Location: 235 kms from Shimla in North-East Corner of Himachal Pradesh
Climate: Summers are pleasant while winters are too cold.
Places to See: Sangla Valley, Ribba, Reckong Peo, Chitkul & more.
Best Time to Visit: April to October
Kinnaur is one of the twelve districts in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India. Also known as the “Land of Fairytales”, Kinnaur is a beautiful region dominated by splendid mountains, green valleys, meandering rivers, orchards and vineyards. This second least populous district of the state is accessible only via the Old Hindustan-Tibet Highway to rest of the country. Kinnaur shares its eastern border with Tibet, and the Tibetan influence is evident in its culture.
Kinnaur consists of three high mountains ranges, namely, Zanskar, Greater Himalayas and Dhauladhar, including valleys of Sutlej, Spiti, Baspa and their tributaries. It is divided into two main valleys, Sangla Valley (also referred as Baspa Valley) and Hangrang Valley, and three administrative areas, Pooh, Kalpa, and Nichar. Its valleys are outstandingly beautiful, with slopes smeared in thick forests, orchards, fields and scenic villages. Kinnaur also houses the highly revered 4,573-meter-high Kinner Kailash Mountain that has 79-feet high vertical rock formation, resembling a Shivalinga.
According to the sacred Hindu texts of Puranas, the people of Kinnaur are considered as halfway between men and gods. Some of the other legends from Mahabharata say that Kinnaur has been a major place of stay for Pandavas during their period of exile. As per the provable history, Kinnaur was a division of the erstwhile princely state of Bushair. Later, it was under the control of various invaders and finally, under the influence of the British. The various forts, which are even present today, are exemplary of the times that this region had witnessed. The mixed culture and traditions of various dominances and nearby regions can be seen here.
Climate in Kinnaur
Kinnaur is a mountainous area, ranging in altitude from 2,320 to 6,816 meters above sea level. It essentially observes temperate climate attributable to its high elevation, with long winters from October to May, and short summers from June to September. Spring season is observed during April and May, while September and October are reserved for Autumn. Only the lower parts of the Sutlej Valley and the Baspa Valley get monsoon rains, while the upper parts are considered to be arid regions and fall mainly in the rain-shadow area. Since winters are extremely cold here, the best time to visit Kinnaur is during the months of April till October.
Tourist Attractions in Kinnaur
Kinnaur is a laid-back region that has been bestowed with beauty by the Mother Nature. It makes a great place to unwind and rejuvenate, away from the bustling cities. Kinnaur and its adjoining valleys are well-known for trekking and other adventure sports. One of the most popular trekking trails is Parikarma (revolution) of Kinnar Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. Some other famous trails are Bhaba Valley and Sangla Valley. Rupi Bhaba Sanctuary is a great place for nature lovers, located on the banks of Sutlej River close to Rampur Bushahr in Kinnaur. It is one of the prominent sanctuaries with a great diversity of flora and fauna. Still, if you want to explore, there are numerous places of tourist interest.
Sarahan is a small hamlet that tourists can visit on their way to Kinnaur. This village is known for housing the Goddess Bhimakali Temple. The temple is made of timber and stones. It is dedicated to the goddess Bhimakali (the local version of Kali).
Located at an altitude of 2670 meters, Reckong Peo – also the headquarters of the Kinnaur district – is located at a distance of 260 kms from Shimla. It is a great place to enjoy the striking view of the Kinner Kailash Mountain. Peo is known mainly for its apple orchards, along with the stately deodars and the fresh scent of pine trees.
Kothi, also called Koshtampi, is a small ancient village just below Kalpa. It is about 3 kms from Reckong Peo. Like other places of Kinnaur, Kothi is also marked by fields, fruits trees as well as vineyards, offering a beautiful landscape. It is also known for a temple dedicated to the Goddess Chandika Devi, which is highly revered by locals here.
Kinnaur Kailash, locally called Kinner Kailash, is a 6050-meter high mountain – sacred for both the Hindus and the Buddhists. The Kinnaur Kailash Range borders the Kinnaur district in the south and is marked by the Kinnaur Kailash (6050m) and Jorkanden (6473m) peaks. Jorkanden is the highest peak in the Kinner-Kailash range; it can be easily seen from Kalpa. The Kinnaur Kailash trek is called Kinnaur Kailash Parikrama and is up to the Shiv Lingam. It is said to be one of the most difficult pilgrim treks. The trek, or parikrama, starts from Tang Ling village and finally finishes in Sangla on the other side of mountain. One other trek route, comparatively small and easy, also begins from Tang Ling village and reaches to the top of Shiv Lingam (4640m).
