Spiti-the land of the GODS

Prelude-

“How long do we have to wait before the car is refueled” – I asked Umesh Thakur(our driver for the trip) impatiently for the 5th time, and this time somewhat angrily.

“Bhagwan Jane”(God knows!)

So,we are stuck at a the only petrol pump of Kalpa , the last petrol pump on our journey to Kaza(some 200km away) for the last 4hrs.

Tips1- Patience…..be like the mountains,unmoved by the world that passes in front of you.
Tips2: Always fill up your car’s fuel tank at Sangla/Shimla,keep an extra litre of petrol .

With nothing to do except seeing the stone quarry (situated just beside the petrol pump) destroying the mountains ,I tried to remember the hectic events of last 48hrs.

Day0 &1- late night flight to Delhi, sleeping in the lounge, catching the flight to Dehradun (instead of Shimla,to cut costs),and a long tiring journey through an uninspiring Shimla to finally stay at Narkanda( a small Hamlet, surrounded by coniferous trees)

Tips3- Do visit Narkanda in winter, it’s magical and better than Shimla.

Day2- Next morning heavy breakfast,an aborted trip to Saharan Bhimkali temple( the road was bad,and we had a lot to cover up),and then nonstop travel to Sangla.A quick bite,and next we were on our way to Chitkul,a small village besides the river Baspa,admist the forests of pine and fir. Before you enter Chitkul, there is a army camp where you have to show your car’s papers. Do stop here,the beauty is mesmerising……

A small rivulet in Chitkul

Tips4- stay at Chitkul,if you have time(instead of Sangla or Kalpa).The accomodations are basic,but the natural beauty compensates.

Our brief admiration and photography at Chitkul was interrupted by rains. So we rushed back to Kalpa to see the setting sun illuminate the peaks of Kinnaur Kailash in red.

The Kinnaur kailash

At Kalpa,we stayed in the midst of a Apple orchard, and after a fruitful( literally full of fruits) breakfast next morning,we are here standing in a petrol pump for 4hours!

Where nature is a painter

After all these days,I do not remember at what time the petrol tank came,how our driver managed to get our car fueled admist the madness and cacaphony of other drivers. What I vividly remember is that our SUV was creeping slowly along a barren rocky mountain path( to call it a road would be equivalent to calling Kolkata as Paris),carved along the slopes of the Himalayas(Karakoram,I suppose),with the turbulent Spiti river giving us company all along the way.

With death staring at us at every nook and corner, we enjoyed the rugged barren nature,with a few patches of green fields trying to raise the flag of revolt against the fury of nature. The mountains bear the love of fire and ice for centuries,with jaw dropping scluptures and paintings etched on the mountain walls as a proof of this eternal love.

The modern art by nature

The scluptures

Now suddenly the car came to a screeching halt.Looking out we could see a flock of sheep coming down the road. With the car perched on the edge of a gorge,and our hearts jumping to our throats,we sat transfixed as one after another sheep crossed our car.

Tips4-: In the mountains,always have a heavy breakfast,and stock up your car with dry food and water…..you never know what lies ahead.

Now, a decision had to be made,and I was always bad at taking them. To our right, a dirt path went all the way to Geyu village,where there is a tomb of a mummified monk on display. So a vote was drawn,and the majority decision was to skip Geyu. (We were already running late due to the petrol fiasco and half an hour “lunch” break at Nako)

Folk story of Geyu- When you have so much time to idle away(the winter months in Spiti are harsh,and villagers are marooned in their houses for days),it give rises to folklore. I have heard some,and I will share those with you. But to keep this blog short,I have written a separate blog on the sasameme.

With the sun hiding it’s face behind the tall mountains,we reached Tabo monastery,the most revered one( His Excellency,the Dalai Lama has expressed his desire to spent his last days here). It’s a very simple monastery ( much modest than those of Ladakh), surrounded by mighty mountains,and the Spiti river flowing at it’s footsteps. Sacred Buddhist mantras are inscribed over the mountains,for the local people believe that every time a gush of wind sweeps over the mountains,it carries their prayer to the Gods.

Tabo monastery

The inscription on the mountains

Leaving Tabo behind,we drove along the banks of Spiti.The setting sun illuminated the dark waters of Spiti in a golden glow,with the lunar landscape mountains giving an eirie out of the world feeling.

The Golden waters of Spiti

As we climbed up towards Dhankar (a tiny Hamlet of 70-80 houses,perched on top of a mountain),we could see below the confluence of Spiti and Pin river, magical in the moonlight.

Atithi Devo Bhava”(Guest is like God)

How many times have we heard this in ad campaign of tourist places.We realised this when we stayed at Tashi’s homestay at Dhankar. I have travelled many places,but nowhere had I felt such at home.

Next morning as my friend Surja went to discover the Dhankar lake behind the mountains (a hour trek), I,being the lazy of the lot,decided to explore the Dhankar monastery ( a small rustic village monastery,that his seen empires being built and destroyed and is itself now in ruins).

