Chitkul – A Detailed Travel Guide

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A Complete Guide for Visiting Chitkul
A Complete Guide for Visiting Chitkul

Nestled in the picturesque Kinnaur Valley lies Chitkul. An adventure lover’s delight, a geography enthusiast’s paradise, and an all-out enchantingly surreal landscape lend to Chitkul its eternal delight! If you are serious about traveling in the Himalayas then a Chitkul trip is something not to be missed.

Famously known as the last inhabited village on the Indo-Tibet Border, Chitkul is also the most beautiful village of the striking Baspa Valley in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. If escapism is your choice of travel drug, let me assure you, a trip to Chitkul will not disappoint.

All About Chitkul

Chitkul height is about 11,319 Ft in altitude, which is staggering enough to make it a hard-to-reach paradise. As they say all things worth having in life never come easy, so I say, add Chitkul to that list. If traveling to offbeat places is what gets your rhythm going, Chitkul is the bass! The lack of a mobile signal in this hamlet, makes you disconnected from the world and complements your connection with the surroundings.

With Kinner Kailash visible in the backdrop, Chitkul brags of unmatchable views, from its soft spot on the Baspa River. On the left bank of the Baspa lie snow-clad mountains that you can look at till pigs start flying and on the right bank lies an expanse of orchards.

The slopes of this magical land are flaunted by the majestic Deodars and the dignified Chilgoza, Chitkul also boasts of abundant orchards, catering to the world some of the finest ‘Golden Delicious’ apples. Also, this settlement is famous for its high-quality potatoes, given the accommodative weather and the fertile soil. I kid you not, the quality of these potatoes is unmatchable, and justify the high price!

The villagers are either Hindus or Buddhists, speak a Tibeto-Burman dialect known as Kinnauri and wear distinct green pahadi caps. In ancient mythology, the people of Kinnaur were known as Kinnaras, the halfway between gods and humans. This further lend to the belief that Kinnaur is the land between heaven and earth!

Snow at Chitkul and a wild dog posing for the shot
Snow at Chitkul and a wild dog posing for the shot

Location

Chitkul is situated in Kinnaur Valley of Himachal Pradesh. Kinnaur, the land between paradise and earth, is surrounded by Tibet on the east, Garhwal on the south, Spiti Valley on the north and Kullu on the west. Interestingly, Uttarakhand border is just 20 km from Chitkul. If you choose to, you can walk into Govind Pashu Vihar National Park and Sanctuary after crossing Borasu Pass (17,880 ft).

The distance of Delhi to Chitkul is 569 km and the nearest settlement of Sangla Valley is at approximately 28 km. Rakcham village is the midway point between Sangla and Chitkul and the drive from Rakcham to Chitkul is breathtaking, adventurous and just pure gold beautiful!

The Indo-Tibet border is approximately 90 KMs from the Chitkul village. However, no civilian movement is allowed beyond Chitkul, which is why it is famously known as the last village before the Indo-Tibet Border. The area beyond the village is in control of the Indo-Tibet Border Police.

Chitkul - Staring into No-Man's Land
Chitkul – Staring into No-Man’s Land

Weather in Chitkul

Summers are mildly cold temperature-wise, with highs of 20 degrees and nighttime cool of around 5 Degree Celsius. Chitkul temperature remains pleasant or cool through the majority of the year barring the months of winter.

Chitkul in March to June

March is when the road to Chitkul gets open and tourist starts to visit Chitkul. The weather is cool in March. then as the spring and summer months approach, Chitkul is flocked by so many tourists from April to June – July period. After the middle of July and rain starts to bother the region and trip to Chitkul becomes a bit problematic.

Chitkul in August

Monsoon season, while pretty, tend to be very tricky for the tourism industry in Kinnaur Valley and Chitkul region given the frequent fright of landslides that the fragile hilly terrain is accustomed to. The whole region is of Kinnaur is pretty fragile for landslides and in August, it is pretty common to experience these landslides and road-blocks.

Chitkul in September to November

September to mid-October is one of the best months to visit Chitkul as the apple season is going on and weather is very pleasant and favorable. The roads are in much better shape as well. As the end of October and November comes, the winter chill starts to set in especially in morning and evening in Chitkul.

