The Lonely Wanderer In Spiti Valley -Part 1

     Every one of us probably has some memorable trips we have had in the past and sometimes some pictures, videos or even some words that we see will make our mind travel back to those moments. For me the trip to Gangotri – Gaumukh in the Himalayas with my friend Sudhin will always be a special one. The snow clad mountains, the risky trekking route, the heavy snowfall – everything that we saw and experienced that day comes to my mind each time I see some pictures of Himalayas or even any mountains. But besides all that there is one more thing that reminds me of that beautiful mesmerizing land – the night sky. Every time I look up to the sky at night, I think about the night in Himalayas where we stood still watching the starry sky and the Milky Way. Here back in my home town all I could see is only a few bright shining stars because of the light pollution. It makes me want to travel back to the Himalayas.

     From the day I got back from Gangotri, my friends and family have been asking me where my next trip is to. And I didn’t have an answer, all I knew was that it would be to the Himalayas. In February 2015 I booked a flight ticket to Delhi for 23rd May. Yeah I booked a ticket without setting a destination! I had plenty of time for that. One day while browsing the internet I happened to see a picture of a Tibetan monastery which was covered with thick snow. It was a picture of Key monastery in Kaza. That spectacular picture made me search more about it and I learned that it is in Himachal Pradesh in a place called Spiti valley. The river Spiti flows through it and hence the name. The name Spiti means ‘The middle land’ that is the land between India and Tibet.A few weeks later I watched an advertisement of mineral water on the TV which was shot in front of the same place. I didn’t think too much. Spiti badly needed my visit and hence all these signs! Just like last time I searched a lot of online forums to collect every bit of information I could get. So I would like to thank every member in these forums especially in Indiamike.com and Devilonwheels.com who helped me to answer my queries.

Key monastery in Kaza, Himachal Pradesh,India - My destination
Key monastery in Kaza, Himachal Pradesh, India – My destination

     When I came back from my last trip, many of my friends showed interest in coming with me for the next trip. So when I booked tickets to Delhi in February I was certain that at least one of them would come with me for the trip. But as the days passed by, everyone skipped it. Two weeks prior to the trip I was certain that I would have to do this alone. I was a little skeptical about going all alone and also some personal issues which happened a few weeks before the trip made me almost cancel the whole thing. But when I thought about my dad who is one of the greatest inspirations for me to travel, I didn’t hesitate much.

     Ok for those who seeks quick travel itinerary I am going to list it out before going to describe it in detail. This wasn’t exactly like I planned at the beginning but had to make some adjustments as I travelled further. So finally it looked like this.

  • Day 1 – Kochi to Delhi by flight, Delhi to Shimla by bus. Stay at Shimla.
  • Day 2 – Shimla to Reckong Peo. Peo to Kalpa. Roam around Kalpa in the evening and stay there for the night.
  • Day 3 – Kalpa to Peo. Peo to Nako. Stay at Nako.
  • Day 4 – Roam around Nako. Afternoon go to Kaza.
  • Day 5 – Visit Kibber village and Key monastery in Kaza.
  • Day 6 – Kaza to Peo. Catch the last bus to Shimla from Peo.
  • Day 7 – Shimla to Delhi
  • Day 8 – Delhi to Kochi in train.
My travel route map
My travel route map

Day 1

     Finally May 23rd arrived. Just like last time it was my friend Alfred who agreed to drop me at the airport in the morning and exactly like on that day, it was drizzling outside. We reached the airport around 6.45, my flight was at 7.15. I was somehow lucky to arrive before the check in time closed. The usual late work shift of mine made me really tired in the morning, so I was hoping to get some rest in the flight. But I was so wrong. I was sandwiched between a monk and a lady, with an infant baby, who was travelling alone. The baby started crying as soon as the flight took off and I had to help her to console the baby by playing with some toys.  The lady and I immediately became friends. Her name was Dhanya, a Delhi Malayalee visiting Kerala after 8 years. She was surprised when she realized that I was travelling all the way to Spiti alone. She told the story of how her brother once visited Spiti a few years ago .He loved to travel a lot in the Himalayas with his motor cycle. Dhanya advised me to never stop this habit of travelling and visit more places soon. It was really sad that we couldn’t say proper good bye because we took 2 different buses to reach the terminal from the flight. Around 10.30 I reached Delhi airport and from there I took the metro to the Kashmiri gate where the Inter State Bus Terminal (ISBT) is situated. The airport metro to Kashmiri gate, lunch from the Punjabi dhaba near the ISBT -all these became my regular thing over the past couple of years.

