Friday, 2 January 2015

Nako – High Altitude Destination in Kinnaur Valley, Himachal Pradesh

On morning of 6th May 2014, we left behind Kaza, commencing our return journey. We were headed for Nako ( 11,800’) - a high altitude destination belonging to Pooh divisions of Kinnaur district. Going along NH22, a diversion road from Yangthang going 7 km uphill leads us to Nako.  As we ascend, the topography resembles more like that of vegetation less Spiti region rather than lush green valleys of Kinnaur to which Nako belongs. Having acclimatized for harsh cold climate and high altitude at Kaza, Kibber and Pin valley, we surmised Nako will cause no problems.

Nearing Nako - Village View
Nako Lke - Partly Hidden

At 1.30 pm, reaching the fringes of Nako village, black soil bearing enormous potato cultivation plots with the backdrop of towering snow-capped hills making their appearance. The dense cluster of cottages of the village appeared to hide Nako lake cradled at a lower elevation. Our first priority was to hunt for a hotel with a lake facing view. We came across a few hotels but not to our liking. Going upward along the mud track, we had a first glimpse of the lake, partially hidden. Taking a turn, it took some guiding from a villager to squeeze our Tavera car without hitting the boundary walls of adjoining plots to park it next to the hotel- a three storied structure.
Lake View from Opposite Bank
Lake View Hotel

The Lake View Hotel is in a vantage location giving a clear view of lake. It has small cultivation plots in front to grow vegetables.  As luck would have it, a few rooms were vacant and a room on ground floor at Rs.1,500/- per day became our shelter for the night.  Barely 2 pm, after a light lunch and some rest, a walk by the lake side was for asking. Along the cement track adjoining the lake and coming to bang opposite of where our hotel is located, we got a full view of Nako village at slightly higher elevation. The well spread out village, consisting of cluster of houses, comprises of nearly 572 people belonging to 128 families. Their major occupation happens to be potato cultivation.

Fishing in Lake
The Catch

Walking along the lakeside brought us close to a villager, who was busy with his fishing, making use of a long thread with one end tied to a rock and other end with hook. After some attempts he did manage a few small fishes.  The rather small lake had its share of submerged reeds along the edge. The tall trees on the distant end could have been planted to make it look more scenic with its reflection on placid lake water. In early summer, the tree trunk  and branches looked lifeless brown with scanty pale green leaves, having taken the brunt of harsh winter onslaught.

*Nako Monastery
Buddhist Temple

Around 5 pm, the sunlight still strong, we took to the extreme north end of the village to arrive at 11th Century Monastic compound. The Monastery building looked colorful and majestic. The gate being closed, as early summer has very few tourists visiting this place. The four Buddhist temples constructed out of mud-stone looks primitive no doubt, but colored in brick red, have a beauty of their own. The mud plastered Stupas also called Chortens, add to religious fervor of Buddhism, very common in destinations in Indian Himalayas. It was becoming rather cold with chill winds blowing so we finished with our sightseeing as early as we could and returned to hotel for the evening to be locked up in room after giving  order for dinner . The dinner was simple but curry made out of giant local potatoes was delicious and some desi ghee added, made it divine.

Nako Lake View from Elevation
Nako Lake - Full View

The next morning downed with a bright sunlit day to lift our spirits in biting cold of high altitude destination. In my journey through Himalayas, I relished early morning walks through the village. Before taking to village trail, in quest for getting some goods shots of the lake, I walked through the mud stone track uphill to get a vantage view of Nako lake. A large number of Mani stones occupied scattered on roadside, adding a divine dimension to the place. The lake looked magnificent in sunlit morning, with its deep blue water reflecting the trees, some portion of the village and distant snow capped hill, to make up the entire canvass. 

Mani Stones at Nako
Buddhist Temple at Nako Village

Retreating back towards hotel, I took a narrow walking track behind the hotel, going towards village. The single storied houses very close to each other was followed by a colorful Buddhist temple which kept me busy for a few minutes. Not knowing anything of the village, I took to general direction towards north end of village, walking parallel to lake. The early morning is time for villagers to collect fodder for their domesticated animals, which predominantly consisted of milch animals, horses and sheep. At the extreme end of village, a cultivation plot revealed some greenery at last. 
Early summer being beginning of cultivation time, it was too early to see the greenery in potato fields. But, our driver Sohan managed to procure one Nako grown giant potato, weighing more than 500 grams, a produce of last season. 

