Kinnaur Valley – A Comprehensive Travel Guide

by Vargis.Khan

In last few weeks, I posted a few articles providing information on visiting several offbeat destinations in Himachal Pradesh like Narkanda, Chail, Sarahan, Chitkul and Kalpa. In this particular post, I will talk about how you can cover all these places in a single journey; making a trip to Kinnaur Valley. In the interest of space and stuffing too much information on the same page; I will post this information in a series of articles. First I will begin by providing some important information on visiting Kinnaur; best time to visit here; a winter trip; followed by a sample itinerary; and then some tips on budget planning in the end. If, after reading through the articles, you have any other questions or need any further details; you may comment and ask towards the bottom of this page.

kinnaur valley

Kinnaur Valley Travel Guide

There are places in Himachal that are famous tourist spots and are always crowded; like Shimla and Manali. Then there are places that  are a bit too remote for tourists; and are mostly visited by bikers or people who love to go offbeat. But a third category too exists. These are places that are neither too crowded nor too remote. You can visit here and can rest assured that you will remain connected but will not be surrounded with too many people around. Kinnaur Valley falls in this category. It is a tourist destination that gets only a limited number of tourists; and hence, preserves that natural beauty and serenity that people come seeking to the hills.

Also Read: How to Plan a Trip to Kalpa

Where is Kinnaur Valley

For a brief introduction, Kinnaur Valley is located at a distance of about 235 kilometers from Shimla; in the northeast corner of Himachal Pradesh; bordering Tibet to its east. The old Hindustan Tibet Road passes through Kinnaur valley before finally entering Tibet via Shipki La Pass. The valley can be divided in two parts; lower Kinnaur and Upper Kinnaur. The towns of Sangla, Chitkul, Reckong Peo and Kalpa falls under lower Kinnaur; where the area around Chango and Nako forms upper Kinnaur. Reckong Peo serves as the administrative headquarters of Kinnaur district. The region was open for tourism only after 1989. After Spiti valley, it is the second-least populated region in Himachal; and one of the smallest districts in India in terms of population.

How to reach Kinnaur Valley

Due to its location up in the hills, the only way to reach Kinnaur valley is by road. You can either drive all the way from your home; or reach to a nearby location by either flight, train or public transport.

Airport Near Kinnaur

The nearest airport to Kinnaur Valley is the Jubbarhatti airport in Shimla at a distance of 235 kilometers. The nearest major airport however is at Chandigarh which is about 340 kilometers away. From both Shimla and Chandigarh, you can either look for a taxi or bus for the final lap of your journey to Kinnaur. Chandigarh is very well connected by flight to rest of the country so you will have no problem booking a flight to here.

Kinnaur by Train

The nearest narrow gauge railway station to Kinnaur Valley is at Shimla. The famous Kalka – Shimla toy train plies on this route. Traveling by this train, you can first reach Shimla and then travel to Kinnaur valley by road.

To reach Kinnaur Valley, you will first have to either book a train for Kalka or Chandigarh. For example, if you were traveling from Delhi to Kinnaur by train, you can board the Howrah – Delhi – Kalka mail and reach Kalka. The Toy train from Kalka leaves at 4 AM, 6 AM and 12:10 PM. You can board either of these three and then ride it till Shimla.

If there was no direct train to Kalka from your city, then you can book a seat in any train to Chandigarh and then reach Kinnaur from there by road. There is a direct bus from Chandigarh to Reckong Peo which you can travel by in order to arrive at Kinnaur Valley.

How to reach Kinnaur by Road

For this part of the information, I will make an assumption that you were coming from Chandigarh. In that case, road routes to Kinnaur valley will be as mentioned below; depending on which place you want to arrive at.

  • First Route: Chandigarh – Shimla – Narkanda –Rampur – Jeori – Karcham – Reckong Peo – Kalpa = 330 Kilometers, travel time of 10 – 11 hours depending upon your speed and break.
  • Second Route: Chandigarh – Shimla – Narkanda –Rampur – Jeori – Karcham – Sangla – Rakcham – Chitkul = 360 kilometers, travel time of 11-12 hours
  • Third Route: Chandigarh – Shimla – Narkanda –Rampur – Jeori – Karcham – Pooh – Khab – Nako = 425 kilometers, 2 days of journey with a night stay at Kalpa.

Of these three routes, the road straight to Nako is the one that will have you travel through Kinnaur valley to its last point; after which it enters Spiti valley. In order to get to Reckong Peo and Kalpa, you will have to take a diversion after Powari and drive about 17 kilometers  uphill to your left. Same way, to reach Chitkul, a road bifurcates at Karcham and then travel 40 kilometers to your right into Sangla Valley. There are of course other routes as well to other villages in Kinnaur but these three are the most traveled upon routes by tourists.

