I discovered the authentic mouth-watering dishes from the north-western areas of Himachal Pradesh ( Bilaspur, Una, Hamirpur, Kangra and Chamba districts) during my visit to the ancestral village of my in-laws. The food, mainly vegetarian, is prepared keeping in mind the geographical and climatic conditions. Simple and nutritious, the food includes dishes made from locally available pulses, cereals, tubers, vegetables and fruits. Milk is also used in the form of curds and buttermilk in many of the dishes.
Some of the indigenous dishes include, babroo, bhaturu, lasaure ki sabzi, ratalu ki sabzi, sarson ka saag and other leafy greens of the season, kadhi, mah ki daal, khatta, mahni, kehru or rehru, pahari madra, rotis made from maize or wheat flour, rice, chick peas, black gram, red kidney beans (Rajmah), rot ( a sweet deep fried wheat bread), gulgule, bated (steamed or fried pedrode) to name a few. I will post the recipes as and when I make them.
Mahni is a delightful semi liquid dish made from raw or half-ripe green mangoes and is usually eaten with plain boiled rice as a side dish.
To make Mahni you will need :
Raw or half-ripe mangoes – 2 large
Onion – One large
Roasted Cumin seed Powder – 1 Teaspoon
Salt – To taste
Sugar – If required (depends on how sweet or sour you like the dish)
Red chili Powder – 1/2 Teaspoon
Fresh Crushed Mint Leaves – 1 tbsp
Fresh chopped coriander leaves – 1 tbsp
To prepare :
Wash and boil the raw mangoes. ( you can steam them too)
Let them cool a little and take out the pulp in a bowl.
Mash the pulp to make it smooth.
Finely chop the onions.
Wash the fresh mint leaves and crush them a little. Save a few for garnish.
Add cold water to the pulp stirring it gently till it makes a nice semi liquid preparation.
Add the chopped onions and spices.
Add a little jaggery or sugar if the preparation is too sour. I like it tangy sweet.
Taste to adjust the amount of sweetness or spices.
Garnish with mint leaves and keep it in the fridge.
Tip – you can add a few Moong pakodi, boondi or handful of boiled black gram to it. I like it just simple. Never use metal to stir, serve or store sour preparations.
The first version is with slightly ripened ambi (those which start turning light yellow) with sugar.
This is with absolutely raw ambi and organic jaggery. Don’t go by color. The gud is dark but I’ve used very little in it. The taste is perfect spicy sour n sweet in that order. The one in small bowl us without jaggery. No meetha for mom coz of slightly high blood sugar.
I prefer this version to the sugar one. We add boiled kala chana too to Manhi. Tastes divine.
I first had Manhi at Mandi bus station. There was a waterfall after the bridge and a small dhaba opposite it. They served Mahni with boiled bengal gram or kala chana, simple Kali daal and rice. Tea was made in one corner. Mostly the driver’s stopped there. One of the best meals I ever had. I was thirteen at that time.
To make with boiled Bengal gram or kala chana – Soak bengal gram or kala chana overnight in water. Throw the water in the morning and wash the chana. Pressure cook or boil in minimal water and then let it boil so all the water gets absorbed and dried up. Cool the chana is a bowl and once it is at room temperature add it to the basic manhi recipe.
Enjoy this tangy sweet dish with hot steamed rice or hot fresh phulka.
all right reserved@tikuli
This poem is naked.
The words, at the edge
of the paper, are dressed in
nothing but their own shadows,
tender and fragile, and yet,
bearing the strength of its private pain.
This poem is seductive in its
This poem is seductive
in its vulnerability
tender and fragile,
it bear my pain
This poem is the shadow of words
at the edge of the page, writing,
the pen attempts to dress them
but they remain naked and fragile
This poem is a two-way portal
between the traditional
and the contemporary,
a passage to and from
numberless states and stories.
This poem is a flashback,
a portal to the past,
a river stone content
and patiently watching
the world from the water.
