There are times when you just need to stop and smell the proverbial flowers. Such stoppages are essential for your well-being, in life, and in the journeys that life consists of. Kalpa was one such stop for us.

Spiti was an amazing travel companion, taking us through mountains that were full of varied visuals and tremendous turns. From perilous roads, to acute aridity, and then to glorious greenery and ravenous ravines, meandering Spiti kept us mesmerised. Every single hour in that journey was a feast for the eyes.

After Sutlej (Shatadru for a lot of people) took over Spiti’s identity, the path became less wild, though equally enchanting. Khab Sangam, where Spiti met Sutlej, is a beautifully barren place featuring fantastic rock formations. If you so wish, you can see this short video. Stopping here is made mandatory by its marvellousness.

Two rivers have two distinct colours, Sutlej is darker

By the time we turned upwards from Powari, the landscape had become more populated – villages regularly interspersing less lonely stretches of the road. The clouds that had gathered over Nako kept us company throughout, giving the green a gleefully luxuriant look. After the rocky roads, this was serenely soothing. We were in Kinnaur, and Kinnaur, with all its fame for fabulousness, did not disappoint. We stopped for lunch at Rekong Peo. A drizzle had begun and a hasty, and quite testy, meal encouraged us to move on.

Kalpa was everything we had hoped for. Keeping three days there had raised a few travel-agency eyebrows. A lot of people like to shoot in and out (with mobile cameras these days, which is good enough I guess) and tick off the place from their lists, but we like to savour and relax. And of course, we had booked an expensive room to recover from the Kaza strain. Sight-seeing in Kaza demanded time, Kalpa did not. There is not much to “see” here. A few small temples, one Monastery, the suicide point (something that seems to be favourite with many hill stations), some orchards, and you are done. But we had kept three nights and we did not think a second of it as wasted. The Kinner Kailash, belonging to the HPTDC, is brilliantly located and gives a magnificent view of the entire range right from the rooms. Not only our Cozy Double bed (we were so impressed with the room, I made an amateurish video clearly presenting my childish delight, this is the link), but each room gives you a peek at the peaks.

When we arrived at the hotel it was raining quite enthusiastically. We enjoy rain in the hills.

The next day rain turned into snow. We happily experienced it from our cozy room. This was the first snow of the season and it was almost two months early. It was all romantic for us, but it wrecked havoc all around. There were many mudslides, landslides, roadslides, people stranded everywhere. And this did not happen only in Spiti and Kinnaur. It happened in the neighbouring Garhwal and Kumaon, and continued to happen all the way to the Shivaliks. Darjeeling lost many, Gangtok was disconnected. Kashmir faced quite a bit of chaos as Pir Panjal also joined the fray. The entire breadth of the Himalayas was protesting all that mayhem humanity is subjecting it to. Too many tunnels, too many dams, too many four lane roads – too much being done without any serious thought regarding the health of the hills. Development is demanded by the demographic, but there has to be coexistence. Just because the mountains seem silent, one should not accept it as consent. It does not mean they will not protest and fight back. We were thinking these thoughts and enjoying the snow, thanking the cosmos that we were not caught in the middle of the road. Of course, we were worried as we knew another day of snow would mean disaster. Cosmos cooperated, at night the snow stopped.

In the morning the entire range, full of fresh snow, was there in front of us.

Kinnaur Kailash was kind. We tried to locate which one was the much fabled peak. We had theories. Then all those were proven wrong and one of our hosts, Nihal Singh, pointed out the small peak with a protrusion.

Our host in the restaurant

Kinnaur Kailash is the smaller crest among the more mighty ones. We had initially thought that the largest peak might be the one. It was because this Mount looks like the Holy Kailash Mountain in Tibet (a trip that is firmly in my bucket list), but that is not at all so. The smaller bulge was the Kinnaur Kailash, as a large Lingam shaped rock is magically placed on the edge at the top. Needless to say that it is fascinating.

The following is a photograph from the internet. It will give you a better understanding of the phenomenon.

There are at least two more like that in the region. Quite fascinatingly one other lies on the other side of the lofty heads – it is called the Parvathy Peak.

