Kinner Kailash (6050m), the abode of Lord Shiva is in Kinnaur ‘Kinner Kailash Parikrama’ begins here. The natives of this place, ‘Kinners’ are believed to be halfway between men and God. They can be distinguished by their very pretty green Kinnauri topi (hat.)
Kinnaur valley was a part of the erstwhile Bushahr State which had its headquarters at Rampur.
Check : A comprehensive guide to Spiti
Even though Kinnaur is the second least populous district of Himachal, there is a wealth of tribal customs. There are temples and monasteries believed to be more than a thousand years old. With forts on mountaintops where the Pandavas inhabited in exile, Kinnaur is as rich with history as it is with flora and fauna of apple and a variety of dry fruits, the most famous among them being ‘Chilgoza’.
Kinnaur district houses the famous valleys of Kalpa, Lord Dalhousie’s favourite, and Baspa and Hangrang Valley in Upper Kinnaur. There is also the chance of visiting the nearest village to the Tibet border, Chitkul.
Kinnaur is rich in history with many mythological legends and forts and temples with fine and artistic wood carvings.
List of important towns and must see sights in Kinnaur :
Kothi: Located 3 km away from Rekong Peo, Kothi has a temple dedicated to the goddess Chandika. It is a large complex with many stone idols near a pond.
Kalpa & Roghi: Sit back and savour sunset and sunrise views of Kinner Kailash from an apple orchard. Walk to quaint Roghi Village (5 km); pass the vertical fall of Suicide Point halfway. Narayan-Nagini Temple Complex in Kalpa & also a small Buddhist temple at top of the village.
Kamru (Kamroo) Fort: Located 2 km from Sangla, lies the ancient fort of Kamru of Bushahr Rajas with idols of considerable value. Kamroo Nag Devta Temple is a towering structure for which Kamru is famous.
Rakcham (Rakchham) to Batseri Village : Walking from the fairytale village of Rakcham towards Batseri village is an especially beautiful 10-12km walk along the streams and Baspa river for company. The trout fishery farm can also be visited during this trip, leading to an evening barbecue!
Jangi : Old temple at Jangi with beautiful fine wooden work can be seen here.
Chitkul (Chhitkul) (3450m): Serene village lying on the banks of Baspa River. This is the last village in the valley and beyond lies Tibet. Mathi Temple at Chitkul is highly revered throughout Baspa Valley and has intricate wooden carvings.
Sarahan: Sarahan was the former summer capital of the Bushahr kingdom. It houses the beautiful Bhimakali Temple, built from stone & timber. Across the courtyard is the Vir Temple, where human sacrifices were carried out right up to the 18th century.
Rampur : Gateway to Kinnaur on the banks of Satluj. The former capital of the Bushahr Rajas. Famous for majestic Padam Palace, built in 1925. The biggest festival of Kinnaur, ‘Lavi Fair’ is held in November attracting traders and villagers from faraway.
Reckong Peo : Main administrative centre and biggest town. Only place in Kinnaur with a proper market. Kinnaur Kalachakra Palace or Mahabodhi Gompa is a must see. There is also a huge statue of Sakyamuni (Buddha).
Leo : Lying in Upper Kinnaur, Leo village is perched on small rocky spur on the right bank of Spiti river. From faraway it resembles a maze of fields and homes. There are still some families practising polygamy and polyandry in Kinnaur.
Nako : The last village in Upper Kinnaur. Nako is in Hangrang region and is famous for Nako Monastery and Nako Lake.
Chango : There are two old temples in Chango; one of which is considered as a part of Rinchen Zangpo’s (The Great Translator) 108 temples. One is an old Nyingmapa Complex, another one is a new monastery and there are meditation caves near NH-22.
There are important temples and monasteries at the following places :
Lippa, Rarang, Moorang, Asrang, Thangi, Charang, Sunnam, Ropa, Pooh, Tashigang.
Charang is also the starting point for the Kinner Kailash Parikrama.
And also at Thanang, Tranda, Nichar, Katgaon, Chagaon, Urni, Ramni, Kilba, Sapni and Pangi.
Some notable mentions :
Ropa Valley – Between Spillo & Pooh, is famous for its scenic beauty.
Shalkar – Old ruins of a fort.
Narkanda – Hatu Peak & Wooden Temple.
Namgia: Namgia is the closest village from Indo-China border, near the confluence of Spiti & Satluj rivers.
For those looking for an adrenaline rush, Kinnaur is known to have some of the deadliest roads. (There are signs which proclaim ‘You are travelling on the most treacherous road in the world.’)
