I woke up to the whiff of a freshly baked cake.But I was at the Kinner camps in Sangla, Himachal Pradesh and this was definitely a hallucination ( err what can one call smelling things that aren’t real?).
As I unzipped my tent and moved out, the most gorgeous views welcomed me. There were mountains and coniferous pines and fluffy clouds hiding behind the hills playing peek a boo.
And then there was music: Music of the river Baspa roaring behind the camps. Music of the tiny, colourful Himalayan birds chirping and hopping from branch to branch. There isn’t a soul in sight. Just me, surrounded with flowers of every hue along the pebbled pathway leading to the dining tent.
I follow the whiff. It leads me right through the stone steps to the tent where I see Tulsi immersed in work.
Tulsi is the ever smiling cook at Kinner camps. Nothing is a deterrent for him. He whips the choicest of gourmet meals in a tent from a range of exotic Chinese dishes to simple, homely Pahadi food. All in the boundaries of his humble Kitchen tent.
I am in awe of this man. He works like a genie. One moment you see him smiling behind the piles of green plates carefully pouring tea for everyone and another moment he vanishes to fill hot water bags for every guest to keep under their blankets for cold nights.
And today he is baking. My eyes widen in surprise when I see chocolate sauce accompanying a buckwheat cake.
He’s face breaks into a proud grin as he sheepishly presents his masterpiece, while I eye the chocolate sauce like a glutton.
I pester him to let me dribble the chocolate sauce on the cake and he accepts graciously. Gluttony wins over patience and I dig into this pure sin. Needless to say, it is delicious and he looks at me waiting for an approval. While I stammer with my mouth full of cake “ Tulsi Bhaiya, please share the recipe?”
I am given another sheepish grin. “Phir aap Sangla waapis kaise aayenge?” (If I share the recipe, why would you come back again?).
Kinner Camps is at Sangla, nestled near the banks of the pristine Baspa in the picturesque valley.
It isn’t situated in the tiny town of Sangla valley, but further away on the road to Chitkul, the last Indian village on the Indo-Tibet highway. The road to Sangla is via the NH22, one of the deadliest highways in India.
Surroundings: There couldn’t be a more perfect setting for Kinner Camps. The place is a natural retreat. I’d take a writing holiday here, for inspiration. No kidding.
There are stone pathways leading to the tents, apple orchards, flower beds of bright hues, mountains and birds and the river for company. The river is just a 10 minute descend from here.
Service: Mr. Daleep Negi, the owner of the place, does a fabulous job of hosting his guests, narrating stories of Sangla valley, the unique traditions of the Kinnauri villagers, and of the famed Ookhayang festival.
He even accompanies us as we set out to explore the village on foot. The Kinnauri hospitality is another worldly and one needs to experience it to believe it.
Food: My introduction said it all didn’t it? I have had exceptional meals here courtesy the expertise and magic of Tulsi. There was variety and taste in each meal I had. It is heartening to see mountain folks going out of their way with the limited resources they have. The dining tent reminds me of Flintstones with rustic stone tables!
The accommodation is in Swiss tents, with attached washrooms and cozy beds.
Each tent has two chairs in the verandah where one can sit and sip coffee conversing with trees! The solitude is surely worth every penny they charge.
Things to do: If you feel like moving out of the place that is:
Batseri village walk: A fifteen minute walk from Kinner camps leads you to one of the most beautiful, fairy tale like villages in Kinnaur.
Batseri has wooden cottages, endless apple orchards, smiling locals and the famed Badrinarayan temple with stunning wooden architecture. Don’t miss the heavily carved doors of the temple, with scenes of not just Hindu mythology but also Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam. A tiny village with secular thoughts.
The walk through the village will also lead you to the source of the Baspa river and you can complete a full circuit by crossing the suspension bridge and reaching Kinner Camps.
Kamroo fort: Visit the ancient Kamroo fort, perched on a hill overlooking the valley. It is a 30 minute trek and you might spot Himalayan griffons circling the skies as you climb to the beautiful doorways of the Kamakhya temple.
It is believe that the idol was brought here from Assam. The silver door is exquisite and one need to cover their head before entering the temple premises.
Day trip to Chitkul: When in Sangla, visiting Chitkul isn’t an option. It is mandatory.
The one-hour drive is beautiful with the Baspa running alongside and buckwheat fields spread wide.
Visit Hindustan ka Aakhri Dhaaba, take a walk along the Baspa and dip your feet in the icy cold water, watch animals graze, pick berries, visit the Mathi temple and enjoy nature’s own poetry.
Rakcham trek: Trek from Sangla to Rakcham, through fruit orchards and pink buckwheat fields.
The hike is not too steep but takes a good 2-3 hours depending on your pace. Rakcham is a village lost in time. There are herders with their grazing mountain goats and sheep, friendly villagers, apple orchards and the river Baspa flowing through the alpine forests.
Those who do not wish to walk can opt for a ride on the narrow road leading to this village.
Sangla is 239 Km from Shimla and it takes approximately 8 hours to reach via the NH 22.
The road is treacherous but the views make up for all the efforts.
The best place to stay is undoubtedly Kinner Camps, with their tent accommodation.
Best time to visit:
The best time to visit Sangla is June- October. For those who love apples, head there in September to see apples hanging in full glory.
For culture lovers, Ookhayang festival held in the first week of September is a grand attraction. Locally called the Fulaich, this festival is held for three days and the villagers celebrate it with great pomp. Villagers collect the elusive Bhramakamal flowers from the hills and offer it to the deity in the temple. There are dances and celebrations with local apricot wine and Kinnauri food.
This year Fulaich will be held on 3rd-5th September.
Things to shop: Kinnauri apricot wine, Shawls, Caps and Kinnauri apples.
Suggested Read: The Himachal Prelude.