High rocky hills kissing the sky, raging water stream cutting through the hills and small villages popping-up every now and then - Journey from Delhi to the Spiti Valley - a desert mountain valley located high Himalayas, is my most beautiful drive so far. Driving on the rough terrains through mighty mountains 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.
An early start ensured we were out of the city before the traffic rush starts. After a delicious lunch at Dharampur, bypassing Shimla we reached Matiyana - a quiet, relaxed small village with a breathtakingly beautiful view of Shivalik ranges. It is known for the Golden Spur apples grown here. Our friend Sunil and his family welcomed us with sumptuous dinner generously served in traditional way.
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. It’s interesting to see how Hinduism and Buddhism have undergone a religious mixing in this little town which 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.
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.
A walk around the village Nako - Mani walls meandering through the village, the stone houses and richly carved timber verandas transported us back to the ancient times. Sun seemed to be in happy mood and chose to treat us with a mesmerizing view. Its golden rays touched snow kissed silver peaks turning them golden. It was a pleasure witnessing gradual transition of this beautiful evening into a gorgeous starry night.
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.
Located at an altitude of 4000mt. on the left bank of Spiti River, Kaza is the largest township in the area. It being centrally located, we made it our base for visiting Kye and Dhankar monasteries and Comic, Langza and Hikkim villages. 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.
We had already visited many monasteries in the region and expected something similar at Dhankar. But I was taken aback by the dramatically located monastery on a cliff overlooking the confluence of Spiti and Pin Rivers.
Next day we explored the villages of Langza, Hikkim and Comic. 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 village (4500m).
Driving through some magnificent landscapes we reached Kunzum pass. The road to the Chandratal Lake was accessible only on foot. It was a demanding 5hour long trek that got steeper towards the end. But the mere sight of Chandratal was a reward enough for all the hard work - Silent valley, 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 stars at night made me bow to the beauty of nature.
Our tired city souls were now fully rejuvenated to start our journey back.
The Trail: Delhi - Simla - Rampur - Kalpa - Nako - Tabo – Kaza– Chandratal - Manali – Delhi
Total distance: 1840 kms
Duration: 10 days