This poem is dependable
faithful as my bones,
indestructible as my love
this poem is a ruin
or maybe a rune
this poem is not just a pile of stones
it is a repository for a thousand stories.
This poem is a stitch
that will unravel it all.
This poem is a work in progress,
perpetually evolving, adapting,
refining, improving and enhancing.
This poem is courageous in change.
Its possibilities are endless.
A heartwarming review with some excellent translations of my poems in Italian by writer, editor Alessandro Canzian, who is doing great work in the promotion of poetry in Italian and other languages in Pordenone, Italy, a northeastern city where one of the most important national literary events, Pordenonelegge, takes place each year.
Thank you so much Alessandro, James, Rachel, Kris and all the others who have encouraged me by becoming a part of my poetic evolution
Here is an excerpt from the review:
“Collection of Chaos by Tikuli (Leaky Boot Press, 2014, foreword by Kris Saknussemm, cover by Rachel Slade), edited by my english friend James Goddard, is a primitive book of flesh and blood, passion and pain. Tikuli had the courage to do what was right for her. It is this courage, as well as her concern for the rights of women, her experience of a bad marriage, her love for her sons and the difficulties of life in India for a woman in her situation, that informs and humanises the poems in Collection of Chaos. Her themes are universal, her language often emotional and full of understanding. These, however, are not poems of self-pity, but of questioning, of trying to understand. In fact, they are a true reflection of Tikuli herself. Collection of Chaos is a book to read and reread, without fear of being overwhelmed by real life.”
View original review from the link below the cover pic.
You can Buy the book from :
This poem is an imagination,
a fleeting thought,
a broken dream,
an unmet desire.
It is a conjurer,
It knows only what
it needs to know
and tells only what
you need to hear.
This poem is created
from ecstasy and agony.
This poem is traffucked between
heat, sweat and fumes.
The tarmac burning in its eyes.
The pregnant sky is ready
to deliver, the parched crow
This poem is lingering
in a sanitized silence
between the meeting
and parting of life.
It crossed over,
then returned again to this world,
to see its body lying on a bed
controlled by a network
of tubes hanging from it.
The dark pierced into the light,
the light dissolved into the dark,
in a perplexing contradiction.
In a place of altered time,
somewhere between fear and reason,
words adrift from their sentences
are less and less coherent –
and yet so full of meaning.
This poem is in a state of fugue.
This poem is a vaporous toy,
a creäture of imagination.
It rolls its
between my fingers,
Translucent, veiled thoughts
wrap me in a smoky warmth.
I watch its ethereal circle of light,
rings of smoke, their perfect seam
tinged blue, rising flawlessly
and mingling into
the misty night air.
Blue vapors of memory
float like an aching song
they rise ,take shapes and
break like waves on ocean shore.
Purple threads of maroon
fill my mind with marijuana dreams.
(originally written for The Smoking Book in 2009. Made some changes.)
this poem tiptoes barefoot on
cold wooden floorboards of emptiness
spooning you in its mind filled with
scents of sex, love and spices
This poem is a mosaic of razor-sharp words
designed for a purpose, an intention,
collected over the time from your
cleverly crafted conversations.
I woke up to the bird calls and checked my watch. It was still very early in the morning. Inhaling the fresh fragrant mountain air I stretched and gazed admiringly at the “posh camping” we were experiencing at Kinner camp at about 2800m. The Swiss tent had cozy beds , a clean attached toilet and the sight of my little one snuggled inside a warm quilt made me extremely happy. I tiptoed out into the clear daylight and the view simply took my breath away. Surrounded by the high mountains of Greater Himalayas from all sides the camp site was one of the most beautiful I had stayed in all those years. Twenty sleepy Swiss style luxury tents stood in the midst of flower beds and dewy grass. Neat pathways lined with pebbles on both sides led to each tent and to the kitchen and dining area. A lovely patchwork on the ground. I walked up to a big boulder and sat there, silently taking in the view. I could hear the Baspa river gushing down the valley and felt like going for a walk to meet its sparkling waters but the rest of the group was in deep slumber and I didn’t want anyone to panic on not finding me there when they woke up.
