Sunday, October 25, 2015

Spiti Sojourn - A Memorable Journey Through Himalayan Villages

High rocky hills kissing the sky, muddy water stream cutting furiously through the hills and small villages popping-up their beautiful face every now and then. On this road trip to surreal Spiti from Delhi I succumbed to the magic of the Himalayas. Driving on those rough terrains through mighty Himalayas at days and looking at the innumerable stars at pitch dark nights has made for some of the best experiences of my life and has left me wondering about my tiny existence in this whole gamut of Universe. The beauty of these gigantic mountains, the immensity of the lands on which they look down, the simplicity of the people living here all worked on my mind like a spell.

Journey to the Spiti Valley - a desert mountain valley located high in the Himalayan Mountains in north-east Himachal Pradesh, India, is the most beautiful drive I’ve done so far. It isn’t a very smooth drive – bumpy roads, no petrol pumps for hundreds of kilometers, low oxygen levels due the high altitude – but it surely is worth all the effort. Quaint old monasteries, prayer flags fluttering in the wind and monks in their ochre robes, add to the mystic charm of Spiti. The scenic mountain villages perched on mountain crests, pristine rivers, the vast landscapes and harsh conditions are all a part of the package that constitute this adventurous Himalayan Journey.

It has been said that everyone who visits Spiti begins a new life. Spiti plays an interesting, very different hand, luring you to its untouched surreal beauty and offering an introduction to the simpler ways of life… I can never forget my interaction with locals at Ribba and Giu. There are some extraordinary stories too - of 500 years old mystical mummy that was discovered some 25 years back by an excavation team, of painted caves where monks stayed some hundred years ago... and many more. Many-a-times I wished that this trip to Himalayas would never end, that I never come back to the city.

Experience Kinnauri Culture at Kalpa
Driving along the picturesque Hindustan-Tibet road which is cut in rock and goes along the Sutlej River we reached Kalpa. Our tired souls got elated looking at an impressive view of the Kinnaur Kailash ranges that includes Kinnaur Kailash (6349m) and Jorkanden (6473m) peaks. Kalpa, at 2,960 m elevation is a beautiful town famous for production of high quality apples and Chilgozas (Pine nuts). It’s interesting to see how Hinduism and Buddhism have undergone a religious mixing here, along with some indigenous shamanistic practices. It was clearly evident in the architecture of Narayan-Nagini temple and Hu-Bu-Lan-Kar Monastery. Walking along the narrow lanes of this village we got a good glimpse of Kinnauri culture. Kinner houses are made of wood and have storerooms for keeping dried fruits and separate wooden storage structures called kathar for grains.

We woke up to a mesmerizing morning in the lap of Himalayas. It seemed the mighty peaks were guarding this silent sleepy village and now when day is breaking its changing colors seem to be signaling the villagers to wake up. As the bright day gradually took over the dark night snow covered mysterious hills changed its colors from black to grey to silver to white to golden. We couldn't take our eyes off the spectacular view as the golden rays of rising sun touched the snow peaks.

Taste local brew at Ribba
Well known for its grape vineyards, plum orchards and the local brews made from local variety of grapes called Rokh Dakhan in local dialect, Ribba is a picturesque village travelers hardly know about. We were fortunate to have found Dharam Kumar Negi who took us around the wonderful trails through the fruit orchards to visit Kasuraj ji and Ribba Temple where Hindu gods and Buddhist deities are worshiped side by side. He took us to his house as well for tasting Angoori. He was quite reluctant in selling as they want to stock it for those 6 months when the whole village is covered with deep snow and cut off from the whole world.

In contrast to the romanticism at Kalpa, the stretch from Ribba to Nako was harsh. There were huge Rocky Mountains staring at us, no habitation for miles and the tough terrain seemed to be shouting to remain alert every moment. Passing through Khab which is hardly 13 km from Shipki La border Tibet, we reached Nako, situated in Hangrang Valley.

On the way to Nako

Nako - Village that hasn’t changed from ages 
Passing through Khab which is hardly 13 km from Tibet border we reached Nako, situated in Hangrang Valley. It lies in the sensitive restricted zone along the border and therefore requires an Inner Line Permit to travel through. Walk around the small village absorbing the traditional atmosphere and architecture, it looks like the village hasn’t changed from ages. The existence of lake formed out of the masses of snow above adds to the beauty to this tiny village. From behind the lake you can walk uphill towards chortens. It is an ideal place to get an amazing view of this tiny village.

Sun seemed to be in happy mood and chose to treat our eyes with a breathtakingly beautiful view. Its golden rays touched snow kissed silver peaks one by one turning them golden. And what pleasure it was to witness gradual conversion of this beautiful evening into a gorgeous starry night! 

Nako Village
Further on the trail was Tabo, famous for the ancient monastic complex that preserves some of the ancient paintings and stucco images that date back to 11th century. We roamed around the complex trying to absorb the serenity of the place. Prayer flags fluttering in the wind and glowing jovial faces of kids, youth and old alike, we felt as if we have reached some different world altogether where people knew no sorrow. Smile was a part and parcel of everyone’s appearance. On the cliff-face above the complex were a series of caves that at some point were the dwellings of monks. Traces of painting can be seen in these caves as well.

Kaza - The Largest Township in the Valley
Located at an altitude of 4000mt. on the left bank of Spiti River, Kaza is the largest township in the area. 
Kye monastery is one of the main training centers for Lamas in the region. There were narrow corridors, low rooms, dark passages, difficult staircases and small doors that lead to prayer rooms in the monastery. Standing on the roof top of Kye monastery I couldn’t stop myself from wondering how life is so different here. Far from the complexities of city life, living in this quietude is a distant dream for most of us. 
Ke Monastery
Next day we explored the villages of Langza, Hikkim and Komic. We posted a letter from the world’s highest post office at Hikkim (4440m), found some sea fossils while strolling around Langza, and interacted with some ambitious kids at Komic, world’s highest motorablevillage (4500m).

Hikkim Village
Driving through some magnificent landscapes we reached Kunzum pass. The road beyond that to the Chandratal Lake was bad. It was a demanding drive on bumpy road. But the mere sight of Chandratal was a reward enough for all the hard work - serene surroundings, still blue water and clear reflection of snow covered peaks. We set our tents on the vast meadows on the bank of the lake. Sitting by the lake looking at the reflection of the snow covered peaks early in the morning made me bow to the beauty of nature. 

Our tired city souls were now fully rejuvenated to start our journey back.

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