“Ready?” Pawan, our driver asks, smiling mischievously at me.
I am sitting in the front seat with Pawan and have a view of the road from the front windshield and the side window. I visibly gulp at the steep descent in front of us. We are in the Sangla Valley, just past the town of Sangla in the Kinnaur region of Himachal Pradesh, and have to negotiate that steep descent to reach Kinner Camps, where our group will be staying the next two days.
I look back to see the reaction of my travel companions, but there’s none — they’re all snoozing. I don’t blame them for it has been a tiring journey from Kalpa. A distance of 40 km has taken us almost 4 hours over impossibly bad roads, and past huge thermal power plant projects with the River Baspa as an almost constant companion.
I nod nervously at Pawan and he takes off and within minutes we are at the entrance to Kinner Camps, which is at the end that descent. After thanking Pawan, I get out of the vehicle to find that my legs feel a little shaky. That’s when I realise just how nervous I was during the ride. Though I consider myself to be a good and hardy traveller, 5 days on the Himalayan roads have made me look at road travel in a new light. Respect.
We are welcomed by the staff of Kinner Camps and led straight for a sumptuous lunch. By the time we finish our meal, our bags have been unloaded and waiting outside our rooms.
Posh camping ! That’s the term that comes to my mind when I see our tented accommodation complete with an attached bathroom 🙂
A quick wash and, we’re off to explore our surroundings. Kinner Camps is on the banks of the river Baspa and I’m eager to get down there. But that is for later in the evening for we first head towards the nearby Batseri village.
Batseri is a Nirmal Gram Puraskar winning village. This is awarded by the Government of India to Gram Panchayats that are free from open- defecation and also follow guidelines for sanitation. Batseri wears this award like a proud badge.
I have generally found villages in Himachal Pradesh to be clean, but Batseri took cleanliness to a new level. Not only was the village clean and free of any garbage or waste, I did not see a single garbage bin !
Some impressions from my walk through the village:
Like most villages, Batseri too has a temple that is the centre of its existence – the Badrinarayan Temple. The current temple structure is a new construction which has been built entirely built from donations collected after the old temple collapsed in an earthquake. The Badrinarayan Temple is built in the traditional Himachali style of architecture with alternating bands of timber and stone and strong Tibetan influences as well.
The temple’s one striking feature is its heavily carved wooden doors and panels with Hindu gods and goddesses, the navagrahas, Hanuman, Garuda, Jesus, Guru Nanak, Buddha, Mahavira….
But my favourite element in the Badrinarayan was the very life-like carving of the naag or King Cobra on the walls of the temple.
It is close to sunset as we begin to make our way back to Kinner Camps via a different path. That’s when I notice the cloud cover. Dark cloud cover. Is it going to rain, I ask myself? It had been a bright sunny day otherwise and there had been no indication of rain at all.
I put that thought aside once the path enters a thick deodar forest. I get distracted by all the pebbles and ferns and mosses and lichens and the River Baspa. It is a beautiful walk and the flash of blue together with the murmer and gurgle of the Baspa as he made his way through the valley is like music to my ears.
And then it begins raining. A light drizzle, but is enough make us hasten our footsteps for we are not really equipped for rain. The temperature drops almost immediately and it is with regret that I leave behind one of the most picturesque locations I have been to.
Once back at Kinner Camps, it is time for a hot shower and then onto dinner. It continues drizzling, and the first thoughts of concern started creeping in. But Doreen, our tour manager, isn’t too worried and is confident that the weather would clear up by morning. She has experienced such weather before having visited the area many times before.
Over dinner, the next day’s itinerary is discussed and by the time we finish eating, it has stopped raining as well. There is a collective sigh of relief at that and we decide to retire to bed early so that we can make an early start to the day as well.
As I get ready for bed, the rain starts again. It’s still a steady drizzle, but I am not too worried and I go to bed with the next day’s proposed visits to Chitkul and Kamru Fort buzzing in my head. “It will be sunny day tomorrow” are my last thoughts before I fall asleep.
I don’t realise, how wrong I would be.