Kinnaur is the valley of the Sutlej and it's main tributary, the Baspa. Orignating from the Kailash Mansarovar region, the Sutlej enters India through a fearsome gorge near the Shipki la. Upper Kinnaur is an arid transhimalayan region, fairly much like it's neighbour Spiti. Further down, the Sutlej is met by the Baspa, which flows through one of the most enchanting valley's in the entire Himalaya.he Baspa starts near the Indo-Tibetan border and after carving a memorable valley meets the Sutlej at Karcham.The valley offers walks through hop and saffron fields amidst meadows full of flowers and fruit trees. Local legend has it that the Baspa was once a prehistoric lake. The legend looks all set to come true again in modern times as large sections of the valley will be inundated by a multi stage major hydel project currently under construction.
The people of Kinnaur trace their ancestry to the Kinners, original inhabitants of northern India, pushed into the remote Himalayan valleys by the invading Aryan hordes. Little is known of the early history of Kinnaur though the Tibetan kingdom of Guge probably held sway here from the 9th to the 16th century. The mythological history of Kinnaur is contained in the chironings, a fascinating oral history of the origin and times of important deities, recited at important events and festivals by the hereditary oracle of each deity.

The typical Pahari style of temple architecture shows a significant variation in Kinnaur with a fusion of the pent roof and the pagoda roof. The Bhimkali temple at Sarahan is perhaps the most spectacular example of this fusion. The entire upper section of the temple is exquisitely carved cedar wood panelling.

Some of the most picturesque and handsome villages in the Himalaya are to be found in the Baspa valley, between Sangla and Chitkul. Handsome double story constructions of the finest cedar wood, the lower floors of the houses are for storage and cattle, with the upper floors reserved for dwelling. The exteriors are liberally embellished with fine carvings and the roofs covered with slate. Waterproofing is ensured by sandwiching a layer of silver birch bark and mud over the inner roof. Most houses have a sun deck for drying meats and fruits as well as for basking during the short winter days.

In Kinnaur, Hinduism and Buddhism have co-existed happily for centuries. Gods from the Tibetan pantheon like Tungma and Milayung are worshipped along with Mahasu devtaa and his other demonic relations who are gods in Kinnaur. Like the rest of the western Himalaya, every Kinnauri village too has it's own god. The village god through his hereditary oracle is responsible for almost every decision of consequence.. be it a marriage, settlement of disputes or the ingress of strangers into a village. In Kinnaur the village god usually displays 18 heads in a palanquin covered by a hairpiece made of Yak hair.

Kinnaur also has a finely developed brewing tradition. Almost every house distlls it's own brews from apricots, apples, grapes etc and being a tribal area, they are allowed by the law to do so.

On the right bank of the Sutlej is the Srikhand Mahadev range. Here small peaks and glaciers descend to miles of high altitude pastures dotted with sheep and alpine flowers. Here lies the Rupi-Bhabha Wildlife Sanctuary, containing Bear, Ibex, Bharal and numerous exotic pheasants including the near extinct Western Horned Tragopan.

Index East Garhwal

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