial point of view as well. What is also interesting to mention here is, though the district is called Kinnaur, there is no place by that name.

With rain and cold playing hide and seek they now contemplated starting their return journey. But then the weather report for next couple of days turned out to be favourable and my parents decided to stick around and move forward, a decision they didn’t regret one bit.

Poo or Puh (click for location and how to reach Poo or Puh), a place located at an altitude of about 2,660m/8,700+ft and about 70 km and 3-4 hour drive away became the next stop. From there they went to the beautiful high altitude Nako lake (click for location and how to reach Nako lake), which is located at more than 3,660m/12,000+ft above sea level. My parents told me this was a sight to behold amidst the mighty cold, I couldn’t help but wish I were there.

Alas!.. Hopefully, may be sometime soon…

Unexplored, Unparalleled and Unique Himachal Pradesh – Lahaul and Spiti

The story doesn’t here. Go on and continue with the journey, click here for Unexplored, Unparalleled and Unique Himachal Pradesh – Lahaul and Spiti.