Tucked away amidst the rows of dusty brown mountains of the Himalayan ranges, is the hidden hamlet of Nako – a timeless beauty. Perched at an elevation of about 12000 ft, this rustic village is located in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. The tiny village is situated at a surreal location in the trans-Himalayan region, close to the Indo-China border. Its remote location makes it less-visited but absolutely rewarding.
As you travel from the Reckong Peo – the headquarters of Kinnaur district, the landscape significantly changes. Buildings and other concrete structures are replaced by expansive apple and apricot orchards, cool weather becomes chilly, roads become narrower, more rugged, and seem to be rising higher and higher, gradually, at every turn, small groups of villagers replace the semi-urban crowd, and you find yourself (almost) encompassed by the giant mountains which seemed far-off only a few hours ago.
Since Nako is a tiny, remote village, it is that spot where one would want to relax, rejuvenate and soak in the beauty of the Himalayas, without checking off any to-do/to-visit list. Go to Nako if you want to breathe in the freshest and cleanest air possible, as the old world charm of the place seeps into you. And yet, there’s so much to do and see in Nako, not in the conventional way of travelling, but for those who look forward to raw experiences.
Visit The Apple and Apricot Orchards
Himachal Pradesh is known as the ‘Apple Bowl of India’, so no surprise there to find apple orchards all across the state. The main agricultural produce of Nako, too, is apple and apricot. Plenty of apple and apricot orchards can be seen in and around the village. Varieties of apples are grown here, including the red, green and even white apples! The white apples are actually beige/yellowish in colour and in my opinion are slightly crunchier than normal apple. I ate a lot of apples, all these varieties, during my stay in Nako, as the family I stayed with also had apple orchards, like everyone else in Nako.
Stroll Around The Nako Lake
I woke up early one morning and stepped out. The previous day a local had told me about the Nako Lake. A small hike took me to the Nako Lake – a small oval-shaped lake in the village. Surrounded by trees, and hillocks on one side, it is a picturesque spot in Nako that I feel no one should miss when in Nako.
The reflection of the surrounding landscape on the clear water is a beautiful scene, that would fetch you great, wallpaper/poster-worthy photographs. The bird watchers will find it interesting to know that a large number of birds flock around the lake, especially around sundown. With the changing hues, birds and clouds, it’s a serene spot for the shutterbugs to capture some stunning vistas, all day long. In winters, when the entire village gets covered in snow, the lake freezes up. Adding a panoramic snapshot (not the best attempt) of the Nako Lake and village as seen from atop the nearby hill, though nothing compares the beauty you’d see when you visit Nako in actual!
Trek Up The Nearby Hills
As the village is perched at a higher altitude, it is surrounded by slopes of numerous hills and mountains. If you are up for some adventure, gear up for a hike to the nearby hills. Talk to a local and gather more info to trek to the nearby settlements, I can assure the walk will be amazing. Do take help and guidance of the locals and keep someone informed as the village is quite close to a politically sensitive region. That apart, make sure you are well equipped and keep the weather and other challenges in mind before you venture out in search of an adventure in the mountains.
Visit The Monasteries
The people of Nako primarily follow Buddhism. There’a beautiful monastery in the village that one can visit. The Nako Monastery gives interesting insights on the religion and culture. The structure dates back to the 11th century and is one of the oldest in the region. It consists of four halls, the largest is known as Dukhong, meaning ‘big hall’. The walls of Dukhong are adorned with colourful painting and scenes from the Buddhist scriptures. The monastery complex also houses a shrine of a local deity who is worshipped as the spirit of the mountains.
Go Stargazing The Mountain Sky
The region is extremely clean and void of any form of pollution. On clear weather days, the night sky bordered with the peaks of mountains, appears to be a gigantic planetarium with millions of stars against its inky dome. The stargazing enthusiasts can carry the necessary equipment and spot the stars, constellation and even study the movements of the closest planets. For me, the stargazing was the highlight of the Nako visit. Laying down under the sky, I saw an unreal night sky for the first time in my life that I would never ever forget! The sky was literally jam-packed with stars, almost all shining and shimmering brightly against the boundless, velvety-darkness. I did not have a good camera and trying to capture on phone was futile, enjoying the moment and capturing it in memory was the wisest thing to do.
This one applies to every offbeat place one travels to. Go local in every possible way you can, the experiences you’ll get this way would be so unique as if tailor-made for you and you alone (especially if you are traveling solo). You could try the local food, strike up conversations with locals, walk around the place on foot meeting and interacting with the locals at various spots such as shops, hotels, etc. Locals in Nako have beautiful gardens and even farms and orchards where one can offer to help, while enjoying, interacting, learning all the same. As the evenings were super cold, I joined the host family for a cup of butter tea in their warm heated home. I was also fortunate to have attended a wedding ceremony, which was unique and interesting in so many ways. That story needs a separate post of its own, that I might add someday. For now you can check the video at the end of this post that has snippets of it.
How To Reach Nako
The best way to reach Nako is via roadways. There are no airports or railhead close by, even the closest airport at Kullu is 363 km away! It is, therefore, ideal to reach district headquarters of Reckong Peo. A limited number of buses (1 or 2 a day) from Reckong Peo can be taken to reach Nako. Reckong Peo is about a 102 km away and given the rugged terrain, it takes approximately 4-5 hours to reach Nako.
Best Time To Visit Nako
Spring to autumn months are the best time of the year to visit Nako. I visited Nako around September-October. During spring the scenic beauty of Nako is at its peak with the spring blooms, the weather, too, is neither too cold not too hot. Autumn time has its own charm with the autumn colors, cooler weather and pretty autumn sky. It is, however, advisable to always carry warm jackets as the weather in mountains, in general, is cold. And if you are someone from the plains and not too comfortable with cold, the weather might ruin your travel/mood or even health. Nako experiences heavy snowfalls and the most villagers migrate to lower altitudes during winters. The roads are often closed for days after the snowfall, therefore, traveling to Nako in winter is best avoided.
(Originally written for Native Planet)