At an average elevation of 2,960 metres, Kalpa is about 265 kms from Shimla at the base of the Kinnaur Kailash range. It takes about half an hour to reach Kalpa from Reckong Peo (14 kms). Kalpa is a small heritage village in the Sutlej river valley, famous for its apple orchards, pine-nut forests and temples. Sapni Fort is an archeological attraction situated in Sapni Village near Kalpa. This seven-storey high fort is an epitome of architectural grandeur. On its fifth floor, there is a temple dedicated to Goddess Kali. It offers an amazing view of the Kinner Kailash range and the village. Another attraction is the Narayan-Nagani Temple, which is an excellent example of local craftmanship. Kalpa also has a number of Buddhist monasteries including the Hu-Bu-Ian-Car Gompa, which is believed to be founded by Rinchensang-Po (950-1055AD). Kalpa is still not commercialized and that’s why, it doesn’t have any fancy hotels or restaurants. Though there is no dearth of stunning views and surroundings to soothe your soul.
Khab is a small tranquil village located in the Sutlej river valley close to the India-Tibet border. Located at the confluence of Sutlej and Spiti rivers (also known as Khab sangam), Tashigang Gompa is an ancient Buddhist monastery accessible from Khab.
Shipki La Pass
Shipki La is a major mountain pass and border post for trade with China, other being Nathu-La in Sikkim and Lipulekh in Uttrakhand. The river Sutlej enters India (from Tibet) through this pass. Located close to the town of Khab, Shipki La is an offshoot of the ancient Silk Road and is one of the highest motorable passes in the world at an altitude of 5669 metres. This border is presently used only for small-scale local trade across the border.
At an elevation of 3048 meters, Namgya is located on the left bank of the Satluj river – about 2 kms above the confluence of Spiti and Satluj. Namgya is the closest village from the Indo-China border. It’s the last trading village in the area and passageway to Western Tibet (Shipki La Pass is just 13 km from here). It is surrounded by appalling barrenness and desolation. However, there are fields of barley, buckwheat, turnips, apricots and vines on the other side of the river close to the habitation. Lagang Temple is a famous Buddhist temple, which is a must-visit place.
Pooh, locally pronounced Spuwa, is one of the administrative areas and is 71 kms from Reckong Peo. Located above the NH-22, this village is dominated by green fields, vineyards, apricots, almond and grape orchards.
At an elevation of 3150 meters, Nichar is a notable village situated between Taranda and Wangtu on the left bank of Satluj River, about 5 kms above Wangtu. It’s primarily known for being one of the administrative areas, apart from its naturally beautiful landscape.
Bhaba Valley is a picturesque valley (with altitude ranging from 1483 to 5500 meters), situated along the Bhaba River. It’s a great trekking destination for which trek starts from Wangtu and a road turns off to Kafnu. The trek meanders through single crop fields of Mastrang and a mixed forest of conifers, taking through little clearings of potato and buckwheat till it reaches the meadows of Mulling (3350 meters). It offers scenic splendors with stunning landscapes and picturesque surroundings, comprising dense forests and lush green flower strewn meadows. Bhabha Valley, in a nutshell, is a heaven for nature lovers.
Sangla Valley, or the Baspa Valley, is a beautiful region that extends from Karcham till Chitkul. The valley is exceptionally beautiful; on the left bank of the Baspa River are snow-clad mountains, while on the right bank are apple orchards and wooden houses. Sangla is the major town in the valley, surrounded by forested slopes. The Baspa River flows through the Valley, which is loaded with apple orchards, apricot, walnut, Cedar trees, and glacial streams. The main villages in the valley are Chitkul, Rakcham, Batseri, Themgarang, Kamru, Chansu, Buraa, Shong, Kilba and Sapni. This region is known for growing the best quality apples in the world. Sangla Valley remains closed for six months during winter (from December till May) due to heavy snowfall. Sangla is accessible from Karcham where the old Indo-Tibet road connects the NH-05.
Sited on the banks of Baspa River, Chitkul is the last and highest village of the Sangla Valley. It is the last inhabited village on the old Hindustan-Tibet trade route. Chitkul is around 28 km from Sangla and 40 kms from Karcham. It is about 6-hour drive from Reckong Peo, passing through some of the most dangerous roads of the world. On the way, there are small villages namely, Roghi, Sangla and Rakcham. Chitkul is the last point in India where one can travel to without a permit. It is world famous for its fine quality potatoes. It’s primarily known for its scenic beauty, wooden-roof houses, a local goddess Mathi Temple and a Buddhist temple. The Kagyupa Temple is highly revered for its old image of the Shakyamuni Buddha, a Wheel of Life mandala and four Directional Kings on the door. ‘Hindustan Ka Aakhiri Dhaba’ is a frequently visited stop-over for tourists coming here.
Kamru is a scenic village located in the Sangla Valley, at an altitude of 2,700 meters. Once an ancient capital of the Bashahr principate, it is well-known for housing the oldest fort of Himachal Pradesh. Kamru Fort is a tower-like fort that has shrines dedicated to Lord Badrinath and Kamakhya Devi.