So, barefoot I walked around inside the camp connecting with the earth’s energy . Major ( the friendly resident dog) came up to greet and trotted along.
The location of kinner camp at Sangla is just perfect. Nestled between the apple orchards with the river running just a few yards away, the campsite has a huge jagged mountain at the back which protects it from direct sunlight and in the front are snow-clad peaks and the river.
I watched the snow peaks slowly waking up to life with a blush as the sun rose in the sky. It was a great day to take nature walks and explore the lush green forests of cedar and pine, with the magnificent Kinner Kailash peak towering over the quaint village and campsite.
Kinner camp is managed by professional team of locals headed by Mr. Pradeep Negi. A wonderful person with years of experience about the terrain and culture of that area. it was through him we had arranged this whole trip. As the days passed we experience the best of hospitality, food, knowledge about the fragile Himalayan eco system and the efforts of Mr. Negi and others in preserving the local kinnauri culture and lifestyle. We also came to know about their work in balancing the rapid imbalance of ecology happening in that area especially due to the building of dams.
The jagged sunrays, uncommon colorful birds and crisp cool breeze filtering through the trees led me to the clearing behind the dining area from where I could watch the Baspa thundering through the boulders. The icy water cascading down from the snowy peaks of the northern Himalayas. On the other side the landscape was green and inviting. I spotted a few birds like the Himalayan whistling thrush, Sun Birds and Barbets chirping merrily on the trees in and around the campsite.
The time had stood still till I heard a familiar voice informing me that the kid was awake and needed breakfast.
After a quick shower and super delicious breakfast we discussed about the possible local trails and sightseeing around the area. It was election time and the village road was abuzz with sounds of vehicles and campaigning.
Some people from the group were still rattled by the last night’s adventure and wanted to relax, the kid was excited about the dog, food and back rides and I, who didn’t want to sit around and laze, was spoilt for choices. A village trip seemed like a great idea. We sat watching the meandering river from the road talking to Mr.Negi about various things and then trotted off to the village remunerating about the place where Gods once lived.
Women is kinnauri attire went about their daily business around their beautiful wooden houses with slate roofs. The kinnauri homes are built in traditional Kath-Kuni style in which the alternate layers of wood and stone are used in masonry work. Each an architectural wonder.
Kids, happy to tag along and get clicked, posed with smiling faces and the men watched the world go round as they sat smoking in groups or kept an eye on their livestock grazing on fresh grass.
A hot cup of Himachali tea warmed my fingers as I soaked up the flavors of Kinnaur. I could see the influence of Buddhism on their lifestyle because of the close proximity to Tibet.
We returned to the camp for lunch, a scrumptious spread laid out by the camp kitchen. Courteous staff and finger linking food is one of the plus points of Kinner Camps.
A few of us wanted to doze off. Seriously? How can anyone not want to go down to the river? I wondered. The temptation was too much to resist.
After lingering around the camp looking at various medicinal plants and other exotic trees and vegetation of that area finally we made it to the river. A large coke bottle filled with a pre mix of old monk and cola was stacked neatly in the sand between two rocks in the icy water. Each one of us found their place for a private commune with nature.
The effect was spellbinding and trust me no picture or video can give you a true experience of what it is like to be there in the middle of enchanting beauty and silence.
We sat there beside the roaring Baspa till the sunlight began to fade. Sipping the fiery mix from the bottle now and then to keep us warm. I had my Handy Cam switched on to capture the scenic beauty as closely as possible but at times you just want to switch off and blend into the serene calm around you. That’s what I did.
It began to get cold and we decided to make our way back to the camp. We had already asked Mr. Negi to give us a guide to cross the river and go to Batseri village. I was also looking forward to the walks through the forest and meadows. As we had only three days we could not undertake any hikes or explore other villages like Kamru, Nako and Kalpa. Chitkul was of course an exception.
