Chitkul, Himachal Pradesh: Off the Beaten Path in North India
Travelling by bus from Reckong Peo to Chitkul is about as frightening as modern motoring gets. Narrow gravel roads, cut into the sides of mountains, wind their way thousands of feet above the rivers and valleys below. I genuinely feared for my life at some points, especially when the bus I was on had to maneuver to within inches of the abyss to let other vehicles pass. It’s not surprising that this is part of the former Tibet – Hindustan Highway, one of the most dangerous roads in the world. I thought about taking a photo at some of the dodgiest sections but my palms were so sweaty that my phone would have slipped out of my hands like a bar of soap and plummeted to it’s untimely death.
Does all of that put you off from adding Chitkul to your north India itinerary? It shouldn’t, because Chitkul is a nice little village full of traditional wooden houses (and some uglier concrete ones), an artistically carved temple and some awesome mountain views.
Where is Chitkul?
Chitkul is in the Kinnaur region of Himachal Pradesh, around 10 hours from Shimla (Via Rampur) or 4 hours from Reckong Peo / Kalpa (via Sangla). It’s only around 40 km from the border with Tibet and is pretty much the end of the road in this part of India.
Around 800 people live in Chitkul, mostly Kinnauris who wear distinctive green and beige felt hats. It’s a pleasant place for a walk and once you get above the houses the views really open up. The main sight in Chitkul is the temple in the middle of town. The detailed carvings on the outside are impressive, as are the rocky cliffs looming over it from behind. Locals and their livestock tend to traverse the ancient stone paths more than foreigners. In fact, I never saw another tourist while wandering through the old town. There were a few Indian tourists in and around the guesthouses near the bus stand, but it still felt very much like an “unknown” destination.
Walking to the Tibet border (sort of)
One of the most popular things to do in Chitkul is visit the checkpoint which marks the end of the road (for civilians) — another 40 odd kilometres further is the border with Tibet. It is a nice walk and the views more than make up for the underwhelming “border”, which is basically just a checkpoint. I went in the afternoon and about halfway the next morning, as the views back towards town are much better with the morning sun behind you.
Getting to Chitkul
I made the decision to visit Chitkul while staying in Kalpa. I caught the 9.30am bus from Reckong Peo (which is a short bus ride from Kalpa). Apparently you can also reach Chitkul from Shimla, which would make more sense if you’re also heading to Kalpa and onward to Spiti. Buses aren’t that reliable in this region, so check at the tourist office / bus station in Shimla if you’re planning on travelling this route.
Would you like to get off the beaten path in north India? Do you like visiting historic mountain villages? Let me know in the comments below!
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