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Monday, Apr 22, 2002

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Unfurl the veil of mystery

Sumitra Senapaty

Situated at the Indo-Tibetan border, Sangla Valley is one of the world's best-kept secrets. Discover the valley that will keep you enthralled for days with its spectacular scenery, says Sumitra Senapaty.

The magnificent Himalayas form the backdrop for the picturesque Sangla Valley.

A terrific bolthole is Sangla Valley. Situated at an elevation of about 10,000 ft, this is the place where Himachal greets Tibet. Forbidden territory virtually from Independence up until 1992 because of its close proximity to the Chinese Border (30 km away), the sleepy inner line valley is still largely populated by tribals and the occasional jawan of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. But you are unlikely to stumble upon either at the Banjara Camp, a luxury tent resort that nestles on the banks of the Baspa river in the backdrop of some dramatic peaks.

Getting to this Shangri-La is half the fun. Your best bet is by road, via Shimla, 230 km away. The route winds past some stark rugged hills and dense forests and once you cross Narkhanda, the turbulent Sutlej keeps you company until past Rampur Bashir.

Further on, Sarahan, at 7,500 ft could be an enchanting overnight halt, en route to Sangla Valley, full of apple, plum and peach orchards. The ancient Bhima Kali temple, with its magnificent architecture is situated here.

Sangla is the ideal hill getaway, to escape the dust and grime of the plains, to fish in a gurgling stream, watch snow-capped peaks in the distance blending with the sky. Rarely, have the paths of God and man crossed each other, as in this valley of the Himalayas. Tucked away in the craggy folds of the Himalayas, Sangla is a land that few people know about. Fewer still have crossed this way, for it has been one of the world's best-kept secrets for thousands of years.

Today, after centuries of being shrouded in mystery, the veil has been lifted, allowing you a chance to commune silently with nature and with the gods. Do it differently and decide to go off the beaten track to the Banjara Campsite in Sangla Valley.

The picturesque Sangla Valley is no less charming and peaceful than Pahalgam — both are situated on riverbanks. Sangla lies on the banks of the enchanting Baspa River in Kinnaur District. Ringed by the high Dhauladhar ranges, Kinnaur lies on the ancient trade route, the old Hindustan-Tibet road linking India with Tibet.

The campsite has been picked carefully, and the thoughtfulness of the facilities, indeed take you by surprise. The snug, spacious 12 ft x 12 ft, well-furnished Swiss Cottage tents even have an uninterrupted power supply and roll-up meshed windows to let in light. Meals are always served outdoors, with a generous helping of sunlight, or by the side of a roaring bonfire, to keep you snug and warm.

Designed with the family in mind, the camp also boasts of a cozy recreation tent with a well-stocked library, but no television. Every detail has been meticulously planned to ensure maximum living comfort. And if you want to relax, there is always a hammock to laze around in.

But this can also be a place for action. Indeed, there is plenty to do here! Climbing the meadows at Sangla is the best way to melt the stress and enjoy breathtaking views of the Himalayas.

Long walks are perfect for discovering the valley that bursts with an amazing variety of rare herbs and spices, exotic fruits and flowers, birds, butterflies and the Himalayan wildlife.

All of Kinnaur is dotted with apple orchards and the region boasts the best cider in the land. The Baspa river gushes through gorges, 900 metres deep in some places, breaking the silence of the valley. The river abounds in Rainbow and Brown Trout and is an angler's delight. If you're feeling adventurous, you could try your hand at river crossing or paragliding, for that on top-of-the-world feeling.

You can also walk to the nearby villages of Batseri and Rakcham, where you'll meet the local inhabitants — Honest, simple pastoral folk, proud of their valley.

If you are energetic, you can trek to some interesting places, using the Banjara Camp as a base. Trekking buffs can chart out a course around Kinner Kailash, the mythical abode of Lord Shiva, to Sarahan or to a number of passes such as the Pin Parbati or Kaza.

The 1,000-year-old Rekong Po, known for the chilgoza forests, the Nako Lake and the Kalpa Valley are just 55 km away and definitely worth a visit.

Some 25 km from Sangla at a height of 12,000 ft lies the quaint village of Chitkul with a population of 464 people. This is the last Indian village before Tibet. Close on hand are the snow peaks, dark green forests and the Baspa river flowing like molten silver on to Tibet, which lies another 30 km away.

Back in the comfort of the Camp in the evenings, there is the warmth of the bonfire, music and chatter to keep the cold away. Sangla could keep you spellbound for days on end with its spectacular scenery. Don't forget to pick up a basket of Kinnauri apples on your way back.

Picture by the author

Fact file

Getting there: Sangla is 589 km from Delhi , via Chail. You can self-drive to the valley or Banjara Camps can arrange for transportation, with an overnight break at Chail (near Shimla). If you are driving, essential spares and extra fuel are recommended. A jeep is a must for the mountain roads.

Best season: The best time to visit the Sangla Valley is between April and early November.

Other activities: There are several trekking routes in this area — varying from the medium to the strenuous, from three-five days to three weeks. White water rafting, paragliding and angling are possible in select areas. Equipment and porters can be arranged. Trekking paths are well defined and unfrequented in these parts. Also the Baspa river at Sangla is teeming with trout.

For information and bookings: Contact Rajesh Ojha at Banjara Camps, 1 A Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi - 110 016 or e-mail:

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