Life is too short to spend weekends at home. It’s all about the memories we create in this journey of life and these memories somewhere make our hectic lives a memorable one, down the line. Travelling is one of those rare few activities whose advantages far exceed its disadvantages. It not only makes us happy but also gives us a lot of practical knowledge which we cannot usually gain in a classroom or a closed environment. It opens up a whole new world to us that we never knew existed. Something similar happened to me on my first trip to the Spity Valley, covering a mind-blowing journey that began from Delhi – Chandigarh – Shimla – Nako – Chango – Giu Mummy Site – Dhankar Monastery – Kaza – Key Monastery – Kibber – Komic & ended back in Delhi.
On 14th May 2017, we had our tickets booked for Greece, a long awaited holiday I have been pinning my hopes upon since last couple of years but somehow my visa got rejected this time around as well. I had planned this trip with one of my close friend Anshul, who is in the Indian Administration Services. He had taken official leave for 7 days for our supposed Euro trip & I am anyway a carefree soul, so we were really looking forward to this one. Thereby, I was naturally very upset with the rejection, and he too didn’t want his leaves to be wasted.
That’s when we decided to change the plans a bit. We planned on pursuing an adventurous and tough road trip in India. Delhi to Leh is considered as one of the most sought after adventure trips in India, but being me, I have done Leh twice in 2013 and 2014. We had a mutual friend posted in Kinnaur district. So we decided to visit him and tag him along for a trip to Lahaul and Spiti valley instead, in the upper Himachal Pradesh – A road less traveled, close to the Chinese Border (Shipki La, Sumdo, etc), something that has always been on my wish list since ages. It just couldn’t happen earlier because it isn’t as easy as Leh or any other road trips across North India. Road to Kaza is full of power projects of Jaypee group in Kinnaur on the Satlaj river, landslides are an everyday thing with no milestones and no mobile network either.
So now the three of us, myself Sharad Chaurasia, 27, Anshul Gupta, 31, who joined me from Delhi and our third friend Rohit Malpani, 28 who joined us at Reckong Peo, headquarters of Kinnaur district in Himachal Pradesh were set on a journey of a lifetime; 2100 kms of covering the plains, i.e Varanasi (My Hometown) – Delhi (My Second Home) – Chandigarh and then 1200 kms of the mountains i.e. Chandigarh – Shimla – Reckong Peo – Nako – Chango – Sumdo – Dhankar – Kaza (Spiti Valley) and then all the way back.
Like I mentioned, I hail from the holy city of Varanasi. On 13th May 2017, at 8.30 PM, I drove off to Delhi on road, i.e. 800 kms with my friend, Tarun Singh, in his Silver Vento. We reached Delhi at 5.30 AM, the next morning. Here I met Anshul. We had our Shatabdi booked at 7.40 AM from New Delhi to Kalka. We reached there by noon. Rohit had arranged a car and a driver at Kalka station, as I was already tired because of the overnight driving with no sleep, but still I was all energetic because of the very tempting Spiti Valley that lay ahead of us. We left for Reckong Peo, Kinnaur which was a 12 hours drive through 350 Kms of mountains stretch. At about 3.00 PM, we reached Shimla, had our lunch and left at 4.30 PM via Narkand – Rampur – Jhakri –Wangtu – Karcham. As the roads were quite risky after Jhakri for travelling at night, so we had a room booked for ourselves at Jhakri, however, due the excitement and since we were short of days so we ditched the pit stop and continued for Reckong Peo, Kinnaur straight. By 11.30 PM, we finally reached our first stop where Rohit welcomed us with some good dinner, scotch and fresh cherries.
In terms of the distance, we had covered half of the journey however the real adventure was about to begin from the very next day. Distance from Reckong Peo to Kaza – headquarters of Spiti Valley, is not much in kms but it’s way more time taking, adventurous and full of scenic beauty of the nature all throughout the 250 kms stretch which takes close to 7-8 hours of driving. The route has many attractions like Nako, Chango, Sumdo border, Giu ‘Mummy’ site, Dhankar Monastery, Kaza, Ki Monastery and many extra ordinary villages in between which find a place in Limca book of Records for their mere existence.
The next day, on 15th May, we had our breakfast at 9.00 AM and we left for the Valley at about 10.30 AM. The three of us and Rohit’s personal driver ‘Phurbu’, who knew each and every turns and villages of the Upper Himachal in the Kinnaur district, Lahaul and Spiti district. Phurbu was an amazing person, I had never met a driver like him before. He turned out to be not just our driver but also our guide along the way. Our first halt was at Nako which is at 3660 meters or 12000 feets of altitude via Spello and Pooh along the river Satluj flowing next to the roads. Early evening we reached Nako, where right on the top of a mountain, we had our tent booked for us. It had a great view of the valley & the mountains behind it, the Nako Lake, the amazing Sunrise and Sunset at 10 degrees in April.