By Public Transport

It is in fact very easy to travel to Kinnaur Valley by public transport. From Chandigarh, there is a direct bus to Reckong Peo that you can travel by. Or else, you can first arrive at Shimla and then take a connecting bus to Kinnaur. There are daily buses from Shimla to Reckong Peo and Sangla for this journey. Alternatively, you can also catch the daily Shimla – Kaza bus that halts at Reckong Peo for the night and then goes to Kaza the next day via Nako. Shared taxis too are available throughout the route that a lot of locals travel by. If you wish to, you can also hire a private taxi from Shimla for your trip.

Also Read: Schedule of Bus Service in Kinnaur Valley

Hotels in Kinnaur Valley

After reaching here, the next questions is of where to stay in Kinnaur? There are five places in Kinnaur valley that become the preferred choice of stay for majority of the tourists visiting here. In lower Kinnaur, these are the towns of Sangla, Chitkul, Reckong Peo and Kalpa. In Upper Kinnaur, it is the village of Nako.

Accommodation is available at all these places in form of either a hotel, guest house, camp site or home stay. Home Stay maybe a bit rare; but finding a hotel or guest house is not going to be a tough deal at all. No matter what your budget is, you will easily be able to find accommodation in Kinnaur valley. When I say budget, I would advise to plan your trip finance keeping a minimum of Rs. 1500 as your per day expense.  You may be able to get a place to stay for lower than this depending on the time of your travel; but to be on a safer side, assume this as your per day hotel expense.

Also Read: How much a Trip to Kinnaur Valley Costs?

HPPWD Rest Houses in Kinnaur

Another good choice to stay specially for budget travelers are the HPPWD rest houses. Good thing about these rest houses is that they are all mostly located at an unbeatable location in terms of views. No matter where you go, the HPPWD rest house there will be better located at any other hotel there. They are clean, well maintained and can be a great deal for the price you will pay to stay here for a night. For a list of HPPWD rest houses in Kinnaur valley and how you can book your stay here; please read How to Book HPPWD Rest House and How to Book a Forest Rest House in Himachal.

One rest house that I would however advise you against is the one at Chitkul. This one is very badly maintained and you should look for a hotel rather than staying here. For more information, please read HPPWD Rest House Chitkul Review.

What to See in Kinnaur Valley

The primary attraction of Kinnaur Valley of course is its natural beauty. It is a endless series of mesmerizing vistas, dense forests, apple orchards, meadows, snow-capped peaks and tiny hamlets. You can spend several days here doing absolutely nothing but still won’t have your fill of Kinnaur. Just the view out of your hotel window and the serenity of the place would be enough to make you want to stay here for another day. With that being said, there are a few places that can be termed as Tourist attractions in Kinnaur Valley. List of these places is as mentioned below.

Sangla Valley / Village

Sangla Valley, also known as Baspa Valley, is a river valley named after Baspa River that flows right through it. The town of Sangla is the largest town here after which, the valley is also referred to as Sangla Valley. This small town is located right next to Baspa river and serves as the base for people visiting Sangla Valley. Below are some places that you should see in Sangla.

  • Karcham Dam
  • Bering Nag temple, dedicated to snake of Lord Shiva;
  • Kamru village and the fort here which is over 800 years old;
  • Baspa Dam Reservoir
  • Sangla Buddhist temple
  • Lord Badri Nath Ji Temple
  • Mata Devi Temple
  • Saffron farm
  • Nages God temple

Also Read: How to Plan a Trip to Sangla

Chitkul

The next village after Sangla in Baspa Valley is Chitkul; best known for its extremely beautiful and picturesque location. On one side of the Baspa River are snow-clad mountains; and on the other side the whole terrain is full of apple orchards and wooden houses. During winters, the entire place mostly remains covered under a thick sheet of snow; and even the locals move to lower regions of Himachal for a few months. From Karcham, a road bifurcates and travels into Sangla Valley. This road first reaches Sangla village, then Rakcham and finally ends at Chitkul. This also makes Chitkul as the last village on Indian side of the border. This is the last point until where civilians are allowed.

After Chitkul, the Tibet border is about 90 kilometers and the entire area in between is under control of ITBP police. Except for the natural beauty, there is nothing to see here in particular but the Nages god temple is definitely worth a visit. If you have some time there are a few trails starting from Chitkul that you can go trekking on.