Dhankar village as seen from the monastery

The hills of Dhankar

The lonely Lama of Dhankar Gompa

Tips6- Visit the monastery to have some great photos of the surrounding,to meet the lonely Lama who stays here all year round and to hear great stories of this place( You will have to pay a small fee for upkeep of the monastery)

Tashi’s young son,our host

Bidding adieu to Tashi’s young son,we proceeded towards Lhalung monastery, a hidden gem

Our own Rocky mountain…..on the way to Lhalung

The Lhalung monastery,also known as the Golden Gompa is famous for it’s intricate golden artwork and the legend of the Tree that never dies.

Lhalung Gompa with the Lama, the legendary tree is to right of Lama

As we inched towards the Pin valley,our eyes were treated with all shades of green.

The young youthful Pin river,with magic wand in her hands lurged forward turning the barren mountains into riots of colours– Green Meadows,with small white pink flowers,and women in colourful dresses working in these green fields.

A mountain village path

When we reached Mud village,we exclaimed in disbelief….it was truely heaven,a place which Gods will envy.

View from the balcony of our Hotel(Hotel Ibex,Mud village,Pin valley).You can see the Parvati peak(snow capped) at the end.

The Mud village

Tips7: If you love photographing night sky, Mud is the perfect place for it(also to spot the elusive snow leopard)

Gods have time to play,but mortals have office to attend.So,next day we drove to Kaza,which was the anticlimax of Mud,a dusty small town. Throwing our luggage in the hotel( Hotel Kaza,situated just besides the Kaza monastery and with a great view from balcony),we rushed on a whirlwind tour of the nearby places of interest.

Langza- The Switzerland of Spiti

The statue of Buddha looking towards the mountains ,which overlooks the village of Langza

Komik- The highest Monastery with the highest restaurant by the side.

The world’s highest monastery @Komik

A monk lost in thought

Tips 8:Do have a quick sip of local tea and sandwich at the world’s highest restaurant at Komik,they are really yummy!

Hikkim- The highest post office of the world.

Tips9:You can buy postcards here and post them home( my friends post did reach,but mine didn’t!)

The busiest postman of the world ……

Ke monastery- Like the……monastery of Ladakh,but only much modest. Climb up the steps to get some beautiful views from the top.

Like the monasteries of Ladakh

When man and nature works hand in hand,it creates magic

The colours of Spiti valley

Tips9: Whatever other travel sites says,one day is enough to cover Kaza and it’s surrounding villages(if you are in a hurry). Otherwise, stay one night at Kaza and another one at Langza or Kibber……this is a great place for trekking and camping.Also there are some excellent 2/3days trek from Mud village to Pin valley (hope to do those some day).

There are also a few more villages- Kibber( we visited it),Chicham( with the highest bridge in the world),and Hikam (not Hikkim) and Tashigong, which you can visit.

Kibber-another place where snow leopards can be sighted

Kaza monastery- our Hotel Kaza was just on the other side of the road

Hotel Deyzor restaurant- do visit it to have a glimpse in the history of Kaza

A glimpse in the interior of Deyzor restaurant.

Tips10: Fuel up your car at Kaza(incidentally the highest petrol pump of the world), because the next one would be at Manali

At dinner,we had a heated argument about next days plan. We had planned to go to Chandratal camp the next day,but the horror stories of the travellers coming from Manali disturbed us greatly( the road was very bad,and reaching Manali the day after tomorrow to catch the evening bus to Delhi was impossible)

So,next morning we started at 4am.We skipped Chandratal,prayed to Kunzum Mata on the way(at Kunzum pass,where Spiti ends and Lahul valley begins) for an uneventful journey, crossed 3 icy water rapids on foot,pushed the car as it got stuck in a waterfall,waited patiently in the traffic jam at Manali,and ultimately checked in at 11pm…..

Tips11: Do figure in an extra day or two while planning an itinerary for the mountains,you never know what will happen

Our car stuck in a waterfall

Tips12: The journey from Kaza to Manali is the most dangerous one,start early as there are many waterfalls running along or across the road. The water level rises with the sun climbing up the sky and melting the snow.

Tips13: Never argue with your driver. Remember he knows these mountains better than you.

If you wish about the folk stories of these places, click here.

Best time to visitJune to September
Distances-
( distance is immaterial in these mountains,so I will give you the time to travel between places)

  • Delhi to Shimla/Narkanda- 12hrs(or you can fly directly to Shimla….book early to get really cheap prices)
  • Narkanda to Saharan- 2hours
  • Saharan to Sangla- 3hours
  • Sangla to Chitkul and back- 2hours
  • Sangla to Kalpa- 4hours
  • Kalpa to Dhankar (without going toGeyu)–7hours
  • Dhankar to Mud via Lhalung- 3hours
  • Mud to Kaza- 3hours
  • Kaza siteseeing- 3-4hrs.
  • Kaza to Manali- only God can predict

Ideal itinerary:
D1- Delhi to Narkanda/Saharan
D2- Sangla/Chitkul
D3- Kalpa
D4- Dhankar( no point of staying at Nako or Tabo,Dhankar is just fabulous)
D5- Mud,Pin valley( u can add a day or two )
D6- Kaza( can add another day for stay at any of the nearby villages)
D7- Chandratal lake camp(book ahead)
D8- Manali
D9- reserve day.
We completed the tour in 6days(!!!)

Acknowledgement

-Jamaica ( He organised the whole tour for us) 9418200183- Travel Spiti

-The blog of Vargis Khan

-the people of Spiti

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