Coming all the way from 46 degrees hot temperature of Varanasi, nothing could beat the feeling of this amazing weather and view around us. Sky was the bluest I have ever seen after Pangong Lake, Leh. We sipped Ginger Honey tea and Maggie and went for a walk to the lake and checked out the local village in Nako. People were amazing, happy faces all over, amazingly old houses with The ‘Buddha’ all over. No internet was available in the village as no other mobile network apart from BSNL works after Pooh that too only Voice calls without any data availability. In the evening we had few pegs of Scotch and then followed it with a grand dinner. And then we all dozed off early as everyone was very tired & finally I got to catch some sleep after two long days of non-stop travelling.
On 16th May, we left at 9.30 AM from Nako for Spiti. On the way, Phurbu asked us if we wanted to visit the Helipad at Sumdo where our honorary Prime Minister, Narendra Modi landed last year to celebrate Diwali with ITBP soldiers posted at Sumdo – Kaurik Indo – China border Check post. We all readily agreed & went there to click some breath taking pictures as the Helipad was surrounded by huge mountains and the view of the beautiful Chango Village of Kinnaur district, which is famous for the most expensive and best quality apples of Himachal in India, was out of the world.
Post Sumdo, Kinnaur districts ends and Lahaul and Spiti district starts. I had read about this very famous,’ The Mummy of Spiti Valley – Varghis Khan’ in some village close by on Google. I enquired about it from Phurbu. He answered, ‘Sir It’s only 20 kms away from this place’. And that’s how we decided to head straight to the Giu village where the Mummy was situated under the custody of ITBP. The 500 years old Mummy is also called Giu Mummy of a Buddhist Lama whose teeth and nails are still alive, as the legends has it. As I had never seen a Mummy before, so I was naturally very curious & excited about the whole proposition. And the pictures would tell you that I was naturally not disappointed at all.
We left from the Giu village, close to the noon. Our next stop was at the Dhankar Monastery, a beautiful display of Tibetan architecture, which is over 1100 years old and was situated at an altitude of 12774 feet, in the Spiti Valley of Dhankar-Gompa village. Just before the monastery they had rest house, school and cafeteria for the travelers & locals. We had a proper Tibetan meal, Thukpa and Fried rice which was amazingly tasty. Inside the monastery, the whole ambiance was very peaceful with monks and Kid Lamas. Outside the view of the valley of Spiti, down the hill was very beautiful. The whole frame was just magnificent.
It was now 5.30 PM, we reached Kaza, the sub-divisional headquarters of the remote Spiti Valley in the Lahaul and Spiti district of the state of Himachal Pradesh in the Western Himalayas of India. Spiti is a high altitude cold desert having close similarities to the neighbouring Tibet and Ladakh regions in terms of terrain, climate and the Buddhist culture. Kaza, situated along the Spiti River at an elevation of 3,650 meters (11,980 ft) above mean sea level, is the largest township and commercial center of the valley.
As it was our main destination, we had our rooms booked at the circuit house. We checked in & grabbed some munchies before heading towards our next sight-seeing spot, the Ki Monastery, a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, founded in the 11th century, located on top of a hill at an altitude of 4,166 meters (13,668 ft). It is the biggest monastery in the valley and has a religious training center for young Lamas. It again had the same level of peace and prosperity; a very beautiful view of the valley and mountains, covered with snow. In winters, the temperature here goes as low as -40 degrees. That day, thankfully it was close to 3 degrees in day time. We were served some herbal leaves tea found exclusively in that region by the monks and along with some home-made cookies. They insisted we visit the school, which we did and were gracious enough to tell us about the history of Ki. The whole interaction with the Lamas was very touching and spiritual in its own way. You get those lump in the throat moments pondering over their simplicity & the innate beauty of their soul.
At 6.30 PM we left from Ki monastery to Kibber village high up in the Himalayas at 4270 metres or 14,200 ft in Himachal Pradesh. It is located 16 kilometers from Kaza and a bus service connects the two places in the milder summer months. Agriculture forms the backbone of the local economy and lush green fields are abundant. Villagers count on the 3 day traditional trade route over Parang La to Ladakh to barter their horses for yaks or to sell for cash. The village has around 80 houses, unique, given that they are made of stone instead of mud or adobe brick used extensively elsewhere in the Spiti valley. Kibber has a civil dispensary, a high school, a post office, a telegraph office and a community TV set in the village. It is also said to be the highest inhabited village in the world.
