SUNDAY FEATURE: In the Island of Masks – Majuli

Throughout the world masks have been prevalent in rituals and festivities since antiquity. Hollywood movies and popular English Literature has much familiarized us with masks at the masquerade parties in the West. But not many know that India too has a unique cultural legacy of masks and mask making. This fantastic mask craftsmanship has been preserved and is being passed on from generation to generation on a tranquil riverine island of Majuli on the Brahmaputra River in Assam. Today Majuli has carved a special place for itself amongst culture aficionados across the world, especially for its art of mask making.

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Beauty of Majuli lies in its remoteness

Inside Majuli

The island of Majuli can be accessed by ferries via Jorhat city. The dock on the island gives it a barren and desolate look but do not fall for this mirage because as you wheel inside, Majuli welcomes you with lush greenery and offers you the colours, tastes, music, art, languages and traditions of Assam and its tribal communities, especially if you visit it during the festive season around Dussehra and Diwali. Inside Majuli, the island is best enjoyed on bicycles and bikes. The rustic thatched bamboo huts in traditional Mishing style on river side or in the fields create picturesque scenes that calm the mind. As you traverse across Majuli, it is worth observing the everyday life of the agrarian folk here. Homestays are quite popular on this island where the local freshly brewed rice beer and authentic delicacies like Porang Apin (rice cooked in tora leaves), Pamnam (fish baked in banana leaves) among others provide a new experience to the palate.

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Performance at a Satra in Majuli

The island of Majuli is also the seat of neo-Vaishnavite culture of Assam that houses Satras or monasteries that have been established here by Mahapurush Sankardeva in late 15th century. The fine details on the decorative wood panels on some of the ancient Satras here represent the tribal art, folk culture and also the heritage of Ahom Kingdom. These Satras are now important centres of traditional performing arts. Each Satra has a distinct identity and serves as a sanctorium to a different art form. For instance, the Auniati Satra stores ancient artifacts and is famous for traditional Mishing tribal dances and Paalnaam which is form of congregational prayer.

The Dakhinpat and Garamur Satras stage raas leela and bhaonas which are theater performances that make use of the popular dramatic masks made exclusively in Majuli. The most renowned amongst these is Shamaguri Satra that has brought Majuli to the foreground for its art of mask making with some of its remarkable folk creations also being exhibited in Victoria and Alberta Museum in London.

Use of Indigenous material

Majuli is world renowned for its folk art of mask making

What differentiates these masks from other folk masks across the country is that they are made from indigenous material of the island and not plaster of paris, and without the use of synthetic colours. The techniques used for it are in fact being used since medieval times where special attention is paid to the intricate details and technicality (now there are also new kinds of masks that have movable jaws making dialogue delivery easier). The traditional art of making masks is passed down from father to son or from the guru or teacher at the Satra to the students.

The technique involves making a three dimensional bamboo framework onto which clay dipped pieces of cloth are plastered. After drying it, a mix of clay and cow dung is layered on it for adding details and giving depth to the mask. Jute fibers and water hyacinth are used for beard, mustaches and hair. Once the mask is complete, a kordhoni (bamboo file) is used to burnish the mask. And finally, the zeal and drama is given to the masks through deft painting. The mask makers of Majuli preferably use vegetable dyes and colours derived from hengul (red) and hentul (yellow) stones.

The three dimensional bamboo framework

There are three different types of masks that are made. The ‘Mukha bhaona’ covers the face, ‘Lotokoi’ which is bigger in size extends to the chest and ‘Cho Mukha’ is a head and body mask. The masks are made exactly the way luminary Sankardeva described the characters in his ‘Ankitya Natya’ from which bhaonas have emerged. These bamboo masks are very light in weight, making it convenient and comfortable for the performers to put them on. It takes approximately ten to fifteen days to make them.

It is but natural that when you visit this Satra, you have faces of gods, goddesses, demons, fiends, ogres and all kinds of interesting otherworldly characters with raised brows and flared nostrils from Indian mythology and folklore, as attendees either smiling or scoffing at you, spicing your visit to the otherwise peaceful Majuli.

Masks of Majuli
 Fact File

Where: Majuli is the first island district of India located in the Brahmputra river that passes through the beautiful and enthralling Assam.

What else to watch: Majuli is a birdwatchers delight. Rare species of migratory birds arrive here in winter.