Nako Village View & Cultivation Plots
Driver Sohan with Prized Possession

Important info: 
1) Nako, in Kinnaur Valley is worthwhile spending a few days.  Lake View Hotel is located closest to Nako lake and booking can be done in advance as per following info:
Ranjeet Negi, cell  09418759493, 08988110689 email:

2) Car hire for Himachal Pradesh destinations: Sohan Travel Services, Main Bazar, Dhalli, Shimla – 171012, email:
Cell:  098166 48573, 094597 30916

Readers can see the video clip on Nako by taking the following captioned link:

* Photo contribution by Sachin Vaidya 


Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Kibber Village & Wildlife Sanctuary – Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh

On morning of 4th May 2014, leaving Kaza behind, we traveled further 7 km northwards to Kee village for our first sightseeing break.  At the fringes of Kee village, the single and two storied houses looked similar to almost everywhere we have seen in Spiti  Valley. The pyramidal external contours of eight storied kee monastery - the largest in Spiti valley at the altitude of 13,728’ elevation looked magnificent on a bright sunlit day. On the left side at a distance, the Spiti river ran its course through the valley. 

Kee Village & Gompa at higher elevation
Kee Gompa close-up Zoom shot

Barely to cover 1 km uphill ride up to Monastery, we had another break to see the monastery in side view.  The top three floors of Gompa are on flat land and the rest five floors are on hill slope. The backdrop of snow clad hills added dimensions to the landscape.  Further up we came to a flat land adjoining the Gompa complex from where sloping walkway seem to take one for a visit to Kee monastery. As Sachin trudged his way up, I got engrossed in a game of cricket being played by young lama students. ‘Cricket is religion in India even in this land of Buddhism at high elevation in Himalayas!’I mused.  

Kee Monastery in side elevation
Lama students & game of cricket
Sachin coming back from his Kee Gompa visit, mere 5 km drive takes us to the fringes of Kibber village - where we proposed to spend the night. Hotel Tashi Zom, a good looking hotel and located a walking distance of half a km from village, looked ideal. We got a good looking room at Rs. 800/- per day; however as expected during early summer, no piped water was available. The room looked reasonable in that context. As we were in process of transferring our luggage, driver Sohan exclaimed pointing out at a distance on vegetation less rugged terrain bang opposite to hotel. A group of Ibexes were poking into mud and walking across. The long distance Handycam shot taking recourse to high optical zoom and combined with digital zoom, was not to the best of clarity but nevertheless we could recognize the feature of the animals. It downed to us that we were in fringes of Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary.

Ibexes at Sanctuary
Hotel Tashi  Zom
Still a lot of time in our hands before sun god calls it a day, we were on the roads to visit Gete village situated at higher elevation at 14,000’ and is probably highest village in Asia connected by motorable road. Within no time we were above the snow line. Our first halt nearing Gete village was to get a bird’s eye view of a frozen pond with some wild horses grazing on scanty patch of grass. The snow cover was as far as eyes could go but surprisingly the road was clear of any impediments. Our next break was at the fringes of Gete village. At last we could see some villages leading Yaks for tilling plots as we have seen in many destinations in Spiti valley at this time of the year. The village appeared to be sparsely populated with hardy half a dozen houses.

Frozen pond & grazing horses
Gete village cottages

Retracing our path towards Kibber, it was again a rewarding experience of seeing some more wild life. It was driver as usual who spotted the Bharals also called Himalayan Blue Sheep on the hill slope. The half a dozen of docile looking animal appeared not to be perturbed by our presence, yet kept a watchful eye, preparing to flee in case of slightest provocation. This time we got a much closer view and it was a pleasure to shoot some video clips with good clarity. Incidentally Bharals are hunted by Snow Leopards for their own food.

Pair of Bharals
Kibber Zero Point

Returning in afternoon to hotel, feeling discomfort with cold winds blowing despite a bright sunlit day, sitting in canteen cum reception area with a cup of hot coffee was a solace. Planning for next day’s sightseeing in morning was the topic of discussion. While Sachin preferred a half day trek through Kibber Wild Life Sanctuary, I preferred a leisurely walk though the sprawling Kibber village getting to know what the village has to offer and also the activity of the villagers.