My regular lunch from the dhaba in Kasmiri gate!
My regular lunch from the dhaba in Kasmiri gate!

     My first destination on the way to Spiti valley was Shimla which is around 10 hrs of journey from Delhi. From ISBT you could get buses to almost all the neighbouring states of Delhi. I had already booked a ticket for the 12.30 bus to Shimla through Himachal Pradesh Road Corporation’s online site. I specifically booked a side seat.  In the bus I met Ramesh Kumar, a Nepali who was about my age. He was a construction worker currently working in Gujarat and going to Shimla to meet his elder sister who stayed with her husband. I told him I was going to Reckong Peo from Shimla and he said he was also on the same route so we could go together. I must confess my Hindi is not very good as it’s not my mother tongue and I only speak Hindi whenever I came to North India on tours. So many times I had to use sign language to communicate with him because he didn’t speak English.

     I was hoping to get some rest finally since my first attempt failed, but again I was wrong. It was the hot climate which troubled me this time. May end is the hot summer time at its peak in North India and the bus ride through the wide NH1 made it worse. The seats were burning with hotness. I was advised to get an AC bus but at noon there was no AC bus available to Shimla. So my advice is that if you travel to Shimla from Delhi during summer time and no AC buses are available in your journey time, take an AC bus to Chandigarh and then take a bus to Shimla from there. At that time I didn’t know that all the buses to Shimla go through Chandigarh.

     The bus passed Karnal, Panipat, Ambala- places that I had studied in the history class, and finally reached Chandigarh around 5.45. Ramesh and I became really good friends by that time. He bought me food every time some local vendors got into the bus. I refused it the first time but he kept on insisting. So when we reached Chandigarh I bought him a sandwich. I asked Ramesh whether his village was affected by the recent earthquake which hit Nepal and he said everyone was fine in his home. In Chandigarh, the bus went to the Sector 43 bus stand from where you could catch buses which go only to the northern side of India (Himachal, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir). If it is a bus which goes only up to Chandigarh, it will not go to Sector 43 but instead it goes to Sector 17 and then you may need to catch a city bus to get to Sector 43 in order to catch the Shimla bus. I learned all these things on my return journey to Delhi only. After half an hour’s halt at the bus station, we resumed our journey to Shimla.

     On the way to Shimla you pass a place called Kalka from where the famous Shimla toy train route starts. I was earlier thinking of taking this toy train but there was no train available in the evening so I changed my plans. From Kalka, the road started to climb up. From here onwards you are entering the world of never ending journey through twisted and curved mountain roads… You could see the toy train rail line passing through the sideways of the road at many places. Soon we passed Solan and I had the first glimpse of Shimla town high above. Glazed with lights the town looked like a group of tiny flashy birds.

     Finally at 10.30 we reached Shimla. The bus halted at the old bus stand. I was planning to get a room and stay overnight there and start early morning to Reckong Peo (locally known as just Peo) which was my next destination. But Ramesh said it was better to keep going, as we could get a bus to Peo and thus avoid staying in Shimla which could be really costly. I guess he didn’t have much money and his limited time constraints made him say that. But I was really tired and preferred to stay there and call it a day. I asked a guy at the bus stand about the room rates here and he said it could be around Rs 3000 for a decent room since it was tourist season. His response made me change my mind and follow Ramesh’s advice. We asked a shop owner about the availability of a bus to Peo at night and he said it could come at any time. So we waited. But the wait was too long. We asked a few more people and each of them gave different answers. Some said there were no buses at night and some said we must get to the new bus stand in order to get the bus. I was totally confused what to do.

