Wednesday, January 12, 2011


On offer is a panoramic 180 degree view of the Kinner range, appearing to be touching distance away 

When summers scorch the plains the prospect of running away to the mountains soothes. But it’s the thought of finding snow that tantalises, and how. A mission comes into focus. Bragging rights garner attention and animated conversation revolves around swirls of white, flakes of white and sheets of white. Schedules are made and aborted, till one fine day the smug white heat outside the door unbearably appears in sharp contrast to the white the mind has warmed up to. In the titanic clash of whites, one is the expected winner, and plans get firmed to finally set-out. If life’s joys lie in small things, chasing snow in summer is the god of small things.

Some mountains roads overtime have come to acquire cult status. Amidst that line-up are a few which qualify as classics on the sheer strength of name. The Hindustan-Tibet Road is one among those. Though officially stripped of that aura and austerely referred to as National Highway or NH 22, nothing has altered its charm for the traveller for whom it still promises the heady romance associated with surface voyages of yore. This highway, an accomplishment of perseverance in itself, runs through the heart of Kinnaur, one of the prettiest regions of Himachal, and apart from quenching the thirst for adventure leads to sun and snow locales, certainly a blissful thought during blisteringly hot conditions.

The 459-km route runs across the colonial-meets-chaos landscape of Shimla, rises up to the alpine-line of Narkanda, zig-zags past the apple orchards of Thanedar-Kotgarh, races through Rampur and a little ahead of Jeori (a diversion here leading to Sarahan), enters the scenic valley of Kinnaur. The shift in terrain from the twists and bends of Shimla’s green hills to the ruggedness of Kinnaur is quite stunning and the mountains appear like sculpted art. More than the destinations, the road becomes a point of discussion as it rapidly ascends and descends, at times precariously clinging to the edge and on occasions grandly zipping through dramatically-carved sheer rock. The River Sutlej is its steady escort and moody waters add another irresistible element of gaze in the already-stimulating mountain canvas. Nature has the ability to sparkle in every season and bursts of summer resplendence are brought in often by a brilliant lavender jacaranda peeping through dense conifers, wild roses cascading down a barren hillside, a flame of the forest in red profusion or the silver oak proudly presenting its mustardy-orange flowers. The colours sparkle and the contrasting mountains heighten the effect. 

During the initial stages of the onward journey through Kinnaur, a driver’s skills are tested often in encountering the appalling Wangtu-Karcham section, where hydel projects are works in progress and have ruined the terrain. An unexpected spell of rain does add to woes of this segment, but these are the sort of challenges mountain addicts thrive on, the successes in such moments adding to the bag of brag to be dug into often, long after the journey is over. The intermittently good-bad tarmac clears out a little before the uphill detour for Reckong Peo, the district headquarters of Kinnaur. The NH carries on to Sumdo and enters Spiti where it winds up at Kaurik, the Indian frontier which needs to be accessed on foot. For mission snow, though, you needn’t stretch yourself the full distance. A spectacle awaits at Kalpa, a destination 14 km ahead of Reckong Peo and 220 km from Shimla.

The drive up to Kalpa (9,051 ft) is impressive to say the least, with the pretty chilgoza or pine-nut tree (this region is said to produce the country’s best) lining the winding road and the whiff of snow drugging the air. The mountains play hide-and seek and the eyes stay peeled to spot the White. The road is flawless, the drive is smooth and a few mountain twists later when the vehicle halts the spectacular stuns. On offer is a panoramic 180 degree view of the Kinner Kailash range, appearing to be at touching distance. And it’s white. Snow-white! It looks magnificent against the brilliant blue of the sky and to use a clichéd expression ‘takes your breath away’. Often the actual lacks the beauty a picture-postcard conveys. Kalpa is real and utterly beautiful. Its postcard will never be a lie. The search for sun and snow is rewarded here, and magnificently so.

Kalpa is characteristically quaint and picturesque. It has lovely walking trails and friendly people with lyrical voices, typical kath-kuhni (walls built with alternating slabs of wood and stone) homes with gently sloping slate roofs, apple orchards in blossom running down the hills and a reigning quietude that’s interrupted only by the chirping of the birds or chants from temples and monasteries. These are features quite mountain-specific but are elevated to a new high by the glorious Kinner massif. As with all ‘Kailash’ suffixed mountains, this is also considered the legendary winter abode of Lord Shiva. His homes are in choice locales and at Kalpa he lets you savour a bit of that experience. Do make sure, though, that you strike a deal with the weather gods to keep overcast grey skies at bay and let the White reign. 

Published in India Today Travel Plus, Jan-Feb 2011

The HPTDC cottage has a vantage location. There are comfortable mod-cons within its aesthetic, traditional structure. You would need to demand the best, though (housekeeping being a bit jaded). 

Hail Shiva! This is one of his many 'Kailash' abodes. Spotting the Kinner Kailash peak in this pix is akin to finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.  

The sun does shine in Kalpa, adding a glisten to the snow and surroundings. On such days the clouds tip-toe away to reveal a shy blue sky.   


neena said...

Loved the pictures aas well as the intro to Kalpa. Mountains are an addiction !!

Anonymous said...

I don't like mountains much....but this looks beautiful in the pics....should be on the list of destinations to visit shortly:)