Norling Guest House
Road leading to Kibber village

On the morning of 5th May after a leisurely breakfast, I came on the road and barely walking 100 m, stood near the milestone indicating zero point of Kibber. Another signage indiated that the road project for this village is named as Chicham Kibber project. With full day at my disposal, a casual walk without unduly testing my lungs at the high altitude of nearly 14,000’ was considered wise. For the past few days we travelled through Kaza, Tabo,Dhankar and Pin valley where altitude ranged from 10,000’ to 12,000’ thus acclimatizing ourselves. The first important single storied good looking structure of significance I came across was Norling Guest House. As expected this place looked deserted in early summer when very few tourists arrive.  I took to sloping mud roads through the village going upwards.  The secondary school building loomed ahead with deserted adjoining open area. Being too early for the students to troop in for their classes, it was worthwhile climbing higher to see more of the village.

Norling Homestay
Way to Plots for tilling

I came across giant yaks being led by a lone villager to his agricultural plot; yet another villager led a bunch of cows and calves. With the advent of summer, the snow cover getting lifted and snow-melt moistening the soil, it was tilling time to grow some grains for the family. The beautiful looking two storied Norling Homestay looked more like a regular hotel or guesthouse.

Highest point on Kibber village
Chorten & Kibber Gompa

Setting my foot on highest point in the village, I come across a flat stretch of land with houses on one side and cultivation plot on the other. I was actually walking on a 3 ft. mud track in between two cultivation plots. At the termination of the track I got a view of Chorten and Kibber Gompa. In any Himalayan destination particularly high altitudes ( above 8,000’ ) it is unthinkable not see the temples of Buddhist religion.

Secondary School Building
An open air class

Going downhill on my way back to hotel, I was lucky to see the School premises humming with activity. The open space bereft of anything earlier had at least 10 black boards and white boards and chairs for teachers. Students in cluster sat on mat spread on floor waiting for teachers to arrive and some perhaps catching up on their homework. I patiently waited and savored the scenario. The chemistry class had the entire backboard filled with formulae of different chemical compounds. The English class had blackboard full of English words and their Hindi meanings.

Chemistry class in progress
View of school in progress

What struck me as unusual was lack of male students in the school. Are they doing manual work along with their family members on the cultivation plots? Or, are they being sent to better schools at Kaza or any other bigger townships of Himachal by well to do villagers? With these questions in my mind, I returned to hotel by noon to wait for my friend to return from his trek through Kibber wild life sanctuary.

*Ropeway for material transport
*Frozen waterfall - Kibber Sanctuary

Over our lunch in canteen, Sachin narrated his experience through sanctuary. In his words, “after requesting for a guide at the hotel, the manager arranged for one. The guide came to meet me in the evening and discussed about the trek and instructed the hotel about the food arrangements. Together we hit sanctuary trails the next and trekked for nearly four hours. Among the notable observations we made was a frozen waterfall, a non-operational watermill for grinding grains, a trolley way for transporting material between two cliffs. However people were traveling in the trolley at great risk. I had the visual of group of Ibexes from long distance. At few places we had to cross through wooden bridges. During a break, guide offered hot tea from his flask which was great in chilly high altitude region. Over a chat guide told me that in his younger days, he and his cousin used to collect fossils from the sanctuary and sell it to tourists. About the local traditions of the villagers he said, the eldest brother inherits the agricultural land.’

*A bridge to negotiate - Sanctuary
*A watermill non-functional

After lunch, with the chill winds blowing, it was terribly cold. We were looking forward to retreat back to Kaza as early as possible for a night halt. When we reached Kaza and decided to check in at the same hotel Snow Lion, the rates had gone up to R. 1000/- per day due to piped water supply having commenced in washroom. Next day our destination was Nako, which we bypassed while travelling through Kinnaur, keeping it for our return journey. Having had a great early summer trip of Spiti valley destinations, we realized Nako although situated in Kinnaur valley will offer no respite from biting cold being situated at 11,000’ elevation.

