9/17/2009 to 9/22/2009 | Himachal Pradesh , India

Kinnaur Kailash Parikarma

“How will you know the way, the weather is bad, there is a lot of snow,” the senior officer said. “I’ve hiked all over the Himalayas, I hiked the Pin-Paravati pass in a snow storm,” I retorted.  “Ok, I’ll give you the permission if you write a statement that you take responsibility for your safety.”   And that’s how I got the permission to hike the Kinnaur Kailash Parikarma on my own.  Although the route is a traditional pilgrimage route around the sacred mountain of Kinnaur Kailash, technically foreigners are either supposed to have group of four or be guided.

I got off to a bit of a slow start jumping on a bus to Lambar where I would start the trek with a bus driver who loved taking his time, stopping the bus and shaking hands with everyone he knew.  Then he decided he really didn’t want to finish is route so he turned around about 4 km before Thangi and 10 km before Lambar under the pretext that there was a landslide blocking the road ahead.  There was no landslide, so much for my theory that bus drivers in India are the only government employees who do their jobs the way they are supposed to be done.  Maybe this guy had previously been a tea drinking postal worker, for what ever reason he dumped me and the other passengers along side the road.  I walked for about 15 minutes before managing to get a ride in a jeep to Lambar with some of the other locals from the bus.  After a lunch of rice and dhal in Lambar, I headed off a bit later than I would have liked.  But not before a local advised me that not to go over the Charang La, “too much snow” he said.  “So I keep hearing,” I replied as I walk off towards the Charng La.

My map showed Charang village (my attempted destination for the day) on the north side of the river so when a bridge went to the south side of the river I stayed on the north bank about a half hour later I passed the Indo-Tibetan Border Police checkpoint which was on the opposite side of the river.  The men at the check post told me I had to cross the knee deep ice cold river to sign in.   I said they could bring the book to me but I didn’t want to walk through the icy river.  I showed my permission across the river.  After a semi audible discussion across the rushing river one of the officers crossed to my side, a man from Merut who spoke the best English of the lot.  It turned out I was on the wrong side of the river heading to a village I wasn’t supposed to go to.  I reluctantly crossed the river to the side of the camp.  By the time I finished tea with the officers and signed in it was about a half hour away from darkness.  I decided I didn’t have enough time to make it to Charang.  They invited me to stay at camp for the night, an accommodation that included a nice hot meal and several glasses of whiskey and water.

The following day I visited the friendly and picturesque village of Charang.  After an hour of looking around and some tea with the locals I headed over the ridge above town up the steep sided valley towards the Charang La.   The valley widened as I approached the snow line.  It was mid-afternoon and I decided to camp just before the snow line knowing the snow fields would be difficult to cross in the heat of the afternoon.  I found a small patch of grass and a nearby spring suitable for the purpose and pitched my tent.

Early the next morning I headed out across the snow towards the pass.  I got my first view of the “pass” known as the Charang La.  I had heard the pass was difficult but this wasn’t a pass it was a cliff.  A steep snow covered slope lead up to a notch between the mountains.  I reached the base of the pass before noon.  Any path that had existed was completely obscured by the snow.   I decided it would be best to attempt the pass the following morning, but hiking up the steep snow covered slope with my full pack would be extremely difficult.  I set up camp on the snow beneath the pass. I figured if I carved out a path in the afternoon it would firm up over night making the climb much easier the following morning.  It took me two hours to climb the pass making foot holds along the way.

While the view was great, my campsite was less than ideal, it was a cold night sleeping on snow at around 5,000 m.  Furthermore there was no water at my campsite, but lots of snow which takes a surprisingly long time to melt even in the bright sun. What water I had managed to melt was frozen by the morning.  A bigger problem was so had my shoes.  They were frozen solid and I couldn’t get my feet into them.  I had to delay my start until they had thawed out enough from the morning sun, so that I could at least put them on.  The foot holds that I had made the previous day made the hike over the pass much easier.  I reached the top in about an hour loaded down with all of my gear.  I couldn’t have asked for clearer weather to enjoy the view atop the 5,266 m (17,275 ft) Charang La over the snow covered landscape.  I spent a good hour enjoying the fruits of my effort before descending the steep slope down to the pleasant village of Chitkul four hours away.

