They say, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ hence I’ve often wondered if people in these remote places feel the same? In their daily lives, do they find insurmountable beauty in the stark naked and contrasting harshness of these mountains, just as you and I would?
I’ve traveled in search of places and stories that pushes my mind to follow my heart, as if pied piper came summoning. Once bitten by wanderlust, the only cure is to give in! In order to quench my thirst for adventure I’ve traveled across the country, and in the process stumbled into Spiti.
Landlocked between India and Tibet, ‘Spiti’ literally means the ‘middle land.’ It opened up it’s vast desert mountain valley to the rest of our country only in the 1980s. Owing to a spurt in tourism in the last 10-12 years, Border Roads Organization has toiled hard to build and maintain the rough track through the valley. Therefore, ensuring accessibility for a few months every year.
But, its only in the past decade that modern necessities such as electricity and flush toilets have sprung up in some larger villages of the valley.
I rode into Spiti from Shimla, through the beautiful Kinnaur valley witnessing a mesmerizing sunset over Mount Kinner Kailash. It seemed as though time had stood still and preserved some of the ancient practices of the tribals; such as the 500 year old mummy at Geyu village.
The friendly and helpful locals of Spiti speak 5 dialects of Tibetic languages commonly grouped as the Lahauli-Spiti language. The valley itself is home to some of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in the world; Tabo, Sherkhang and Dhankar monasteries are on the verge of celebrating their millennium.
Spiti has the highest inhabited, motorable villages of Asia Langza and Komic. The latter situated at an altitude of 15000 ft is famous for it’s Tangyud monastery. Soothing prayers echoes the walls of the majestic Key monastery the biggest monastery in Spiti valley, and the nearby village of Hikkim takes pride for the highest post office in the world!
Fortunately, these aforementioned places are just a short drive from Kaza headquarters of the Spiti sub-division, situated at an altitude of 12500 ft.
When the winter arrives, the lives of these villagers are hardened by snow clad, sky scraping giants blocking them off from the world that we live in. During my moments of solitude while riding away from Kaza, I pondered again, ‘What do these locals really feel about the place they live in?' I rode across the breathtakingly stunning landscape of Losar, and conquered the mighty Kunzum La. A treacherous track led me towards Chandra Taal—Lake of the Moon situated at 14,100 ft where I found a great spot to pitch my tent for the night.
At dawn I set out on foot, exploring the area and met an old Shepherd by the name of, ‘Kashmir Singh Rana’ of the Gaddi tribe (a nomadic tribe) herding his livestock accompanied by his grandson and their ever faithful dogs. During our conversations I put forth my question and then left to visit the lake.
When I returned, he had the answers ready. He replied in all honesty, “Spiti is our home. As nomads of this land, we travel far and wide accompanied only by our dogs to help graze our sheep and sell its wool to provide for our families. We may fight with nature to survive sometimes, and occasionally wish for a better life. But, we are content and happy because this is where we belong. After all, this is the land of our birth, sustenance and passing. We are born from this earth, indebted to it and ultimately one day we will merge with it.”
The following day I encountered the biggest hurdle of my trip; crossing ‘Chota Dhara’ enroute to Rohtang La. I dropped my motorcycle, partially submerging it on the sloping 150 m of an awfully flooded section of the highway.
As the gushing, freezing water numbed my feet, I was struggling to lift my motorcycle and it was then I remembered the words of the 14th Dalai Lama, “No matter what is going on around you, never give up!” In that moment I fully understood the enduring spirit of the villagers from Spiti valley who undoubtedly live by these words!
(This article was published in the recent issue of Karnataka Today Magazine)
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