We relaxed before the dinner discussing various things and enjoying the carefree time with each other which is usually a rarity in the hustle bustle of Delhi. I was thrilled beyond measures to be there and missed my elder son who would have been a perfect companion for nature trails and other adventures. None of the other adults were too keen to step out of luxury that the camp offered and the kiddo was too small for such impromptu adventures.
After dinning under the starlit sky we circled around a campfire with our drinks and smoke listening to the night sounds and watched the moon glide over the mountains. It was a blessing to have a clear night. I had forgotten how a star-studded sky actually looked. Words cannot describe the beauty of that first night at Sangla.
It reminded me of another night in the mountains, the YHAI trekking camp at Kasol. The rich night sky, wind’s hushed whispers to the trees, moonlit mountainsides, sounds of cricket and crackling fire keeping me warm. We stayed up late that night and when the fire began to die we headed back to the tents. The kid was fast asleep in the comforts of his bed.
Sleep took over soon with a promise of another day of exploring the spectacular terrain. We woke up early and after breakfast headed straight to the river to venture into what lay across its raging waters. Mr. Negi had provided us with packed food and a trained guide who told us about the stories , myths and facts about the Kinnaur and Baspa valley. The rickety wooden bridge unfortunately was broken and half-submerged in the river. All our plan to get across drowned then and there. Though the guide said we could still go across no one wanted to risk the rapid flow of Baspa. We walked along the river side for a long distance and the guide pointed out many glaciers and known hiking trails along the mountains. He also showed us some rare flora and fauna typical of that region. We had our food beside the river and returned to the camp through another path in the meadows.
That afternoon the group split and some of us decided to go to Chitkul. I left the little boy in the care of a friend who wanted to explore the area for medicinal herbs and shilajeet.
Three of us got into the car to go to the last inhabited village near the Indo-Tibetan border. Chitkul is the first village of Baspa valley and last on the old Hindustan -Tibet road. It is also the last point in India where you can go without a permit. Tibet lies across the Zaskar peaks in the east, while the peaks of Greater Himalayas cross between the Zaskar and the Dhauladhar ranges and pass through the middle of Kinnaur. I certainly want to explore that entire region before it’s too late to travel.
Chitkul – A visit to the last Fairytale Village bordering Tibet
The 26 km road from Sangla to Chitkul (3,450m) passed through an unforgettable landscape of cold desert mountains, snow-clad peaks, lush rolling greens and farmlands. Way down in valley we could see Baspa slithering silently.
The moment we left Sangla it seemed we had stepped into a fairytale. Though I had been to many virgin places in Himachal and Uttaranchal but this was the most spectacular drive so far. Known for its scenic beauty Chitkul is also a junction for many trek routes. The weather was cool and there was no sign of clouds though we could see them wandering over the higher ranges. The landscape dramatically changed as we drove along the serpentine road. We did not stop at Rakcham as we wanted to spend more time at Chitkul but we spotted many farmers and Shepherds in the sparsely populated village. The architectural beauty of the wooden houses was enhanced by the surrounding potato fields, wild flowers, mossy pastures, grasslands and a scenic backdrop of mighty mountains. I felt like Alice in wonderland.
From the height we were travelling the cattle grazing in the valley were just black and white dots a carpet of green The road was a bit treacherous from Rakcham to Chitkul and resembled a dirt track. Many streams cut across the road and one had to carefully navigate through them.
We stopped at ITBP check post at Mastarang crossing which lies along a beautiful stream flowing through a small Pine Forest The stream flowed right across the road and stepped out of the car to soak in the sweet-scented air. The slope on the right side of the road was dotted with flowers. The water was cold and each polished pebble that lay at its base told an unspoken story. The clock was ticking and we had to move on. I made a promise to myself to visit again for a longer period. This is not a place for a quick visit. A large group of mountain goats and sheep greeted us a little ahead. A young shepherd gave us the way waving and smiling at us. A picture of a happy and content life. Matarang is another beautiful valley of Kinnaur district and a place that can hold you captive with its virgin beauty.
