A Trip to Kalpa, A Scenic Village in the Indian Himalayas
“I see a mountain in my way
It’s looming larger by the day
I see a darkness in my fate
I’ll drive my car without the brakes”
That was a quote from the song “Mountain at My Gates” by Foals, and it kind of sums up my time in Kalpa (although I wasn’t feeling quite so melancholy), a small Himalayan village in Himachal Pradesh, India. Upon looking out my window, or stepping on to the deck just outside it, I was greeted by a string of mountains so close I could almost touch them.
Kalpa is often a gateway town for those heading to Spiti, but it’s worth staying a few days to feast on the world class mountain views and breathe in the relaxed vibe of this historic Himalayan village.
Walking around Kalpa
Kalpa spreads itself up a hill with houses, hotels and temples overlooking a foundation of apple orchards which the local economy is built upon. I stayed in the lower section of Kalpa, close to the bus station, and walked around the village a few times. The older houses and temples are found in lower Kalpa while most of the hotels sit on the hill above. The views are amazing from anywhere. Locals shuffle around the stone streets and lanes and it’s nice to sit a while on the seats in the centre of town and watch everyday life unfold. You’ll often be joined by locals who wear traditional green and beige caps.
Hiking to Suicide Point
The haze created by recent forest fires shrouded the skies during my first few days in Kalpa. Eventually the haze lifted, so off I went on the short hike to suicide point. The views of the Kinnaur Kailash Range along the way are incredible and the drop-offs from the road are much more relaxing to walk along than drive by. After passing by apple orchards and pine forests I reached suicide point, which is basically just a graffiti inscribed rock above a massive drop-off to the valley below. I’m guessing people have died here but it didn’t seem much more dangerous than any other stretch of this treacherous group of Himalayan roads (the road to Chitkul being the worst). There is also a longer day hike up the hill from Kalpa but the haze stopped me venturing up there.
Getting an Inner Line Permit in Reckong Peo
Reckong Peo, a 20 minute bus ride from Kalpa, is the administrative centre of Kinnaur. If you’re a foreigner who is planning on travelling to Spiti you’ll need to get an inner line permit. These are theoretically free but you’ll most likely have to get it through a travel agent which will set you back 400 INR (at the time of writing — it’ll probably keep getting more expensive). The 400 INR should include all photo copying etc — just fill in a form and pick it up a couple of hours later.
Getting in and out of Kalpa
Buses don’t go directly to Kalpa. First you’ll stop in Reckong Peo and from there you can catch a bus to Kalpa, either from across the road from the bus station or near the roundabout in the centre of town. You can reach Reckong Peo from Shimla in around 10 hours — it’s a bumpy journey but the views are nice. From Kalpa (via Reckong Peo) you can catch a bus to Kaza (Spiti) via Nako and Tabo. Nako (around 5 hours from Reckong Peo and the same to Kaza) is awesome and you should definitely stop there for a day or two. Tabo, one of the first towns you’ll see in Spiti, isn’t so interesting, but it is worth checking out the impressive paintings inside the ancient Tabo Monastery.
Where to Stay
I stayed at Blue Lotus and the view from the decks is probably the best in town (both the first photo in this post and the one below were taken there). It’s also close to where the bus stops which saves you from walking too far with all your bags when you arrive. I paid 600 INR for a nice room but that was towards the end of low season (early May), so it’ll probably increase when Kalpa gets busy (I was one of only a handful of foreigners in town).
Have you been to any mountain towns like Kalpa? Let me know in the comments below!