Home > Totternama > Part II, Chitkul – Final Frontier

Part II, Chitkul – Final Frontier


So we bade goodbye to Sarahan and wound our way downhill past apple orchards, past slate roofed brightly painted houses, past fields of paddy – the lush green giving way to olive and finally dull brown as we descended. At Badhal, 4 km from Jeori, Kakuji stopped at Gyan Chand Ki Dhaba for grub. Though we had already had breakfast, we couldn’t help bolting mouthfuls of scrumptious Kadhi Chawal and Rajma Rice mixed with fiery red chilies. A short stop at Tarandamata Mandir for the mandatory divine benediction (Public toilets a short way from the Mandir was an even greater blessing) and we were bouncing along the road hewn through cliff faces that looked like bared fangs of a demon.


At Bhabanagar, our search for the PWD office where we could get a permit to stay at their guesthouse in Chitkul proved futile (We located the place during our return lap). Further down, we plodded through rubble and suffocating dust trails of  trucks and tipper lorries near the Karcham dam site over an NH-22 that had disintegrated into potholes interspersed with short, relatively painless stretches of asphalt. The tossing and turning and jangling and rattling ceased only after Tapri. Breathtaking scenery unfurled – tiny hamlets precariously poised on mountain flanks, snow covered summits far and beyond, mountain goats tumbling down steep slopes… At the tiny Sharda Mandir that seemed attached to the cliff edge with an adhesive, an English speaking Pujari applied vermillion streaks on our foreheads and distributed delicious “Prasad” of dry fruits and sugar balls. Down below, a ferocious and frothy Baspa river gushed over enormous boulders, in a menacingly deep gorge.

Beyond Kuppa, Sangla valley lay threadbare under a vaulting silver blue sky, gashed in the middle by the silver streak of Baspa river, encircled by snow clad mountain peaks and dribbling glaciers. The town was fairly big with quite a few hotels and boarding houses around. Several camps could be seen beside the river. As we climbed up from the valley, the road narrowed, barely wide enough to accommodate two cars at some sections. Ragged, steel grey rock faces rose up like gothic cathedrals to our left, at once disturbing and fascinating. Colossal boulders, fissured massifs and twisted trees bordered the pulverized road evoking images of a celestial battle, an Armageddon that wrecked the landscape.  Pale pink flowers of Chuli trees that dotted the scene were the sole aesthetic relief in this rugged terrain.

Sangla Valley

As we drove further, the snow crept silently closer; muddy and slushy, it reposed under stones, over thorny bushes, near tree roots. We passed Rakcham, a small village of wood, stone and shale houses that lined the road. The mountains suddenly gave out revealing a vast mauve coloured steppe, piled with boulders and partitioned haphazardly by stone walls. An old man, bent double over a gigantic stack of firewood teetered beside the road. We turned a corner and came to an sudden halt. Chitkul!!! The abruptness of the arrival left us disoriented. For a while we did not know where to go, what to do. There was the PWD guesthouse on our left. On the right, in a ditch was the famous “Hindustan Ka Aakhiri Dhaba”. A rabble of concrete buildings still under construction furnished the front view against a backdrop of majestic snow cloaked mountains. On to the right, across the river, pines drooped under the weight of accumulated snow.

It was knuckle whitening cold. Having eaten nothing for the past four hours, we were terribly hungry. We also needed a place to pee. A ragged crowd that wandered about ignored us pointedly. The PWD guesthouse caretaker agreed to put us up, but later changed tack. But he allowed us to use the washroom for which we had to fetch water for ourselves in a bucket. Later he served us the most repulsive Dal-Rice we ever had – coagulated, glutinous rice generously sprinkled with human hair and sand grains. I still wonder if these ingredients were added for taste or to avenge a vendetta of some former incarnation.

