We were in the Apple Valley of Himachal for a few days now and we’re getting used to the fruit loaded trees all around. We were cozying up to the idea of being surrounded by mountain peaks. In valleys, they appeared like something wrapped around you to protect you or rather insulate you from everything outside it. The impact it had on my heart and mind was that every time I looked at the mountains, I started going inwards. Mountains allowed me to be in touch with myself the way no other place can. Top it up with the fact that the Himalayas have always been associated with spirituality. Planned to head for Kinner Kailash next.
Kalpa, Himachal Pradesh
It is a lifetime goal of many people is to spend some time there. When I looked at the Kinnauri people in their ubiquitous green caps, only thought that crossed my mind was – how blessed they are. No wonder the land is called Dev-Bhoomi and Kinnauris think they are more than mere human beings and they are closer to being divine beings. Their simple happy faces are a living proof of their claim. Time to head for Kinner Kailash at Kalpa
To reach Kalpa, we had to drive along the Sutlej River. I am not sure if I have ever seen a river more ferocious than Sutlej as it is in this valley. Of course, this also means that it has attracted major power plants to be built to take advantage of its natural force. The roaring sound of Sutlej silenced every other sound or noise – if there was any. To go to Kalpa, you have to pass by Rekong Peo. The district headquarters of Kinnaur and a lively little town. We were told this is the best place to buy dried fruits and Kinnauri shawls.
Kinner Kailash at Kalpa
A steep 13 km ride took us to Kalpa – a typical Himalayan town. Best known for its spectacular views of Kinner Kailash range of Himalayas. Especially the Kailash or the mountain in the shape of Shiva Linga that changes color through the day. Kalpa was originally called Chini and if you hear local conversations, people still call it Chini. Apparently, the new name was given after the Indo-China war of the 1960s. Kalpa is a curious mix of Hindu and Buddhist culture. On the Shimla side of Kalpa, Hinduism is dominant, while on the Spiti side Buddhism, making it a kind of a point of Osmosis of the two.
Kinner Kailash Range of Himalayas
The view from our room at Shamba La hotel in Kalpa was such that the whole Kinner Kailash range was right in front of our balcony. The day we were there, the clouds also decided to visit Kalpa en masse and all we could see was their play on the peaks of hills. We would jump with joy as and when they parted a bit to either let the sun rays shine through them or to reveal the peaks for just a few moments. We spent most of our evening looking at this play of clouds and mountains. Sipping tea that could not remain hot even for the first sip.
What I found intriguing about the peaks here were their triangular sharp summits. Almost as if someone has sharpened them like school kids sharpen their pencils. Not one, but almost all peaks had an equilateral triangle at their top. The glaciers appeared like white veins on the dark slate-colored mountains.
Suicide Point at Kalpa
We admired the mountains till it became too dark to be able to see anything when we went to the library of the hotel. Where we chatted with the young owner of the hotel Prithvi Negi over a bowl of piping hot soup. Give me a well-furnished library and I am impressed. Here we were hearing stories of Kalpa town all surrounded by books and devotional music playing in the backdrop. We heard about Lord Dalhousie’s bungalow where his wife recuperated after an illness. We heard about the Tibetan migrants, who came with Dalai Lama. And settled here, building their temples, marrying locals and merging with the population in a generation or two.
Buddhist Temple at Kalpa
In the morning Prithvi took me for a tour of Kalpa. He started with the popular Suicide point – a deep 90 deg gorge that sure can guarantee death if you desire. As per records, no one has ever committed suicide here. The name probably came either from the nature of the deep incline. Or from the trend where every hill station must have a suicide point or a sunset point or a lovers point. Having said that, the place was scary. When Prithvi asked me to pose there, my heart was racing and I could definitely do without that picture.
However from this point, if you look across you will see villages on the edge of a cliff across the valley. They seem like a mushroom growing out of nowhere and cut out from the rest of the world. I assume there are roads that lead to that village. I was told that most villages are located near the source of water. That is pretty much what makes the villages self-sufficient.
He then took me to a Buddhist temple in the middle of the town to a temple that was built by his father. I could sense the emotional energy due to the personal connect here. But for the Chorten in the courtyard, this could have been any other temple in Himachal Pradesh. Close to this temple is a primary school that is unique for it was the first polling station of India. This is also the place where the first voter of India – Shyam Saran Negi cast his vote. In fact in last elections, election office celebrated his voting continuously since first elections with Chai and Samosa.
Nag Nagini Temple at Kalpa
Nag Nagini temple is located in the heart of Kalpa town with woodcarvings depicting many types of snakes, most of them twisted around the pillars. This temple had an opulent golden main door that sparkled in the otherwise dull surroundings. The view from the temple is lovely. Though on the day I was there, clouds had almost decided to spend all their time in Kalpa.
Walking around these temples I saw some old wood and stone houses with every bit of wood carved and that in its antiquity looks just beautiful. The patina of time added a layer of mystique to the buildings. You know it is not easy to maintain or live in these houses anymore. You can see the change in skyline all around. The concrete houses that to my urban mind have no aesthetics but are fast replacing the slanted slate-roofed houses with wood panels. But to the villagers here say they are the sign of arriving in the modern age.
Chandika Devi Temple at Roghi, near Kalpa
A little away in Roghi village is the famous Chandika Devi Temple – the presiding deity of the region. The wood and stone temple complex dedicated to Chandika avatar of Parvati is brimming with people. You are not allowed to enter without the green Kinnauri cap, but you can borrow one from the entrance gate. As per a temple board, it is also believed that this area was once the ‘Tapobhoomi’. Or the meditation place of many Rakshasas like Mahishasur, Banasur etc. The Devi took the Chandika avatar to kill these Rakshasas and free this land of them and since then she is the guardian deity of this region. In fact, the temple is referred to as the fort of Chandika.
The architecture of Chandika Devi Temple
The architecture of this temple is unique with a shikhara or the superstructure made of slate stone in an inverted cone fashion. There are two temples, just like the Bhimakali temple in Sarahan – one old and one new. Here the old and new clearly show their age. If you look closely, you would see a lot of animal horns hanging from the ceilings or hung on the walls. I assume these are horns of the animals sacrificed here as Devi temples had a tradition of animal sacrifice. In the courtyard, there is a wooden throne with snow leopard skin on it – along with the head of the snow leopard. This is the closest I came to see a snow leopard.
Bang opposite the Chandika Devi temple is another temple with a temple tank filled from a spring coming out of a gargoyle. This temple has a Mahabharata legend associated with it. I did not go inside this temple but from a distance, it looked beautiful with a lovely tank in front.
The mythology of Kinner Kailash
Mythologically Kinner Kailash range is supposed to be the winter home of Lord Shiva. This is where he comes down from Mount Kailash near Manasarovar Lake when it gets too cold there. In fact, as part of the very old tradition, mountains have been worshiped as a ‘swaroop’ or equivalent of Shiva himself. You see it even in south India where hills around Tirupathi are considered a ‘roop’ of Shiva. Kinner Kailash Yatra is organized in the July-August and devotees and now increasingly trekkers do a parikrama or circumambulation of the mountain. There is a trek that goes to the summit of the mountain as well. A flag fluttering on top is a mark of the journeys taken to the summit.
After soaking in the charms of Kinner Kailash and the apple and other fruits orchards it was time to leave Kalpa – that literally means eternity. From this point onwards in our journey, we would hardly see any greenery and would not see as many people for quite some days.
Recommend you to read following Places to visit in Himachal on my travel blog.