If it seems strange that the mere sight of mountains can arouse the most maddening of human passions it probably means that the doubter has lived far from their lofty beckoning or lacks that inner lodestone, cherished as an implant of great price by those who possess it.
Chapter One, The Nanda Devi Affair – Bill Aitken.
We’re going to the mountains, Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh. In retrospect, what more beautiful place than this to lose ourselves in the middle of endless panoramas, to soak in the long September days and to rekindle my photographic urges in a place not even the widest angle lens could fully capture. We were picked up at Delhi station by a friend from Mercury Himalayan Expeditions. All arrangements were already made to take us to Solan, in Himachal Pradesh, by jeep – this is one of the times that it’s actually great to have journalist friends. We reached Solan at around 2 a.m. and found a place to stay bang opposite the bus stand. The bus to Sangla, only one a day, leaves at 0500 hrs. and we couldn’t afford to miss it. We did manage to get the bus and the ‘chaiwala’ advised us to get a seat in the front as it was going to be long and bumpy ride that would take anything between 12 – 18 hours!!! We took his advice and rightly so as he was the best person to give it – he was our conductor!!!
The journey started out quite pleasantly as we enjoyed dawn and the sun rising, clearing the mist and giving us our first views of beautiful mountain panoramas. We didn’t even mind the half hour stop just before Shimla, to mend a punctured tire – in such moods who can fret over such trivial issues. After we passed Shimla, Kufri and Narkhanda we saw our first iced capped mountains. And there we were, goggling through the windows at the grandeur in the distance, knowing that with the morrow, we’d be among them. We heard comments from the locals behind us about something of us being sea-level dwellers, but then it was all in good humour. Soon after, we crossed the Sutlej on NH 22, the old Hindustan – Tibet Road. The journey here on is anything but pleasant, the landslide prone road with large stretches remaining unmetalled and unbearably dusty, leaves one with the feeling of driving on a wide trekking route perched up high above the roaring rapids. We reached Karcham in the evening and crossed the Sutlej one final time and entered the narrow mouth of the Baspa valley. By the time we reached Sangla at 9 p.m., the bus was crammed with locals on their way home and pretty noisy – something we Mumbaiwallahs are so used to!!
Kinner Camps, located at Kharogla just below the striking façade of Kinner Kailash range, is a serene place and would be home for the duration of our stay in Kinnaur.
From a photographer’s viewpoint, Kinnaur provides two wonderful tableaux, sometimes simultaneously. On the one hand, you have landscapes that just beg for the widest lens you own. On the other, there’s the flora and fauna, which will have you reaching for the macros and longest telephoto you’ve got. Yet, there’s plenty in between, too, with some of the most scenic villages and hamlets in Northern India, colourful shops and locals, and much, much more.
The weather gods were smiling on us, and let the Kinner Kailash range out of the clouds for days running. We spent hours staring at the mountain’s flanks, a pint of the local ‘medicine’ – Rakshi, at hand.
At times I would just take off by myself to explore the area around the camp site, picking apples and apricots from trees so full that abundance suddenly seemed like an inadequate word. I would see no one else, and hear absolutely nothing but the natural sounds around me. The long days encouraged a lazy pace, and I spent hours counting the seemingly infinite number of small flower species that poked up only inches above the valley floor.
To prepare ourselves for the trek we went out on a short acclimatising trek from Sangla to Rachkam and back. The route winds through Pine forests and Apricot groves and Apple orchards, with some beautiful vistas of the entire Baspa valley, the blue green river winding its way down from Chhitkul to Karcham.
The Parikrama is one of the toughest treks in this region, a 6 day 5 night affair and that was one affair we so looked forward to 🙂