I had never seen such beautiful colors of the sky. The late noon sun was milder now and the air was getting crisper with chill. Perennial glaciers that feed the river shimmered like gold and the shadows were lengthening on the mountain ranges. It was a surreal experience to say the least.
We saw a gate welcoming us to Chitkul. We had reached our destination. At 11,320 feet I was in a dreamland. We stopped our car in a clearing near ITBP check post. There were not many people around and the wind had gathered momentum. At that moment nothing mattered. The cold did not bother me as I walked around the village that was too beautiful to be true. An ITBP personnel told us about the history and significance of the strategically located village. He pointed to where the road ended almost half a kilometer ahead. One could see the old group of blue tin roofed ITBP barracks. The road closed 90 km before the China border.
We drove to that point and watched the valley open up in front of us in all its splendor. The sky by now was a pallet of unimaginable colors. Till now I had the movie camera recording each moment. Somehow it didn’t seem right to look at the beauty through the viewfinder and I switched it off.
Sitting on a rock I sipped the hot sweet milky tea as the men talked to the people around. I needed to be with myself. The teashop also sold hot Maggi like many others in that area so we ordered that too just to keep us warm. The steaming noodles full of flavorful veggies tasted excellent.
Rapidly the temperature changed to icy cold and the strong wind added to the discomfort. The villagers, unperturbed by the freezing cold, went about their daily routine. The women were remarkably beautiful in their traditional attire. Many wore the traditional silver jewelry and colorful scarves. Almost all the men wore colorful kinnauri caps. I noticed that everyone had a smile on their faces.
We walked in silence observing the wooden houses, a small monastery, Kagyupa Buddhist temple, an exquisitely carved temple of a local deity and a rare treat – a water-mill. I had not seen one since my YHAI trek in Parvati Valley. It was a small one built right at the stream. The wooden mill was perched on big stones stacked on top of each other and had a tin roof. A few rocks were placed on the roof to prevent it from flying off in strong wind. The old wooden door was bolted and plies of firewood were stacked behind the mill.
It was closed so we walked ahead to the govt. school and gram panchayat buildings. The sides of the roads were piled with river stones. A lot of firewood was stacked near each house. We also saw many small grain storage huts. The use of tin for roofs increased in past few years and there were many cemented buildings too though the old world charm of the ancient village was still alive. This colorful small village of Chitkul,with just a population of around 610, is a National heritage village and rightly so.
The valley looked beautiful from where we stood. The banks of Baspa river covered with pebbles of all sizes and shapes gave it a unique perspective.
We bid adieu to the charming village and drove back to our camp taking with us unforgettable memories. The view that lay ahead of the tricky bend we maneuvered was simply out of the world. No sunset ever could match the one we saw that day. The image has stayed with me since then. Shades of magenta, pinks, crimson, cream, blue and gold filled the sky in front of us. It was difficult to take the eyes off. I hurriedly switched on the handycam to capture the miracle unfolding there.
I wish I had some still shots to share but even they could not have brought the splendor of that day. The blushing snow peaks, the deep shadows , the clouds and the molten gold made the drive a magical experience.
On reaching the camp we saw one of our friends waiting anxiously for us. She told that the kid had his own adventure hike and followed her husband on steep climb without his knowledge. Now both sat on a rock jutting out from the rugged face of the mountain near the road. The furious Baspa flowing right below. It was a sheer drop if any of them slipped. The camp dog was right there guarding them and he began to bark as we approached the scene. For a moment I did not know whether to cry or laugh. There on the rock sat my little son clinging on to our friend. He, however, was rattled and held tightly to whatever he could hold on to. This was the first time he had come on such a trip and obviously this episode had shaken him completely. Slowly they got down finding footholds on crumbling muddy gaps between the rocks. He heaved a sigh of relief and in one breath narrated the incident. The kiddo seemed happy at his achievement and happily settled in his dad’s lap.
Now that the fiasco was over we went to the camp and had an early dinner and then sat around the campfire , happily listening to the local stories from the staff. We roasted some locally grown potatoes in fire and had them when they were still hot. Kinnaur is known for its potatoes among other things.