Rakcham is a beautiful quaint village enroute Chitkul from Sangla (14 kms). It’s a place for a quiet holiday, with snow-clad mountains, Deodar trees and pines all around. You can also indulge in an 8-km trek (takes about 3-4 hours to and fro) to Rakcham Glacier, which is altogether a great experience. Here all you see is beautiful sights of nature’s bounty. Rakcham Chitkul Sanctaury is a popular attraction located between Sangla Valley and Chitkul. At an altitude of 5500 meters, this is one of the major wildlife reserves in Himachal Pradesh. It is spread over an area of 34 sq km and is a delight for the trekkers and nature lovers.
Hangrang Valley is the second largest valley (first being Sangla) sited along the border of Kinnaur with Spiti and Tibet. It comprises of eight towns, namely, Nako, Chango, Leo, Hango, Shalkar, Sumra, Yangthang and Malling. It is least populated because of its rugged geography. Nako and Chango are its biggest towns as well as the passageways to this valley. Hangrang Valley is stony and spiked. Further, scanty rainfall becomes an additional reason for its barrenness. Since cultivation is difficult here; a large proportion of the population depends on animal husbandry for its livelihood. Almost every village is found near a rivulet that provides water to the locals. Chuling is the smallest village of Hangrang Valley, just before Hango Village. Hango is a beautiful village that makes an amazing place for trekkers. Leo village lies beside the Spiti River and is famous for its green velvet apple orchards. Nonetheless, Hangrang Valley is famous among trekkers of all sorts.
Chango is the most populated village out of the eight towns of Hangrang Valley. It is watered by two perpetual rivulets. Chango is famous for the Willow trees, which are locally called the “Changma” tree. Probably, Chango is named after this tree itself. Tirasang Sanctuary is a famous attraction, dedicated to Lord Padmasambhava.
At an altitude of 3625 meters, Nako is a scenic village located close to the Indo-China border with Reo Purgyal (highest mountain in Himachal Pradesh) as its backdrop. It is about 3 kms above the Hangrang valley road and is 119 kms from Kalpa. With amazing surrounds, Nako is a great place for nature lovers and trekkers in Upper Kinnaur. It is the highest village in Hangrang valley, famous for its Nako Lake and Nako Monastery. Though Nako Lake is almost vanished, Nako Monastery is a nice attraction and is one of the oldest monasteries in the trans-Himalayan region. Nako also has a rock with imprints of the legendary Guru Padmasambhava. Nako also serves as the base for the trek to Pargial Peak and is on the way to the Thashigang Monastery, where an image is believed to grow hair. Though new concrete and tin structures are getting constructed to expand the infrastructure for tourists, Nako still has a traditional charm of its beautiful wood, lime and stone made houses.
Moorang is a small village located on the left bank of river Satluj in the Middle Kinnaur. It is about one and a half hour drive from Reckong Peo (33 kms). It is basically famous for its Moorang Fort, which is about 40 kms from Kalpa. Moorang is linked with the Dwapar Yuga; this Fort is believed to be built by the Pandavas during their period of exile. Located on a hill, Moorang Fort is surrounded by mountains on three sides and by river Sutlej on the fourth side. To reach the Fort, you need to hike on the steep hill. Moorang Fort is a square structure, made up of wood and stone, and is a group of tall and small buildings. Unlike other forts, it does not have the fortifications. Lipa-Asrang Sanctuary is a must-visit attraction, near Moorang. With elevation ranging from 4,000 to 5,022 meters, this sanctuary is spread over an area of 30.89 sq km. It has an amazing variety of flora and fauna. One needs to take prior permission to explore this sanctuary.
At an altitude of 3745 meters, Ribba or Rirang is another large populous village located about 14 kms from Moorang and 25 kms from Reckong Peo. It is found between the villages of Purbani and Rispa, on the northern side of the Kinner Kailash. Ribba along with Rispa are famous for their grapes orchards and locally-made wine called Angoori.
Accommodation – Hotels/Resorts in Kinnaur
Kinnaur has got various places to stay which offer the best of hospitality to their guests. Here you can find different categories of hotels, most of them are centered in regions like, Sangla, Kalpa, Rakchham, and Nako. In smaller areas, there are many small-scale hotels, guest houses and homestays which treat their guests with utmost love and care. In fact, there are numerous restaurants in major towns which serve scrumptious meals.
How to Reach Kinnaur
Shimla Airport, at Jubarhatti, is the nearest airport at a distance of 235 kms from Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh. However, Dehradun Airport (Uttarakhand) is about 154 kms from Kinnaur. From both the airports, buses and taxis are available to reach the destination.
Kalka Railway Station is the nearest railhead about 356 kms from Kinnaur. After getting down at the station, you need to board buses which run at regular intervals. Otherwise, you can hire taxis to reach Kinnaur.
Kinnaur is best accessible by road. It is well-connected by road with cities like Shimla (235 kms), Chandigarh (350 kms) and Delhi. NH-22 connects Kinnaur with rest of the country. However, the road remains closed for six months due to heavy snowfall in the region. Himachal Pradesh Transport Corporation runs many buses to different parts of Kinnaur.