– By Anjana Bose – Travel writer
The first time I travelled to Kalpa was in 2002 as a part of a project. It was not a leisure trip, but the experience was like no other.
The Kinnaur district was, at that time, reeling under the flash floods and landslides of 2000. We had started early from Shimla. After brief stoppages at Kufri and Narkanda, we reached Sarahan by early evening. The road till Sarahan was quite nice and we were accompanied by a clear sky, beautiful peaks and lovely company. We parked ourselves for the night there after visiting the Bhimkali temple. Though we were staying at the HPTDC hotel, our driver-cum-guide took us to a relative’s house nearby for dinner. We met a few locals here, heard some stories of bygone era and their dreams for the future. The hot home-cooked food was better than any hotel could have offered.
The next day, we restarted our journey towards Kalpa – Rampur, Karcham, Kalpa. The road started deteriorating after Rampur. Soon, there were only pebbles for road. We saw the locals and army working together to fix the roads and to ensure that travelers like us were guided properly. For most part of the route hereafter, the Sutlej was at par with us. We could see and feel the immense power the river had within itself. The road became quite perilous as we moved towards Karcham. We experienced a couple of instances of rock-slides. At some places the river overflowed on the roads making it slippery, but the feeling the splash of the river was unearthly. The cliffs hung dangerously at many places but looking at the sun through these peaks were some of the best sights I have seen. We reached Karcham towards the end of the day and felt thankful. At the back of our minds though, we knew, that this is the same road we must travel on our way back.
At Karcham, we got to know that a dam was under construction which will control the power of the Sutlej and generate electricity, part of which would be used to light up this region. There were sure signs of progress. But, the continuous use of heavy machinery and transportation by loaded trucks made the road more dangerous resulting in frequent rockslides. We also came to know that monsoons render the route extremely dangerous for the same reason. But, they promised the Karcham-Recong Peo road was in a better condition. Well, it was better but nowhere close to our comfort levels. One of the main bridges was washed away making travel very difficult. Frankly, there was more than one occasion when we wanted to turn back. But, there was no option for that – the only place the vehicle could turn back was Reckong Peo. Also, the scenic beauty around us forced us to drive ahead, promising us many more visual treats. Finally, we reached Kalpa late evening. Once again, we put up at the HPTDC hotel. Even in the darkness we could make out that it was located near the summit with long stretches of wilderness around us.
The next morning, we were awakened around 4am and what we witnessed was more beautiful than anything, anyone had told us of. Right from our windows we could see the majestic Kinnaur-Kailash range. The first rays of the sun slowly coloured the sky orange and then yellow. The snow-clad range reflected the sunlight with such force that it was difficult to look for too long. The beauty of it was beyond imagination. We were there for half a day, attending to project work. Every time we looked at the majestic range, we were awestruck. The colour kept changing, the snow appeared different and the clouds in the clear blue sky was mesmerizing. We were told that the Kailash peak and the mountain range changes colours 5-7 times in a day. We could not enjoy the peaks in their complete splendour as we had to leave for Sangla. But the memory of the short visit stayed with me and I promised myself I will be back.
Fast forward 2018. We planned to visit the hills and I immediately thought of Kalpa. The group included young and old alike, hence we decided to go for a longer visit. My earlier experience raised many doubts but reviews of those having visited in recent years coupled with the promise of a majestic and unforgettable experience helped us finalise our itinerary.
This time round, we decided to take the HRTC bus service. The websites said 10hr journey, the people at the counter promised an 8hr journey; in reality, it took us nearly 12hrs to reach Kalpa from Shimla. The road condition throughout was good, extremely good. At many places, the rocks were bound to stop rockslides. We did find a few precariously hanging cliffs, but none hung as dangerously as the ones I had seen the last time. I was quite sad to see that advancement affected the natural beauty of the region. The Sutlej, which had been a constant companion in my previous trip looked like a distant dream. The river was now a little larger than a narrow stream lacking any kind of energy and strength. The good part being the growth of agricultural land along the banks of the river bringing in employment on prosperity to the locals. Prosperity though did not make them arrogant and they remain friendly and helpful. We had some mouth-watering aloo parathas, chana masala and various homemade preparations. We listened to their stories and heard interesting tales of how the region has managed to emerge a winner from the various calamities it faced. Important to mention that since my last visit, the Kinnaur region faced another devastating flood in 2005. The dam at Karcham was 100% functional. It not only provided electricity to the region, but also employment to the locals.