Important Info:
1. Best time to visit Kibber and Spiti valley in general would be period beginning mid-May, when piped water is available in washroom of the hotels and Homestays.
2. The three hotels / Homestay that author came across in Kibber: Hotel Tashi Zom, Norling Guest House and Norling Homestay.
3. It is better the take services of local guide while undertaking trekking through Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary

Readers who desire to see video clips of Kibber may take the following captioned link:

* Images by Sachin Vaidya    

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Kaza - The Premier Destination In Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh

By noon of 2nd May 2014, we left behind Dhankar for our onward journey through Pin valley planning to go as far as Mud. Going down towards the river bed of Spiti valley, we had a break for watching the confluence of rivers Spiti and Pin from Close proximity. Though water volume of both the rivers was low, they had a distinctive color of their own.

Confluence of Spiti & Pin rivers - distant view
Confluence of Spiti & Pin rivers - Close view

As we crossed Attargu bridge and stepped into Pin valley, the topography changed dramatically. On the river side, big chunks of snow melting in early summer added volume of water to the Pin river. The going became somewhat rough through the patches of mud track. The river bed got a lot of silt carried from hills above. The debris getting piled up, it must have been some work to clear the road to keep some of the most remote villages in Pin valley to have its lifeline open.

Snow-melt feeding Pin river
Silt Deposition in Pin valley

Further through the valley, the silting became so much so as to prevent the Pin river from running its natural course and the accumulated water gave rise to a giant lake with even the electric poles found submerged in water. The snow mass floating on water and larger one’s crumbing into different shape made a fascinating sight.

Glacial lake - Pin valley

Snow mass around lake

When we arrived Kungri after deviating from main road and taking a narrow road upwards, the topography changed yet again. It was lively with colorful cottages a midst cultivating plots. The villagers took to their task making use of giant Yaks to plough their fields. We parked our car inside the large monastery compound.

Ploughing plot at Kungri
Tringon guest house

The Monastery area was quite lively with young would be lamas having a game of marble or volleyball. The façade of the entry to new monastery named as Ugyen Sanag Choling monastery is a huge structure with hostel facilities for Lamas and Lama students. The old monastery is a single storied structure and was open for a visit. There was too much snow piled up for negotiating though the compound. Tringon Guest House building looked impressive for tourists who plan to stay overnight.

Old Monastery - Kungri
Ugyen Choling Monastery gate

Entering through the gate, we came to courtyard of the new monastery. The peripheral area having living quarters for lamas and students appeared to be deserted. The monastery itself colorful and elegantly designed structure with glass façade reflecting the snow-capped hills looked awesome. I came out and walked to the left hand side of old monastery to the view point area from where one gets fascinating bird’ eye view of Pin valley. Pin river flowing in serpentine manner in between heavily snow-covered area, with the backdrop of snow splattered hills. There is safety railing at the edge to make it safe for visitors.

Ugyen Choling Monastery - Kungri
Pin Valley view from Kungri

Nearing Sagnam, we had a break to view at a distance, the Pin Structure in Khar village. Possibly the name of Pin river and Pin valley has its origin here. Crossing the bridge, the last lap of the journey to Sagnam on a plateau with fresh snow in all direction took us to snow-land. The barren trees and occasional cottages gave a dimension to the scenario.

Pin structure at Khar - Pin valley
Bridge to Sagnam - Pin valley

Reaching Sagnam we had a break for lunch at PWD Guest House. The Sagnam village is well spread out, one of the biggest we have seen so far, with large agricultural plots growing green Pea, barley and buck wheat. Villagers keep busy making use of giant Yaks for tilling work. The entire family of villagers seemed to be out there including children. The PWD Rest House, did provide us with lunch, but with no piped water and the wash rooms not being usable, it was not worthwhile staying here. Post lunch we decided to forgo the last 10 km drive to Mud with snow-blocks expected to block the road and deciding in not taking any risk whatsoever. We traveled 36 km to Kaza ( 11,980’), with slight change in itinerary.

Tilling Plots at Sagnam - Pin Valley
PWD Resthouse at Sagnam

Arriving in Kaza by main road, the first hotel we came across was Snow Lion Hotel. With no booking in kitty, we looked around for somebody in reception area. Motubhai – a short medium built guy did not appear to be fat as his name suggests is receptionist-cum-whatever you can think of, gave us a room with balcony overlooking the well spread out Kaza town. Being early season the hotel had just opened six rooms. But, the running water to the town had not resumed so we were to manage with water brought in buckets by hotel staff from a pipeline outside. At Rs. 600/- per day, the room rent appeared to be value for money at that point of time. Sakya monastery located at the diametrically opposite on main road looked the most colorful and imposing in the town.  The Hindu temple at slightly higher elevation had some steps to climb. The well spread out town with mostly single and occasional two storied structure serviced by interconnecting roads looked lively.