     It was almost midnight and the bus stand was getting deserted. We met two young boys with a drunken old man who was going to Peo. They said they were walking to the new bus stand which was about 4 km from there and we could join them if we wanted. I turned to Ramesh for his opinion but he was on a call with his sister. He then handed over the phone to me as she wanted to talk with me.  I honestly had no idea which language she spoke… Hindi or Nepali. All I said was ‘ok accha theek hai’. I handed over the phone to him. After the call I felt that he was more confused than me. What he said next I won’t forget in my life.  He said his sister told him that it was not safe to stand alone at the bus stand at this time because people might even cut your throats in order to rob you!! I asked– what the hell did you just say?! “Some people may even kill you in order to rob you,” he explained with the hand gesture. I felt my head was spinning. I looked around and all the people standing there seemed to stare at me. That is it, I had had enough. I am going to get a room here and stay overnight. I asked a guy who was sitting beside a shop to arrange a room. He immediately called his friend who said it would be Rs 500 for a bed but only one was left so we would have to share it. I didn’t bother to look for any other solution. I agreed and they took us to the room. They guided us through some really smutty dark alleys beside the bus stand. I looked back at Ramesh who was following me with fearful eyes. He kept on whispering to me not to trust those guys as they could cheat us. I must say here that the walk to the room from the bus stand was one of the scariest moments in my life. I didn’t know whom to trust. We stopped in front of some old building and my jaw dropped as he opened the room.

     It was a dormitory and there were at least 20 people sleeping there and the bed he was talking about was too hard for even a single guy to sleep. But we had no other choice. Before they went back they said they would come back the next day at 4 in the morning to wake us up since we had to get the early bus to Peo. I went to use the toilet, a guy with 36 inch waistline would probably get stuck between the doors, it was that tiny. I would rather not speak about the condition of the toilet. I went back to the bed, Ramesh and I somehow managed to fit on the bed and went to sleep. The loud snoring coming from some other bed didn’t even bother me because my tiredness put me into a deep sleep within minutes. There I was sleeping on a single bed with a Nepali guy, whom I had met just a few hours ago!

     It always makes me laugh whenever I think about that night. I don’t know why I was paranoid to that extent, but honestly I was scared to death that night.

Day 2

     We woke up at 4am hearing the alarm but both of us didn’t get up until a guy came knocking at the door. We had to move the bed in order to open the door. He asked us why we hadn’t left yet if we wanted to catch the bus to Peo. I had no idea who he was or how he came to know about our plan, anyway we didn’t waste much time. I didn’t even brush my teeth because I never wanted to go back to that toilet. It was early in the morning but the light had come up early. We went straight to the bus stand and asked a few people about the bus timing. Just like last night we got different answers. In the end a police officer said we should either go to the new bus stand or one other place (I don’t remember its name) and suggested it was better to go to the latter since it was nearer. So we took a cab and went there. A few people were already waiting there for the bus which they said would arrive at  6 am. While we were waiting I was thinking of all the incidents which happened last night.  I had a lot of doubts in my mind whether I could do this trip all alone but after all the things that happened last night I thought I could survive anything!

     The bus arrived at sharp 6 am. It was coming from Haridwar and was jam packed. I bought the ticket to Peo and Ramesh bought for ‘Autti’ where his sister’s house was located. The rush inside the bus was getting less as we travelled further and I managed to get a seat after 30 minutes. Around 8 am we reached ‘Autti’. The driver stopped the bus for a 30 min tea break. Ramesh called his sister and asked her to come there. We had breakfast from a nearby restaurant even though Ramesh insisted he didn’t want. I asked him why he asked his sister to come there instead of going to her house directly. Ramesh said he didn’t go to her house ever since he had a fight with his brother- in- law last year. So he was going to talk to her for some time and then go straight back to Delhi and then to Gujarat since he had only two days off! Now I knew why he didn’t want to stay in Shimla, he had a really tight schedule. I felt really awful about it. It must be so hard for him to travel half way through the country to just see his sister and spend a few minutes with her. I gave him some chocolates that I had bought last night, for his sister’s children. We hugged each other and said goodbye as the bus started. I had spent hardly a day with him but it still makes me really sad when I think about the moment we said goodbye.

An umbrella by the nature. Somewhere in Hindustan Tibetan Highway. Sutlej on the left side.
An umbrella by nature. Somewhere in Hindustan Tibetan Highway. Sutlej on the left side.

