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, and offer some fine trekking.

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.

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