Chitkul in December to February

December to February period is said to be the winter months in Kinnaur Valley. In Chitkul, winter temperature touches -20 degree Celsius. Here, it should be noted that the roads to Chitkul close with the heavy snowfall around the middle of December. It is not advised to spend overnight in Chitkul in December even if the road is open. The road might close any night, stranding you in the middle of nowhere from weeks to months.

The villagers tend to move to a lower elevation for surviving the harshly cold winter months in Kinnaur. The hamlet of Chitkul is virtually cut off from the entire world in winter.

Best time to visit Chitkul

The best time to visit is the summer months especially from April to June and September – October. The thrilling roads of Hindustan – Tibet Highway leading up to Chitkul and the clear blue skies make for the perfect adventure, with enough safety mixed in.

However, August – September is harvest season for the apples and makes for a sight to never be forgotten, with the entire vistas turning into colors of fertility of the land. Since the winter months are uninhabitable, it isn’t a viable option. You should also read my article on the best time to visit Kinnaur Valley for more details.

Views near Chitkul
Views near Chitkul

How to reach Chitkul – Kinnaur

Reaching Chitkul will be a never-forget journey. The thrilling adventure is unmatchable, thanks to the high escalation on the mountains in crossing different valleys of the Kinnaur region. The lush green of the forested mountains complemented by the cobalt blue of the skies almost makes one forget the insanely difficult roads. There is a reason they are called the most treacherous roads in the world.

Personally, the trip on Manali Leh highway seemed easier in comparison to the trip to Chitkul and further to Spiti Valley! This is primarily due to the fact that in the Manali-Leh road trip, you’re usually driving close to the river bed unless you’re ascending for some massive mountain pass. In comparison, for the Kinnaur Trip, the roads are carved at higher points of the hills, always more enthralling.

What are your opinions on this? Which is the more difficult drive – Kinnaur – Spiti or Manali Leh Highway ?? Comment below!

The Route from Delhi to Chitkul

The best route to take (assuming starting point of Delhi) is via

Delhi » Chandigarh » Shimla (2200 mt) » Narkanda (2708 mt) » Rampur(1350mt) » Karcham (1813 mt) » Sangla(2696 mt) » Rakcham(3048 mt) » Chitkul (3450 mt)

Depending on the mode of transportation you may choose, you’d still have to travel a substantial part of your journey by road. Roads are decently maintained for the majority of the route. Here, the road takes you along the crest of the mountains, for the most part, gliding along many valleys and providing beautiful green vistas as your companion.

Once you cross Narkanda, you will be driving mostly downhill to reach the river bed of Sutlej, right up till Karcham, after which an ascend begins again towards Sangla and further to Chitkul!

However, it is always advisable to always be alert on the tricky Himalayan roads, splattered with hairpin bends and high ascends and sharp descend. Oncoming traffic can also be tricky to maneuver on the single lane roads. Also, a lot of the times you’ll be in awe of the Local Himachali drivers and their daring skills!

Kinnaur Valley Public Transport Bus Schedule
Kinnaur Valley Public Transport Bus Schedule

By Air  

Nearest Airport to Chitkul is Shimla (247 km). Bhuntar Airport near Manali is approximately 275 km from Chitkul. However, due to their small size, these airports have limited capacity and connectivity. Chandigarh Airport lies approximately 350 km from Chitkul.

Hence, Chandigarh is the best place to start the journey to Chitkul is you are flying from any other part of India than Delhi or other Northern states.

By Rail

Shimla is the nearest Railway station to Chitkul and then you need to travel by road from Shimla to Chitkul.

By Bus or Public Transport

Chitkul is connected by local HRTC buses or public transport. One can easily catch an HRTC bus en route Chitkul from Shimla ISBT where buses would be available for either Reckong Peo or Sangla. The buses leave daily from Shimla for the two mentioned places.

Of the two locations, Sangla is far more convenient for reaching Chitkul. Furthermore, one can catch a bus from Sangla to Chitkul, which runs daily. The last bus for return from Chitkul, in case you’re planning a one-day trip from Sangla, is at 3:30 PM.

