Parking our car and stepping down onto that dusty lane in Lippa was a surreal experience. Every face around us had the same stare of disbelief that my mom usually has when she finds me cooking – “Something must be wrong otherwise why in the living hell did Mishi enter the kitchen?!”
No pictures of confused faces and perplexed expressions taken - that would have been rude, Sorry. Enjoy the view from Lippa Bridge though!
Yes… the same look… the same perplexed wonderment was evident on everyone’s face as we started crossing the bridge over the stunning river confluence of Asrang Khud (खड) and Lippa Khud (खड). We could almost see their mental gears ticking – “टूरिस्ट! यहाँ? रास्ता भटक गए क्या!” (Translation: Tourists! Here? Are they lost?) So was the case for Jangi and Rarang as well – villages before Lippa on this route. The only exception was that one biker we met who had decided to stay the night out of sheer exhaustion and that too, in the outermost village of the valley, right next to the traveller favourite National Highway 5. So yeah, we were in uncharted territory and from what we could understand – all those road trippers, adventure seekers and culture explorers and backpackers, even the slew of bikers crossing the NH5 on their way to Spiti Valley, seemed to have missed this place entirely.
We knew we were in Junooni Heaven!
Lesson Learnt: BSNL का network, SBI की शाखा और BJP के कार्यकर्ता, हर कहीं पहुंच सकते हैं!
Translation: BSNL Network, SBI Bank Branches and BJP workers can reach just about anywhere!
An integral part of the old Indo Tibetan Route, Jangram Valley includes the villages of Akpa, Rarang, Jangi, Lippa and Asrang and is irrigated by two streams - Asrang Khud (खड) and Lippa Khud (खड), flowing into the valley from opposite glaciers, becoming one – now to be called Keerang Khud (खड) that further merges with the Satluj below near NH5.
Culturally, Jangram Valley in Kinnaur holds special significance as this is where Buddhism begins to take an upper hand on the lives of people in comparison to the local deities that rule the villages in this part of Himachal. The monasteries here are older and bigger, the lifestyles are more distinctively Buddhist and almost every family will send their kids to study the religion and become Lamas in their childhood. It’s up to the student then to decide whether he/she wishes to take the study forward when they grow up or to renounce Lama-giri (as the locals called it!) and become a part of the worldly circle of life.
Weather wise, the valley gets hardly any rain, and when it does rain, landslides happen. Snow is part of everyday life here. Ask a local and they’ll tell you! And when it comes to wildlife, this place has hit the jackpot. The Lippa Asrang Wildlife Sanctuary is home to Wild Yaks, Ibex, Blue Sheep, Himalayan Musk Deers, Gorals, Brown Bears, Himalayan Black Bears and the holy grail of Himalayan Wildlife Spotting – Snow Leapords.
Land of the Chilgozas
Yes… the next surprise for us petty explorers in the Valley. As our driver started educating us about the valley and its many features, the first aspect he shared was related to the local economy. “The people here are pretty well off actually - बाहर देखिये, यहाँ चिलगोजे की खेती होती है|” (Translation: Chilgoza Pine Nuts are cultivated here.)– he said with a flourish, only to be disappointed with the blank expressions on our faces. Blank, yes… not because we didn’t know what Chilgozas are, but because all we could see outside were Pine Trees. And then slowly it dawned on us – the Pine Cones we were seeing outside on the trees, strewn on the ground… the pine cones we sometimes use as fuel for makeshift bonfires… were actually the fruit that gives us Chilgoza or Pine Nuts – one of the most expensive dry fruits out there. That’s right – we were using an item that costs Rs4000/kg to make fire to warm our hands!!!
Lesson Learnt: When life gives you lemons Pine cones, check again to make sure they aren’t Chilgozas.
Jangram Valley possesses one of the most extensive forest covers of Chilgoza pines in Himachal state (second only to Pangi Valley in Chamba), with the densest part of it existing around Rarang and Jangi. Over here, the right to harvest chilgoza pines has been given to the villagers, with the land area being demarcated for each village in the valley. The people of Jangi are considered to be quite shrewd by the locals, with their rights to the chilgoza forests in Jangram Valley acquired by trick/cheating from Lippa people. If the old stories are to be believed, local land disputes were once settled by a Holy Forest Spirit who used to reside in a giant Deodar Tree in the valley. And the smart people of Jangi cleverly concealed a mole in the hollow of that tree to get a favourable verdict for themselves against the villagers of Lippa. Don’t know what to say to that…
Overall, the people of Jangram Valley are very prosperous, mostly due to Chilgoza Pine cultivation but also owing to the up and coming Apple orchards in Lippa. Asrang people however, live very close to the edge of the tree line and are hence, largely dependent on sheep and goat rearing for earning money.
The next time someone calls you "चिलगोजा कहीं का!", take it as a compliment. You are being likened to something that is Rs4000/kg! You're worth it baby.
Like the Grand Canyon, but better!
The drive to Jangram Valley begins at Akpa where a link road cuts off NH5 and climbs up the right bank of Satluj towards the old Indo Tibetan Road. The road then moves ahead to Rarang, Jangi, Lippa and Asrang – the last village in Jangram Valley. One the way, a small unkempt path branches off and heads towards a different route out of the valley where it meets the NH5 again, near the Keerang Khud (खड) Bridge. And this route is beyond breath-taking.
Into the canyon...
Cliffs standing straight and tall on both sides
Deeper and deeper... into the canyon we go!
Out at last... as River Keerang meets the Satluj on NH5
So if you wish to explore a land so surreal and a drive so adventurous that even USA’s Grand Canyon feels like just a big hole in the ground, visit Jangram Valley. The place doesn’t have much in terms of hotels or luxuries. Even the dhabas don’t have much to offer other than omelettes (bread not guaranteed) and rajma chawal. But it does have everything you can ask for if you are a Junooni who is hell bent to witness the wonders of our world.
And somehow, almost no Spiti Tour takes a turn into this paradise. Don’t know why, but this is one part of the Spiti Road Trip Circuit that the travellers simply forgot. And Thank God for that!