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Rivers of India: The Sutlej

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Sutlej River
| Kalpa | Sarahan | Tattapani | Bhakra Nangal |

The Legend: There may be many stories attached to the river Sutlej but this one is associated with sage Vashishta. It is believed that the sage Vashishta was not wanted to live, so he tried to drown himself in the waters of the Sutlej. As soon as Vashishta entered the waters of river Sutlej, it bifurcated into a hundred channels, thus preventing the sage from drowning. That is why Sutlej is also called “Statadru” or with hundred arms.

Sutlej River map

Sutlej is the easternmost tributary of the Indus that travels a distance of 1,370 km from its source in Tibet before merging with the Chenab in Pakistan. The Sutlej is the longest of the five rivers that flow through the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. Also known as the Red river, the Sutlej has its source at Lake Rakshastal in Tibet near Mount Kailash. The river generally flows west and south west.

The river runs northwest parallel to the Himalayan range looking for a gap to penetrate through. After a 300-km sinuous path, it finds one at Shipki La, just short of Leo Pargial Mountain. The river then makes a full ninety-degree sweep and cuts through the Zanskar range, and offshoot of the Greater Himalayan. As it emerges out of the Zanskar range the Sutlej is joined by the Spiti River at Khab.

After meeting the Spiti and other small and big glacial streams, the Sutlej makes a diagonal thrust through the Great Himalayan Range, cutting a deep gorge with the sacred Kinner Kailash massif on its left and the Mainrang range to its right. At Karcham, the Sutlej joins the Baspa River. The Baspa drains the Sangla Valley.

The river then meanders through Nako, Kalpa, Sarhan and Tattapani regions of Himachal Pradesh before entering Pakistan. The Sutlej merges with the Chenab River near the Pakistani city of Alipur. The combined rivers, called the Panjnad, continue on for about 80 km to join the Indus.

Here are some important places located on the banks of the Sutlej.


Kalpa, at an altitude of 2960 meters in the Kinnaur region of Himachal Pradesh is a scenic destination on the banks of the Sutlej. It offers spectacular views of the Kinner Kailash massif across the Sutlej River. Such is the beauty of Kalpa, that Lord Dalhousie, the then Governor General of India visited here. He was so impressed by the beauty of Kalpa that he got himself built a lovely summer house here. He is even believed to have written to the King of England from Kalpa, that perhaps England should be ruled from Kalpa, during summer. No wonder, the scenic beauty of Kalpa does that to many people.

Rekong Peo, some 700 meters downhill Kalpa is the district headquarters of Kinnaur district. The state capital, Shimla is 260 km from Kalpa. It requires a full day drive along NH-22 from Shimla to reach Kalpa. Apart from the brilliant scenery, Kalpa is also known for its superior quality apples and chilgozas.

The traditional Chini village at Kalpa is built entirely in stone and offers the best views of the Kinner Kailash from Kalpa. Mahabodhi Monastery, which is believed to be more than one hundred year old, is a major attraction in Kalpa. A leisure walk along the Roghi village road is also recommended for its fabulous views.

Reaching Kalpa: Kalpa is at a driving distance of 260 km from the state capital of Shimla along NH22, but requires at least 10 hrs of driving since the roads are treacherous in patches. Himachal State Transport runs direct buses to Kalpa from Shimla and Chandigarh and one also has the option of taking a cab from Shimla to Kalpa. The approach to Kalpa is blocked in the winter months of December to February, and all hotels in Kalpa remain closed during that season.

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Bhimakali Temple, Sarahan

Another lovely town on the course of the river Sutlej is Sarahan. It is located, at an altitude of roughly 2000 meters above sea level. Sarahan is the site of the famous Bhimakali Temple, the presiding deity of the rulers of the former Bushahr State of Rampur. Sarahan is set amongst apple orchards and is good for walks through alpine meadows leading to spectacular view points. The view of the Srikhand Mahadev (5227 meters), right across the Sutlej valley is spectacular.

The town’s main attraction, the Bhimakali Temple, is a fine blend of Hindu & Buddhist temple architecture styles. The temple is carved out of wood and stone. The Bhimakali Temple complex has three other temples too, dedicated to Lord Raghunathji, Narsinghji and Patal Bhairva Ji.

Reaching Sarahan: Sarahan is 564 kilometers from New Delhi and 174 kilometers from Shimla. The best way to reach Sarahan is to travel by train to Kalka or by air to Chandigarh and then travel by road to Sarahan. Taxis and jeeps can be hired to reach Sarahan. Bus services are also available from Shimla. It takes approximately six hours by road to reach Sarahan from Shimla.

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Hot Springs, Tattapani

Tattapani at an altitude of 661 meters is a quiet little village that offers numerous attractions for those in search of peace, recreation and soft adventure.

There are quiet a few small hot Sulphur Springs along the right bank of the Sutlej over an area of one square kilometer. These hot Sulphur Springs are the major highlight of the village, and hence the name – Tattapani – means ‘hot water’.

A dip here is highly beneficial for those suffering from joint pains, fatigue or any skin disease. A dip in these steaming springs is considered to provide the much-needed relief. The unique rock formations make some of these springs into natural bathtubs. The hot water ponds though, are different from springs. They simply disappear when the level of the Sutlej rises in June-July and reappear in November-December.

Tattapani is not only a place for nature and adventure lovers. It is also a favourite destination among religiously inclined. It is pilgrimage centre for the Hindus. The devout consider the month of Magha (January-February) auspicious for a dip. It is believed that by doing so, one can cleanse oneself of one’s sins. Baisakhi (April 13), is also considered auspicious to bathe here. A large number of pilgrims congregate here during Lohri, 26th of January and Tara Ratri every year. Shiva Caves just 3 km away is another place of tourist interest in Tattapani. HPTDC Tourist Bungalow offers fine accommodation to travellers.

Reaching Tattapani: Tattapani is at a driving distance of 51 km from the state capital Shimla and is approached via Naldehra, an equally interesting spot en-route. From Shimla, one has to drive on NH 22 to Sanjauli and Dhalli past the Dhalli Tunnel. At Dhalli, one takes a left on State Highway that goes to Tattapani via Mashobra, Naldehraand Sunni.

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Bhakra Nangal Dam
Bhakra Nangal Dam

Described as 'New Temple of Resurgent India’ by Late Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, Bhakra Nangal Dam is situated across the river Sutlej. The dam is located in the region of Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh. Bhakra Nangal Dam is one of the largest dams in India and highest gravity dam in the world. Nestling between the border of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, amidst the lush green forests, the dam gives a fantastic view of the region and attracts huge number of tourists from all over the India.

The dam is 226 meters in height and its length at the top is 518 meters. It has a length of 99 meters at the bottom and width 402 meters. The project derives its name from two villages Bhakhra and Nangal situated on the foot hills of the low Himalayan ranges.

Bhakra Nangal Dam - being the biggest dam in India attracts a large number of tourists. To facilitate tourism in this part of the state, the travel & tourism department of Himachal Pradesh has provided rest houses located near the Bhakra Nangal dam. Apart from the human generated dam, there is a natural fall, which is also a source of hydro-electricity generated by the Ganguwal and Kotla power plant. The area surrounding the dam has popular picnic spots.

Reaching Bhakra Nangal: Tourists can hire private taxis or can ride state government buses. These modes of transports are easily available from Bilaspur, Nangal and nearby cities of Himachal Pradesh.

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