Mountain Walking

Chicham: How Far It Was, and How Close Is It Now!

Chicham is relatively known (or unknown) for its location – it lies across a very narrow and dangerous gorge from Kibber village (which was “The Highest Motorable Village in the World” till a few years ago). I had already heard about Chicham (and seen images) from the rest of The Mountain Walker team during and after their July 2016 trip to Spiti. What had struck me immediately at that time was there was no road to Chicham from Kibber – only a ‘span’ or ‘jhula’ bridge. There was another bridge, which was under construction then.

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Chicham village amidst the green patch in the distance, across the formidable gorge in the foreground; Photo: Sanjay Mukherjee

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As close a view of Chicham village as one could get during the July 2016 trip; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

By the time I made my maiden trip to Spiti in January 2017, people in Kibber and Chicham were still awaiting the bridge. As I stood near the Secondary School in Kibber and gazed at Chicham, I kept wondering how people went to and fro. Winter life in the Himalayan villages depends on the ease of bringing and stocking up on essential goods before the onset of winters and Chicham had always piqued my interest for this reason. It was so close (to Kibber) and yet so far (from the convenience of accessing the closest village through a motorable road).

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Chicham village hidden amidst the snow cover in January 2017; Photo: The Mountain Walker

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Looking closer at Chicham village in snow in January 2017; Photo: The Mountain Walker

Looking across the gorge that winter day, I realised that the difference between these villages on either side was that the villagers of Kibber had the benefit of road connectivity to help them plan for winters. In case anything was required, they could easily go down to Ki and/or Kaza to get the necessary needful materials. For the people of Chicham however, planning much in advance would be required, considering the 45 minutes to one hour walk to/from the road-head at Kibber. Although it hadn’t snowed much in January 2017, it was easy to imagine how difficult it could get to ferry urgent materials.

I think the village folk who have been living here for ages would definitely have figured out ways and means to plan their entire year and to stock up on necessary requisites before being snow-bound. But I often wondered what would the case be if there was an emergency or contingency. While I pondered on this, I immediately realised that the mountain folk would go to the extremes of wading in knee-deep snow, and walk like that for days-at-end in case of a medical emergency. Moreover, after undergoing and finishing such an arduous journey, they would nonchalantly accept it as a way of life, while we city folk would cringe just at the thought of such an endeavour.

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Houses at the end of Kibber village look over their neighbours at Chicham on the distant mountain side; Photo: Sanjay Mukherjee

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If one is not aware of its existence, it is really difficult to spot Chicham from Kibber in winters; Photo: Ameen Shaikh

Even in July 2017, when The Mountain Walker team made yet another trip to Spiti and Kibber, the new bridge was open for people to walk across but not for vehicular traffic. Now, of course, Chicham is connected to Kibber by a motorable road – the bridge connecting the two villages (inaugurated in November 2017) is arguably Asia’s highest bridge.

For those who need more to understand the plight of the occupants of Chicham before the bridge was opened, here is a video made by Pranshu Dubey in 2016.

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