A trip to Kinnaur Valley in Winter season, possible? While the answer to this question is a definite yes, there are several things that you must keep in mind before you embark upon this journey. In the last few articles on Kinnaur Valley, I have talked about several important aspects of a trip here; things that you must keep in mind. All that information however was from a summer point of view; when the entire area is open for tourism. But when you talk about visiting Kinnaur in winter season, it is an entirely different story altogether.
Also Read: How to Plan a Trip to Kinnaur Valley
I am not really saying that Kinnaur turns hostile in winter but it is also not the easiest of the areas. Winters here are harsh and the weather can be extreme sometimes. Even the road connectivity can get disrupted for days and sometimes even weeks. The trip no doubt will be fun and one of its kind, but can also be challenging at the same. Even availability of electricity cannot be guaranteed depending on your time of travel. You must keep in mind that it is not your regular vacation where you can just pack your bags and go. There are factors that you must consider and keep in mind. What those are and how you can plan a winter trip to Kinnaur is what I will be talking about in this article.
For a brief introduction, Kinnaur valley or simply Kinnaur, is one of the twelve administrative districts of Himachal Pradesh. It is divided in six tehsils and three administrative areas. The administrative headquarters of the district is at Reckong Peo. After Lahaul Spiti, Kinnaur is the least populated region in all of Himachal. (Source Wiki). Traveling from Shimla, Kinnaur starts a little after Jeori and then lasts till the village of Nako. There is a lot of Apple farming that happens in the region and the Apples that grow here are considered to be among the best in the world.
Also Read: When is the Best time to Visit Kinnaur?
Kinnaur In Winter
There are three things that you should consider before planning a trip to Kinnaur in winter season. The first and the foremost is the weather; second is road connectivity and third is the availability of basic amenities. If I am to describe all three of these in a single statement then the weather will be unpredictable; road connectivity will be uncertain; and basic facilities will be limited.
Weather in Kinnaur Valley
Winters of Kinnaur are harsh, extremely cold and unforgiving. The temperature in Winters can drop as low as -5 degrees Celsius in Kinnaur. If you had places like Sangla or Nako in your itinerary, then be ready for temperatures as low as -15 degrees Celsius. Even the day temperature will remain close to 0 and hence it becomes of utmost importance that you pack well. Good quality thermals are absolutely necessary. When I say good quality, I am talking about the kind that keeps you warm but is also comfortable to sleep in.
Apart from thermals, you need to bring in all woolens accompanied by a heavy, warm and windproof jacket. Ensure that your jacket also has a hood to cover your head and neck. Good quality gloves, woolens socks and a muffler are some other important clothing you can’t afford to forget. In terms of shoes, you should pack a pair that can be used for walking around in wet areas or even snow without risking
Do not Plan on Chitkul
Chitkul is one place that gets buried under several feet of snow and remains closed completely during winter. Sometimes it can snow here so much that even Sangla can get cut off. Tourists getting stuck in Chitkul in winter and then needing to be airlifted out is not uncommon. Plan Chitkul only if you are visiting sometime in November. After December till March, just keep it out of your plan entirely to be on a safer side.
Also Read: How much a Trip to Kinnaur Valley Costs?
Keep Buffer Days
Keeping a couple of days as buffer in your travel plan is always wise. But for Kinnaur in winter, I would advise that you keep about 3-4 over and above your itinerary. Sometimes, if it snowed too much, the roads may get blocked somewhere; forcing you to stay at a place until authorities are able to clear the route. Usually the road from Shimla to Kaza remains open for all 12 months but a heavy snowfall can sometimes bring the entire region to a standstill. Even the roads around Shimla can get closed in January and February.
So when you plan for this trip, do it in a way that if it lasted for 3 or 4 days more than the actual itinerary, you are not incurring any major losses back home due to it.
Plan According to the Weather
It really makes no sense if the news were already reporting extreme weather and you went nonetheless. Keep a close watch on how the weather is trending in the area and plan your trip accordingly. If the weather was a bit on the extreme side with too much snow and blocked roads then you should postpone your trip by a few weeks and let things settle down.
Plan only if you are Good at Wheel
Roads in Kinnaur are a mix of good and bad. It is mostly a smooth drive around Reckong Peo but then turns bad as you approach Pooh. A little after and near Khab, the drive is smooth again till Nako. The road from Karchham till Chitkul is mostly a bad stretch. But these are road conditions in summer. Once it starts to snow, the road will then turn slippery; forcing you to ride or drive through slush and snow. One small mistake can send your car spinning or skidding down the road. Plan this trip only if you are good at wheel and know how to maneuver your vehicle around. If you aren’t sure of your own driving skills, then it would be best to give up the idea of this trip entirely.