You should look more details in the article on visiting Kinnaur Valley by public transport.

By Road

The road leading to Chitkul is as adventurous as it gets. It runs along the famous Hindustan – Tibet Highway or NH – 05 (earlier called NH-22). Prepare to calm your beating hearts. With each turn of your vehicle (the bigger, the scarier), the poor heart is in the throat again, needing assurance that this will be worth it. Life is definitely not easy in this valley and each far-flung house you will witness on your journey will humble you down for all that you take for granted.

Taxis are available from Shimla to reach any destination in Himachal Pradesh. You can always get connected with local taxi drivers in this list of taxi drivers in Kinnaur and Spiti Valley. However, this might be an expensive affair – costing anywhere around INR 20,000 depending on the number of days of the trip (as of 2018). In general, these local drivers charge from Rs 3000-3500 per day.

But, if you’re traveling in a group, this might not be that expensive of a proposition. And given that Shimla is an extremely commercial tourist town, brush up on your haggling and bargaining skills – will come in handy! Further, self-drive cars available in Delhi and Chandigarh are a great way to travel and can easily be booked from your starting location point.

Local Commute

In keeping with my advice for the Himalayan experience, such hamlets as Chitkul are best discovered on foot – explore the little alleyways and get a feel of life as a local villager.

Trails wanting to be explored near Chitkul
Trails wanting to be explored near Chitkul

Attractions near Chiktul

The population of Chitkul is just below 1,000. Even with such a limited population, the town is full of culture and community. There is so much to do in the village itself and even more to cover around it! The more you explore, the more time you’d need. I, for one, never wanted to leave! Wander about to experience the joy in the life of Chitkul.

Around the Village

There are two schools in the village, and looking at little kids zooming about their life, day-dreaming about playing outside will definitely take you back to your school days.

Also, Chitkul has 3 temples dedicated to Mathi Devi, oldest is said to be 500 years old. The entire compound is beautiful and a must visit for experiencing the wooden architecture. The temple seems to have a high prominence in the Bengali culture, as you would see a lot of pilgrims from there!

Unquestionably, you must walk down to the banks of the Baspa river and reawaken your soul by dipping your hands in the glacial water. The crystal clear water will definitely keep you enthralled. On a bright, sunny day, I spent an entire afternoon just mulling about life and how inconsequential my daily life issues were. Indubitably, when the mighty Himalayas stare you down, you realize your place in the scheme of things.

Chitkul Treks

Adrenaline junkies, let’s huddle! Chitkul is the start of many easy, medium and difficult treks around the region. I wouldn’t be a guide (albeit, virtual) if I didn’t deep dive into the details! Read more below for fantasizing and planning about your next unadulterated nature adventure:

Nagasti ITBP

This is a relatively easier trek of approximately 4 KMs. Do ensure to take a water bottle with you and keep sipping water every now and then.

Rani Kanda Meadows

Approximately 10 km in totality, the trek from Chitkul to Rani Kanda Meadows is completely drool-worthy. Easy to Medium in difficulty level, the panoramic views of the vistas and the valleys will make the effort completely worth on your trip to Chitkul.

Baspa River Chitkul
Baspa River Chitkul

Borasu Pass Trek

At a height of 17880 Ft, Borasu Pass connects the northern Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand. This trek takes you through Har-ki-Dun valley and the sights of glacial lakes of Zhupkia and Morinda Taal will literally make you stop in your tracks.

While the views are unforgettable, it is a difficult trek – taking you through glaciers, narrow ridges, 90-degree slopes, and boulders. Be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime. This trek will take you 6-8 days and proper acclimatization and stops are a must!

Lamkhaga Pass Trek

This is quite an isolated trek and often regarded as one of the toughest treks in the Indian Himalayan Region. This route was first embarked upon by Marco Pallis in 1933. Nowadays, it is commonly regarded as the classic route from Kinnaur to Gangotri. Here, I must highlight that the starting point of the trek can be from either direction. The beautiful route is the same up until Ranikanda and takes you along some of the most remote areas of Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand.

Especially beautiful is the Jalandhari Valley, especially post monsoon, as it is fully covered in blooming flowers. The trek will take you all the way to Harsil to the famous Wilson’s cottage built in 1864. From there, Gangotri – Gaumukh is a short way away.