Best time to travel: The Island is open throughout the year but October-November is the best time to experience the island in its full vibrancy and festivity.

How to reach: It is a 15km drive from the city of Jorhat to Nimati Ghat from where the island of Majuli can be accessed through ferries. If you’re in luck you can catch a glimpse and enjoy the extraordinary scenes during sunrise and sunset (although ferries generally start by 8:00 am and end by 4:00 pm; timing varies according to season).

Where to stay: There are many hotels and homestays in Majuli. The Satras also offer guesthouses to the devotees and tourists alike.    

Published in The Tribune on 29.11.2020


SUNDAY FEATURE: The Romance of Hand-Knitting!

Knitting is a craft in which sweetness is infused and calm induced

“In the rhythm of the needles, there is music for the soul”

That time of the year when light breeze gently feathers across the skin and the sun cheers everyone with the loveliness of its sunshine. When the earth smells of ripeness and fullness, fruit and bounty; and the air is filled with notes of love and laughter. It is then that many sitting in their cozy nooks pick up the needles to knit comfort and warmth, stitch by stitch, for the approaching winters. Knitting has always been associated with peace, healing and pleasant childhood memories. Hand knitting is a beautiful expression of love involving the use of two or more needles to loop yarn into a series of interconnected loops in order to create a finished garment. It is a craft that has given comfort to many a generation across the globe since ages.

A brief history

Most histories of knitting place its origin somewhere in the Middle East, and from there it spread to Europe by Mediterranean trade routes, and later to the Americas with European colonization. The oldest knitted artifacts are socks from Egypt, dating from 11th century C.E. While in Europe the earliest known knitted items can be traced to the Spanish Christian Royal families who employed Muslim knitters. Several paintings from Europe portray the Virgin Mary knitting including ‘Our Lady Knitting’ by Tommaso da Modenna. There is also mention of knitting in the plays by Shakespeare that were written between 1590 and 1610. In 17th and 18th century hand knitting became an important occupation in Scottish Isles. By mid 19th century hand knitting declined due to the increasing use of mechanical knitting machines. In India, scholars do not have a fixed time period assigned to the introduction of knitting. There is no ancient word in Sanskrit for knitting. Even in Hindi language, the term for knitting is bunaai which means weaving. Textile expert Toolika Gupta is of the opinion that when knitting was introduced in India, it was instantly called bunaai for lack of better word.  Therefore, the word ‘weaving’ or bunaai has been synonymous with knitting in this country.

Present scenario

The popularity of any craft has always swayed along the ongoing fashions of the eras and the changing values of the society. The 1920s saw a rise in demand for sweaters and pull-overs with statement styles being set by the likes of Prince Wales (future Edward VIII) wearing Fair Isle sweater to play golf and Coco Chanel incorporating knitwear in high fashion. It was a much sort after craft during the war years too. Again in 1950s and 1960s knitting gained huge popularity with introduction of more bright colours and styles of yarn. But the point to be noted here is that knitting as a hand craft had already lost its charm by this time. It was in mid 19th century itself that hand knitting was taken over by knitting industry and survived only as hobby. By late 20th century it further saw a decline and was rarely taught as a craft in school. With many knitting groups emerging, 21st century indeed saw a resurgence of this craft amongst Millennials but still fails to pass on the skills of this craft to Gen Z who is more occupied with virtual world errands than the real world charm.

Great gift of knitting

Hand knitting is not merely a creative leisure activity. With increasing number of mental health issues, sense of lack, broken families – knitting is a craft that can provide immense therapeutic results. The truth is that the romance of hand knitting is vanishing when it is needed the most. Hand knitting relaxes the mind, soothing its electric sparks by focusing the thoughts in the moment. It makes you still, helps gather yourself and centers your being. More so, it disciplines the faculties of mind and body, thereby increasing patience and concentration. Pain specialists have found that hand knitting changes brain chemistry, resulting in an increase in ‘feel good’ hormones (i.e. serotonin and dopamine). Interestingly, the craft of hand knitting being a binary wrapping code of knit and purl stitches, serves as one of the best brain exercises to increase I.Q. as well. Studies have also shown that knitting has helped reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The gift of hand knitting certainly lies in its healing nature. It is a craft in which sweetness is infused and calm induced. As is said –

“Sweet contents knit in my soul, in a million happy stitches”

  So just do it!