     The driver rushed through the roads which snaked across the valley. I felt lonely. The guys sitting near me were sleeping and I had no one to talk to. When I boarded the bus I had noticed two guys who were about the same age as me sitting in front but they were sleeping earlier. I guessed they were also travelling like me, seeing the camera which one fellow was holding. But then they awoke and one fellow came and stood beside me. I asked him whether they were heading towards Peo and he said yes, pointing to his friends who were sitting behind me. I was relieved that I got company till Peo. He was surprised to know that I was coming from Kerala, which is the southernmost State of India, to Spiti all alone. He said this loudly to his friends behind me and suddenly one of his friends poked me from behind and asked “naatil evideya?” (Where are you from in Kerala? -in Malayalam)! It was like Indian film stuff!! . And that’s how I met Vasudev. It is usually said in light humor that wherever you go, you would find a Malayalee and it is generally true. I was so relieved when I heard Malayalam being spoken. Vasu introduced his friends Jayesh, Jay and Abhimanyu all coming from Mumbai and working in the media industry. Vasu is a Mumbai Malayalee basically from Trichur, Kerala. He and his friends liked to travel to mountain areas just like me. We talked about our adventures from the past and it didn’t take long for me to become friends with them.

The Mumbai gang - Vasudev, Abhimanyu, Jayesh, Jay
The Mumbai gang – Vasudev, Abhimanyu, Jayesh, Jay

     Around noon the bus reached Rampur and it stopped for a 15 minutes break. From the bus stand we saw the river Sutlej for the first time. Before this trip I had looked up the map of Himachal Pradesh and found that much of the road that I had to travel passed by the side of the Sutlej. The road from Shimla to Peo is known as the ‘Hindustan Tibetan Highway’, one of the most treacherous roads in the world. I have seen a lot of stunning pictures of it on the internet and a few scenes from the Bollywood movie ‘Highway’ which was shot there.

The iconic tunnel of the famous Hindustan Tibetan Highway, on the way to Reckong Peo from Shimla
The iconic tunnel of the famous Hindustan Tibetan Highway, on the way to Reckong Peo from Shimla

   Jay and Abhimanyu shifted their seat to the front near the driver, who was wearing sunglasses (I shall tell the story of it later) and started chatting with him. I looked at Sutlej, she was all muddy and flowing like mad.  I guess maybe somewhere on top of the Himalayas near the Manasarovar where it originates, it must be raining very hard. We stopped at a place called Jeori for lunch and after 30 minutes of break, we resumed our journey. Somewhere between Peo and Jeori we stopped in front of a Sikh temple. It seemed they were having some celebration and everyone was given free kesari(dessert), chana and some drink. I must say that it tasted really great. Soon we left and I saw the first glimpse of the world famous snowcapped Himalayan mountains in the distance which was Kinnaur Kailash range by the way. Though I knew I was going to spend a number of days on these mountains and that this was not the best position to take pictures, yet I became so excited that I started clicking photos even as we were travelling. Such is the influence the Himalayas has on me.

The first glimpse of the world famous snow capped Himalayas!
The first glimpse of the world famous snow capped Himalayas!

     The road was really narrow in many places and we had to take the reverse for some distance whenever a big vehicle came from the opposite side. In the whole journey, we wasted nearly an hour doing this alone. As we travelled further we got a full stretch view of the Kinnaur Kailash range. Finally, the bus reached Peo around 4.30.

     The Mumbai team’s initial plan was to do the Kinnaur trekking but soon they realized it was closed due to snowfall. So they decided to stay at Peo and look for some other plans. My plan was to go to Kalpa, hardly 10 km from Peo, which is quieter and more beautiful than Peo from the information that I found on the internet. When they heard my plan they also agreed to come with me. We took the 5 pm bus to Kalpa, which was the last one for the day since it was Sunday. The local people here in the Kinnaur region, both male and female, wear a special type of hat of green and grey color. Along the way, there was some regional music playing on the bus. It was very rhythmic but all I understood was that they kept on singing ‘Rekkaang Peo’ which is the actual pronunciation. Peo has its own song. Cool!

