Travelogue : In the lap of Himalayas – Chitkul | Sangla Valley

I feel sad for those who plan to explore the most beautiful state of Himachal only to end up visiting Shimla or Manali. What a lost opportunity to experience the the real beauty of Himachal which lies in locations beyond these popular towns. Have been fortunate to visit them few years ago, a first hand experience of these  amazing places which are unheard of by many.

Stevan Noronha - Chitkul-Sangla

Through this post I intend to share more about the true beauty of Himachal so that next time you consider them as well. The picture above is of small village in Himachal  called Chitkul – The Last Inhabited Indian Village of India.

 

Period

I had never heard of Chitkul until then. But always wanted to visit Himachal. I think it’s one of the most scenic states in India. Friends recommended the more regular options  of  Shimla or Manali for the trip. But I always preferred visiting locations which go beyond the obvious. Destinations which have been far less travelled.

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And that’s how during some preliminary research,  came across the town of Chitkul – the last inhabited Indian Village on the Indo-Tibet border – part of the the Sangla Valley. It’s the last point in India where one can travel without a permit. In fact, none of the popular forums including the online bible for travel – Trip Advisor list this place in its top 16 locations to visit in HP. The sheer beauty of this place i saw online through pictures  and blogs  made me firm up my decision to visit Chitkul.

Just to give you the feel of this place here is one of the pics.

  Stevan Noronha | Chitkul

And so I planned this 5 days quick stopover to Chitkul. Would go on to add that it was one of the best experiences I had ever been to hence this became my first post on travel. This was also a solo trip, so the experience was all the more special.

 

Stevan Noronha Blog | Chitkul | Sangla | Himachal


Since Chitkul is situated in one of the most remote areas in Himachal, had stopovers at Sarahan and Kalpa to avoid straining  with too much travelling. The following information is for my trip which I undertook in 2009 so few things would have changed but am sure the beauty of the location would  still be intact and this place should be one of the ‘must go to’ locations for all.

Stevan Noronha Blog | Chitkul | Sangla | Himachal

Reaching Chitkul – Sangla Valley 

Reaching Chitkul is not very easy , though now it would be much less strenuous.  Still it does involve lot of travelling.  The closest airport is Chandigarh or you can even travel from Delhi but thats further away.

Regarding Transportation

I had hired a car for the entire journey as thats how you can really make this journey fun. You will pass through so many small villages enroute and having your own vehicle gives you the freedom to stop and enjoy the local culture. Yes  transportation would be a big part of the tour cost  but its worth every penny since you would be spending a lot of time travelling in HP and in extreme road conditions

Stevan Noronha Blog | Chitkul | Sangla | Himachal

I strongly believe that having good relations with your driver is of utmost importance when taking a long trip which involves this kind of travelling. He  can really make your experience memorable by sharing local knowledge . Mostly they are reserved but if you can open them up you are in a for a surprise  Treat him as your friend and they will do that extra bit for you. Sometimes its not just about money , its about respect that makes him do that something more for you.

Stevan Noronha Blog | Chitkul | Sangla | Himachal

From Chandigarh its a 16 hours journey if you want to travel without break to reach Sangla Valley ( just 30-45 mins before Chitkul) . But I preferred to break the journey into 2 parts to make it more relaxing . I had a stopover at Sarahan . A bit about stay in Himachal

Stay in Himachal

I think the best part about Himachal apart from the beautiful locations are their hotels. HPTDC is almost always the preferred choice as they have the best locations for all their properties. Just take a look at one of their properties pictures. Can you believe the view they offered from their rooms which cost less than 2k per day. Rooms were neat and tidy and basic at their best but it was the breathtaking locations and the view which made it memorable.

   

Stevan Noronha Blog | Chitkul | Sangla | Himachal

One can easily do an online booking using HPTDC website  Some of their properties even have  driver domitonary for additional fees.

Food was safe and hygienic . In fact during travel to Himachal a safe option would be to have food at one of the HPDTC restaurants, you cant go wrong there!

I highly recommend Sarahan for a night stopover enroute Chitkul. Its a nice entry point to Himachal much quieter and more beautiful than Shimla. Sarahan is known as the gateway to the Kinnaur region the most scenic in Himachal Pradesh. This location is famous for the Bhimkali temple. The temple was located  right next to the HPTDC hotel. You can take lovely morning walks and its a great beginning to your HP trip. Post an overnight stay at the HPTDC resort in Sarahan I proceeded my onward journey to Sangla.

Stevan Noronha Blog | Sarahan | Himachal

Stevan Noronha Blog | Sarahan | Himachal | Bhimkali

As i reached close to Sangla Valley and further away from Shimla,  could see a dramatic change in the landscape, there were fewer people, definitely very few tourist and that is when it really began to get special. The Sangla Valley is covered with dense forest trees with views of the Himalayan range. Earlier one could not enter the Sangla Valley without special permit due to it being close to the Indo Tibet Border.