Tools & Material: Knitting needles, yarns, row counter, stitch holder
Basics: Learn how to cast on the needle, i.e. put the yarn on the needle              Learn to do a knit stitch and purl stitch               Learn to cast off the live stitches              And you’re ready to make that scarf for this Christmas!

  Advanced stitches: Cable stitch, Plaited stitch, Dip stitch
Stitch patterns: Garter stitch, Basket stitch, Herrington stitch, Fishermen Rib stitch

Published in The Post India on 14.10.2020

SUNDAY FEATURE: The Old Bazaars of Punjab

The history of Punjab unfolds this land of five rivers as the birth place of Indus Valley Civilization, the land of warriors and of-course for its gastronomy. But little is realized that it has also been the land of remarkable trade and commerce that was quite sophisticated for its time. It is the old bazaars of Punjab that testify and give a glimpse even today to this rich history and culture as we lose ourselves in the charm of its old winding alleys.

Through the history

The undivided Punjab enjoyed an advantageous geographical position on the world’s silk route. This overland route created a potential market for the agricultural and non agricultural material resources of the region. Punjab became a commercial hub and crossroad for trade across Europe, Persia, Central Asia, Deccan and Delhi. A well developed process of bills of exchange called hundi system was used for the purpose of trading by the kafilahs or caravans of merchants, pilgrims and travelers.

However, the location of Punjab on the famous silk route was on one hand good for the trade but on the other hand was the source of instability bringing repeated invasion. The 18th century undivided Punjab  saw a low state of trade, not only because of foreign invasions but also because of the policies of various independent Sikh and Non-Sikh chiefs of Punjab. Nevertheless, the trade managed to chisel out its path through the vicissitudes of political turmoil. It is in the late 18th and early 19th century that the stability of the region restored under the powerful reign of Sher-e-Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh as Punjab entered its golden era.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the bazaar of Lahore; 19th century

With the partition of India in 1947, some of the old historic bazaars of undivided Punjab that included Multan, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Shikarpur went to the other side of Wagah border but the indelible imprint of the collective culture stayed. Within Punjab, as William Francklin puts, there was never a fixed route for trade but the most significant one lied between Amritsar to Patiala – the two cities that till date house the oldest bazaars of present day Punjab.

Amritsar to Patiala – The bazaars in the olden days!

The city of Amritsar was founded by the fourth Sikh Guru Ram Das ji in 1574 A.D. To initiate the economic activity he invited fifty-two traders from different sectors to settle here who started the first thirty-two shops in the city that was to become the grand emporium of trade in the coming times. Sugar, spice, rice, wheat, indigo, utensils and white cloth (the togas of upper class Romans and turbans of Central Asian Turks were all made of Indian white cloth) were the main items that the bazaars of Amritsar offered to the traders from other regions. The Asiatic Annual Register of 1809 mentions that Amritsar was the prominent hub of trade for shawls. Pashmina was imported from Kashmir and Tibet. Lungis and Dohar manufactured at Pakpattan, the famous ghee from Kamalia and Qabuli, ‘Nemuk Lahooree’ or salt from Lahore, turmeric from Kathua and saffron from Kashmir found market in the bazaars of Amritsar. From Persian side came the swords, horses and dry fruits.

An old picture of Hall Bazaar in Amritsar

During the British Raj, Amritsar was not only trading in shawls but also carpets, and piece goods, silk and woolen cloth. Indian textile industry catered to a quarter of worlds demand and Amritsar became one of the most flourishing textile production centres. Author Gurcharan Das points out that this trade with Europeans, however, was mainly balanced with gold and silver in the balance sheet as Indians were not much interested in British goods until the Industrial Revolution of 19th century. In fact, it is during this time that the cloth and carpet trade and production in Amritsar started to decline as the machines in the west supplanted the handlooms. However, this did not alter the energy of the bazaars as the city developed expertise in the culinary niche – making it the ‘Food Capital of Punjab’ – putting it on the world map for its mouth watering cuisine.

In between Amritsar and Patiala, the ancient cities of Jalandhar and Ludhiana were the other commercial hubs. Jalandhar founded by Devasya Verma as mentioned in Vedas, was famous for its fine textiles and the Nakodar chandeli fabric which were marketed to Lahore and Kashmir through the bazaars of Amritsar. While Ludhiana founded by the chiefs of Sikander Lodhi who was at the helm of power at Delhi in 15th century, had a full-fledged bazaar popularly called Chaura Bazaar renowned for its white cloth. The bazaar got further boost during British Raj as the city became an important British cantonment.

