Have you ever experienced a mystical aura drawing you towards it? Perhaps leaving tiny clues for a few days or even weeks, of a sublime play that awaits you! Of dwellings and mountains and steep curves that love teasing you with colors, only to change overnight! Welcome to Kalpa. And the magic of The Grand Shambala. A home away from home, that wakes you up with lilting music from a nearby Buddhist monastery and is just some rugged terrains away from Tibet (distance of 100 kms as the crow flies)
AN INVITATION TO KALPA
It was just a few months after I’d found my way back emotionally from Tibet and almost as if the energies conspired, I was whisked away to a land not too far away. Kalpa. This was my 1st road trip to the North of India and 3 of us who jumped at the thought of seeing apple orchards, on impulse (or perhaps design) packed our mild winter wear for a 3-night stay. A biker friend who’d been there just months before threw the bait. Little did I know he was just the conduit. The invitation was really from Kalpa and the abode of surprises, The Grand Shambala. A hotel in structure, a homestay in experience.
But the thrill started with the drive and I felt excitement grabbing my sleeve as we got closer to sunset.
When the reddish-orangey-yellowish sky greeted our evening chai stop at Kufri after a protracted drive from Chandigarh, I rushed to watch the palette reveal it’s myriad shades. Dusk is such a seductive beauty. Come morning the drive along the River Sutlej watching it bounce and lead the way, made me behave like a silly city dweller. With my head out of the window, an idiotic smile on my face and breathing pretty much love and fresh air. Everything had already started to seem like stardust & sparkles around me.
FALLING IN LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT ~ GRAND SHAMBALA, THE JEWEL OF KALPA
Within just a few minutes from Reckong Peo on our final turn, I got a glimpse of the fictional ‘Shangri-la’. In Tibetan stories it is a place of permanence. Of happiness, of youth…of untold joys. For me it was the discovery of an earthly paradise, where the unexpected rules. Mythical as it may have seemed in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, magical was my only submission.
I kept looking at the blue and maroon and green houses popping up with every curve, half hoping I was in one of them. They all seemed so alive. As we drove closer to The Grand Shambala, I realized there was nothing between my home to-be and the outstretched arms of the Kinnaur Kailash range. Just a vast brownish-green landscape, with pretty houses and pathways to bliss.
Our car stopped on the main road. And I was trying to get my wobbly feet used to the terra firma, when I heard the sounds of “My brother Prithvi” and loud laughter and thumping. My biker pal had just seen the man who made The Grand Shambala the jewel it is. Prithvi Raj Negi, Tibetan in warmth and Indian in spirit was smiling like a child. As were we. Gosh! Happiness is contagious isn’t it! My Grand Shambala journey began here.
TREKKING TO SUICIDE POINT ENDED WITH SLIPPING ON SHEETS OF WHITE
I had a beautiful, spacious room with a balcony and a view of the mountains. In full glory was the Kinnaur Kailash, Jorkaden & Radlang peaks. It was the 2nd week of December and the 4 of us were the only residents. So we made ourselves totally at home. Prithvi introduced us to the people who made the most delicious meals, who got him supplies from the town and well we got to see every room of the hotel. It is tastefully done up and very Tibetan in ethos. From the mandala wall paintings, to the carefully preserved Buddhist scriptures wrapped in soft cloth, to even the tapestry at the doors. I felt like I was back in Tibet.
(Source: Prithvi Raj Negi, The Grand Shambala)
I was happiest when I met his father who was one of the brothers who’d crossed over from Tibet to India, way back in 1959. Because I knew his origins were Tibetan I gifted him an album with pictures I’d taken of a land (Tibet), that he’d perhaps never visit again. I was grateful to have shared the joy and felt terribly nostalgic.
And then Prithvi proposed we trek to Suicide Point. WOW! Seemed like a strange but interesting way to start discovering Kalpa. We goofed around walking on paths that were relatively empty. Capturing the touch of gold on the Kinnaur Kailash peak at sunset. Face timing my Mom to show the gold turn into a bright orange.
And then with a twig in hand we headed to suicide point. Even as we were on our way there we suddenly felt a shift in the temperature. The sky turned grayish. Clouds of spongy softness descended as mist. The brownish-green countryside, crisp air around us with clarity for miles was changing. Within seconds feather light, white drops of tingling cold made me shiver in delight.
Snowfall was a month away. January, as it always was. This time it came on the day we arrived.
Magnetic. Mystical. Madness!!! Am stumped for words
We struggled to get back from there. Slipped tons. We were left confounded but dazzled by the white. My biker pal had talked about a divine sunrise that greeted him on his first visit. Here the entire land had transformed unexpectedly. A miracle of sorts as the sights thereafter for the next few days were overwhelming.