We reached Kalpa around 9pm. This time round we were booked into a small hotel that boasted of a better view of the range than the HPTDC hotels. Yes, there were 3 HPTDC properties now instead of the single one I had seen earlier.
Day 1 at Kalpa: We were greeted by a vibrant sunrise, early in the morning. The sight was as majestic as I remembered it. I sat at the balcony at 4am, wrapped in my quilt, looking at the sun breaking through. The day promised to be bright and sunny.
After breakfast, we walked down to the market. While I remembered a reasonably busy market place, this time round it appeared somewhat deserted at 11 in the morning. On enquiring, we were told that many work at Recong Peo and others at Karcham. That’s why not many people were around during the day. We walked down to the Monastery. Though small in size, it was very peaceful to be there. The Durga temple was our next stop. This temple is perched on a peak and surrounded by the snow clad mountain ranges. At the courtyard of the temple, I had this sense of being minute within this largeness of beauty. Here, we met a group of students who had come from Chandigarh. They were studying about the temple culture in the state of Himachal Pradesh. It is claimed that the state has 2000 temples listed, and the count keeps increasing. We also met a very noisy family from Mumbai whose main contention seemed to be that no one had prepared them for the chilly weather. The lady wanted to get clicked Yash Raj style, and was actually sporting a bright- coloured chiffon saree but was unable to take off the jacket for the photo shoot.
Our next stop was Reckong Peo, which we reached using the local bus service. I highly recommend the use of local transport when in Kalpa. The roads are quite narrow and steep in some places. Those not used to traveling in similar road conditions will not be able to do justice to the drive. Peo, as its commonly referred to, was bustling with activity. We strolled around the market place before taking the bus back to Kalpa.
What was notable was that we had seen the Kinnaur-Kailash range and its neighbours change colours 4 times. Once back at the hotel, we parked ourselves at the balcony and did nothing much except look at the mountains and enjoy the beauty. This vigil was accompanied by regular supply of tea and timely snacks that the hotel provided. Kalpa is not famous for its nightlife or eating-out options. Once sundown, it tended to become somewhat monotonous. But having walked quite a bit, we were all tired and retired early.
Day 2 at Kalpa: This morning we were met with gloomy clouds which dampened our mood somewhat. We had plans of visiting the apple orchards and then walk down to Roghi village. At breakfast, the manager advised us against venturing too far, especially after 3pm. He also promised to put some extra quilts in our rooms as the temperature was likely to drop. We joked about the family from Mumbai we had met the previous day, as the temperature was significantly lower. We had to change our plans as the rain gods decided to meet us earlier than the expected 3 pm. We spent the day playing carrom and watching movies on YouTube. From a place with little electrification in 2002, to a place with strong data facility in 2018, yes, Kalpa has come a long way. Though it’s still a small sleepy town.
After the rain ceased towards the evening, we went out for a stroll, dressed in as many warm clothes that we could gather. We visited a nearby apple orchard which was deserted expect the sole guard at the entrance. Everyone was home because of the weather, he informed us. He treated us to jaggery tea which we were glad about. The cold started affecting us with sniffles having started among the youngest and oldest members of the group. We soon retired for the day, somewhat sad. We were leaving the next day but we had not been able to enjoy Kalpa as much as we desired.
Late evening we heard drumbeats. Locals had started gathering at the adjacent hotel. Though we wanted to, we were stopped as the drumbeats were because of a local religious ritual.
Day 3, away from Kalpa: Since we were boarding the 6am bus to Shimla from Peo, we left the hotel at 4.30 am. Enroute, we stopped for a quick visit to the Kalika temple at Peo. The temple was open even at that time of the day and peace prevailed. The remains of the festivities of the previous night was quite visible.
The sun continued to elude us as we bade farewell to Kalpa and Peo. As we left, we promised to meet again.