The Patiala State was founded by Baba Ala Singh in 1763 with the foundation of Quila Mubarak or Patiala Fort. It enjoys a special place in the history of Punjab as can be observed from folklore and tradition. After the decline of Maharaja Ranjit Singhs Empire, it was the royal house of Patiala that provided patronage to the artisans and musicians of the declining empire. Similarly, they gave patronage to the members of disintegrating Mughal court at Delhi and welcomed all the silver and gold smiths, parandi (ornament) makers, jutti  (shoe) makers and other artists. Eventually, the bazaar of Patiala began to develop and flourish around Quila Mubarak and became a creative hub. The Darshni Gate right outside the Quila in the bazaar became the jewelers’ souk with a Shiva temple opposite to it. While, paranda hattis andtraditional embroidery shops got established in the by-lanes webbed across.

Jump into the heart of action!

The bazaars of Punjab are as lively and bustling with energy as they were in the past. Only the wide alleys of these souks of past now look narrower in the present as we jump into the heart of action. There is chaos but also exotic vibrant charms as the architectural legacies overlook these bazaars.

As we enter the connected labyrinth of bazaars in the old walled city of Amritsar through the Gandhi Gate (also popularly called Hall Gate) and dodge across motorbikes and rickshaws or wander across the Town hall whose architecture reminds us of the imperial era, marvel at Sikh architectural features and frescos at Quila Ahluwalia in Hall Bazaar or take a deep sigh looking at the grandeur of Ram Bagh Gate that still stands in its original form in nanakshahi brick – there is plenty to occupy the mind (and senses!).

Quila Ahluwalia in Amritsar

The famous lassi (buttermilk), Amritsari Kulche (a unique bread) and kulfi faluda (ice cream)at Katra Jaimal Singh Bazaar; the tongue tantalizing aam papad, pickle and papad wadia (spicy lentil balls used in curries) at Ram Bagh Bazaar; the beautiful gold jewellery at Guru Bazaar (a souk much frequented by British ladies during British Raj); exquisite textiles at Shastri Bazaar; or a walk through the newly revived Heritage street to visit Golden Temple simply transports to the olden days.

Creamy lassi at Katra Jaimal Singh Bazaar

 Not to miss the Bartan Bazaar that provides market to the brass and copper utensils that are made in Amritsar which have been enlisted on the UNESCO’s list of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’. The curious fascinating feel of walking through these bazaars, comes from the knowledge of the fact that there is a network of ancient tunnels (some branch out from Quila Ahluwalia and Ram Bagh Palace to mention a few) underneath, above which the whole bazaar bustles every single day.

Similarly, the Chaura Bazaar in Ludhiana extending from famous colonial clock tower to the Ghas Mandi is now famous for hosiery, apparel and garments, machine parts. The World Bank ranked Ludhiana as the city with best business environment in India in 2009 and 2013. The only surviving structure from ancient period in the city is the Purana Quila or Lodhi Fort which is about twenty minutes away from Chaura Bazaar. Heading to the bazaars of Patiala, the old world charm starts much before we reach the Anardana chowk. Some of the old shops still have clearly defined Sikh architectural features like embellished parapets, chattris or domes and pilasters. These shops stand distinct and graceful next to the new fashionable facades in the market.

Busy lanes of Adalat Bazaar

 The pulsing Adalat bazaar is replete with beautiful phulkaris (folk embroidery of Punjab) and rich fabrics like silks and satins showcasing some of the finest embroideries that are done by karigars or craftsmen of Patiala, Lucknow and Kolkata. The dyers of Patiala who have been traditionally dying the turban cloth of famous Patiala Shahi Turban, in the royal state colours of soft pink and lemon, are till date running their shops in Adalat Bazaar. As we go deep into the souk, there are many offshoots to other bazaars and popular lanes.

Silk thread Phulkari

The colourful paranda (traditional silk or cotton thread hanging used as hair ornament by Punjabi women) bazaar near Quila Mubarak; the famous jutti lane near Tope Khana road in Adalat bazaar; the heat and the smell of spices in the Gur Mandi are all exotic experiences with their own enticement that these bazaars offer even today. These bazaars of Punjab are living specimens of our grand history – the thriving hubs of our culture and tradition.

