Shimla and Kinnaur districts of Himachal Pradesh are known as the apple country for they are the apple bowl of India. It produces juicy red apples that are enjoyed across the globe. Just before the fruit is ready to be plucked in August end or early September, all we see on both sides of the roads and deep valleys is apples hanging from the branches of short trees. On a road trip from Shimla to Sangla all along the Sutlej Valley, there are so many hidden gems of history and heritage that we can spend years admiring and exploring Shimla and Kinnaur.
There are ancient temples and churches each with their myths and legends. Even in peak summers, we can see snow shining proudly on the hilltops. Some rivers carry glaciers to the plains and feed them and a million small rivulets merging into these rivers all across their length. There are natural lakes which are nothing but a marvel of nature. These places are thinly populated and have many small picturesque villages.
Apple story of Thanedhar
Thanedhar is 3-4 hour drive away from Shimla via Narkanda. This place is famous as the birthplace of apples. About a century ago a young American, Samuel Evans Stokes arrived in India to serve the leprosy patients. He landed in Kotgarh to rest and got so enchanted by the beauty of Himalayan villages that he decided to stay there. He even married a local girl and got his religion changed to Hindu. A temple on the hill behind his house called Paramjyoti Temple stands witness of his life. He brought the saplings of a delicious red apple from America and planted them here. Apples took to Thanedhar just like Stokes and both became the part of the town forever.
Tani Jhubbar Lake
It takes a small detour of about 500 metres on way to the Hatu Peak from Narkanda to reach this lovely lake. It is a small oval-shaped lake that we can go around in 10-15 minutes at a leisurely pace. The trees all around the lake reflect in its quiet waters.
The symmetry of the lake, when viewed from one end, creates perfect scenery in front of our eyes. At another end of the lake is located Nag Devta Temple. A simple one-room temple in green has a pillared corridor all around it and a slanted stone roof. Inside the temple, there is an empty room and an idol locked behind the metal door.
St Mary’s Church
Church Missionary Society from London established this church here in 1872. It is a quaint little church in yellow surrounded by hills and winding roads leading to it. The old structure exuberates the old world charm from every part of it, be it the stained glass panel with Christ on it, stone and wood structure like every old building, tablets announcing information, wooden benches for devotees to pray or an old bell which is hidden in the bell tower above the entrance of the church. The church comes alive on Sunday morning when a mass happens around 11 am. People come all dressed up for the mass and read from the Bible written in Hindi.
Kinnaur is a lovely place. It has rich green flora, full of its abundance and the panoramic valleys with snow-clad Kinner Kailash at the background is a perfect location. It is a small package of nature, beauty and devotion. A person can enjoy, trek and worship all at the same time and place. The people here are also very welcoming and lovely.
It is situated in the banks of Baspa River. It is also known as Baspa Valley. It is located at an altitude of 2696 metres. We might have had the glimpse of its beauty in movies and ads. Nothing can beat the experience of actually breathing in the crisp air. It has stunning sights of forest slopes and mountain ranges with the Raldang peaks offering a gigantic backdrop.
The best way to cover all the temples, forts and the trout fishery farming the neighbourhood as a part of our Himachal trip is to stay for a day at Sangla. There are hotels in Sangla valley which suits all budgets. It has modest guesthouses to luxurious stay options.
It is nearly 28 kilometres from Sangla Valley. It is located at an altitude of 3450 metres. Here lies the last inhabited place in India before the Indo-Tibet border. Chitkul village is a paradise for trekkers and nature lovers. It is situated on the banks of Baspa River and offers a stunning canvas of modest wooden houses. It has gorgeous mountains, grasslands and forests. This place is also renowned for its potatoes.
In winters, the temperature in Chitkul drops very low. The villagers have to move to lower Himalayan regions for a couple of months every year. The hotels here are also shut down during this period. So if we are planning a trip we need to keep this in mind.
He is situated at an altitude of 2960 metres. It is less than 60 kilometres from Sangla Valley. It has the most spectacular sunrise. Its location is close to the foot of the 6050-metre high Kinner Kailash. Everything about this erstwhile haunt of Lord Dalhousie is simply majestic.
Kalpa is the former districts headquarter of Kinnaur. The hotels in this place are among the best that Himachal tourism has on offer. All of them provide an exceptional view of the rising sun touching the snowy peaks. No camera in the world can do justice to this scene.