Once bitten, Forever Happy
There is little merit in retelling a journey done before, but there is great joy in retracing one. The first time that I went to Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh (India) was over two years ago. That was with the family, but this one was with a bunch of fellow travellers, who were clueless about what lay in store!
My first visit to the valley had left an indelible mark on me with its unmatched landscapes, utterly bad roads, and lovely people. As we left Manali well before dawn, I wondered why I was willing to do this again! In a place as remote as Spiti, there were slim chances of change in a matter of few years. As we hit the turn from Gramphu after crossing the Rohtang Pass, I knew I was right; the passing valleys were as beautiful , the roads as bad. Thrice we had to get off and our driver lucky Singh take the Innova across the whimsical streams that made their own paths. It was later that I got to know (to my slight horror) that it was only his second trip!
We stopped for lunch at the lone Chandra Dhaba at Batal before we began the ascent to Kunzum La, Spiti’s highest pass. The dhaba still had only one couple serving simple but delicious fare to passing trekkers, army jawans, travellers and truck drivers. S we were mid-way up the narrow Kunzum pass road (If it may be called!), we saw a truck tilted precariously on its left wheels. It seemed to stay there simply by the grace of Kullu Devi, and would fall if you blinked! We had to manoeuvre our way around it, and in that heart stopping moment that I had experienced before and had had knowingly engaged in again, I turned around to look at the others. It was Paul and Anais’s first time in India. They had probably had in mind visions of dancing peacocks, forts and palaces, men in turbans and bejewelled women. Clearly, this was something else! Their shorts and tees were pretty useless at 14,000ft, their loo breaks were behind the giant boulders, and life depended on lucky Singh. But as we hit Losar and officially entered Spiti, The overwhelming beauty of the valley replaced jitters with squeals of ‘C’est magnifique!’
After nearly 12 hours on the road, we reached Kaza, the unofficial capital and ‘modern’ hub of Spiti. Other than being the gateway to all the mini destinations around, kaza is also the place to make last phone calls (no signals after this), recharge batteries, buy energy bars and toilet paper, and enjoy the last baked goodies. We made a slight change in our itinerary and we landed in Dhanker the following day. The view of the monastic settlement, the landscape of which is straight out of sci-fi set- tall boulders like Obelix’ was breathtaking. We visited Tabo, one of the most ancient monasteries of the region housing some very old and interesting frescoes.
By the end of my stay there, the long walks on the bed of the Pin tributary and the purples and browns of the stark mountains had instilled in me the universal humility, and I remembered why I return to such places.
We finally left the car in Pin Valley, trekked across a frightening stretch of trail, crossed the landslide rubble in an earthmover and hitched a ride back to Kaza with a bunch of PWD engineers who had come to inspect the damage. I muttered expletives through the tribulations, but once back home, I changed my mind. I missed being jostled uncontrollably, my bones rattled even as my eyes feasted on a visual banquet.
I might well return a third time.
About the Author: Harsh Agrawal is a 2nd year student of Bachelor of Engineering of Industrial Production in Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, India. I am an ardent traveller and always get imprisoned by the spellbinding and unpredictability of the nature!
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