Sunday, August 9, 1998
On the rugged road to
THE sun-lit snowy sentinels of the craggy Pir Panjal mountain look down sagely all over this virgin valley. The saffron-draped highland beaches instil a sense of spirituality. Like a serpentine, the Spiti river slithers surreptitiously through the middle of the valley.
At this heart-wrenching height of over 3,300 metres, you experience humanlife that measures survival against the elements. Here rugged people practice some awesome austerities a monastic lifestyle which is an epitome of highest form of human endurance. Anything that you see here sends you on a soul-searching spree.
This is Spiti a snow-swathed desolate desert. It is a raw kingdom of quaint monasteries and gompas. Spiti lies in the heart of the inner Himalayas. This saucer-shaped valley strides between Sumdoh in the east, and Losar, the last village, in the west like an unthinkable blonde in quest for nirvana!
Spitians stun strangers. They practice austere form of vajrayana Buddhism something which has prepared them to tough out the harsh extreme weather. Their everydey world is governed by the Dga-lug-pa sect which also controls most of the gompas.
It is a trip in geological time. You can see the fossil-richrocks and gravel that litter the sandy banks of the Spiti river. The region is geologically active. The trails of sand come crumbling down all over the golden mountainscape and can be seen hanging across rocks like an eye-catching architecture. The entire place propels a vision that makes Spiti appear like as if it were freshly and consumately churned out from a giant ocean. Its long beaches along the Spiti river are remnants of the long-dead Tyths sea that submerged the place about millions years ago.
There is a constant aura of divinity everywhere you look. In the barley and black peas fields, the source of Spitians bread and butter, you can spot local scarf-wrapped women famed for their stone-studded silver jewellery working from dawn to dusk. The bushes of sea buckthorn and the tiny trees of changma that locals cultivate around their farmfields for fuel and timber needs, look like a scattered oasis in this cold desert.
Spiti straddles China-occupied Tibet in the north-east and Ladakh in the north-west a wonderland far away from the mad and bad crowds of the cities. It is a kind of destination that the swashbuckling adventurers look for.
From the world-renowned Tabo gompa to Gaite, the worlds highest village at 14,400 ft, Spiti exudes its monastic mystique throughout. You are literally negotiating with the moonscape. Dotting this lunar landscape are the prime ports Kaza, Kee, Kibber, Dhankar, Hikim and Mane.
You enter this Buddhist Shangri-La from Sumdoh on the National Highway in Kinnaur, a legendary land of Kinner Kanthis. The rugged high road journey snakes up its way from Shimla through Narkanda, an alpine ski resort, Rampur Bushair and Sarahan, your first stopover from the erstwhile capital of the Raj. Sarahan is famed for its ancient Bhima Kali Temple that enshrines the legendary "Nau Durgas" and the pheasent breeding centre.
From Jeori onwards you can see the rape of the Kinner mountains. Here the Sutlej river is being harnessed for its hydropower in big way. There is an eerie array of project colonies, transmission towers, lakes, dams, stone-crushers and powerful trucks that roar in the placid Himalayan countryside of Kinnaur as you drive through Kalvat, Negulsari, Taranda, Sungra, Nathpa and Wangtoo, where you can see the trail of destruction that the September flood last year had left behind.
Further on, Karcham is a meeting point of the Sutlej and the Baspa rivers. On the left, about 35 km from here, lies one of the Himalayas most beautiful valleys, the Sangla valley. Before you hit Kalpa, your next destination, you climb your way from Powari, the last filling station till Kaza, through Recong Peo, district headquarters, against the breath-taking backdrop of Kinner Kailash, Kinnaurs most sacred skyrocketing mountain, where the lord of land, Kailashpati Mahadeo resides.
Kalpa offers a comfortable stay as you find both rest houses and camping sites Timberline Trekking camps here at reasonable prices. Kalpa is the soul of Kinnaur as its holiest shrine of its most revered goddess, Chandika, is situated nearby at Kothi village. The place gives a real feel of Kinnauri culture and religion as at Chini village nearby is located the temples of Narayana and Vishnu.
You are in middle Kinnaur. Its numerous streams, waterfalls and small khuds fill your senses with soothing notes as they rush down through the lush green hillsides. As you proceed on the highway, Ribba village promises a real flavour Kinnauri culture its divine sura rasa, angoori, the grapes wine, fit for the gods.