VODKA SHOTS, FROZEN APPLE DESSERT AND MEETING INDEPENDENT INDIA’S FIRST VOTER (HE IS 100 THIS YEAR)
Just kidding on the vodka bit. When I was there The Grand Shambala served us lots of warm tea, soup, coffee and herbal beverages. I’ve been told that recently they opened a Sports Bar called Yeti, where generous vodka shots and more is served. I desperately needed all the warm glugs, as I was smothered with drunken kisses by waves of biting cold at -7C. All this on a girl who totally loves sunshine.
But Prithvi ensured our hungry stomachs and freezing was amazingly well handled. That was home for me. Being able to wake up in the cold at 3.00 AM and knock on his door for seriously heavy warm covers. Or then finding a precious cozy corner on a rare tryst with sunlight in the Little Tibet cafe cum library. (No wonder they’ve made a habit of winning the TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Awards for over 4 years)
Every morning we ventured out trudging gingerly through unforgiving roads. Watching snowfall get even more intense. And on the 4th day we realized, all roads home were blocked. It was a signal for us workaholics to pause. Finally. The most amazing 2 days followed. We felt grateful, in bounty.
We headed into the village and plucked tiny joys.
Apples trees were covered in snow. Would have made for a yum cold dessert.
Icicles from our rooftop framed beautifully against prayer flags. It’s true. The terrain seemed lit up.
Light gave a glimpse of many hues. I was discovering Incredible India
My most memorable moment was seeing the smile of a sleepy and incredibly old Mr. Shyam Saran Negi. He is the first voter of Independent India who had cast his vote in 1951. The day we ventured into the villages, he was invited to their primary school to watch a cultural performance. What a fab moment!
He didn’t quite register our presence, but I so loved meeting the retired schoolteacher who’d never stopped voting in the last 62 years, hoping for a great future for India. What drive!!
Kalpa was an emotional journey. For me a beautiful extension of another more soul searching one I did to Tibet. While Mother Nature threw the 4 of us around the single heavy-duty heater that was there, it was an individual journey as much as a collective one. And to be gifted the exclusive experience of The Grand Shambala & its energy source Prithvi Raj Negi with his amazingly hospitable team, was nothing short of a divine intervention.
When the land itself had turned wonderland, shouldn’t one simply revel in the spectacle!!!
(View of The Grand Shambala. Look forward to an encore)
Back in real time, it’s almost December again and I am wondering what the skies have in store this time. I have a date with nature somewhere closer to the Artic Circle very soon. For now though here’s a tiny capture of the morning when the skies cleared and the sun finally showed up. How did I know? The chants from the nearby monastery that had stayed silent all those snowy days, played their song of peace. It was time to go home.
OM MANI PADME HUM
(All Pictures/Video shot on iPhone 6)
Here in terse are THINGS TO DO when in Kalpa:
Stop over at Kalpa even if your destination is Kaza (about 5 hrs drive) or Sangla valley (1 hour drive)
1. Stay in The Grand Shambala. The homestay-like experience with considerable hours spent in the Little Tibet Café + Library on the top floor, is in itself a thing to do. Watch the sun set the peaks on fire in a flaming orange or wake up in the wee hours for a divine sunrise.
Either ways get down to a day of reading the scores of books on philosophy, travel, culture & more. Prithvi has some awesome documentaries on the snow leopard that I sat up watching for quite a while.
He now also has a separate Meditation Centre & Sports Bar that goes by the name Yeti.
2. Treks, cultural programmes like the Kinnauri Chham dance, apple orchard walks can be arranged by their travel desk
3. Be awed by the Kinnaur Kailash range. Trekking to reach the much revered Shivling which is a 79 ft tall rock and carries a legend for both Buddhist Kinnauris & Hindus, is a climb of resilience
4. 8 km away is Roghi village, where the apple orchards will satiate your hunger pangs & the village life will cloak you with its simplicity
5. Offer a prayer at the Hu-Bu-Lan-Kar monastery. During one of his visits to India the learned guru Lotsawa Richen Zangpo is said to have founded this gompa sometime around the 10th Century. He is credited with bringing much of the sacred Buddhists teachings into Tibet, translating it from Sanskrit.
If you’ve enjoyed this journey to Kalpa, do call the wonderful people at The Grand Shambala on +91 89887-14019 / 89887-14020
Getting there means hitting the road from Chandigarh – Narkanda – Rampur – Reckong Peo – Kalpa. A beautiful winding journey to reach a stunning destination. Tashi Dalek13