Travel Route: Kinnaur District – Rampur – Sangla – Chitkul – Kalpa

Kinnaur District and Rampur

When I look at India’s maps in the Lonely Planet book, I wonder how the landscape looks between our departure and destination points? There are endless strings of human habitation in India along the path of roads and train rails. Remnants of civilization are everywhere, and of course, the occasional obstacle or reminders of the holy – cows. And why should I wonder? This is India, where 1.4 billion people call it home. In a few days, we will reach Kinnaur with a higher elevation, 3000m and above, where I expect to see nothing but sky and earth.

Kinnaur is in the Western Himalayas and lies in the Indian State of Himachal Pradesh. The green scenery is breathtaking. The road is hair rising, and there are apple orchards all around. Local Kinnauris wear green felt Basheri hats, named after their local king.  Tibetan proximity is visible in its influence on dress, architecture, and language. It is common to find images of the Buddha and other Buddhist deities side-by-side with Hindu Gods.

We stopped for a quick prayer for a good journey and offered a donation to the goddess Kali. Her skin color is black. She is known for her powers to destroy ego and sin.

A Road Mudslide

Mudslides are everyday events on these roads. When we encountered one, we waited with all the others until a few rocks were pushed aside, and some brave drivers plunged forward. Kuldep, our driver, was one of the first ones. It was a colorful sight; the green-covered mountains were a backdrop to many artistically decorated trucks.

The many dogs that lay around seem relaxed and timid during the daytime. Yet, at night, they bark to no end. I asked our driver if he heard the barking, and he said no. I, on the other hand, wake up a few times every night to their barking sound. It reminds me of long night walks years ago when I was a soldier in the Israeli Army. Why do dogs bark? It might be fear, guarding instincts, or a call of longing.

Sangla, Chitkul and Kalpa

In India, when it comes to colors, more is better, much better. You can see it in many ways: the colorful women’s saris, the decorative trucks, the bright exterior house colors, and of course, the temples. The colors brighten up everything, including my mood.  

The distance from Chitkul Village to Tibet is 40 km, but no civilians are allowed to cross into China. I wonder how many are doing it without permission? Two elderly gentlemen told us that the road had first reached the village in 1966 and electricity only in 1979. The first white person they ever saw was an American hunter who came to the Chitkul with one porter when they were in the 5th grade (1959). They clearly remember this event with great excitement.

Indian people sometimes ask me, ‘What is your good name?’  I wonder about the origin of this expression. Regardless, I think it is a most gracious way to ask someone not only for their name but for their ‘good name.’

The mountain covered by mist behind Kalpa is regarded as the mythical home of Lord Shiva. It’s called Kinnaur Kailash