Chango on the way is an apple belt that produces Kinnaurs most juicy and crisp apples with a long shelf-life. From Yangthang you can make a detour to Kinnaurs highest and most sacred village Nako, about 105 km from Kalpa. It is in a gompa here that you can see the foot impressions of the Lotus God, Padamsambhava, who has preached Buddhism in the region. The gompa looks down the sacred Nako lake where locals take a holy dip on auspicious days.
After a gruelling journey through Akpa, Moorang, Spello, Pooh, Khab, Kaa, Maling, Chango, Yangthang and Shialkhar, you enter Sumdoh, gateway to Himachals golden heaven Spiti. The slate-roofed houses of Kinnaur disappear and you can spot the flat-roofed mud-brick tiny houses dotting the arid desert.
At Sumdoh the Spiti river clashes with the Peno Khud and the ITBP sepoys screen foreigners before you hit Hurling, the last place where you can spot apple trees. Tabo hamlet lurks on the Spiti bank like an other-worldly romantic locale fit for the nirvana seekers about 363 km from Shimla. With its local houses, surrounded by colourful tent colonies pitched by foreigners coming from the seven seas, Tabo appears no less than a neo-nomadic cosmopolitan hamlet!
This is the village dedicated to the Enlightened One Lord Buddha. The world-renowned gompa here, which celebrated its millennium in 1996, depicts its awe-inspiring monastic magic. In its nine-shrined complex, Tabo gompa almost hypnotises you as soon as you see the horrifying dragons, masks of the Buddha idols in different mudras, including frescos, murals and thankas. The sacred serene inner space of the monastery truely bares your true soul devoid of bases instincts.
Spitis hub Kaza hides in the sun-scorched higher reaches of the valley, 57 km, from Tabo. The tin-roofed sarkari monsters such as office-buildings, rest houses and other are a sign that sarkari babus govern from this beautiful township, replacing the erstwhile Nono chiefs of Spiti. This sarkari architectural gospel, mercifully so far, has been rejected by the Spitians, but as enquiries reveal, their arts and artifacts have nearly been looted both by the officials and tourists, as souvenirs.
Perched on a bare cliff is Kee, a residential gompa where the lamas are groomed into the monkhood. It houses an array of brass trumpets, large cymbals and big drums played when the lamas perform the horrendous Cham dance. Mornings and evenings are calm and quiet. In the afternoon, the westerly winds rise across the Spitis skyline, raising plumes of dust as you wind up on the rugged road to Kibber Asias highest village ever linked by the road about 10 km from Kee.
Kibber, at 13,500 ft clings to the slope like a beehive. You get hotels, dhabas, rest house and tea stalls here and Coke is as common as Spitian chang and cuisine. The yak and mule caravans that graze in the lush pastures add to the life in the sand.
The locale, fit for a celestial romance, calls as you climb 5 km up. It is last big leap to the worlds highest village, Gaite, that hangs in the star-lit skyline at a dizzying height of 14,400 ft. Gaitians, not more, than 40 people, produce worlds disease-free top variety of Kala Multer.
Down at Kaza, if it is mid-September, you can watch Spitis most popular trade festivel, Ladarcha. This fair features horse races, archery and a host of mask dances. After reaching the zenith of your wanderlust, it is a time to mediatate.
The meditative Buddha is featured in Dhankar gompa, about 10 km from Kaza. With its quaint fort, the gompa overlooks the heavenly hug of the grey Spiti and the blue Pin rivers at Atergu, a gateway to Spitis wild playground of ibex and snow leopards, the Pin valley.
Dhankar symbolises Spitians victory over the invaders, Ladakhis in the 17th century. It is at this village that Indias youngest Everester, Dicky Dolma, now settled in Manali, was born.
And Spiti has also shed
its long isolation. It will attract more and more
tourists when the proposed airport at Rangrik will be
ready. But we shouldnt forget that Spiti is
Indias rare "geological lab" of great
scientific value of fragile ecology and lifestyle. There
is a need to draw a line in the sand so the trash and
junk that tourism produces will not turn this wonderland
into a wasteland.
| Interview | Bollywood Bhelpuri | Living Space | Nature | Garden Life | Fitness |
| Modern Classics | Your Option | Speaking Generally | A Soldier's Diary |
| Caption Contest |