From Chini to Kalpa: How a Himalayan village transformed over the years

Tripoto

There are three kinds of people you meet in Kalpa. Firstly, the Kinnauri locals with green caps and glorious demeanour who walk about the streets tall and proud as though they know it well that nature as bestowed the best of its bounty upon them. Secondly, the young and broke travellers who arrive here with 70 litre backpacks superstitiously convinced that the mountains are calling them and are secretly plotting to stay here forever. Thirdly, the Bengali families who are determined to outnumber the locals in the coming years by arriving here each day 14-seater tempo travellers for family holidays with unmatched enthusiasm.

I've fallen in love with Kalpa. The place exudes a certain charm that just cannot be missed especially when the snow-clad mountains of the Kinner Kailash range is so upclose. That's an eternal love for the view of the snow outside the window that will just not fade with time.

The narrow stairway connecting Upper Kalpa to Lower Kalpa is a busy one and if there's any spot in this town where you'd hope to find a helpful local, it's here. We found Totaram. Totaram runs Chini Bungalow in Kalpa and has the same general niceness that, excuse the generalisation, but runs in the blood of the people of this region.

I was intrigued by the name Chini Bungalow and while Totaram was sharing his grief about the newly raised building in front of his hotel that has partially blocked the view of the Narayan-Nagini Temple temple, I found myself busy finding phonetic combinations to make sense of the word 'Chini'.

I asked him, "Why is this guest house called Chini Bungalow?"

Small-talk stopped and a conversation started. He revealed that until a few decades back, the cluster of villages above Recong Peo was called Kalpa. Chini, Duni, Change and other villages were a part of Kalpa tehsil. Reckong Peo, which is know identified as the capital of the Kinnaur region, had not yet received much recognition. Somewhere near Chini the first police station was inaugurated only in 1960s. Until then the peaceful people of this region never really felt a need for a police station and the nearest chowki was in Rampur. As some history books put it, the only supposed criminals here were the occasional eloping couples. A school came up in Chini in the year 1900 much before the other neighbouring villages felt a need for it. Quite interestingly, independent India's first voter, Shyam Saran Negi, also hails from this village.

History flipped few pages and then began the Indo-China war in 1962. The name of Chini village now entered the official documents quite often than ever before. The word Chini means Chinese in Hindi and hence prompted an obvious debate. In no time it was decided that the village will no longer be called Chini fearing the Chinese intentions of acquiring the border villages of the region, People feared that this linguistic choice might just give them some ideas. Overnight Chini village acquired the identity of Kalpa and the people of the village who were patriots had no issues to abide by the rule.

In 2018 Chini Bungalow is the last remaining trace of the time when this little village around the Narayan-Nagini Temple temple was known by its erstwhile name. The changing times have made Totaram a storyteller and these scoops from the past add to the enigma of this surreal little town now known as Kalpa.

Where to stay?

For backpackers in Kalpa, Chini bungalow is a highly recommended place to stay. There are five rooms available on twin sharing basis and the hotel is close to all the major local attractions and shops. Food is not served in the hotel but all the restaurants of the town are at a walking distance.

Photographs by sambitdc


Check out a similar story about a village called Chandigarh in Himachal Pradesh. Hope you like it too. You can find more interesting photos from Kalpa on our Instagram. Follow us there. Hit the comments section to drop in your questions about Kinnaur if you are planning a visit.

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