It was a cold full moon night and everyone just relaxed with a drink or smoke. When the wind began to rise we decided to move into the tents. We all gathered in one tent and decided to play chess. As the two men from the group played we watched and cheered. Everyone was a little too happy and the locally brewed alcoholic drinks made the night even more cheerful. The alcohol is distilled from grapes, apple, pear, barley and wheat. The kids slept soundly, his father stepped out to meditate and watch the moon glide through the sky. I stayed inside engrossed in the game that was taking longer than usual time. Sleep was slowly casting its spell on us and we wrapped up for the night at about two o’clock.
It was our last night there and we all needed sleep before the long journey back home. We woke up early, packed our bags and took leave from the ever courteous staff of Kinner Camp. Mr. Negi had been a very generous host and after thanking him for the hospitality we began our journey on the road we had travelled at night while coming. For the first time we realized what could have happened to us had we run into trouble that night. The sheer magnificence of the old silk route took our breath away. We could now see why it is called “the deadliest road” in the world. Full of hairpin bends, blind curves, the C-shaped incisions in the overhanging cliffs and the broken patches of the road and the dumper trucks that resembled dinky toy vehicles fallen into the valley were enough to tell us never ever to drive on it at night. The road looked like a ledge cut out on the bare rock face of the mountain. The sight of deep Sutlej Gorge in daylight scarred the wits out of us. I remembered how we had mistaken a broken section of bridge for a road and as I peered into the gorge I knew exactly where our pieces would have been scattered. We stopped at the shrines on the way and this time made sure to take the right road to Shimla and from there to the sweltering heat of Delhi.
Recommended Reading –
It was the summer of 2006 and time again to travel to the mountains. Kinnaur district was one of the areas we were considering because of its raw beauty and diverse landscape. A quick research and availability of stay at Kinner camps (situated at about 2800m) at Sangla was enough to make it final. The very idea of camping in this strikingly beautiful high-altitude Himalayan district tucked away in the northeastern edge of Himachal Pradesh, rubbing shoulders with Tibet seemed exciting. Still not so popular with the tourists, Kinnaur is a Mecca for travelers and backpackers. The region faces a splendid isolation in the heartless months of winter and was once referred to as “the valley of the shadow of death” by Andrew Wilson.
Sangla or Baspa valley is one of three enclosed valleys in Kinnaur district and is named after the Baspa river, a tributary of Sutlej, that flows through it. This is where we were headed.
It was long journey of about 977 km / 15-17 hours and we needed a good vehicle. The only car available to us was an Indica. Five adults ( three men , two women) and a kid in an Indica? That too on such a long journey ? I wasn’t getting a good feel about the thing but the best part of an adventure is the surprises that come with it. The couple who was travelling with us had no exposure to such adventurous road trips to the mountains. That made the matter worse but somehow everything got settled and in the middle of the night when the world was asleep we stuffed our bags, bottles of Old Monk and Coke, a package of eatables and ourselves in the car and began the most memorable journey of all times.
Travelling on highways during the night has its advantages. The traffic is less, air is cool and one doesn’t waste the daylight on familiar routes. We reached Narkanda via Chandigarh – Solan- Shimla and Fagu at around mid noon after stopping for a filling breakfast at one of the highway dhabas. In approximately 8 hours we had covered a distance of about 435 km.
Situated at an altitude of 2708 meters on the Hindustan Tibet road (NH – 22) Narkanda was our first glimpse of the gorgeous Shivalik Ranges, deep green forests, apple orchards and fruit laden Cherry trees. We stopped at Hatu Hotel for lunch and to stretch ourselves before the next phase of the journey. It was our first visit beyond Shimla and the sheer beauty of the place ceased all our tiredness. The snow peaks were clearly visible beyond the stretch of moss-green valley. After an hour or two we drove towards Rampur which was once the capital of princely state of Bushahr, a major center on the old trade route to Kinnaur, Tibet, Ladakh and China.
