Pluck a red, crispy apple from the orchards. Walk down and ruminate while you eat it by the Baspa river. Listen to the musical compositions of the water your iPod cannot compete with. Doff your hat to the majesty of the snow-capped peaks rising around you. Allow your face to be caressed by the fresh breeze. Bask in the sunlight whose colours change kaleidoscopically as it filters through rain or snow bearing clouds. You are in Sangla where the Gods may have lived once.
One of the most beautiful valleys on this planet, it was almost forbidden territory until the late-1980s due to its proximity to the Chinese border – and it remained off the tourist map till Banjara Camps set up their flagship property in the 1990s. Staying with them is half the charm even now – they are yet to have any credible competition. Sangla is the name of a town too in the valley, but the region is referred to as Sangla valley.
It is perfectly enjoyable to do nothing in Sangla. If you must, then here goes:
Located 26 kms (16 miles) from Sangla town at an altitude of 3450 m (11,318 feet), this is the last settlement on the old Hindustan – Tibet trade route. The residents are a friendly lot and proud of their crime free society – they said I could leave my rucksack on the streets and still find it intact even after months. The village itself is made of pretty houses with slate or wooden plank roofs; of course, like everywhere else, tin roofs and modern materials are slowly changing the look of things. You can choose to hike 5 kms (3 miles) to get to the army post – and invite yourself to tea! Or picnic around streams before heading back. Take a hat for sunny days. And carry water and snacks too. The walk is definitely worth it. You can even stay in Chitkul in some low budget guest houses. Be prepared for cold and wet weather anytime here – be sure to carry warm clothes.
Sangla offers a variety of walks through forests, meadows, villages, riversides, streams, glaciers and mountains. You can decide from soft ones to those that really test you, lasting a few hours to a full day. With options to camp overnight. Advisable to take a guide along and be suitably equipped.
Located a short walk from Banjara Camps, you will be hard pressed to find a prettier and cleaner village. Many a house still retain their old world hill architectural features, even if some are in a dilapidated state; some may look abandoned but are inhabited! The beautiful old Hindu temple burnt down a few years ago, but much of it has been restored through fundraising efforts. There is a small Buddhist temple worth visiting, even if you have to clamber over construction materials to get to it – the steps are broken and the building is being renovated.
You get some of the best apples in the country from Sangla – marked in the market as Kinnaur apples. These are harvested towards late September and early-October, and the orchards full of the ready-to-eat red fruit are a delight. Help out with the plucking if you like, and munch a few yourself. Carry some home too – you will be surprised how long they last even without preserving chemicals.
* Weather: Pleasant days from April to October, but nights can get cold. Extreme cold with snow from November to March. Always carry warm clothes.
* Best time to go: April to October. Most camps close in winters.
* How to reach: Catch a train or flight to Shimla and by road from there. Or all the way by road.
* Approximate Distances: Shimla: 230 kms (143 miles); Delhi: 600 kms (375 miles).
* Recommended Stay: At least 3 days.
* Accommodation: Your best option by far is Banjara Camps. In recent years, other camps and guest houses have come up for all budgets.
* Nearby Attractions: A side trip to Kalpa – where you feel within touching distance of the majestic Kinner Kailash peak – is recommended. You could drive up for a day trip, or spend a night there. That is also the only place in India where pine nuts grow – these are harvested around August – September and sold wholesale in the nearby town of Rekong Peo. Combine the trip with Shoja, Thanedar or Lahaul Spiti.