The third one is to be found in another set of peaks; it can be seen from Sarahan. It is the Srikhand Mahadev peak. All these three have trekking trails and all of them are categorised as beyond tough. Anything that is even slightly un-easy is carefully curated out of my list, so I will not dream of visiting these holy rocks.

Kalpa is small; the village, sometimes called Chini, complements its smallness. It has a few old wood and stone houses which contribute to its fame. There is an old monastery and a lovely set of temples – including the impressive Chandika Devi Fort and a cluster of temples dedicated to different Hindu deities.

The view of the drop from Suicide Point
The local temple, apparently outsiders are not allowed to enter
The beautiful monastery
The awesome Chandika Devi Fort
The gate was intricately designed
The temple compound
The classic woodwork of HImachal Pradesh

What is most interesting here is the mingling of Buddhist icons with Hindu myths.

The whole excursion was more enjoyable as our friend and her mother, who we stumbled upon in Nako and who were unfortunately stranded in the rain for hours the earlier day, joined us. They are there in this video of one of the temple compounds. We dislike meeting un-likeminded people in our trips, but there is nothing like it when you come across people whose interests are quite alike.

The village is famous for its ancient wood and stone houses

This fusion of cultures is there in all the temples of this region. What is even stranger is the apparent absolute callousness with which ancient slabs of rock with carvings and writings have been scattered here and there, and often used as tiles in the reconstruction of the temples.

There must have been some pattern, but no one seems to have bothered to find out. The descriptions speak nothing of these inscriptions.

Konark faces a similar challenge, but the decay that salty air coming from the sea causes is absent here. It is appalling that these slabs have not been preserved with greater care.

The ‘site-seeing’ took about two hours. We spent the rest of the afternoon just watching the magnificent cliffs. The snowfall had made them even more brilliant. The colour of the snow changed gradually, from afternoon white to sunset golden, then evening red and finally the melancholy ivory of the dying day.

After having dinner at the delightful restaurant, we stood outside in the biting cold. The pale moonlight created a magical ambience. The silver peaks spoke of “magic casements” and land of dreams in which we are made to think of fairy lands forlorn.

For some reason humanity has always been fascinated by these mountains. To some, snow is sport; to some others the mighty mountains inspire a desire to “assault” and “conquer”; and to many of us, particularly in our part of the world, they inspire what Wordsworth had called “thoughts of more deep seclusion”. The mountains, as Thoreau said, allow us “to behold and commune with something grander than man”. Spirituality is defined differently in different parts of the world. 

Kalpa was one of the few places which had us so immersed that leaving it was a tad difficult. The hospitality we had received heightened the experience and our amazing hosts made everything so amazingly enjoyable. If Kinnaur calls again, Kalpa would surely be a part of our journey, even though we have miles left to go.

Earlier Posts:

1. Old Lucknow   2. Colonial Lucknow   3. Going Downhill - Versey to Dentam
4. Going to Garhwal  5. The Walkers  6. Palamau  7. Rishikesh
8. Kolkata Kolkata  9. The Roar of the Clouds - Santiniketan 
10. Of Pests and Men - Uttarey  11. Where Hikers Fear to Tread - Rudranath
12. Old Times  13. History in Ruins - Pushpagiri
14. Once There was a Heaven  15. Serenity  
16. Pilgrim's Progress - Kedarnath 17. Unfinished - Gaumukh 18. Ghatshila 
19. Nothing Important  20. Manu's Alaya - Manali  21. Santiniketan  
22. Little Lhasa - Dharamshala  23. From Varuna to Assi - Varanasi  
24. Tunganath  25. Transitory Blues  26. Gurudongmar  27. The Beginning  
28. Yumesamdong  29. Bangali in Bangkok  30. Mukutmanipur  
31. Rasvanti  32. The Old Town and the Sea   33. Budapest 
34. The Last Post of 2019 35. Travel Travails 36. Cluj-Napoça 
37. Presenting the Past  38. Far From the Urban Crowd
39. Silent Night Sleepless Night 40. Norwich 41. Photo Essay - The Road
42. Photo Story - The Days of the Goddess 43. Badrinath 44. Monumental Mistakes
45. Odyssey Now 46. To the Mountains 47. Keylong 48. Where Moon River is Born 49. Kaza 50. Through the Valley of Spiti

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