Valley of gods

If Himachal Pradesh is called devbhoomi (land of gods), then the Sangla valley can rightly be called a heavenly abode, writes Sumitra Senapaty

Situated at about 10,000 ft, the Sangla valley is the place where Himachal Pradesh greets Tibet. The Chinese border is 30 km away. Sangla is a picturesque drive through winding mountain roads. The topography changes constantly with the Sutlej hurtling across the valley. Normally the first hint of snow-clad Himalayan peaks is visible near Karcham just 12 km short of the Sangla valley.

Carved wooden pillars support the tiny temple-fort of Kamru. Locals believe this ancient temple guards the valley from evil spirits
Carved wooden pillars support the tiny temple-fort of Kamru. Locals believe this ancient temple guards the valley from evil spirits

The valley offers a few camps, nestling on the banks of the Baspa river, in the backdrop of some dramatic peaks.

Sangla is the ideal hill getaway, to escape the dust and grime of the plains, to fish in a gurgling stream, and watch snow-capped peaks in the distance blending with the sky. Rarely have the paths of God and man crossed each other, as in this remote valley.

Tucked away in the craggy folds of the Himalayas, Sangla is a land that few people know about. Today, after centuries of being shrouded in mystery, the veil has been lifted, allowing tourists a chance to commune silently with nature and gods.

The picturesque Sangla lies on the banks of the enchanting Baspa river in Kinnaur district. Ringed by the high Dhauladhar ranges, Kinnaur lies on the ancient trade route, the old Hindustan-Tibet road linking India with Tibet.

Climbing the meadows at Sangla is the best way to melt the stress and enjoy breathtaking views of the Himalayas. Trekking buffs can chart out a course around Kinner Kailash, the mythical abode of Lord Shiva, to Sarahan or to a number of passes such as the Pin Parbati or Kaza. The 1,000-year-old Rekong Peo, known for the chilgoza forests, the Nako Lake and the Kalpa valley are just 55 km away and definitely worth a visit.

Sangla is the ideal hill getaway, with the valley offering a few camps, nestling on the banks of the Baspa river
Sangla is the ideal hill getaway, with the valley offering a few camps, nestling on the banks of the Baspa river

Long walks are perfect for discovering the valley that bursts with an amazing variety of rare herbs and spices, exotic fruits and flowers, birds, butterflies and the Himalayan wildlife. All of Kinnaur is literally dotted with apple orchards and the region boasts the best cider in the land. The Baspa river gushes through gorges, 900 metres deep in some places, breaking the silence of the valley. The river abounds in rainbow and brown trout and is an angler's delight. The adventurous could try their hand at river crossing or paragliding.

No visit to the region is complete without a trip to Sangla village, above which an amazing piece of architecture clings precariously to the mountainside. Beautifully carved wooden pillars support the tiny temple-fort of Kamru. This ancient temple has zealously guarded the valley's pristine dignity from evil spirits. So the locals believe. The main gate of Kamru village has an image of Buddha, whose blessing is sought before entering the fort. The weaponry remains locked through the year. The deities, bedecked in all their finery, are taken out only on festival.

Trekking is the best way to melt the stress and enjoy breathtaking views of the Himalayas that Sangla offers
Trekking is the best way to melt the stress and enjoy breathtaking views of the Himalayas that Sangla offers

The nearby village of Batseri is pretty clean, peaceful and well laid out. It is a progressive place, having a school, electricity and telephones. But these are only symbols of modernity. Batseri otherwise, is in a time wrap, with its paved pathways, slanting roofs of shale and women and children tending to agriculture. There are beautiful walks that take you to Sangla through the forest and by the river.

The land flattens out at Rakcham and there are green meadows and deodhars at ground level and one might find a beautiful place to sit just by the riverside.

Each visitor to Kinnaur has his or her favourite months. A few come in April and May when the mountain peaks are still covered with snow. While others prefer June when the snow has started melting and the mountain streams seem like silver streaks in the valley, the force and fury of the Baspa's water increasing by the day. Or in July you can take a trans-Himalayan safari through Spiti valley, the Kunzum pass and down to Manali or up towards Leh, Ladakh. August-September is absolutely mesmerising, too. It is a time when the fields are ablaze with the pink ogra flower and delicate apple blossoms and the emerald meadows are a riot of colours with Himalayan flowers punctuating the countryside.

A leisurely drive through Rakcham is another must. It is 20 km further up the valley to Chitkul, cradled in the lap of snow-clad mountains, the last village this side of the Indo-Tibetan border, with a population of just 430 persons.

The beauty of the Sangla is that its well-defined tracks or pathways are not restricting as impromptu picnics in the meadows are another option. Sangla can keep you spellbound for days on end with its spectacular scenery.

Fact file

Getting there: Sangla by road via Shimla, is 230 km away. Once you cross Narkhanda, the turbulent Sutlej keeps you company until past Rampur Bashir. Sarahan, at 7500 feet, can an enchanting overnight halt, en route to Sangla Valley. The ancient Bhima Kali temple, with its magnificent architecture is situated here. Sangla is 589 km from Delhi. If you are driving, essential spares and extra fuel are recommended. A jeep is a must for the mountain roads. 
Best season: The best time to visit the Sangla valley is between April and early November. 
Places to visit: Chitkul, Sangla meadows, Kamru Fort, Rakcham village, Batseri village, Sapni village and fort, Kilba, Naga temple 
Things to do: Trekking, white-water rafting, paragliding and angling in select areas. Equipment and porters can be arranged. Also the Baspa River at Sangla is teeming with trout. 
What to buy: Baskets of fresh apple, plum and peach from orchards





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