Also Read: How to Plan a Trip to Chitkul

Kalpa

The name Kalpa would probably be known only to people who have traveled around a lot in the hills; or who have been on the Spiti circuit at least once. Kalpa and the nearby town of Reckong Peo is mostly used as the center point of the journey from Shimla to Kaza. The best thing I like about this tiny hamlet its location. From the Shimla Kaza highway, you climb up approximately 16 kilometers on a steep and narrow road; getting a sharp incline in altitude. When you finally make it to Kalpa, you are greeted with a majestic view of imposing Kinner Kailash peaks; also known as Kinnaur Kailash peaks.

It is rare that you would have witnessed a sight like this; unless you have been to a lot of hill stations. It is a view that makes the entire journey to Kalpa totally worth it; and will remain with you for months to come. Sitting in the balcony of your hotel; doing nothing and sipping down some hot tea; while staring at the peaks in front; is a perfect example of some time away from our regular city lives. Some other places that you can visit at Kalpa are,

  • Suicide point, which is about 4 kilometers out of Kalpa
  • Roghi village, popular for its apple orchards and ethnic village life, which includes temples, monasteries, Kinnauri style buildings.
  • Kothi village which is located about 5 kilometers from Kalpa is also visited by many tourists. An ancient shrine here is dedicated to Goddess Chandika, a manifestation of Goddess Kali. The architectural style of the temple and the gold image of the deity makes this village worth a visit.
Nako

Nako can actually be considered as the last village in Kinnaur Valley. The road ahead then descends down into Spiti Valley. As a matter of fact, Nako is usually considered by most people as part of Spiti and not Kinnaur. Most of the people would come until Kalpa and then return back to Shimla. People who were on Kinnaur trip rarely come as far as Nako. It is actually people on completing the Spiti circuit that you will find at Nako but that does not make this tiny hamlet any less scenic.

The only thing that you could visit Nako for is to see how the landscape changes from lush green hills to barren brown. As you move from Kalpa towards Nako, Greenery will start do disappear and then completely vanish by the time you reach here. This village is located at quite a height and at a stunning location. Some other places that you can see here are,

  • Sutlej and Spiti River Confluence at Khab
  • Nako Lake
Things to do in Kinnaur Valley

Apart from the usual sightseeing at all the places I mentioned above, there is also a lot of adventure tourism that happens in Kinnaur Valley. There are many trekking routes, Ski slopes and rock climbing opportunities at several places.

Best Time to Visit Kinnaur Valley

It will entirely depend on what exactly you were looking for. The road to Kinnaur Valley remains open for all 12 months; except for time when extreme weather like too much snow or rain may close it temporarily. If it is snow that you are after, then visiting sometime in Feb or early March would be ideal. If lush green valleys is what you want to see then visiting in September would be best. The months of July and August when Monsoon is at full swing can be considered a bad time.

I have covered this topic more in details at When is the Best time to Visit Kinnaur Valley? Please read through this article for a month to month breakdown of how the weather in Kinnaur valley progresses.

Road Condition in Kinnaur

Road condition in Kinnaur valley continues to change. There are some parts that always remain in good condition; some are always bad; and at some stretches, there is restoration work happening all the time. Depending on your time of travel, this is how the road conditions will be in Kinnaur.

  • Delhi to Chandigarh: A smooth drive all the way on NH1.
  • Chandigarh to Shimla: Mostly OK but there is road widening work going on at some stretches which may result in slow traffic.
  • Shimla to Narkanda: Good tarred road.
  • Narkanda to Rampur: Mostly good
  • Rampur to Karcham: A mix of good and average.
  • Karcham to Sangla: Mix of good and average
  • Sangla to Chitkul: Mix of average and bad
  • Karcham to Kalpa: Mix of good and average
  • Kalpa to Khab: Mix of good, bad and ugly
  • Khab to Nako: Good
Kinnaur Trip by Car

If you were traveling to Kinnaur by Car, then a high GC SUV would be better. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a 4×4 but good ground clearance would ensure that you were able to handle the bad roads better. It will become of even more importance in the months of monsoon. With that being said, it is however not absolutely necessary. A lot of people visit Kinnaur in Sedans and Hatchbacks as well. If you too were planning on doing the same, then I would recommend to avoid going there in monsoon season.

Kinnaur Trip by Motorcycle

If you were traveling by motorcycle, then a large engine size would be better. It will be beneficial while handle the steep ascents and bad road stretches. You need to remember that it is not just two people; but all their luggage as well which you will bring on the same motorcycle. If you were however arriving here by a smaller engine bike like 125CC or 150CC; then please travel solo and as light as possible.

Itinerary for Kinnaur Valley

Like the best time to travel to Kinnaur, I have covered the itinerary too in a separate article with more details. Please read How to Plan your Itinerary for Kinnaur Valley for more details.

