“Julley” – Hello in Spiti!

It is the start of the journey that stays with you the most, probably because you are aware of every ticking second!

I remember the jitters the night before and how D had to calm me down. With a sprained ankle and a strained shoulder, the physical weakness had almost convinced me that I call it off. But then everything that could go wrong already had – so only good was remaining!

So there I was in Manali in the company of these two awesome people I met on the bus. There was also another girl I had met – all of 19, dropped out of college and now dedicated to teach at a school located in a remote village. I met another girl who was just back from Spiti (her second solo trip) with a story similar to mine. The difference was probably how spirited she had become through her experiences over the last few months. I am hoping I have started a similar transformation!

The ride to Spiti was interesting. We were a heterogeneous group with barely any overlaps if we had to plot ourselves into a venn diagram. So a trekking guide, investment banker turned teacher, architects, marketing professionals and a consultant (that’s me, unfortunately) made for crazy discussions. There was also a Croatian travel writer – the coolest, the oldest and the fittest of us all!

Breakdowns and bladder stops. Lunches and languid walks. Chocolates and changing landscapes. Every turn brought new sights. We had a rainbow following us for a while, flowing on the fields or up and down along the mountain ridges.

We made stops at Kunzum Pass (15000 feet), Losar (perhaps the first village in the valley) and then Hansa (a small village but for the welcoming ceremony of the lamas that we were very lucky to catch). We made it to Kaza (administrative HQ of Spiti) in good time to relax and catch the blazing sunset over sumptuous momos!

Kaza Rainbow
Rainbow at Kaza
Kunzum La
Prayer Flags at Kunzum
On the Way
After Rohtang

The first day was acclimatization amid breathtaking views of a landscape that I will never be tired of. I visited Kee Monastery, Kibber and Chicham Gorge. It started the series of so many firsts I was about to have – every time I thought it cannot get better than this, there was magic awaiting round the corner.

The second day, before starting the trek, there was a stop at Langza (famous for its fossils) where I had a session with the local potter. I managed to make a cup with a lot of help and a slightly sore right leg. The trek to Komic spans about 10 kilometers dotted with meadows and fields and the unyielding majestic spread of Spiti. Hikkim falls on the way which is the highest post office in the world where I gleefully posted three cards.

Chicham
Chicham Gorge
Kee Monastery
At Kee Monastery
Kibber
Kibber

Along the route, fresh peas were a constant snack. Every time there was a field, a smiling farmer handed freshly plucked peas – the sweetest I have ever had in my life. Maybe that is why even the locals are so kind and so giving. They spend their whole lives in that unforgiving land, putting long hours just to be able to survive and yet… Not a sour face or a bitter complaint. Always smiling, always sharing! They were happier than most of the people I have met in the city… Content in the simple life and truly immersed in the spirit of community living.

I headed straight to Komic Monastery on reaching. The valley at sunset was breathtaking – golden fingers caressing the green pastures. Rejuvenated with the view, the headache and exhaustion melted away with the sun. I was staying with a local family in Komic. Three noisy children and one mischievous baby did not deter the woman from making me feel at home and fussing over dinner and chai. Oh the chai! I have never had so many cups and varieties of chai as I had in those 10 days – lemon, mint and sea buckthorn were my favorite. That night – spent in the highest motorable village in the world – I slept deeply and peacefully.

It had been a wonderful start! Even better than I had imagined… And my imagination is wild 😀

Langza
Langza
Pottery
Pottery at Langza
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From the Land of Lamas

The trip is done. The bags are unpacked. I left something behind though and that was a good chunk of my heart.

Those twelve days managed to grasp a firm hold on my little pacing heart and insisted that just like I got a token of my travels back here, I leave a token of my presence in those mountains.

I was in Spiti – a cold desert mountain valley in the Trans Himalayan region. To put it in the words of Rudyard Kipling, “A world within a world”. The name “Spiti” means “The Middle Land”, i.e. the land between Tibet and India. While I was there, I used to think ofit as Middle Earth – the magical land from the mind of Tolkien. It is arguably one of the sparsely populated parts of the country with some of the villages having a total population of 27 people.

The minute you are in the valley, the altitude ranges from 13000 feet to 16500 feet (provided you are not attempting one of those mountain treks… which then touch even 20000 feet from what I recollect). The days are warm depending on the sun and clouds while the nights are cold depending on the winds and clouds.

It was a journey filled with trekking, volunteering and community living. I was travelling with strangers and interacting with people who I am probably never going to meet again. Yet there was something about the air that made us bond at levels that only travel can bring. Also the fact that we all had to struggle to get the basics like breathing and pooping made us a lot more inhibited. I mean, what role can worldly filters play when you need the human wall in order to pee properly in the wild.

Timing was something that went really went for me while soaking up the culture and traditions of Spiti. It did not work out so well when I stepped out in the night to catch the Milky Way. The floods in Himachal Pradesh ensured almost a consistent cloud cover through the night – it cleared up only a couple of nights. But it was more than enough.

The memories, the internal reflections and external realizations are something I will always cherish. It will probably take a few more posts to cover all the experiences. Right now, I will just leave you with a few photographs. I will catch up on posts and comments over this week 🙂 Thank you so much for all the love and support!!

Balari Top
Balari Top: 16500 feet
Chandrataal
Chandrataal Lake: 14100 feet
Kaza
Kaza Riverbed: 13000 feet
Kee
Atop Key Monastery: 14000 feet
Komic
Sunset at Komic: 14900 feet
Langza
Buddha Statue at Langza: 14500 feet