Kaza town & Sakya monastery 
Hindu temple on hill - Kaza

Evening was unwinding time. The dining cum reception area of the hotel has a library with good collection of books and tourists maps to pass time. Most interesting part was a huge collection of fossils behind glass case. Motubhai was chatting away about his experience in locating fossils in his expeditions in higher altitudes every year. After ordering for dinner going towards my room, what caught my attention was a few twigs of plants in compound which were being surrounded by ice blocks. Water being scarce and snow easily available, on a bright sunlit day the ice-melt feeding the plants was a practical solution. The dinner was freshly prepared from vegetables brought from market on same evening by Motubhai himself.

Hotel Snow Lion - Kaza
Ice at roots for moisture - Kaza

Morning of 3rd May gave us a opportunity to visit higher altitude of Langza (14,520’) and beyond, condition permitting. As we were leaving the fringes of Kaza town, there was a car parked charging some kind of unofficial toll of Rs. 100/-. They gave a receipt which did not make much sense. Going up we got a classic view of Spiti valley in early summer. The patterns of water flow on sand bed and the adjoining topography was any landscape photographer’s delight.

Spiti Valley view from Kaza uphill
Spiti valley view from Kaza uphill

Further up, we were going through snow-line, with scattered snow on both side of the road. The Langza village has a Buddha statue at an higher elevation standing like a lone sentinel with scattered single storied cottages on a flat land bereft of any vegetation. The backdrop of snow splattered hills gave a scenic touch to the village.

Signage - Langza village
Langza village

Going higher up, the snow quantum went on increasing. The car was moving slow through muddy track because of snow melt flowing to the road. To avoid skidding, following the tire-marks was the only option and avoiding snow cover at all cost. We sighted a bulldozer busy in clearing the snow piled up to open up the road to Comic and Hikkim. Here we got stuck up for good. We gathered that the road clearing process was to be completed before 7th May, the day the Lok Sabha elections were to be held in this region. Leaving with no option but to retreat, we got down from car, walking through mud for taking a few photos.

Road block beyond Langza
Through snow obstacle

Forgoing our journey to Comic and Hikkim, we rued the fact that we were tad early for this kind of an adventure. Ideally one should visit these places after 15th May. Retreating through mud packed roads was slow and cautious. Reaching Kaza we had lunch and some rest before taking a narrow mud-track suitable for people to save a lot of walking time through the main road. Nearing market place the roads are broader. The tea break at a wayside restaurant and walking through the area having cluster of winter clothing shop, my wish of buying gloves for very low temperature, materialized. Reaching the main road we were in front of Sakya Monastery in no time.

Sakya Monastery
Buddha statue - Sakya monastery

As had been our experience, early summer always greet us with closed doors of Monastery at Himachal. We were contemplating what to do when we found young lama students playing nearby. Inquiry with them revealed that they will be opening the doors for us to view monastery from inside.

Colorful interior - Sakya monastery
Trumpets on display

What a revelation! I have never seen such a colorful, neat, spotlessly clean and exquisite interiors. The golden Buddha statue at the centre surrounded by smaller statues and artifacts made a wonderful décor. The array of musical instruments like trumpets, Drum, conch shells and cymbals were on dispaly – every item neatly arranged had beauty of its own.

Drum, cymbals and conch shells
Cymbals at display

While retreating and trying to take a short cut to go back to hotel at the other extremity, we somehow lost our way and discovered some newer places. One of them was a tree lined road leading our eye to distant hotel named Hotel Winter White appropriately named with a backdrop of snow splattered hills.

Bell at Sakya Monastery
Picture perfect road at Kaza

Next day we left for Kee and Kibber for couple of days (which will be another travel story) before retracing to Kaza yet again for a night halt at same Snow Lion Hotel. The room rent had shot up to Rs.1000/- because of resumption of piped water supply to washrooms. Following day we commenced return journey via Nako in Kinnaur Valley.

Readers can see couple of short videos of Kaza as per the following captioned links:

Kaza at a Glance

Sakya Monastery at Kaza  

* Title Image is by Sachin Vaidya: Kaza town as viewed from Hindu temple.