Published in The Post India on 22.9.2020

SUNDAY FEATURE: Go Creative, Go Green

It is time to step up into a conscious living but with a twist of creativity.

Nature is an oasis of tranquility, beauty and rejuvenation. It has given us uncountable gifts from its healing power to everyday goods that make our life comfortable. But what have humans done in return? Humans have looted the very life source and plundered the dexterous working mechanism of our Mother Earth.

 It is certainly the time to get into action for bringing a change. There are many remedial measures being suggested but until and unless we accept these from within us, they would hardly serve as a solution to the countless environmental catastrophes! The time for discussions is over. It is time to step up into a conscious living but with a twist of creativity.

We generally underestimate the power of creativity that can make something out of nothing. Creativity can turn a simple idea into a great novelty and a dull school routine into the best thing an educationist ever did!

It is creativity that subtly forces out of the box thinking (and to be scientifically precise it is the right side of our brain responsible for this magical skill!), thereby directing our mind into unexplored positivity and possibility. We need it in our daily attitudes, approaches, theories, campaigns and initiatives of saving environment. John Cleese, the famous English actor and comedian, had once rightly remarked that creativity is not a talent but the way of operating.

 So here are some creative, fascinating, quirky and imaginative ‘trash to treasure’ converting formulas that each and every one of us should adopt – each day every day!


When it comes to styling your rooms and lounges, the primary concern is to create an aura that is de-stressing and comforting. One thing is for sure – nothing can calm down the nerve better than the relaxing vibe of a natural theme. And what’s better about it is that you can go the DIY way, making it easy on the pocket as well as the environment. There are a plethora of things you can do with almost any disposed off material. The empty jam jars can be used for decorating your outdoors with scented candles. You can also plant some flowers in a group of bulbs and hang them on a tree in your garden or in your balcony. You can also make miniatures, photo frames and showpieces from old newspapers and cardboard for your childs room. From crockery and bathroom fittings, wooden boxes, wine bottles, tins, old magazines to the embroidery on your suits and sarees – everything can be used to do up your place in the most economical and eco friendly way.


The plastic bags and products are the worst enemies of nature all across the globe! So learn to unleash your vibrant and creative mind to make use of plastic products that would otherwise only add to the garbage heaps. The noted designer Clement had introduced stylish tote bags, made by weaving several plastic bags together, in the fashion industry long time back. Well, why can’t we make DIY products from plastic bags then? We can certainly make beautiful baskets, door mats and attractive African styled ‘Inkuku’ chairs by weaving plastic bags in a basic framework – just needs a little patience!


With increasing awareness regarding environment degradation due to unchecked human activity, the world of fashion has apparently changed its gear for the better. From international designers like Stella McCartney, Mark Liu to Desi designers and fashionistas like Sonam kapoor and Dia Mirza, all have been zealously promoting eco-friendly collections. So the next time you buy a fabric – say no to synthetics and polyester and give a thumbs up to pure fabrics like organic silk and khadi. Ask your local boutiques to use and promote organic dyes instead of chemical dyes and bleaches. Try to mix and match things. You can make a really cool outfit from your old military or floral bedsheets! It not only encourages the creativity in you but also helps in keeping the environment greener.


Before allowing good food to spoil, allow your belly to enjoy it. As they say, wasting food is like saving every dime to have a ride of hell. So even if you have leftovers and vegetables in your refrigerator, who are getting tired and old but haven’t yet given up – cook them into a delicious soup right away! You can use leftovers like herbs, pieces of meat, bits of bread, pieces of cheese and lots more. Use your magical mind to explore various recipes of soups from different leftovers or waste ingredients that have been still stocked up in your cooling box since the last weekend! It would be quite an experience.

It is time to do our bit, at individual and collective level. The GO-CREATIVE, GO-GREEN approach does not tax your resources in any way, rather encourages the creativity in you. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Almost always the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” Only this time the minority should turn into the world majority.

Published in The Post India ( on 1/8/2020

SUNDAY FEATURE: Palampur – An Enthralling Getaway

The land where sparkling streams and brooks adorn the green carpeted landscape, giving way to spectacular views of the mighty Dhauladhars overlooking the lush green tea gardens, is none other than the alluring Palampur – literally meaning the land of abundant water!