Narkanda – Himalaya Dhaba & HPTDC Hatu
Rampur – Satluj View
Kalpa – Kinner Villa & Rakpa Regency
Nako – Hotel Lovon
Chitkul : Rani Guest House for food
Spillow – The first Dhaba on the left
Local food & wines
A salted tea called cha is usually consumed throughout the day along-with sattu comprised of dried barley flour. (Tsampa)
For meals, goat and ram meat is a favourite of Kinnaur. Alcohol is home-distilled and an intrinsic part of their daily lives.
Local winery: Situated at Pooh, alongside apricot and almond orchards.
Angoori – grape alcohol; & Shudang – wine. Available in Ribba & Rispa. A great variety of fruits in Kinnaur means fresh apricot and apple wine may be available depending on the season. It is very potent.
Nesang – Barley distilled alcohol. Chhang & Arak are available everywhere.
Fruits: Apples, almonds, chestnut (chilgoza), apricots and grapes are available at many wholesale shops widely spread across Kinnaur; Reckong Peo is the biggest market.
Craft & Shopping
Handicrafts such as embroidered shawls and other woolens, wooden carved curios and pure metal, silver, gold jewellery. Kinnauri shawls , gloves & socks are famous all over Himachal for their exquisite finishing & warmth of wool.
Small village centres present items cultural items and designs of their own. Although there are many retail shops in every village, local carnivals and festivals provide a glimpse into centuries of wealth of items passed down from generation to generation.
Events & Festivals
Sazo is a festival celebrated in January in lower Kinnaur when locals take a dip in local springs and prepare a feast of special rice, meat and sweets for the occasion. The deity is worshipped with wine and ‘halwa’ and then taken to Kinner Kailash.
Suskar/Phagul or Lamoche: Celebrated in February or March for a fortnight, people worship the Goddess of the peaks, Kali Mata. Celebrated for five to eight days.
Baisakhi called Bishu: Celebrated in April with dancing and singing. Statue of the goddess is brought out of the temple, fair is held at Santang, new clothes are worn to celebrate end of winter.
Dakhraini: July, 1-2 day festival. Famous of Pangi. Villagers dance before the Goddess, erect stone pillars and offer garlands from flowers belonging to the peaks which later get distributed among villagers. For families who have lost their loved ones, they go to the peaks (Stone Pillars) and place a white flag with Buddhist mantras and present fruits/flowers as offerings.
Ukiang or Phalaich (Phalech): Celebrated in September/November depending on the location as Festival of Flowers. Three to seven days. Bering Nag Temple – Sangla famous for Phalech.
Losar: Celebrated in December/January (Tibetan New Year) as New Year celebrations where neighbours exchange gifts, dishes made of barley and buttermilk and wish each other ‘losuma tashi’ i.e. Happy New Year. On this day thorny bushes are placed at doorstep to ward off evil. Feasting, dancing and song; Losar is celebrated chiefly by Buddhists in Upper Kinnaur.
Tribal Festival: Top State level festival also called Lavi Fair is celebrated from 30 October to 2nd November every year at Reckong Peo and also at Rampur, involving sale of tribal produce and handicrafts. Cultural performances by Kinnauri groups as well as other states.
Dussehra during October/November at Bhimakali temple, Sarahan involving Asomi ritual of goat, chicken, buffalo sacrifice.
Phone Connections: Mostly all mobiles work till Pooh. Only BSNL will work thereafter. Internet and wifi available in Rampur, Reckong Peo and other big towns of note.
Petrol Pumps: Narkanda, Shimla, Jeori, Rampur & Reckong Peo all have running fuel stations these days. So no problems.
Best time to visit: Months from June to September are supposedly the best although the entire year is a suitable time to visit Kinnaur. Winters bring snowfall plunging the entire valley in a pristine shade of white.
Weather in Kinnaur: 15-25 degrees Celsius in the summer and it can dip to -20 degrees in the winter.
Clothing: Light woollens are required as sudden changes in weather over 3000m are common.
How to reach Kinnaur
By flight: Nearest Airport is at Shimla
By train: Nearest railhead is at Shimla
By road: Buses and cabs ply from Shimla, Rampur & Reckong Peo. Local HRTC (Himachal Road Transport Corporation) buses ply everywhere in Kinnaur. There are direct buses to Kinnaur from Delhi, Chandigarh & Shimla. ATM facility available in Rampur, Reckong Peo and even in other small towns, but advised to keep cash in case of emergency. Hitch-hiking is easily possible on this route, with helpful locals around.
HRTC Volvo has recently been started from Delhi to Rampur. Even in a normal bus it roughly takes 12-13 hours.
Sometimes, roads after Rampur get blocked for several hours owing to landslides. (Wangtoo – Karchham Stretch)
This guide has been complied on the basis of my many slow travelling trips to Kinnaur in the past 6-7 years and conversations with locals.
Any points that I may have missed? Any information that you would like?