CULTURES OF THE ANCIENT WESTERN HIMALAYA
14 days

Little known to travellers in general, the eastern bounds of the state of Himachal Pradesh conceal the geographical areas of scenic Kinnaur, Spiti and Lahaul, where forests give way to stark deserts and deep river valleys are complemented by wind-sculpted rock formations. These are wondrous lands with epic mountain vistas and a cultural intensity bequeathed by waves of Tibetan migration over the centuries. Names like Sangla, Kalpa, Nako and Tabo invite mystery and adventure. Easily isolated by rain and occasional landslides, these rural beauties are sparsely populated. Distant monasteries, precipitously perched on mountainsides, ancient art treasures and remote villages all add to make these hidden lands wonderfully distinctive from their better known Himalayan neighbours.

DAY 1 | CHANDIGARH

Arrive in Chandigarh today, where accommodation is held from 12 noon. An orientation drive is arranged this afternoon through the city, its skyline dominated by the architectural legacy of Le Corbusier.

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DAY 2 | CHANDIGARH/ KALKA/ SHIMLA

At leisure till the short transfer to Kalka for the midday train to Shimla (alt 2,130), a five hour journey. The Kalka-Shimla mountain railway that rises from the dusty plains to the cool heights, through a series of tunnels and loops, is an absolute marvel of engineering. Stay two nights at Shimla, or at nearby Mashobra.

DAY 3 | SHIMLA

During the day at “the Queen of the Hills” of the Raj era, walk The Mall to view the attractions of a time gone by.

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DAY 4 | SHIMLA/ SARAHAN

Optional early morning visit to the Jahkoo Hanuman temple for the unfolding panoramic views over Shimla at sunrise. The journey into the remote mountain vastness begins with the day’s drive to Sarahan (alt 2,185m,174 km/7 hours), gateway to the Kinnaur Himalaya. Sarahan is situated amidst apple orchards and dominated by the Bhimakali temple, a fusion of Buddhist and Hindu styles and revered by both faiths. Looming in the background is the ShrikhandMahadev peak (5,155m), while the Sutlej River flows through the valley below.

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DAY 5 | SARAHAN/ SANGLA

Venture deeper into Kinnaur with the drive to Sangla (alt 2,768m, 121 km/5 hours), among the most beautiful of Himalayan valleys. Stretching up to Chitkul, the edge of habitation, Sangla is defined by thickly wooded mountain slopes, lush crop fields on the valley floor and stunning views of the snowy mountain peaks. The afternoon is spent walking through nearby fields and villages.

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DAY 6 | SANGLA/ KALPA

Drive to Kalpa (alt 2,960m, 40 km/2 hours) by way of the Sangla Valley, with stops at the villages of Rakcham and Kamru. Kalpa is located in the shadow of the KinnaurKailash massif (6,050m). In the afternoon, walk along the Old Hindustan Road, the former caravan route to Tibet, visiting the village of Roghi.

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DAY 7 | KALPA

Full day walking tour to the exquisite and ancient villages of Chitkul, Chini, Peo, Kothi, Pangi and Telangi.

DAY 8 | KALPA/ NAKO

Drive to Nako (alt 3,625m, 122 km/5 hours), the ascent marking the transition from Kinnaur to the Spiti districts, and from relatively lush scenery to dramatic and forbidding mountain landscape. Nako village is an most important Buddhist settlements in the area with remnants in the form of seven temples, including a monastic complex, of 11th and 12th century vintage.

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DAY 9 | NAKO/ TABO

Drive deeper into the Spiti region to Tabo (alt 3,050m, 74 km/3 hours), watching more of the awesome natural panorama as it emerges, the result of several millennia of relentless erosion. The Chos-Khor monastery (996 AD), the oldest in Spiti and located at the junction of two ancient trade routes, commemorates the golden age of Buddhism in the high Himalaya.

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DAY 10 | TABO/ LHALUNG/ DANKAR/ TABO

Spend the day exploring the spectacular environs of Tabo (74 km roundtrip/8 hours). In Linghti valley is the magnificent village of Lhalung (alt 3,900m), home to the second most important monastic school in Spiti and likened to the Chos-Khor in its design and scope. At Dankar (alt 3,800m), the ancient gompa within the hilltop fortress once commanded the area. Sadly, its structural deterioration is now in advanced stage and it may soon be closed to visitors forever.

DAY 11 | TABO/ MANE/ PIN/ KAZA

Morning tour of the nearby village and monastery of Mane (3,700m), set in a rare patchwork of greenery amidst the harsh surroundings, with grand views of the Pin and Kaza valleys on either side. The Pin Valley National Park (alt 3,500m – 6,000m) is a sanctuary for rarities such as the snow leopard and ibex. In the afternoon, drive on to Kaza (alt 3,780m, 47km/2.5hours).

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DAY 12 | KAZA/ KI/ KIBBER/ GETE/ KAZA

In the vicinity of Kaza are Ki (4,116m), Kibber (4,270m) and Gete (4,495m), among the world’s highest inhabited villages. The 13th century Ki monastery is the largest in Spiti and unique in that it is built with several layers of fortification to withstand frequent invasions from the east during medieval times.

DAY 13 | KAZA/ KUMZUM LA/ ROHTANG/ MANALI

Drive to Manali (alt 1,950m, 200 km/8 hours). In a fitting finale to this adventure, drive over Kumzum La Pass (4,551m), through steep sided Lahauli valleys and then over RohtangPass (3,987m) before descending to Manali.

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ITINERARY ON A MAP
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