The snowfall of the previous day had frozen up pipelines and running water was not available. None of the guesthouses were therefore willing to put us up. Finally, to our immense relief, Rani Guesthouse agreed to accommodate us in a dingy room. We bought some biscuits and snacks at the lone general store in the village, run by a sweet lady with a baby saddled to her back, and went for a walk near the river. A thick blanket of snow covered the river bank. The water was clear as crystal but freezing cold. I dipped my hand inside and spent the next half an hour furiously rubbing my numb fingers and palm. Really scary.

There was no motor able road beyond Chitkul. It was a true frontier village. A narrow dust trail escaped the village and threaded its way across the lunarscape into the white desolation of snow clad mountains, bound for the police post three kilometer ahead. We walked along the trail and wandered about a bit before returning to the village. Snot-nosed children accosted us peering over the camera and occasionally posing. A few village women greeted us with smiles that transformed brilliantly their deeply furrowed, ascetic faces.

We retired to bed early after dinner. The village lay enveloped in darkness with a handful of incandescent lights glowing like fireflies here and there. Through the window the faint iridescence of snow on the mountains was visible as we lay in bed. The blankets were fetid and musty, making  me afraid of catching some skin disease. But we felt really thankful to our generous hosts for the shelter and were soon immersed in deep, dreamless sleep.

It had snowed during the night. When we woke early next morning, the landscape had taken on an ethereal aspect –  snow lay everywhere, on the roof, over tables, on chairs, softening everything, obliterating all features in an all encompassing whiteness. The sun came out, torching the smoking peaks in orange flames. With sun came a freezing wind that blew snow flakes from branches and howled through the streets. It made us shiver and clutch our jackets tight as we walked about.

Snow clung adamantly on firewood, thorny bushes and barbed wire fences. People were sweeping it off their roofs. Snow melt dripped from gables. A shaggy dog took a fancy on us and followed us around taking considerable pleasure in the occasional cuddles and strokes that we bestowed. The fields were being prepared for sowing. In the months after winter the people cultivated Aloo, Matar, Joh, Bhapra and Olga and stored the harvested grains in Kuthars (storage houses) for winter.


Our hosts were unpretentious as they were gracious. We wandered into the kitchen and watched them prepare breakfast and tea. The language they spoke was Kinnauri, but we could easily get by with Hindi. Very few people stayed in the village during winter. Those who stayed back in the wooden houses lined inside with mud hardly ventured out. One could easily catch pneumonia and die. Life was not as idyllic as we made out. But tourism was picking up providing much needed money and some alleviation to hardship.
Taking leave of Chitkul was extremely hard. There it was; recumbent in splendid isolation, cocooned from outside world untill recently; an island in the stream. But change was coming and coming fast. I looked back one last time, sweeping hungry eyes over the mountains, the valley, the wooden houses and a shabby brown donkey that rambled about and hoped against hope that change didn’t inflict irreparable damages to the land and the people; that Chitkul will forever remain stranded in time, retaining its innocence and Spartan charm.

Note: The road beyond Bhabanagar, from Natpha Dam site to Wangtoo, Karcham till a few miles beyond Tapri is in pretty bad condition due to the Karcham-Wangtoo Hydroelectric project construction.

Part I – Sarahan: Click Here, PART III – Kalpa: Click Here, Part IV – Shimla: Click Here
 

Grubbing En-Route : Gyand Chand Ki Dhaba, Badhal, 4 Km from Jeori
Enjoy unlimited Kadhi-Chawal, Rajma-Chawal for Rs.30.00 unly. Taste – Absolutely YUMMY!!. Ambience – Well, you don’t notice it much once you get going…

CHITKUL ACCOMODATION
Rani Guest HouseContact: Ravi Negi (01786-244307)
4 Rooms. Hot Water. Rent Rs.400 per night

Thakur Guest House
Tariff: Rs.400.00 per night off season. Rs.600.00 per night during season
Total 8 rooms. 4 rooms with attached bathrooms. Hot water available.

HPPWD Guest House
Booking to be done at PWD Office, 3 KM before Bhabanagar (See the snaps below showing location)
Contact: Shri Uday Singh

 
 
 

HPPWD Guest House Chitkul - Booking Office

Photo Courtesy: SV

Categories: Totternama

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