Approximately, this trek would take you 15 days and the best time to cover the same would be Mid-May to June or post-monsoon, i.e. September to Mid-October. Also, it must be noted that since you’d be traversing along the Indo- Tibet border for most of your journey, you will need an Inner Line Permit. Try your hand at Reckong Peo (near Ramlila ground) for getting the same.

Other Activities near Chitkul

There are many other activities to keep your heart racing along the Chitkul region. Try your hand at Off-roading, bouldering, climbing & slacking.

Moreover, you must find yourself a spot and go fishing! The region is famous for its fresh-water trout fish. Both rainbow and brown trout fish can be seen swimming against the water. But, please be extremely quiet and quick in your movement as the water is crystal clear and the fish swim away faster than you blink once they spot you!

Food Options

The famous picture doing the rounds on the internet when you look up Chitkul is – Hindustan ka aakhri dhaba (“Last Dhaba of India”) is always on the list of must-do things of visitors.

There are a many such dhabas splattered across Chitkul’s end of road and one can choose whatever they fancy. Momos & Thupka are easily available, emphasizing the Tibetan influence and ancestry of the place. Of course, the staple affair of Maggi, Paranthas are aplenty.

Quaint little place of Chitkul with perfect skies and mountain backdrops!
Quaint little place of Chitkul with perfect skies and mountain backdrops!

Where to stay in Chitkul

A PWD Rest House is available at Chitkul. This place has basic amenities and even if you’re visiting for a day-trip, can easily use the facilities.

If you’re planning on spending a few days in Chitkul, which I highly recommend, then do try the Wanderer’s Nest. This place is at a higher elevation and provides views that will be etched in your memory forever. While the place is basic, the staff is extremely courteous and the food is always piping hot.

You can check the list of some good accommodation or stay options in Kinnaur Valley.

A lot of the old-school Himachali wooden houses are converted into hotels and provide exceptional views. However, due to isolation, these places tend to be slightly more expensive.

There are a few camping spots near the village and you can easily spot some locals to help you out! So, do not hesitate to take your camping gear and spend a night besides the Baspa river under a billion-star night sky.

Beautiful view of Kalpa Himachal Pradesh
Beautiful view of Kalpa Himachal Pradesh

Common Itinerary for a Road Trip to Chitkul

I strongly advise staying for a minimum of 1-2 days in this little village of Kinnaur Valley. However, a lot of travelers of the region tend to take a day-trip to Chitkul from Sangla and then head back to Kalpa or home. Of course, this is primarily due to the availability of more hotels along Sangla, Kalpa, and Rakcham with more connectivity.

If you have already visited Kalpa on your trip to Kinnaur Valley, then you can visit Sangla and Chitkul while coming back. It is better to visit Kalpa first because it helps in the acclimatization and sleeping directly at the altitude of Chitkul may result in AMS issues.

Below trip plan for Chitkul can be followed in case you do not wish to spend a day or two dedicated to Chitkul on only on your trip.

Day 1 | Kalpa – Karcham – Sangla / Rakcham (Baspa Valley)

  • Leave for Sangla Valley / Baspa Valley after breakfast
  • You can visit Kamru Fort, there is trout hatchery region across the river in Sangla
  • Ample of walks around in the woods
  • About 3 Hrs of drive in the day 
  • Overnight at Sangla or Rakcham 

Day 2 | Sangla / Rakcham – Chitkul / Sangla / Rakcham

  • Today you can visit Chitkul, the last inhabited village in India before Tibet
  • Enjoy the day in Chitkul and have plenty of fun alongside the river or spend some time in seclusion on the river shore
  • Ample of walks around in the woods
  • About 2 Hrs of drive in the day 
  • Overnight at Chitkul / Sangla / Rakcham

Day 3 | Chitkul / Sangla / Rakcham – Rampur – Daranghati / Narkanda / Chail

  • Start your journey back for home but if you have time spend a day camping at Daranghati
  • If Daranghati does not interest you or you want a different route going back home, try route to Chail
  • You can plan for food at Narkanda, Negi Dhabha
  • About 6-9 Hrs of drive in the day depending on where you end up staying
  • Overnight at Daranghati / Narkanda / Chail

You can follow my detailed and comprehensive day by day itinerary for Kinnaur Valley.

