Tucked away in the south-eastern corner of Himachal Pradesh lies the Sangla Valley, part of the region of Kinnaur. The Valley, also known as the Baspa Valley, has been called the `most beautiful valley in the Himalayas’.
Stretching for 95 km, the Sangla Valley is watered by the Baspa river, which meets the Satluj at Karcham, and by several smaller streams and springs. The first 18 km of the valley are fairly narrow, with cedar, chilgoza pine and bhojpatra trees covering the slopes on either side. At Kupa, however, the valley opens up and widens into an unforgettably lovely vale, dotted with a pretty-as-a-picture villages, right up to Chitkul, beyond which habitation is almost nil.
The Sangla Valley stretches across what was once a glacier moraine but is today a gorgeous swathe of green, dwarfed by the surrounding mountains. The clear waters of the Baspa run between orchards of apple and apricot, through villages where the houses have exquisitely carved wooden doors and steeply sloped slate roofs; an area so amazingly lovely that the natives actually say that this is where the gods live.
1. Along the Sangla Valley (Sangla-Kamru-Rakcham-Chitkul): The `basic’ Sangla Valley trek, this trek follows the course of the Baspa River, from Sangla to Chitkul, the last inhabited village in the valley. Start the trek at the Sangla village, the largest settlement in the valley. Close to the village are two of the valley’s biggest attractions: the Kamru Fort and the saffron farm. Kamru village, about a forty-minute walk from Sangla, is an intriguing blend of Hindu and Buddhist religion: a Buddhist temple where a local mural combines the Buddhist Mahakala with the Hindu deity Hanuman is an interesting example of the native culture. Kamru is also home to an old fort, constructed from wood and stone and decorated with gabled roofs. On the outskirts of the village lies a saffron farm, considered better than the one in Pampore, Kashmir.
From Kamru, walk on, 14 km along the bank of the Baspa river, to the village of Rakcham. Rakcham is home to a pagoda-style temple decorated with fine wood carvings. The village has accommodation and dining facilities (although limited) and you can stay here for the night, before going on the next day to Chitkul.
Chitkul, 25 km from Sangla village, is the last settlement along the Baspa; it has a campsite and a PWD resthouse. Chitkul is a base for the Kinner-Kailash pilgrimage; trekkers can either go further on the Kinner-Kailash trek, or walk another 4 km to Nagasthi, the last Indian outpost before the Tibetan border. Note that foreigners are not allowed to go beyond Chitkul without a special permit.
2.The Kinner-Kailash Circuit (Morang-Thangi-Rahtak-Charang La-Chitkul-Sangla-Kamru-Shang-Brua-Karcham): The mountain of Kinner-Kailash (not the Mt Kailash, which is actually on the bank of the Mansarovar lake in Tibet) rises to a height of 6,437 mt, towering over the Satluj river. The annual Kinner-Kailash yatra is an important pilgrimage for thousands of devout Hindus and Buddhists, but hundreds of avid trekkers also do the trip, for less religious reasons. The trek, which is best accomplished in July or August, takes about a week, and starts at Morang, on the left bank of the Satluj. Morang lies north-east of Chitkul and is connected by road to Rekong Peo and Tapri. You can spend part of the first day exploring the old monasteries of Morang, before you proceed. The actual trek starts at Thangi, a short distance from Morang, along the gushing waters of the Turung Gad torrent.
From Thangi, walk 12 km up the valley to the village of Rahtak, where a tent can be pitched for the night. The next day is an arduous trek up to the 5,266 mt high Charang La Pass, after which the trail dips into the Sangla Valley. Follow the Baspa River to Chitkul, then make your way to Sangla village, stopping en route for a bit of sightseeing at Kamru. From Kamru, a trail leads, via Shang and Brua, through Karcham, up to Kinner-Kailash itself. The trek up the mountain takes a day in itself- or more, if you’re not in peak condition.
Note: The Kinner-Kailash trek is a difficult one, and it’s essential to have an experienced guide along; don’t try to attempt this on your own. Also, keep in mind the fact that this route passes through fairly uninhabited territory, so bring along adequate supplies and suitable equipment.
3.Chitkul-Doaria-Zupika Gad-Borsu Pass-Har ki Dun: This trek starts at the fag end of the Sangla Valley- at Chitkul- and heads eastward into neighbouring Garhwal, where it ends in Har ki Dun. Like the Kinner-Kailash trek, this one too is a fairly gruelling one and should be undertaken only with a good guide. The guide’s necessary not only because you might otherwise get lost, but also to help you get the permits which are essential to pass through the area.
The Sangla Valley-Har ki Dun trek starts at the village of Chitkul, at the end of the Baspa Valley, and continues across the river, up to the village of Doaria, from where the trail leads right, heading towards Garhwal. The trek then leads up to the Zupika Gad, and from there to the high Borsu Pass. Descending from Borsu, you’ll come, in a few days’ time, into the ethereally beautiful valley of Har ki Dun in Garhwal.
Precautions and Essentials:
Even though the Sangla Valley lies fairly close to India’s national border, no permits are required to visit the area. Don’t venture beyond the valley without a permit, though, as treks to Spiti and northern Kinnaur require an Inner Line Permit.
As far as packing is concerned, you’ll need to carry all the necessary equipment- tent, sleeping bag, cooking stove, fuel and the like. It’s also prudent to take along supplies of food, just in case you set up camp at a place away from the larger villages of the valley. It’s also recommended so that you don’t put an unnecessary strain on the rural economy of the valley, a subsistence economy which depends almost entirely on the local annual crop.
Adequate woollens must be packed, too: the Sangla valley is far enough north to be fairly cold even during the summers. Between June and September, make sure you’ve got a good raincoat, waterproof boots and extra clothing to cope with the frequent monsoon showers.
Good camp sites exist in the Sangla Valley, most of them close to the junction of the Baspa and Satluj rivers. Further on, in the larger villages of the valley- such as Sangla, Kupa and Chitkul- local guesthouses and small hotels are available. Usually comfortable, they’re a good option if you get sick of sleeping under the stars. In smaller villages, you might be lucky enough to find hospitable villagers who will let you have a room for the night, but be prepared to pitch a tent by the river or up on a slope.