Intoxicated by the beauty around us and listening to the old Bollywood songs of Kishore and Hemantda we drove on until one of us realized something was amiss. We were going uphill instead of downhill and the road condition was not very good either. On enquiring we found it was a longer route via a feeder road through the upper villages and the distance had just doubled. We couldn’t turn back so looking down at the meandering Sutlej and the valley dotted with houses we kept going. On one side rose the mighty chiseled cliffs of the cold desert mountains and on the other side the fruit laden trees lined the landscape sprinkled with wild flowers and grass.
The sky was getting overcast and the destination was still far. At a high point our car began to fume. One could see the smoke coming out of the bonnet and two of the tires. Cursing our luck we parked the car under an Apricot tree and with least of tools the men struggled to replace the tires. And then, it began to rain. Somehow I managed to cover the luggage and my ten year old under a plastic sheet. We had no clue how far we had to drive to reach the camp. Visibility was near zero and the cold rain fell like dead bullets and showed no sign of stopping. After an hour-long struggle the car finally started and we drove down to Rampur with no further trouble. I could feel the nervousness and discomfort of the couple of travelling with us. The child and his father were unconcerned and our friend with whom we had done most of our trips tried in vain to convince the scared couple that they were safe with us.
At Rampur Bushahr we topped up the tank, got the car checked and started again. The mighty Sutlej thundered along the road. With the Sony handy cam perched on my shoulder I ignored the continuous grumble inside the car and immersed myself completely to the scenic splendor outside.
The rain had stopped and one could see the rose-tinted snow-capped Shrikhand Mahadev Ranges in the backdrop of the lovely town. The only sound we could hear was the roar of the river on our left.
We stopped to eat Thukpa, the noodle soup, at a roadside stall run by a Kinnauri woman wrapped in Dhoru (Kinnauri shawl). It was a simple, fragrant and hearty meal in a bowl good enough to sustain us for a long time.
The sun was setting behind the mighty snow-capped peaks as we drove towards Sarahan crossing Nathpa – Jhakri, the largest underground Hydroelectric Project situated downstream on Sutlej river, owned by SJVN Ltd. The peaks glistened like liquid gold at places while some others had the most unusual shades of crimson flowing down their tops.
It was rapidly getting dark and by the time we maneuvered our way to the little hamlet of Sarahan it was about eight in the night. An argument broke out and the group was soon divided in two, one who wanted to continue on the treacherous stretch of Hindustan Tibet Road that lay ahead and the other who wanted to spend the night at Sarahan. The kid slept through the entire melodrama. It was election time and none of the hotels had a place to offer so the only option was to move on which made me very happy. There is no greater adrenaline rush than to face the unknown.
The locals were not too comfortable about our driving down “the deadliest road” during the night. The child and his dad relaxed in a comfortable snooze, the couple snuggled close to give each other a feeling of security and comfort and I hopped into the front seat with my friend at the wheel ready to take on the 106km road distance to Sangla which was our destination. The estimated time locals had given was about two and a half hours but it was pitch dark and the only thing which could throw light on the road were the car headlights.
Guided by the car lights knowing in our hearts that it will eventually lead us to our destination we silently drove on. None of us had any idea when that will happen. Being a single lane road there seemed less chances of taking a wrong turn. In the darkness we crossed the famed Taranda dhak literally carved into the perpendicular cliffs without really realizing the jaw dropping effect it had on travelers during daytime. For us each blind turn, each hairpin bend was as awe-inspiring as the previous one. We did not meet any traffic except one or two trucks on the way. The thought of car breaking down in the middle of nowhere was something no one wanted to dwell on.
The only thought running collectively in our minds was to reach Kinner Camps. We informed the camp owner of our whereabouts and took directions.
A few spotlights in the valley indicated that we were crossing the Karcham Wangu Power plant owned by Jaypee Group. The road from Wagtu to Karcham was a shabby dirt track with no sign of tarmac. All one saw was scary rocky face of the mountain jutting out from the left and the perpendicular drop to river Sutlej which snored like a sleeping dragon in the valley below. There was a pin drop silence in the car. I could see the tension building up as an empty bottle of Pepsi was cut in half and a premix of dark rum and cola poured heartily. The two men gulped the fiery liquid in quick succession while the lady mumbled some holy mantras.
