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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Getting high on letters at 14,567 ft.

Rinchan Chhering, branch post master at Hikkim Post.  

The world’s highest post office is on every tourist’s bucket list

Fifty-five-year-old Rinchan Chhering is a busy man. His village, Hikkim, has been drawing hordes of tourists from around the world, eager to send a post card from the world’s highest post office at 14,567 ft. 

When summer comes to this tiny village on the India-Tibet border in the Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, Mr. Chhering, the branch post master, is much sought after. His tiny post office is overrun by thousands of instant converts to snail mail, busy penning missives to kin and friends from the world’s highest post office. 

Like K.J. Dhanan from Nagercoil. “It has been years since I wrote a letter to someone,” he says, as he struggles to fit his thoughts to a post card. “SMS and email has changed the way we communicate. But it felt good to write a letter to my wife and kid.”

A deluge of mail

Not long ago, PO Hikkim — PIN code 172114 — processed barely half a dozen letters or postcards a day. But for the past couple of years, in summer, from May to October, it’s been dealing with 300 a day.

“The sale of postal stationery crosses ₹2,000 a day now. But it dips to ₹50 a day or even nothing in winter,” says Mr. Chhering.

Improved road connectivity has also helped. A drive through Lahaul and Spiti has always been popular among bikers and motorists, and many come to this picturesque post office.

The branch post office, run from cosy room in Mr. Chhering seven-room Tibetan-style home, was inaugurated on November 5, 1983.

Best of three

Mr. Chhering, who has been its post master ever since, recalls the excitement. “I was picked for the job from among three youngsters. My qualifications were better. While I dropped out of school after class VII, the other two had dropped out after class V and class VI.”

The Department of Posts pays him rent, which has increasedfrom ₹40 in 1983 to ₹200 now.
After nearly 34 years, Mr. Chhering needs a postman, since the vacancy arose in 2011. 
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