Also Read: Schedule of Bus Service in Kinnaur Valley
This is one of the most important things to consider before going on the trip. If you have any medical history that can make things turn critical suddenly then I would strongly advise that you do not travel to Kinnaur in Winter. There have been multiples instances when people were stuck here for several days in winter before they had to be airlifted. Medical assistance in places like Sangla, Chitkul and Nako will be next to none. The nearest hospital will be at Rampur or Shimla but getting there may just become a task impossible. Even if there is no medical history, then I will still recommend bringing in some basic medicines like for cold, flu, fever, headache, stomach ache etc. Do not depend on the local medical stores.
Book Your Stay in Advance
Normally, I do not really advocate booking hotels in advance. I would rather prefer to arrive at the destination first, search for a hotel per my liking and then negotiate an on the spot deal. This theory however cannot remain applicable in winter season. It is not the time for tourists and most of the hotels and guest houses close their business. Hence it would be better for you to call in advance and book your stay. This would avoid any last minute hassle and will give you the peace of mind. In remote places like Nako, it would actually also be beneficial for the hotel owner as it would give them time to prepare for your arrival and getting the room ready.
No Running Water
With temperatures below 0, water freezes even in pipes making running water a luxury that you cannot have. Hot water will be provided to you but in buckets and in limited quantity. And yes, this means that you may have to go without a shower for a few days. Considering the kind of low temperatures Kinnaur gets, I wouldn’t mind not taking a shower for couple of days; but if you are someone who can’t go even a day without it, then you may need to think again before starting on this journey.
Frozen water in pipes also means no running water in toilets as well. You will have to do your morning business squatting over a dry pit which is basically a hole in the ground. Chances of this are really more towards Chitkul and Nako. Hotels in Kalpa and Reckong Peo may have running water even in winters too but do not count on it absolutely.
If you were traveling in November or December, then electricity should not be a problem and will be available. Once it starts to snow in January and February, too much snow or extreme weather can sometime damage the wiring and poles. This may result in no electricity for several days. The locals here install the Solar powered panels on their roof for power but even the Sun can remain missing for weeks. So the solar panels too fail to work. To be on a safer side, I will recommend that you carry a power bank to keep your phones charged. If you were into photography and carrying a DSLR, then bringing in a spare battery would be wise.
Like Electricity, cash too should not be a problem in November and December. In January and February though, ATMs may not work with no electricity available. Even if it was working, availability of cash cannot be guaranteed. So if you were traveling in Jan or Feb, I will recommend that you carry enough cash right from your home that can last the entire trip.
Almost no Tourists Around
This can actually be both a pros and con of visiting Kinnaur in winter season. If you would rather be in a place that remains alive in winter as well with plenty of tourists, like Shimla or Manali, then Kinnaur should not be on your list. But if you want to visit a place with only a handful of people, where you can spend some time in peace and tranquility, then Kinnaur will suit you just fine.
Public transport remains available in Kinnaur valley throughout the year. There is a regular bus service between Shimla and Reckong Peo that you can board to reach Kinnaur. From Kinnaur, a daily bus travels to Kaza that can take you towards Nako, the upper Kinnaur area. For Sangla and Chitkul as well, there are daily buses available. All this however depends on the condition of the road and weather. If there is a lot of snow and black ice present that can make the journey risky and dangerous, then the bus service gets suspended temporarily. Bus to Chitkul will shut down as soon as the road closes.
Apart from the daily bus service, there are shared taxi available on the entire route. It is mostly SUVs like Sumo or Bolero that the locals use to commute between towns and villages.
There are two sides of the mobile network in Kinnaur in winter. In terms of network, then in area around Kalpa, Reckong Peo and Sangla, your phone will remain connected irrespective of which network you are on. However, in Chitkul and Nako, only MTNL / BSNL phones work. Any other network will remain out of reach in these two places. This will remain to be the situation; unless weather turned really bad in which case, your cell phone will be as good as a paperweight; no matter which service provider you are with.
Kinnaur Valley in Winter – Conclusion
I hope the information above on visiting Kinnaur in winter season was of help. If you have any other questions; or need any further details about any part of the trip; please feel free to ask in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer.