Kalpa, Tranquil and Timeless

Kalpa, Tranquil and Timeless

Of all the quaint and picturesque villages that dot the banks of the Sutlej as she comes coursing down the slopes in Himachal Pradesh, Kalpa is truly special. Liberally clothed in stately fir, pine and cedar trees that have their crown up in the clouds, Kalpa is no doubt, a quintessential alpine settlement – verdant and pleasing. But that can be said of many other Himalayan villages as well.  Kalpa is distinctive because it can hold its own under the condescending stare of the lofty Kinner Kailash range that straddles the horizon on the other bank of the river. Even Sutlej seems to cower before the might of the Kinner Kailash range and dives into the entrails of the earth to hide herself, but Kalpa stares back imperiously.

Kalpa is truly the Shangri-la of Himachal Pradesh. Perched on a ridge 2700 meters above sea level and located 250 kilometers away from Shimla along the banks of the Sutlej en route to Spiti, it is the gateway to Kinnaur district. If you’re driving to Spiti, it is easy to miss Kalpa because it is situated up and away from the road that winds along the river.  We had done our homework though. After a night’s halt in Shimla, we drive along the Sutlej to Rampur Bushehr to a very rainy Recong Peo. From here, the climb is rather steep and the road winds further up and away to reach Kalpa.

We make an unscheduled stop at Recong Peo to pick up some green veggies at the local market – don’t ask why, they were so fresh and inviting that we had to buy even though we had no idea what to do with them. We take the twisting tarmac past taller and denser pine and cedar forests. Unlike other hill towns, there is hardly any traffic. Mercifully, the hillsides have not yet sprouted ugly concrete blocks to cater to tourists.  There is a classy stateliness to Kalpa, an air of aloofness that few hill towns can boast in today’s India with its exploding automobile population.  There is also a distinct air of self-sufficiency that comes from its status as the supplier of quality apples and other fruits to the rest of the country.

You know you’ve reached Kinnaur because the tell-tale slate roofs begin to make their appearance. Downstream of Kalpa, you don’t see these kind of dwellings.   By the time we puff up the hills, it is almost dark.  The lodge we stay at, is just an assemblage of windows miraculously held together. It is bitterly cold and we wonder why the rooms were not designed to keep the elements out.  We would find out though, soon enough. For now, all five of us huddle around an electric heater, our feet wrapped in blankets.  The cook obligingly transforms the veggies into delectable snacks.

The next morning, the first rays of dawn stream unannounced to rouse me from my slumber. As I open my eyes, the sight of the Kinner Kailash peak bathed in the golden rays of the morning sun greets me. It is an indescribably beautiful sight, the range just emerging from its misty blanket of the night. Now I am glad there are only windows to this dwelling, no walls to block such an enthralling view.  Almost from anywhere you see the Kinner Kailash range almost at touching distance. In fact, the peaks keep changing colour every now and then, depending upon the angle of the sunlight and as if to protect their modesty as they change, the clouds clothe them only to lift up and reveal an entirely new visage, now silvery, now dark, now snowy.  Sometimes a band of mist streaks through the entire range leaving only the tips peeping out. It is a spectacular show of nature, staged entirely for the benefit of Kalpa. How all this glamour has remained from prying tourist eyes, I wonder.

We are in Kalpa during the fruiting season. Virtually every inch of the village has burst out in fecund celebration. Orange apricots and ruby red plums seduce you to pluck. But you might want to pause before you pop them into your mouth. Most of them are weeks away from ripening and will explode in sour or bitter bits in your mouth, leaving a rather unpleasant after-taste. The apples don’t show off, though.  They don their greenest hue to fob you off. And then there are chilgoza pines spooking you with their thorny armour, almonds and even some walnut trees with their boughs bent over with fruit clusters. Garden of Eden, this. As though to confirm this impression, a flock of sheep cross our path, ably shepherded by a biblical looking local character.

 Kalpa is scrupulously clean. The slate roofs glint in the morning light, there are rabbits about and a monal pheasant calls to its mate. Birds chirp everywhere, happy to have so many fruits to gorge on. We saunter through the winding lanes of Kalpa to reach a beautiful temple with player flags fluttering. There is also a gompa with a row of prayer wheels. The sprawling circuit house in Kalpa once had a huge billiards table on which many itinerant travellers like Aural Stein and Younghusband had scrawled their signatures as they stopped en route during their many adventures in these parts. We go in search of the table. The caretaker opens the door and shows us the place, but there is no sign of the table.

Kalpa in Sanskrit means “aeons”. You do get a sense of timelessness when in Kalpa. The village is tranquillity personified and the pace of life is unhurried. Don’t go to Kalpa to do sight-seeing. Go there to unwind, pause, to stand and stare!