Kibber has total 77 families residing in the village whose generations are living here since 1000’s of years. Here we got to meet people in the age group of 90-115 years old. Normal life span is very high of the people living in villages of Spiti. Kibber has also found its place in the Limca Book of Records for its bus service at an altitude of 14200 ft.
From Kibber we went on to visit one of the highest bridges in the country, i.e. 14500 ft connecting two mountains or you can say two villages. The other side of the bridge is a village which completely boycotted casting votes during the last elections of Himachal Pradesh because the government didn’t built that bridge, and then within a year the bridge was ready.
It was now 7.30 pm and we were really hungry. So, we came back to Kaza. Kaza has a good number of hotels and cafes. Café Deyzor was the one which attracted us the most. Ambience was really above expectation, it offered books, games, shopping of local items like sea buck thorns. Food was equally amazing. We stayed there till 10 pm and then called our driver to leave for the circuit house. We had 2 pegs of the Scotch we were carrying along with us and then smoked up a bit. We were out of network and no internet since last two days. But even for a single second I felt like I needed it. I was completely enjoying that LIFE WITHOUT INTERNET. And yes there is definitely a life without one, so peaceful & so less dramatic. Something, I would agree, I was so unaware of before coming here.
The next day, i.e. 17th May 2017, we got up at 9.00 AM, had our breakfast in the circuit house itself with some other travelers staying there while everyone shared their experiences in this magical valley. There was a fellow traveler who told us about a tiny village called Komic, at a towering altitude of around 15,027 feet above sea-level. Komik is supposed to be the highest village with a motor able road in the world. That was like really too much information for the travel junkie in me. And instead we had our plans to leave for Reckong Peo directly from the circuit house itself. But this fresh information was bound to change our existing plans. We decided to de-tour to Komic first and then go back to Reckong Peo. We left at 9.35 am for Komic. It was about 40 minutes drive from Kaza. On the way we had a beautiful view of the landscapes surrounding us and we were driving at an incredible height above 5000 meters, so practically everything in the valley that we had explored in the last couple of days was below us & no points for guessing, it was breathtaking. Finally we reached Komic at 10.15 am.
Komic in Spiti Valley, is the highest inhabited village in Asia with a height of 5150 meters. The village has only 12 houses, one Gompa and population of ~ 150 (including the monks). It is a location where fossils are found. Villagers might tempt you to buy the fossils, however do not get trapped since buying and transporting fossils is not legal. In winters normal temperature is -35 to -40 degrees. The village remains cut from the rest of the civilization for about 5-6 months in a year due to the heavy snowfall. Yaks being the only transport mode. There is no doctor and the closest school is am hour or more trek through the mountains. The village also owns a small monastery called Tangyud which is said to be 500 years old, a place where women are not allowed during prayers. The villagers seemed mostly happy and not bothered by lack of infrastructure or public services that seem so essential to us.
Spiti is also known as the land of snow leopards. Villagers in Spiti who own yaks, goats, sheep and other animals are being insured by NGO. In case the snow leopards hunt them, they are being compensated by the concerned NGO. I have seen skin of tigers, leopards , deer and other animals but for the first time I saw the skin of a snow leopard in Tangyud Monaestry of Komic. It was like a really refreshing good morning, when you are at the world’s highest village with motor able road.
At 11.45 AM, we left from Komic back to Kaza. At the local market we stopped for some medicines, juices and did shopping of the local antique items of Kaza. On our way back, we had no stops, no night halts, we just stopped at Nako for lunch. Then directly we headed back to Reckong Peo. With so many memories and learning from the people of Spiti about their lifestyle, their religion and their views on spirituality, this trip was finally coming to an end. But it surely awakened a new me in the whole process that I never really new existed. Such is the beauty of a trip like this. It changes you as a person, always for the better.
Spiti is a place to connect with the nature and here you see that if you let indigenous people live as they have for thousands of years, then we have more to learn from them than us. This Trans-Himalayan back-country is one of the most stunning and rugged regions on the globe with a well preserved Buddhist heritage.
“At last they entered a world – a valleyt of leagues where the high hills were fashioned of the mere rubble and refuse from off the knees of the mountains… Surely the Gods live here. Beaten down by the silence and the appalling sweep of dispersal of the cloud-shadows after rain. This place is no place for men.” – Rudyard Kipling