The village of Chitkul is an idyllic place at the end of the road that winds its way up the Baspa Valley.  I would have stayed longer than the two days I spent there had I not left most of my things back in Kalpa.  In the interest of reducing weight for the trek I had only one set of clothes with me, a set of cloths that I was anxious to change out of after 4 day of trekking.  But as it was I had time to explore the village a bit and hike up above the village before catching a bus back to Kalpa.

11 comments to Kinnaur Kailash Parikarma

  • Hi Micah!!
    I was doing some preliminary research on trekking in Ladakh and HP, etc later this year and I stumbled on your excellent guide to independent trekking. Well done!! I have put together a few similar guides on other topics (on my website) and can fully appreciate the effort. The last time we were in northern India was a couple of decades ago (we walked Darcha to Padum). We spent over 6 months in Nepal trekking but have never given justice to northern India. It is time to return, it has been a long time, but it is a big world!

  • Ashish

    I am gonna visit HP very soon. It’s great to read your story. However if you had made clear instruction of Day1 to Last day it would be a great help for me. I am not regular trekker healthwise I am cycling 20 km daily in my city.

  • You should be able to reach Charang on the first day. I didn’t because the bus was delayed and didn’t go as far as it should have. The next day you will hike over the ridge into the valley of the pass which is at the head of the valley. The trail will decend the left side of the valley which is narrow at first then gets wider. You can camp any where once the valley widens out. There is a small shelter at one place that is sort of a campsite it has a name but without a map on me right now not sure what it is. I hiked to the base of the pass the next day because it was snow bound but in good conditions fit and well acclimatized you could go from Charang to Chitkul in two days. Else you can break it into 3 days. Best camp before the pass is on the banks of a small lake beneath the pass see my pics on this post of the lake I camped further up but there was no good source of water. As I said the pass is tough either you will be climbing steep snow or steep scree (loose rock) I’m not sure which is worse. Good luck and enjoy. Also check out for a few more tips.

  • Ashish

    I thought you are traveling/trekking somewhere right now. I had not expected answer this much fast.

    Thanks a lot ! For your guidance.

    However if you are not climbing or descending from somewhere right now, please advice further. I live in a Indian city which has max. temp. of 44 degree celsius to min. 24 degree celsius almost for 9 months and in winter max. 32 and min. 13 degree celsius. I have no idea of winter or snow. I am 39 year old and planning to go with my 14 year old son. He has athelatic body however none of us have any idea of severe winter. Will it be ok with usual wool socks,swaters and windcheaters ? “At least group of 4 people” question will arise with authority ? Will they allow us ? Is there any way to do ‘hell with the authority’ ? Is there any short cut where they can not see where we are going.
    Aim of my tour is to show galcier,snow clad mountains, lake, valley and camping overnight for 2-3 dyas with my son. Is there any other trek route is available in Himachal Pradesh which does not require any authority ? I know Indian Govt. servents generally they will not allow Indians in some remote difficult/strenious treks. White skin has it’s own magic in this part of the world.

  • I’m not sure if Indians need permission. Check the forum on indiamike.com. It is a very tough pass though the final bit is nearly straight up and when I was there there was no path, and if the weather is bad it will be very cold. Good waterproof hiking boots are a must, and as for jackets and layers it depends on the weather and your tolerance for cold. I had a good sleeping bag and sweater fleece, and rain coat and when I camped below the pass on the snow it was very cold at night. You may want to try a different trek for your first attempt. You could hike to Pin valley from Kinnaur which is supposed to be nice about 4 days. The If you don’t mind going over to neighboring Uttarakahnd, Pindari, Milam, or Hari Ki Dun would be nice intro Himalayan treks that don’t require you carrying all your gear because there are resthouses along the way.

  • rahul


  • Sanjib Dutta

    i would like to know the time(month)of visit. is it possible in the middle of may.

  • There will likely be a lot of snow on the pass then. So if you are prepared for snow you may be able to do it then. I’m sure the amount of snow varies from year to year. I did it without crampons but it would be a lot easier with them.

  • Sanjib Dutta

    Hi Micah,
    Thank u for ur kind information. Let me know one thing how far the lake(which i have seen in ur photograph) from the pass. We are going to start trek on 15th May.I have seen ur photographs is it in the month of May.

  • Hi Sanjib, As I recall I think it was about an hour in the snow to the base of the pass from the lake. The pictures are from my trek in September I’m not sure what the conditions will be like in May.

  • Hello Micah.. I did Parikrama ( Charang – La ) in June 2014 and August 2015. Please check the following link for some pictures of this trek.


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