Stevan Noronha Blog | Sangla | Chitkul | Himachal |

Since Chitkul did not have a HPTDC hotel, after lot of research I had booked myself at Banjara Camp Resorts at Sangla.

Banjara Camp Resorts 

Could have never imagined to  experience a thorough professional service at such a remote location. Although i stayed in HPTDC hotel at Sarahan, for Chitkul there were no options and  I did not want to experiment too much as most of them looked very basic. What else can you expect when its inhabited by hardly 600 people  Thats when i read about the Banjara Resort. These guys are well known for arranging adventure tours in HP this is one of Banjara Resorts finest properties.

 

Stevan Noronha Blog | Sangla | Chitkul | Himachal | Banjara Resort

Considering what I paid in other hotels in HP , they were very expensive . So was a bit hesitant. But my inital conversation with the staff changed that perception. Not only was she well informed but she promised me that I would be able to experience something real special at the Resort. And she was not wrong.

The location of the resort is truly special . Its right in the middle of nowhere, in a remote location @ Sangla Valley, with no sign of civilization. There is the Himalayan range on one side, dense trees on the other,  the icy river bapsa flowing behind the resort. It was all too special.

The view of the resort from the road on top was really great.

Stevan Noronha Blog | Sangla | Chitkul | Himachal | Banjara Resort

The entire resort had 12-14 Swiss cottages which were well furnished. Each had individual bathrooms attached. There was also a building where one could take accommodation.  I preferred to stay in the cottage for the experience.  I arrived at the resort at about 4 pm and it began to drizzle a bit. The overall atmosphere was very pleasant.

Here are some pictures of the Banjara Camp resort.

Stevan Noronha Blog | Chitkul | Sangla | Himachal | Banjara Resort

Stevan Noronha Blog | Chitkul | Sangla | Himachal | Banjara Resort

Stevan Noronha Blog | Chitkul | Sangla | Himachal | Banjara Resort

It was very professionally managed. The staff was courteous and attentive and quick to assist. The common area had a reading library which stocked books and magazines. The food was in-house and was decent. They had fixed timings for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner.

I spend hours literally walking around the resort without ever getting bored. My favorite location was next to the Bapsa river behind my cottage. With not a soul in sight the entire experience including  the sound of the waves, birds chirping, light breeze  and  being there  right in the middle was  magical, cant put in words but can only be experienced. And i had not even reach Chitkul yet!

Stevan Noronha Blog | Chitkul | Sangla | Himachal | Banjara Resort

It became very cold during the night with temperature falling to almost 5 degrees . And we were in  May. I had carried some Old Monk which served me well for the night. Had the most amazing evening that day even though I was all alone.

The next morning, after breakfast i left early for Chitkul, it was a beautiful sunday morning, bright and sunny. It was a 45 mintues ride.  Managed to click many pictures of locals on the way. Lots of kids who were enjoying their break

Stevan Noronha Blog | Chitkul | Sangla | Himachal

Chitkul was a another out of the world experience  The population is hardly around 600 people. I took a walk around the village just to experience their living condition. The locals were very happy bunch and they felt great that there are tourist now who come. These locations are blocked for almost 6 months from October to February due to heavy snowing.  Here are some of the pics.

Stevan Noronha Blog | Chitkul | Sangla | Himachal

Hardly few kms away was the Tibet border and there was a large stretch of no mans land which is manned by the Indian armed forces. Managed to click some nice pictures with help of some local kids. Made a few friends along the way.

Stevan Noronha Blog | Chitkul | Sangla | Himachal

Stevan Noronha Blog | Chitkul | Sangla | Himachal

Stevan Noronha Blog | Chitkul | Sangla | Himachal

After 2 hours of expedition i returned back to Banjara Resort. My driver who has been driving for almost 20+ years in Himachal actually thanked me for going to Chitkul as he himself had never come this far. Post lunch that afternoon i left Chitkul to reach another interesting location, Kalpa

Kalpa is a small town in the Sutlej river valley in the kinnaur district. This location had the most awesome views of Kinnar Kailash. One feels as if he is in the midst of the mountains.  You can also see the shivling rock on the kailash mountains. The time when I reached it was drizzling a bit so the climate was just great.

Stevan Noronha Blog | Kalpa | Himachal

I had stayed in the Kinner Kailash Resort of HPTDC and it was a great choice. Here are some of the pictures of the same

 

Stevan Noronha Blog | Kalpa | Himachal1

 

Stevan Noronha Blog | Kalpa | Himachal2


Stevan Noronha Blog | Kalpa | Himachal3

The final day i did my mandatory stop over at Shimla as i did not want to travel directly from Kalpa  to Chandigarh and tire myself before the flight.

