Day 1: A trip to the land of Apples!

Ever since I went on leave due to my injury, I was missing all the fun that the trips that Officer Trainees undertake provides. However, within two weeks of my joining back, I would have an occasion to ease back into the routine. The weekend around the corner had an extra day due to Id-ul-Fitr and hence the OTs wanted to visit kullu/manali for undertaking some activity like River Rafting. However, this was not approved. Instead another plan that came to fruition was a trip to Sangla Valley.

To the land of world’s best apples

Quoting Wiki,

Sangla is a city in the Baspa Valley, also referred to as the Sangla valley, in the Kinnaur District of Himachal Pradesh, India, close to the Tibetan border. Sangla Valley or the Baspa Valley starts at Karcham and ends at Chitkul. Sangla is the major town in the valley with a petrol pump, Bank ATMs, Post Office, Restaurants, Bar, mid range hotels and shops. The valley is surrounded by forested slopes and offers views of the high mountains. Its location in the greater Himalayan range gives it a milder climate than the plains.

The journey to Sangla from Shimla takes around 8–10 hours. We started at around 9 in the morning and would reach the valley by evening 6. The route that we travelled through is one of the most scenic ones I have ever undertook. All around you, you see the Great Himalayas and as you leave Shimla (district) and reach Kinnaur, the valleys become deeper with the rivers cutting through them making deep gorges.

Throughout the route, you see apple orchards and cherry trees on the terraced Hills. The Cherry trees have been covered with nets to protect them from frost and hail. Many of us had taken “avomin” for motion sickness. Not having suffered motion sickness ever in my life, I took solace in a beer.

Our lunch was scheduled at a hotel in Rampur, Himachal Pradesh. The River Sutlej was visible already and I was amazed to see it. For Malayalees, the North Indian Rivers are a wonder. The Rivers in Kerala, flow swiftly into the Arabian Sea. However, they are not as ferocious as the Himalayan Rivers in their upper reaches, or as wide as them in the lower reaches. Besides, the rivers there don’t carve the kind of deep valleys that the North Indian rivers do in their course.

The first time I visited Kullu/Manali, after my prelims in 2014, I was awestruck to see the fantastic valley of the Beas. That was the first time I truly understood what a V-shaped valley is. Even now, whenever I visit a Himalayan River, the feeling remains. So, seeing the ferocious Sutlej in Rampur, evoked both nostalgia and amazement in me.

We had started as 3 groups. The OTs were travelling in two Tempo travellers and the Directors accompanying us in 3 innovas. The other groups had reached before us, while our ‘lazy’ group reached last. After having food in Rampur we soon resumed our travel.

From Rampur onwards the terrain slowly started to evolve. The height of the ranges that surrounded us began to increase, the river started to get narrow and more ferocious, and the valleys became deeper. Our driver was very adept at navigating the high hills and he would, with ease, ply through these dangerous roads. These roads, which are narrow, are only wide enough to accommodate one vehicle and if two buses come together it needs some skill to manoeuvre. One wrong calculation and you would plunge into the deep valley that is on the other side. A small landslide and you could be left stranded.

(The Deep V-shaped Valleys were a breathtaking sight to behold)

Shorly after we left Rampur, we came across a small waterfall. We stopped there for sometime. I happened to misplace my walking stick ( which I have been using to assist in my recovery) here and would not remember that I lost it until we reached Sangla. However, I never felt the need for it because my course director made sure that I was well taken care of, something that I am quite sure would not happen everywhere. I felt that there are a lot of things that I need to learn from our seniors in the way subordinates should be treated. In way that too was a learning experience.

We followed the Sutluj northwards, and after sometime reached Karcham. Near Karcham, Sutluj is joined by the Bespa River from its left bank, which is its tributary. I was amazed to see the confluence of the two rivers, two ferocious streams consummating their unavoidable union. Sutlej has been dammed here for the Karcham-Wangtoo Hydroelectric Power project and can be viewed on the way.

IA&AS OTs at the Karcham Dam
IA&AS OTs at the Karcham Dam

From here on, we started following the Bespa River upstream. The river bed was strewn with round granite stones of different sizes. The valley kept becoming deeper and road more dangerous. We would come across many vehicles with Punjab and Delhi registration, which were carrying tourists who were trying to escape the heat of the plains. Many of them were not very comfortable riding in these hills and drove with their ruffian skills while navigating these high mountains.

Our group reached Sangla town around 6:30 and our Bhutanese friends proceeded to have tea from a “Bondhese ( Buddhist when written incorrectly) tea shop. Sangla town is surrounded by the Great Himalayan Ranges and its view is really breathtaking. A wall of mountains is erected all around you, and you think that the mountain that you see in front of you is the biggest and suddenly a cloud is blown away by the wind and just behind that wall an even taller, loftier mountain shows its face. There is no wonder that out culture worships Himalayas ever since time immemorial. There is nothing that can be more humbling and majestic at the same time. I felt proud that our country is home to this natural heritage.

(Sangla Town with Himalayas in the backdrop)

Another thing needs to be mentioned. I had taken a Jio Sim recently and I was able to stream videos over 4g network until I reached very close to Sangla. I found this fantastic, when you think how recent they have launched their product. The other provider that had good connectivity was Airtel. My dual sim phone with Idea and BSNL had network only from BSNL, idea almost dying out ever since we left Shimla. However, once we reached Sangla, BSNL stood tall providing 2g network while all others almost failed. It awakes you to the fact why the State services are essential in these otherwise inaccessible areas.

From Sangla town, we proceeded to the valley where our hotel was situated. We halted in a hotel name Batseri ( named after the village that lay just behind it. It provided a view of the Bespa river in front. The gurgling sound of the river provided music to my ears. It was something very soothing and almost felt like meditation. The rooms were good with a woody smell to it. There was no TV or wifi or AC/fan facilities. Even without all these I felt very comfortable.

We had a campfire by the riverside. The pitch dark night hid the mountains that were just behind us, even though its presence was thoroughly felt. The campfire helped us cool our nerves after a long and tiring journey. Some of the more adventurous from our lot ventured to the river bank at night. I wanted to join, but because of my leg condition, desisted from doing it.

A much more eventful day awaited us. After chirping late into the night with some friends, I slowly retired to my room. It was past one. The silence of the valley and the cool breeze that came in through the window made sure that I slept like a baby. I would soon wake up to an even more exciting day.

Here is Day 2 of the trip.

Day 2: Sleeping hamlets- Batseri and Chitkul