Up in the mountains in Sangla valley

22 Jun

Sangla Valley used to be one of Kinnaur's most beautiful and secluded areas. It still is, if you avoid the village of Sangla and continue further into the valley to Rakcham and Chitkul. And, the further you go, the more dramatic the mountains become.

Our plan was to stay in Sangla, but when we arrived, we remained seated in the taxi. Neither of us wanted to leave the car and thus the possibility of leaving. Far away from the promised fairy-tale village, the car had come to a disappointing halt next to a collection of ugly, concrete houses and small shops just after passing a massive hydroelectric plant.

But just then, as we wondered whether to push on to Tabo or retreat to Kalpa, we received a text message. A guesthouse 14 km further into the Sangla Valley had available rooms after all. Situated two blind hairpin bends before Rakcham, the homestay Durga turned out to be one of our best experiences in the Himalayas.

The homey homestay

When you travel, a bed is often just a bed; a place to stay the night and somewhere to keep your backpack as you go out exploring. After five months of travels, the couple of nights we stayed with Mary, a Scottish woman in her sixties, felt however like staying with an auntie. The favourite one.

Already overlooking snow-capped peaks and situated above an apple orchard sloping towards the Baspa river thundering below, the homestay is simply showing off by also being in a traditional wooden Kinnaur-style house with prayer flags fluttering under the beams. Add to that the most attentive and considerate host you could ask for, and you end up staying longer than expected as we did.


Sangla valley is a wildlife sanctuary. Many of the dogs wear steel collars in case they are attacked by a snow leopard (!)


Chitkul is as far as you can go into the valley before the guarded checkpoints ahead of the Tibetan mountains, 54 km away and directly facing the village.


Up, up in the mountains

One of the main reasons we made a slight detour to the Sangla valley before heading up to Spiti was to go walking in the mountains. Spiti is a barren desert, while Sangla goes by the nickname the valley of flowers.

Although the entire length of the valley offers walking paths, the most rewarding ones start from Chitkul, already at an altitude of 3500 metres. Cross the small and only bridge over the river, turn a sharp left and when the path shoots straight up, that's your kinderegg path to three different treks in one.

1) From the river bank, make your way up through the forest on the narrow, soft path covered in pine needles. Huddled in by tall trees, you won't see much though until you make it to a grassy clearing about 20 breaks to catch your breath later.

2) But then. That's when the climb you have just painstakingly done through the forest starts paying off. Eye-grabbing mountains all around, you will inevitably start doing 360 degree turns to take them all in. By this time, there are flowering rhododendron bushes alongside the path, now cutting across a grassy meadow. Like taken out of The Shire, according to my panting boyfriend.

3) Continue uphill, for about another ten intervals of walking and catching your breath, and you have pushed above the treeline. The path has by now disappeared, and instead you are walking on rocks and around thorny bushes next to the lake that comes from the glacier even higher up. We stopped at 4500 metres when we could have lunch next to patches of snow. That was also the time to bring out the thermos flask with hot tea that auntie Mary had sent with us.

Just to again stress how nice Mary is, here's from the morning after our walk up towards the glacier lakes by Chitkul:

When we got up early for another long walk, we realised we were in the clouds. Heavy rain clouds. The fog kept creeping closer; we could barely see the closest trees of the surrounding apple orchard.

And, that's when aunt Mary put her head out the window, holding two cups of chai tea for us.

“Do you want to come and sit in the kitchen? It's a bit foggy out there. Should we watch that film?”


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2 Responses to “Up in the mountains in Sangla valley”

  1. Nicolas 22. Jun, 2013 at 16:29 #

    Hello Kari+fiancé !

    Jolie balade que celle-ci.
    Un petit bonjour de ton ex-dernier-prof de français. Ça fait toujours plaisir de voir où vous en êtes dans votre périple – merci de partager ces petits épisodes ! Un jour, ça sera mon tour !

    • Kari 26. Jun, 2013 at 17:01 #

      Hi Nicolas! I’m lugging around the book “Un pony tres courageux” – still determined to eventually learn French! (But babysteps, though ;-))

      Very happy to hear that you are following us on our travels – thanks for the kind words. And, fingers crossed you head out on yours soon!

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