As soon as you hear “last village of India”, a certain feeling of curiousness arises in you. You start imagining the place in your mind.
That was exactly the case with me. After being unable to take a detour to Chitkul last year while going to Spiti valley on account of bad weather conditions, I was determined to come back to this little village soon.
Well, that “soon” took me almost one year, but I’m happy that I visited this beautiful village located in deep Himalayas and trust me it was worth every second of time that I spent there.
Chitkul is a village in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, next to the Baspa River. Situated at an altitude of 3450 m; it is the last inhabited village of India with a population of around 600 people.
The actual border with Tibet is another 90 Km ahead but that area is under ITBP and one needs a permit to travel further towards the border. It is famous for its potatoes, apples and not to forget the beautiful landscape. The major town closest is Sangla, around 25 km before Chitkul. In winter the place remains closed due to heavy snowfall and extreme cold.
We started our journey from Delhi on 13th April in the evening. Our first destination was Kalka, a city right at the starting point of mountains. It was a smooth ride through NH1 or AH1 (Asian Highway 1). We reached there around 10:30 pm and took a hotel near the railway station. We had stayed there last year also when we were going to Spiti and surprisingly the hotel guy remembered us. Seeing just the two of us he inquired about the rest of the group who were travelling with us the last time.
Next day we started early; around 6 am. It was a long journey ahead, of just about 330 Km till Chitkul. We soon crossed the city of Solan and crossed Shimla around 8:30 am. After eating Chole- Kulche in between we crossed Narkanda around 10:30 am.
Somewhere near Narkanda.
© Manish Bhardwaj
The deeper you go into the Himalayas, the more peaceable and serene it gets. That’s the part you won’t get to experience if you restrict yourself to the commercial hill stations. After Narkanda it was a downhill drive and soon we found ourselves driving next to Satluj River. We soon reached Rampur which is around 50 km from Narkanda and in no time the next town Jeori arrived.
We drove further for around 10 km and stopped for lunch. There we met two locals who inquired about Delhi’s weather and said they can’t even imagine living in such hot condition and how lucky are they are to be born here. Typical pahadi people making me envy them, was a bittersweet experience. They suggested that on our way back we should take a detour from ahead of Rampur towards Sunni and Naldhera. It proved to be a remarkable detour later, delving through small little villages and with almost no traffic on the road. I always find these detours very interesting. They take you through the villages and towns which are still not very common to tourism.
After having our lunch we hit the road again and soon entered the Kinnaur Region. Kinnaur is famous for its dreadful roads but on the other hand the valley is immensely alluring. The road is all right till Wangtu Dam but after crossing the bridge there was a series of unpaved roads. In the rainy season it gets worse with slush on the road and more frequent landslides.
We reached Tapri around 2 pm; continuing on the gravel road we reached Karcham Dam, a point from where the right turn took us towards Sangla.
The roads were no better but we forgot that once we looked up at the blue sky and the mighty snow studded mountains. It was an uphill drive from Karcham to Sangla for an hour and it didn’t disappoint us in any way.
After driving through many rough patches on the road we reached Baspa Hydropower Project which is 2 Km before Sangla.
Local people told us that it’s because of the ongoing construction of these various projects, the upper layer of the mountains have started to come down, making the area prone to landslides. After crossing the Dam we reached Sangla. It is the most important town in Sangla/ Baspa valley with a petrol pump, ATMs and many hotels and restaurants etc. Due to its location in the Higher Himalayan range, it boosts some of the best variety of apples which are famous worldwide.
That’s the main livelihood of the local people apart from a small the scale tourism business.
We stopped there for a cup of tea and enjoyed the landscape from the roof of the Dhaba. Chitkul was another 25 km from here.
We started after a 20 minutes break. This 25 km drive was one of the best to experience. We stopped so many times in between just to admire this natural architecture. I was simply stunned by the immense splendor of this valley.
We crossed a few small bridges on the streams and reached a beautiful little village called Rackcham. A home to hardly 100 houses, this village was simply stunning and mesmerizing. Most of the houses were wooden structured.
Yes! We took another break for 20 minutes, had another cup of tea and just admired the landscape surrounding the village. After having some light snacks in no time and beholding Rackcham many times we started our bike and head towards Chitkul which is another 10 km from there. We crossed a check-post of ITBP and stopped at a stream to fill our water bottles. I hardly buy water bottles when I’m travelling in the mountains and the reason is obvious, it’s hard to find water as pure as you find it in these small running streams. That’s the beauty of nature; it provides us resources in their refined form if we don’t mess with it.
After driving for another 10 minutes, the valley opened up and suddenly we realized that we were driving on a kind of plain area with huge mountains at a distance. We could see Chitkul in the lap of majestic natural structures.
So we finally reached Chitkul around 6 pm. We were tired because of the long journey but trust me that was only physical and my mind was in a jaw dropping situation. There are times when I just want to sit, appreciate and be in awe of what’s in front of me without talking or taking photographs. I was in one of those moments.
© MANISH BHARDWAJ
After spending More than 30 Minutes on the roof of a dhaba we head towards the River Baspa which is just a few minutes of walk from Chitkul.
We sat there for another 30 minutes or so amidst the gushing sound of water, till the sunlight was gone completely. We called it a day and slept early.
Next Day again we started early around 6 am. It was cold outside. As suggested earlier by the two localities, we took a detour towards Sunni and Naldhera from Senj ( around 12-15 km ahead of Rampur towards Shimla). At the start we were confused whether to take this detour or not. But I’m glad that we did. It’s around 50 km stretch and we took a left turn just before Sunni towards Naldhera at the end.
This route goes along with the Satluj River till Sunni.
It’s the same distance as by NH-22 till Shimla, but this route in my opinion has much more to offer.
It was a narrow road but the plus point was it had almost no traffic and we got to see the small villages with hardly 20-30 houses.
It was again a wonderful experience and we reached Naldhera around 5:30 pm. Naldhera doesn’t have much budget options and luckily we found a home stay.
The next day we started around 7 am and reached Delhi at 5:30 pm.
Always start your day early as it’s the best few hours to drive in the mountains.
Drink water at regular intervals.
Drink water only from running streams.
Always keep few snacks and bars handy.
Don’t cover the distance in one go. Stop at points and enjoy the natural scenery.
Always keep information about how far is the next fuel pump.
Keep a small paper bag or something which you can use as a dustbin. Please don’t litter just anywhere.
Last but not the least: Drive carefully and responsibly.
Day 1: Started around 4 pm from Delhi and reached Kalka at 10 pm.
Day 2: Started Early in the morning at 6 am and reached Chitkul around 6pm.
Day 3: Early start at 6 am. Took a Detour before Kingal to Shimla via Sunni and Naldhera. Reached Naldhera around 5:30 pm.
Day 4: Started around 7 am and reached Delhi around 5:30 pm.