The Tea Capital

Situated in the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh this British tea plant legacy is also known as ‘The Tea Capital of Northwest India’ and is world famous for its ‘Kangra Tea’! Palampur offers you the exquisite experience of strolling and feasting your eyes at the lush green tea gardens all around. The air drips of sensuous aroma of the tea leaves while pine trees render it a relaxing and a rejuvenating quality. One can enjoy time at the Bundla Tea Co-operative or observe tea making process at the Palampur Tea Co-operative.                    

Tea garden in Palampur

People of Palampur are warm and friendly. They celebrate the local festival of Sair with much ecstasy and enthusiasm. The legend has it that worshiping the Shair deity during the Sair Festival protects the region from heavy rains and crop failure, bringing prosperity to the region (and Palampur is indeed one of the most developing and economically thriving regions of Himachal Pradesh!).

 Apart from the exotic tea, the local food is no less tempting! The Khatti Dal, Mithe Chawal and Chooar Ka Raya excite one’s palate. The ayurvedic treatments at Palampur are also popular.

Artist’s Delight!

About 13kms from Palampur is the serene village of Andretta. It is an artists’ village which was once the home for the painter Sobha Singh and playwright Norah Richards. The Sobha Singh Art Gallery and the Andretta Pottery House are quiet a mosaic of art and culture. Another remarkable monument is the 1200 years old Mahadev temple at Baijnath near Palampur.


Mahadev Temple

The Shikahra style architecture and the fine sculpture are prolific in its own kind! The ‘Shivratri Festival’ held there is a well attended fair with people coming in from across the country. Another peculiar thing about Baijnath, as locals told, is that people here worship Ravana for his superb intelligence and knowledge!

The Adrenaline Rush

For those who want sheer adventure- Bir and Billing are the ideal places. They are approximately 35 kms from Palampur and are known well for paragliding and hang-gliding. Every year Himachal Pradesh government conducts International Paragliding Competition at Bir-Billing.

Paragliding at Bir – Billing

Treks can be made from Palampur towards Chamba which are fascinating and easy. A short trek can also be made to Neugal Khad on the periphery of the town which is an awe-inspiring chasm. The more tough treks are from Sanghar Pass to Bharmaur via Holi and from Baijnath over the Jarser pass to Bharmaur.

Other places to see nearby…

  • The Saurabh Van Vihar, in the vicinity of the Neugal Khad is a well preserved natural park – ideal for picnics!
  • The Taragarh Palace which was  once the summer palace of the last Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir is worth visiting. It is now a luxury hotel.
  • The Tashijong monastery near Taragarh is also very impressive.
  •  The monolithic rock cut temples at Masroor, about 40kms from Palampur, are a stunning architectural piece of art.
  • The temples of Jawalamukhi and Chamunda Devi are popular pilgrimage centres.
  • The Kangra Fort located on the outskirts of the town of Kangra makes one walk through the walls of history.
  • The Kangra Toy Train journey to Palampur is also a great experience with beautiful views to lay your eyes on!


How to reach:

 Palampur is well connected by all means of transportation. The Kangra airport is just 40 kms from Palampur. The nearest railway station is at Maranda which is about 3 kms from the main bus stand. Palampur is 254kms from Chandigarh via Pathankot by road.

Where to stay:

There are many hotels and resorts in Palampur to stay in.


The mild climate makes Palampur a comfy zone for every tourist.

Best time to visit:

Palampur can be visited throughout the year but the best time would be from March to June and mid September to November.

Published in Identity India in its August 2013 issue

SUNDAY FEATURE : Sangla Chitkul – The Ultimate Retreat

With the scorching sun, parched landscape and ever thirsty air – it is indeed a fortune to travel to areas of extraordinary beauty in the picturesque Himalayan range, splattered with glaciers and turquoise blue lakes, rivers and streams. Travelling to remote areas is always thrilling but only a few offer adventure and spirituality with the aroma of love. And Sangla-Chitkul proves to be one such perfect summer retreat package!