Perfectly chilly Baspa River at Chitkul
Perfectly chilly Baspa River right at Chitkul!

Other Tips & Tricks

  1. No Permits are required to visit Chitkul.
  2. No Petrol pump is present in Chitkul. You can get the Petrol Pump in Reckong Peo or near Tapri.
  3. Given the isolation, it was a pleasant surprise that Chitkul has a decent electricity connection. Make good use of it.
  4. No ATM available – carry enough cash
  5. BSNL works intermittently, no other connections will connect. Enjoy the isolation as mobile connectivity is not that great in Chitkul barring BSNL which works intermittently.
  6. No clinic/hospital is in Chitkul. The nearest hospital is in Sangla or Reckong Peo. However, the Army is especially helpful in case of any issues – don’t hesitate to ask for help.
  7. Given that you’d be covering remarkable elevation, do ensure you’re hydrated and don’t over exert yourself!

Conclusion

The Grand Himachali Love Affair is synonymous with tea and piping hot conversations – with the fellow travelers, with the locals, with yourself and most importantly with nature. Whether you’re a believer of God, whether science gives you the kicks – being in the hills is surely going to reaffirm your belief – no matter what it is!

The farther off you wander off, the more you’ll discover – nature is waiting for you to unfold its secrets and add meaning to your life. Go out there and be open to new experiences. The trip to Chitkul awaits!

Have a travel question?? You can follow me on Instagram and ask your travel questions in a direct message on Instagram too. I also conduct a weekly Q&A session every Saturday evening on Instagram, so see you there.

Please feel free to post any queries or doubts you might have in planning your trip to Chitkul in the comments section below. If you have been to Chitkul, I would love to hear your thoughts and any other information you might feel will be worth sharing with other fellow travelers and prove helpful to them as comments.

If you know your friends or family are planning a trip to Chitkul, do share this article with them to help them make a memorable Kinnaur trip.

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About Author

Shefali spends most of her time day dreaming about her next big vacation. A happy-go-lucky personality, she is an amalgamation of all the places she’s lived in and experienced! She is always confused as to where to call home, having lived in Chandigarh, Shimla, Dehradun, Mumbai, Hyderabad in India and Vancouver, Abbotsford in Canada. Her love for travel is only challenged by her love for reading and eating delicious food! In order to sustain her dreams, she brought out her inner geek, got an MBA and has a job in the corporate world crunching numbers. Do follow @notravelplans on Instagram for updates on her next great adventure.

8 Comments

  1. Comments section gets closed in 90 days. You can follow me on Instagram and ask your travel questions in a direct message on Instagram too. I also conduct a weekly Q&A session every Saturday evening on Instagram, so see you there !!

  2. Will asthmatic people have problem by spending night at chitkul?
    Ps the person has already been to hatu peak and couple of more similar altitude places(11k ft). ik the terrain situation is completely different, though the doctor has said to visit with medication(considering only the altitude, he was not aware about the place) but the difference in the landscape situation bothers me. Please Guide. TIA

  3. Bhim Singh on

    Hi Dheeraj,

    First of all a big thank you for posting such a beautiful and informative blog, it is very helpful in planning the road trip to Kinnuar. I am also planning to visit Kinnuar in 2nd week of June. Would like to the know if you have any recent updates about the road conditions. I am travelling from Delhi.

    Thanks & Regards

  4. Hemendra Ajmera on

    Dear Dheeraj Sir,

    Me and my wife will be reaching Simla on the 8th May 2019. I request you to please suggest the itinerary for eight to nine nights to cover Kinnaur valley. Pl let me know the places to be stayed overnight. I have seen your article about kinnaur. Pl accept my hearty congratulations for it. I request you to please reply ASAP so that I can book the hotels /homestay. Once again a sincere thanks for the article. I am sorry to put this at a very short notice. Thanks and regards.

  5. Ravijit Chaudhuri on

    Wikipedia and other sites claim Chitkul is at a height of 11,300 ft. Where did you quote 14,900 ft from?


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