As I began to recollect my experiences based on my visits to the spectacularly beautiful Baspa Valley, I felt that a wholesome travel-post on this activity-rich area would warrant a longish description. To make the reading more meaningful, I now plan to introduce a hiking section on bNomadic so as to relate my trekking escapades and other adventures from this as well as other regions. The ensuing post talks about the travel wealth of the Baspa.
The Baspa Valley, also called Sangla Valley, conjures up images of the enormity of mountain ranges, comforting views, the richness of culture, forested faces higher up, agile fauna as well as friendly faces. The moment one takes the diversion along the Baspa River from Karcham, located at a distance of about 50 km from Rampur, on the dusty NH22 (formerly called Hindustan – Tibet Road) in the Satluj Valley, the magical spectacle of Baspa Valley begins to unfold itself. The calm Baspa River cleaving the gorgeous carpet of subalpine vegetation flanked by Dhauladhars to its left and Kinner Kailash range to its right, exhibits a spectacle which only comes closest to the place where God lives.
About 90km in length, the river happens to be the second largest tributary to mighty Satluj in Kinnaur. The road, 42km in length, connecting various settlements of the valley lies on its true right bank all the way up to village Chitkul, located at the other end. For the initial 18 km skirting Rutrang till the wide expanse of Sangla, the administrative headquarters of Baspa Valley, the road is narrow and treacherous in parts. As we inch ahead deeper into the valley from Karcham, the river Baspa adorns its calmer look. Legend has it that the race between Baspa and Satluj to reach Karcham first was responsible for the ferocity, now absorbed by the reservoir of power project, of Baspa downstream as it prepares to merge into the mighty Satluj. The myth is also related to the curious absence of chilgoza pines from the forests of Baspa valley.
Past the last bit of live slide area on the motorway, the hydroelectric power project of Sangla comes into view. With the main village of the valley, Sangla (2650m) spread on the right bank of Baspa, the valley region ahead acquires the shape of a bowl. It is believed that this part of the valley was once a sheet of water and from the general geological evidences present nearby, one would tend to believe it. The river gently meanders along in an expanded bed of sand and pebbles creating numerous channels. The terrain here is neatly laid out in fields and gardens of peas, beans, turnips, finest quality of potatoes as well as dotted with rural cottages. There are plentiful shaded groves of apricots, the recently introduced varieties of apples as well as walnuts that bless with a cool retreat.
Ever since the government had allowed visitors to Kinnaur, the area has been witnessing a continuous increase in travellers and tourists influx. From a village of not more than 50 families during the trade-route days, today, Sangla is fast bracing itself to cater to the needs of “touristy brigade”. Owing to its proximity to both Tibet (via Satluj Valley) and the “terrain of Hindu Gods” Garhwal (over the high passes), Sangla retains best of both worlds. Sangla used to be a meeting place for traders from Garhwal and Tibet. During those times, owing to the treacherous terrain of the HT road, the Baspa Valley used to be the preferred diversion for both travellers and traders to enter Kinnaur part of the Satluj Valley to reach Shipki La. The then Vicerine of British India, Lady Canning crossed the Dhauladhars through Rupin pass in 1860 to reach Kalpa.
Streaked with snow, the immense western clusters of the Raldang peak towering above the settlement of Sangla, reminds one of his presence in the vicinity of the colossal Himalaya. Looking up the slope one would notice the spread of the settlement of village Kamru located obliquely above Sangla. Commanding a wider view of the valley, Kamru (2770m) is home to the most striking monument of the Baspa Valley – the Fort of Kamru Narayan. The pathway to the Fort-cum-temple complex of Kamru branches off the valley road near the PWD facility at Sangla. Although, the complex was said to have been recently renovated, entry inside the Fort was still not allowed owing to its dilapidated state. Past the superbly carved main entrance, the tiled courtyard houses an ancient shrine devoted to Kamakhya Devi, the Durga’s incarnation in Assam as well as a small Buddhist temple. The presence of olden mani walls and chortens in the settlements of Sangla confirms the decided presence of Buddhism, along with Hinduism, in the valley. The presiding deity of Sangla is Nag Devta.
The portion of the valley from Kamru right up to the fields of Chitkul at the other end of the motorable road retains some of the most memorable Himalayan sights. The road passes through Rakcham (3115m), 12 km further up from Sangla, and Chitkul located at a distance of 12 km towards the head of the valley. The Baspa here rolls smoothly on pebbles with a gentle murmur, or rushes with rapidity in a narrow stream creating tiny islands full of wild berries, surrounded by blue pines, willows, hazel and sweet briar, etc.
The village Chitkul (3450m) is the last and the highest village in the valley. Owing to the increasing tourist activities, a few guesthouses and hotels have now sprung up in this otherwise a sleepy village. The village houses an olden temple complex dedicated to Mathi Devi, its presiding deity, said to be a consort of Kamru Narayan. The view from the village would remind one of trans-Himalayan mountain-scape. The verdant cultivation, or now and then scantily wooded with a few stunted pines, is strongly contrasted with the barren faces of rugged rocks on either hand which present naked and impracticable crags frowning in a terrific forms.
The grandeur of the mountain-scape offers fresh perspectives on the return journey as well. Impressed by its richness, Capt Gerard, one of the first to record a visit to Kinnaur, wrote in his book Account of Kunawoor, “this is the most romantic of the Himalayan valleys and it is difficult to imagine a more beautiful spot”. Later logs have been equally full of praise about the beauty and magnanimity of this valley.
Not only for its sheer beauty, the Baspa Valley is known for its skilled wood and metal craftsmen. Apart from fruit and veggies, the valley is also popular for trout farming, particularly near the flat valley bed around village Batseri. In terms of travel lure, Sangla valley is a paradise for Himalayan lovers and photoartists as well as trekkers. The most popular of all trails is the day hike up to Sangla village pastures known by Sangla Kanda. Another popular hike is the easy walk up to Nagasthi, the last Indian outpost in the valley towards border. The valley also happens to be on the route of Kinner Kailash parikarma. For the expert ones, the most popular option is Chitkul to Har-ki-doon or Harsil trek. A few frequented passes around Sangla valley are Charang, Rupin, Khimloga, Lamkhaga, Borasu, etc. Foreigners would, however, require permissions from the concerned authorities to crossover a few of these passes.
The valley offers ample accommodation avenues for backpackers or holidaymakers. However, my favourite would remain the PWD or the furnished HPSEB guesthouses. Built in 1908, the spacious British-era Forest RH is located amidst a thick forest across the river near Sangla. The preferred route from plains, to reach Sangla, would be Chandigarh – Shimla – Theog – Narkanda – Rampur – Jeori – Karcham – Sangla. Narkanda would be an ideal night-halt.
Average Altitude: 2800m
Best time to visit: Spring and autumn
Travel Lure: Landscape and wooded trails
Accommodation: Limited but usually available