En route

On the way to Sangla, Shimla can be the first stopping point. Tour around the famous mall with its church and mock Elizabethan architecture to sink in the city’s feel. Sangla is a ten hour drive from Shimla. Sangla and Chitkul are in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. Kinnaur is a land of legends and is bestowed with the choicest bounties. It has the Great Himalayan range and the high Dhauladhar ranges surrounding it. The road is good for most of the journey up to Rampur except for few stretches in between and is fairly decent up to the valley. While en route to Sangla, apart from the serene views there is a huge statue of Lord Hanuman which is awe-inspiring with the beautiful mountains in the backdrop. It is built in a temple compound on the side of the road after crossing Rampur and is quite eye catching. The journey can take on the spirits but it’s worth the ‘heaven’ in close proximity.

Hindustan – Tibet Highway

The redolence of Love and Spirituality

Sangla Valley is also called Baspa Valley. It follows the 95km long Baspa River which gives breath taking view. The valley is a remote area with nature in its pristine form and a romantic enchantment that is un-ignorable. Saffron fields, cumin crops, apple and walnut orchards fill the valley-rendering the air with love and passion. The road climbs the steep slopes giving way to beautiful alpine meadows.

The scent of apples in the air is overwhelming

Sangla is the largest village in the area and is situated on the hind side of Kinner Kailash range. It is built high on a slope with the village houses rising in tiers. The local people have a distinct Kinnauri dialect and culture. The fruit, the charming faces of Kinnauri women, music and rhythm of the Kinnauri community life are irresistible.

Kinnauri women in their traditional attire

 It is here that one gets to see and experience the subtle mergence of Hinduism and Buddhism. Nag Temple and Devi Maa Temple are typical examples of this amalgam in the valley. The Nag Temple is also central to the flamboyant Phulaich Festival – ‘The Festival of Flowers’ which is held annually in September. The villagers from around the place get together at the festival. They dress up in colourful clothes and sing and dance under the trees. It is a splendid experience and a real feast to the eye and soul! The village of Kamru, situated about two kilometers above Sangla, can also be visited for the temple of Kamayakha Devi. The castle like temple has the idol of the goddess Kamayakha brought from Assam centuries ago.

Kamayakha Devi Temple

The last village

Chitkul can be reached via Barseri and Rakcham. Barseri is a green valley in the midst of barren surroundings. Immediately above the village of Barseri is Rakcham. Here the valley widens and the road passes through wooded hillsides. Finally, Chitkul is the last village on the old Hindustan –Tibet trade route. It is also the last point one can travel to, without permit. The road does not lead to the border but closes around 90 kilometers before it. The rest of the area is under the control of Indian Parliamentary force ITBP.  

A wooden hut at Chitkul

Of particular interest at Chitkul are its houses, with either slate or wooden plank roofs, Mathi Devi temple, a small tower and potatoes (they are famous for their distinct taste and texture; and the high price!)

The Mathi Devi temple is apparently the oldest in the valley and has beautiful pagoda style architecture. The place evokes feelings that are hard to define in earthy terms. The small monastery at Chitkul has a highly valued, old image of Sakyamuni Buddha. There are four statues of directional kings on either side of the door, as well as a wheel of life.

Trekkers’ call!

For those who are fond of trekking, there is a beautiful trek up the Baspa from Sangla through Chitkul to Dhumti. A trek to Nagasthy up to the last Indian post is also a good option if with family since it is easy and flat. The 1,000-year-old Rekong Peo, known for the chilgoza forests, the Nako Lake and the Kalpa valley are just 55 km away and definitely worth a visit. One can also trek to Yamunotri, Harsil or Har-ki-dun directly from Chitkul but these are difficult treks requiring thorough preparation and proper equipment.

Baspa river flowing next to Chitkul

The valley is considered one of the most beautiful, astonishing and spell binding in the entire Great Himalayas. Trekking or hiking across it is a gift in disguise. One feels more than eyes can see! It’s a place where waters meet below, while snow capped mountains touched the sky. It’s a place where a wandering traveler could find solace.


Best time to travel: May to October is a good time to visit but April-June and September-October would be the best. Avoid during Dusshera and Durga Puja season!

Climate: It is cool but nevertheless it might get chilly even in summers so do take some woolens along.

How to reach: Chitkul is about 255kms from Shimla. Follow the NH22 till Karchham via Narkanda, Jeori and Rampur. At Karchham, take a right diversion and go via Rakcham and Sangla to reach Chitkul.Where to stay: There are a few hotels and resorts. Also, booking can be done at the HPPWD Guest House.

Published in Hindustan Times on 24/6/2013