Before 1992, the remote backwater of KINNAUR, a rugged buffer zone between the Shimla foothills and the wild western extremity of Chinese-occupied Tibet, was strictly off-limits to tourists. Although visitors are now allowed to travel through the “Inner Line”, and on to Spiti, Lahaul and the Kullu Valley, permits are still required. Other areas of Kinnaur, notably the Baspa Valley and the sacred Kinner-Kailash massif visible from the mountain village of Kalpa, are completely open.

Straddling the mighty River Sutlej, which rises on the southern slopes of Mount Kailash, Kinnaur has for centuries been a major trans-Himalayan corridor. Merchants travelling between China and the Punjabi plains passed through on the Hindustan–Tibet caravan route, stretches of which are still used by villagers and trekkers. The bulk of the traffic that lumbers east towards the frontier, however, uses the newer NH-22, which veers north into Spiti just short of the ascent to Shipki La pass, on the Chinese border, which remains closed.

In the well-watered, mainly Hindu west of the region, the scenery ranges from subtropical to almost Alpine: wood-and-slate villages, surrounded by maize terraces and orchards, nestle beneath pine forests and vast blue-grey mountain peaks. Further east, largely beyond the reach of the monsoons, it grows more austere, and glaciers loom on all sides. Buddhism arrived in Kinnaur with the tenth-century kings of Guge, who ruled what is now southwestern Tibet. When Rinchen Zangpo (958–1055), the “Great Translator” credited with the “Second Spreading” of the faith in Guge, passed through, he left behind several monasteries and a devotion to a pure form of the Buddhist faith that has endured here for nearly one thousand years. In the sixteenth century, after Guge had fragmented into dozens of petty fiefdoms, the Bhushar kings took control of Kinnaur. They remained in power throughout the British Raj, when this was one of the battlegrounds of the espionage war played out between agents of the Chinese, Russian and British empires – the “Great Game” evocatively depicted in the novels of Rudyard Kipling.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

India features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Quiz: can you name these famous places in India?

Quiz: can you name these famous places in India?

India is an addictive destination. Go once and something will draw you back time and again. Perhaps it's the food, maybe it's the people, or it could well be th…

24 Jan 2017 • Rough Guides Editors help Quiz
A first-timer's guide to India's Golden Triangle

A first-timer's guide to India's Golden Triangle

From busy bazaars and hurtling tuk-tuks to tranquil temples and majestic mosques, the Golden Triangle is a fantastically varied introduction to the sights and s…

02 Jan 2017 • Freya Godfrey insert_drive_file Article
Go solo: the 20 best places to travel alone

Go solo: the 20 best places to travel alone

Solo travel can be one of the most rewarding ways to explore the world. Whether you'd rather spend it on a desert island or in a frenetic new city, here are th…

21 Dec 2016 • Rachel Mills camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month