Kinnaur Valley Altitude

Between its upper and lower region, elevation of Kinnaur valley ranges between 2,200 to 6,816 meters (7,612 to 22,362 ft). At Reckong Peo, the altitude is at 2,290 meters above sea level. Kalpa is at a height of 2,960 meters, Chitkul at 3,450 meters, and Nako at 3,662 meters.

Weather of Kinnaur Valley

Due to its high elevation, Kinnaur Valley enjoys a temperate climate. Winters here are long from from October till May. Summer arrives here towards late May or early June and lasts till September. The lower parts of the Sutlej Valley and the Baspa Valley receive heavy rainfall during monsoon season. The upper areas of the valley like Nako fall mainly in the rain-shadow area and it doesn’t rain here much. These areas are considered to be arid regions, similar to the climate of Tibet.

In January and February, it snows at places like Kalpa, Sarahan, Sangla and Nako. Sometimes it can snow so much that even the roads get blocked. Snowfall in March too is common but not too much. The months of April and May are cold but not severely. Weather at this time is pleasant. It starts to get warm in June during which, you can easily walk around in your regular cottons.

July and August see a lot of rainfall and even landslides except for in Upper Kinnaur. September is again a good time monsoon gone and winter yet to arrive. By October it starts to get cold and it can then snow here anytime in December.

ATM / Banks in Kinnaur

Sangla, Reckong Peo and Kalpa have ATM machines available. There is no Bank or ATM available at Chitkul and Nako. Even while getting to Kinnaur valley, you will easily be able to find ATMs at places en route like Shimla, Narkanda and Rampur.

Petrol Pumps in Kinnaur

As you approach Kinnaur Valley, Petrol pumps and mechanics will be a regular affair. You will keep coming across gas stations at regular intervals. Places like Shimla, Narkanda, Rampur have authorized service stations of several car and motorcycle companies. In Kinnaur Valley, the last petrol pump is at Powari and Reckong Peo. If your plan was to visit upper Kinnaur as well then I would recommend you to tank up here. There is a petrol pump in Sangla but none at Chitkul.

In terms of mechanics, or small fixes, you can get it done at Sangla, Reckong Peo or Kalpa; but for any major repairs, you will have to bring your vehicle back to Shimla.

Medical Facilities / Hospitals in Kinnaur

For any medical assistance, there is a hospital in Reckong Peo and at Sangla as well. There is a dispensary available at Kalpa where you can get some basic medicines. For something serious however, you will have to come back to Shimla or Chandigarh.

Mobile Network in Kinnaur

Until Reckong Peo, your phone will be working fine no matter which network you are on. After Reckong Peo and as you move towards upper Kinnaur, only BSNL phone will work and rest all will be off the network. In Sangla valley, all networks work fine till Sangla Village but only BSNL has coverage at Chitkul.

Shopping in Kinnaur

Some of the items you can consider buying from Kinnaur Valley are handloom and handicraft items; like shawls, caps, mufflers, articles of wood carving, metal work and silver & gold ornaments . The best thing however would be the Kinnauri apples which are considered to be among world’s best. Some other eatables you may buy are almonds, chilgoza, ogla, apricots and grapes. Towns like Kalpa, Reckong Peo, Karchham, Tapri etc. have several wholesale shops that you can buy these items from.

Permits for Kinnaur Valley

Indian Citizens do not need to obtain any permit for visiting Kinnaur Valley. Foreign national can travel as far as Reckong Peo but for going any further, a protected area permit would have to be obtained. Places open for tourism under PAP include Poo, Khab, Sumdo, Dhankar, Tabo Gompa, Kaza, Moorang, Dabling. For more details, please read How to obtain Inner Line Permit for Spiti. This article talks about getting the permit for Spiti but the same document will apply for going towards Nako.

Conclusion

I think that will cover most of the information you will need for visiting Kinnaur Valley. In next article in this series, I will suggest an example of an itinerary on how you can journey through the valley. If you have any other questions; or need any further details; please feel free to ask in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer.

Related Articles

2 comments

Avatar
Rohit Karir October 31, 2019 - 10:53 am

Vargis. You have written a brilliant travel blog on Kinnaur. Excellent research as it covers every important detail. No language errors that I could spot in a fast read. However, you could have written about food, local cuisine and customs in a more detailed manner.

There’s no other way to say; magar, maza a gaya pad kar!

Well l done! Keep travelling and writing.

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan October 31, 2019 - 6:19 pm

Thanks so much for taking the time to drop a note Rohit. I appreciate it. I will add more details on the cusine.

Reply

Leave a Comment