The couple was definitely not liking the adventure they had embarked upon and the terrain was giving them a fright. I remembered reading about the freak cloud burst of 1987 that had wiped out Wangtu completely and it sent a chill up my spine. The bridge, the road and the village were swallowed by the lake formed by rebellious waters of Sutlej.
It is from Karcham, for about 25-km, that the Sutlej is in its most ferocious and challenging moods – boulders, rocks and rubble are tossed around in its foaming rapids, the loose strata of the ranges on the flanks further adding to the debris. At night the rumbling sound of the river rides on the darkness all along.
Eyes glued on the hairpin bends of the narrow road slithering in eerie silence our car slowly edged forward. A few meters ahead the friend who was driving asked me if I could see a turn and a bridge. I could faintly see the bridge to our right. The car lights could only show certain stretch ahead, the rest of the road just melted into dark. I nodded, slightly unsure, and in a hushed voice told him to go slow and look before turning.
Just at a crucial moment he stopped. There was nothing ahead except a broken section of an old bridge hanging over the drop of about 2000 ft into the Sutlej gorge. Sheer rocks rose vertically up from its left bank. The road looked like an incision made by blasting a ledge in the hard rock . For a moment our hearts stopped. The very thought of what could have happened if we had turned blindly sent shivers up our spine. We looked at the other passengers from the corner of our eyes. They were oblivious to the incident and the potent rum cola mix had anesthetized them into a comfortable slumber. My friend was an experienced driver and I had complete faith in his ability to drive in difficult situations. Slowly he reversed the car and we started off again on the deathly road. The river growled even more noisily below us.
My little boy shifted in my lap and then went back into deep slumber. The weight was beginning to numb my legs and I kept wriggling my toes to keep the blood circulation going. We were at the worse stretch of the entire road ruined by the work carried out by the hydro power projects running in that area. As a rule it certainly wasn’t a good idea to take the night and apparently we were the only ones on that road that night. For me it was the best adventure life could offer.
A little ahead, across Karcham bridge, the road forked to mark the accent along the blue-green waters of the Baspa river and headed towards Sangla which lay 16 km right of the Hindustan Tibet Road that ad started from Shimla and went up to Kaza. Sangla valley is just 120 odd km before the Indo-Tibet border and we were about 18 km from Sangla town.
Karcham is the confluence of beautiful Baspa and the mighty Sutlej and is considered as the gateway to Baspa valley. The roar of the river rose from the shadowy depth of the deep dark valley mocking at the rugged rock jaws that peered from above.
All the muscles in our body were strained from peering into the dark abyss. We had been driving without a proper stopover for about 580km. Sleep more than hunger was on our mind. Thankfully the road was good and ahead of us lay days filled with exquisite beauty and starlit nights that were just a dream in big cities like Delhi.
After what seemed like eternity, much to our relief, we saw the board of Kinner Camp and Mr. Negi the owner waiting for us looking visibly concerned. He waved at us from the gate of the gorgeous campsite nestled between high range mountains from all sides.
One could hear the slow hum of Baspa river that ran very close to the camp. After almost 12 hours of strenuous drive we had finally reached our dream destination. The good man had kept the food ready for us and after a good hearty meal we collapsed on our beds inside the luxurious Swiss tents with dreams of new adventures the morning would bring to us.
Part -2 of this post covers our stay at Kinnar Camp, a trip to Chitkul and some other adventures including the return day drive on the old treacherous Hindustan Tibet Road.
It has been a while since the trip so if there are any errors in reporting the factual details please let me know in the comment section and I will correct it.
The must read Posts with pictures and videos for this region and specially the Hindustan Tibet Road are
And from my fellow Indiblogger bNomadic On Road through the trans-Himalayan region (He has one of the best travel blogs I have come across. Most recommended.)