KINNAUR, the remote northeastern corner of Himachal Pradesh fringing the Tibetan Plateau, is a region of awesome grandeur. In the past, difficult terrain made Kinnsur inaccessible to all but the most intrepid of travellers, while in the 1950s, its proximity to the international border with Tibet resulted in restrictions on entry. However, these restrictions have been eased since 1992.
The variations in terrain, vegetation, climate and wildlife have broadly divided this region into Lower, Middle arid Upper Kinnaur. Lower Kinnaur hugs both banks of a gorge-like Satluj river. The left bank’s forested mountain slopes, contour-hugging terraced fields and tightly packed rows of houses clinging to the hillsides are picturesque in contrast to the right bank which is steeper, with higher peaks and a smaller population. Middle Kinnaur is much more rugged.
Dominating its heart are the majestic heights of the Kinner Kailash Range, while to its south is the gentler valley of the Baspa, one of the Satluj’s largest tributaries. The arid sweep of the Zanskar peaks makes Upper Kinnaur a cold desert country of stark, barren mountains interspersed with occasional villages and irrigated fields.
Rekong Peo, the new district headquarters, is a hustling little township on the right bank of Satluj river, with some shops and adequate transport connections. About 13 km (8 miles) higher up on the same mountain is Kalpa, the old headquarters. With its panoramic view of the Kinner Kailash Range, Kalpa is a must in any Kinnaur itinerary. The choice of walks include one to the upland pastures through deodar and chilgoza pine (Pinus gerardiana) forests.Some old temples can he seen in the nearby Chini village.
About 20 km (12 miles) from Rekong Pen, the Baspa river joins the Satluj at its left hank. The beauty of the Sangla Valley (or Baspa Valley) has been extolled both in local legend and by visitors over the years, and the region lends itself to a lovely trip by road.
Apart from a furious rush in its last stretch of its course, the Baspa river ambles along a wooded valley past serene villages. Stupendous gneiss faces and forests of deodar, pine and birch reaching up to long swards of pasture and snow-covered peaks surround the valley. Every village in this valley, from Sangla to Chitkul, offers glorious walks and a choice of festivals to celebrate with the local people.Buddhism holds complete sway throughout Upper Kinnaur. Fluttering prayer flags and mudwalled Buddhist temples with clay images and wall paintings dot the region, reflecting its proximity to Tibet. Many temples are credited to the 11th-century scholar Rinchen Zangpo, revered in Tibetan Buddhism as the Lotsawa (Translator), who initiated the mammoth task of translating Indian texts into Tibetan. He was also the main force behind a great temple-building movement and supposedly built 108 monasteries in one night.
Nako, 100 km (62 miles) from Rekong Peo, has a small lake and is close to Reo Purgyal, the highest peak in Himachal Pradesh at 6,816 m (22,362 ft).