Shimla was as expected, hot, crowded and had the usual popular destination syndrome. I spent some time in the market but everything was so noisy and commercialized that I missed the basic relaxed life of Chitkul. I wished to have stayed a few more days at Chitkul.

The next morning i headed back to Chandigarh and flight back to Mumbai.

Its been almost 5 years since I had been to Sangla Valley but the experience is still fresh in my memory. Probably it is one of those special destination which you cant let go of.  I wanted to share this wonderful place with as many travelers as possible. Don’t miss it during this lifetime!

If i can be of any help do let me know you can mail me Stevan.noronha@gmail.com

Until my next travelogue. Goodbye.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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11 thoughts on “Travelogue : In the lap of Himalayas – Chitkul | Sangla Valley

  1. There is still more ahead after sangla valley you can go to kaza ,which is nearly 250 km from Recong pio which is the headquarter of sangla it is cold desert just like laddakh but very beautiful open only between may to Oct
    I had been there in 2013 may

  2. Dear Steven Sir,
    Yesterday i was travelling on a train to Mumbai, seated next to me were loco pilots of central railway and they were chatting about there trip to Sangla and Kinnar Kailash and it was then i heard the places like Chitkul, Kalpa, Sangla, Rekong peo. Usually i keep to myself during travelling, taking in the sights outside. But this time i could not resist to talk after hearing the verbal travelouge of those lucky chaps who had been to such a beautiful place. They were kind enough to share their experience. Next i consulted google and came across your travelouge. I felt as if i was travelling with you. Thanks for the great write. Will certainly plan a trip there.
    Sandeep Patwardhan

  3. I was travel to all these location mentioned above and found amazing natural beauty. Best part is very few tourist travel to these place. Kalpa and Chitkul is best.

  4. Hi, my name is Devyani.

    I am planning a solo trip to Himachal Pradesh in January. Like you, I didn’t want to go to places frequented by people in HP.

    That’s when, I stumbled on your article. Wanted to ask you a few things..
    1. Is it safe for women to travel alone to Chitkul or Kalpa?
    2. What was your budget 5 years back?
    3. How many days should the trip last for?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Stevan,
      I am thinking rather I am sure to travel kalpa-sangla-chitkul.I am too from Mumbai-solo-traveller and will be taking flight to Chandigarh.
      The only thing is I can accommodate my plans in January only.Though its little tough but the roads are usually open.
      I just hope that you can help me with car rental services.It would be great if you have any idea how much it will cost me. I will start from kullu and I am planning to cover till chitkul and return to Kullu in 4-5 days.It would be very generous if you share any contact details of the car services plying there.HRTC buses are safe but imagining a big vehicle steering on those roads in january worries me a little.
      Please let me know if you have any suggestions that how I should plan the night stays with any decent reasonable hotels.
      Thanks Sir.I really appreciate what you achieved in your life by that trip of which I am only in planning stage,

  5. Did the same journey with my wife on 17th/18th 19th September 2015. Of course we continued onward to Nako, Tabo, Kaza, Manali (via Kunzum La pass) and back to Shimla in a 9 day trip. The first part of our trip which is common to yours was most rewarding though the higher areas had a charm of their own.

    Sarahan had apples, pears and walnuts on the trees. Unfortunately the Tragopan Breeding Centre was closed. The HPTDC hotel had a lovely large specimen of light pink hydrangea growing. We saw the Bhimkali temple, the market and an apple grading machine at work. Photographed the Srihind Peak (5221m) on the Srihind Range that divides the Sutluj from the Beas Rivers.

    We stayed at the Prakash Resedency Hotel (that had a lovely apple orchard) in Sangla, saw the Kumru Temple and drove past the Banjara Resorts at Raksham to Chitkul. Past huge boulder fields, buckweat plots and apple plantations intercropped with pink Buckwheat.

    We crossed the Baspa on the Bailey Bridge below Chitkul, walked 2 km past low spreading Junipers, yellowing leaved Pines, yellow leaved Birches on the hillsides and white capped Redstarts sunning themselves on the riverside stones. We then recrossed the Baspa at the Bailey Bridge and walked through the Chitkul village. Wagtails were seen aplenty. We even saw three Red Billed Choughs on top of a house in Chitkul village and a pair of Rosefinch in the thickets between the houses. Had tea at the Chitkul Village Dhaba.

    Though we also stayed at the HPTDC Hotel but the Kinner Kailash Range was mostly hidden by cloud cover. Saw the Himalayan Goldfinch and plenty of Himalayan Greenfinch at the hotel outside the breakfast hall. Walked to the Kalpa village and saw Chulli fruit being dried on rooftops. The Buddhist Temple and Govt. School (children’s weekly midday meal menu on display).

  6. hi steven your blog was mind blowing ,planned a trip to chitkul this may .really excited going with my two kids one is 13 and the other one is 5 hope it goes well and i am from mumbai is it okay to travel with the kids.