     It took hardly 30 minutes to reach Kalpa. Kalpa was the former capital of Kinnaur district which later shifted to Peo. Jay, Abhi and Jayesh went to look for a room as soon as we got down from the bus while  Vasu and I went on a different way. We didn’t have to go long, we found a small guest house on top and luckily they had 2 rooms available for just Rs 600 each. The view from the room was absolutely spectacular which you cannot see anywhere else in the world. The Kinnaur Kailash range looked like a big white gate in front of us.

Couldn't ask for a better spot. View from our room in Kalpa
Couldn’t ask for a better spot. View from our room in Kalpa

     We kept our luggage there and went down to inform others. Soon all of them came to the room and put their things down. We heard some music coming from the Tibetan temple down in the distance and decided to visit it before it closed. Vasu and I went together first while the other guys were freshening themselves up. We reached the temple. There were lots of prayer wheels surrounding the temple. We walked around the temple turning those wheels. The typical Tibetan prayer music coming from the temple and the chilled atmosphere made us feel that we weren’t in India anymore but in Tibet itself. Spiti and Peo are known as ‘little Tibet’ but I guess ‘little India’ would be apter!! We also visited a Hindu temple nearby.  You could see the vast valley from the balcony of the temple which is just awesome and I wished I could stay there for my entire life.

     After that, both of us went to a small restaurant to have some veg momos while the other guys also joined us. It was 7 pm in the evening but the daylight hadn’t gone at all. It was in the middle of the year and also because of its geographical location this place became dark only after 8 p.m. For a guy who lived closer to the equatorial line, all this was a wonder. We decided to go back to the room but Jay said they should order food then because it would take a while to prepare. Here in these mountain areas they only made food as per order so everything would be all fresh and hot. We went to another restaurant and Jayesh suggested to me to order something Tibetan. I ordered a chowmeen which is a kind of Tibetan/Chinese noodle. He ordered a tupaka. We went back to the room to charge our cell phones and cameras and came back after an hour. But the food was not ready yet and also there were some foreigners sitting inside the restaurant, so we all waited outside.  Darkness had spread everywhere by then. Nobody was there except for us and the guys inside the restaurant. It seemed that Kalpa went to sleep very early.  The caretaker of our room Mr.Thotharam informed us that we could go trekking to a village on top of Kalpa when Jayesh asked him about the local sights. We had seen the snow covered mountain top earlier while coming in the bus, so they all were so excited about going there. Before I came to Spiti I had checked the weather forecast and so I told them that there were chances of snowfall for the next two days. The guys were so happy to hear this, because they all wanted to see the snowfall. But I had seen plenty of it on my last trip during the Gangotri Gaumukh trekking. I told them about my Gangotri adventure, how I saw the moving satellites and Milky Way and all. While I was talking, the power supply went off and it was totally dark everywhere like an omen. I immediately looked up to the sky to see the Milky Way but it wasn’t visible much. But I saw a few moving satellites and I showed them to my friends and all of them were astonished on seeing the sight. They never knew we could see them with naked eyes. You could see the moving satellites on these remote places as there is very less light pollution on a clear sky. They shine like stars because of the light reflecting from the solar panel and also move constantly around the earth. I think I have become an expert in spotting it.

Wonder what she is praying for. At the Tibetan temple in Kalpa
Wonder what she is praying for. At the Tibetan temple in Kalpa

     While we were talking, Jay was busy feeding the stray dogs with biscuits that he had bought. We then talked about our journey of that day and then only I came to know about our bus driver’s story. It turned out that he wasn’t wearing those sunglasses for the style. He had an eye surgery a few days before and he practically couldn’t see with his left eye for a few weeks and hence the sunglass to protect it. Jay said that at one point he even put his head outside through the window to check whether the tires were all on the road while turning some sharp curves!! We laughed so much thinking about it. The food was ready at last and we all went inside. The power hadn’t come yet so we had to light up candles for light. The chowmeen tasted a little bit salty. I remembered my uncle once saying the real Chinese food tasted a little too salty for our liking. The food there didn’t taste like what we got in the so called Chinese restaurants back home. Jay shared his tupka with me. Tupka is a kind of noodles with lot of water in it. It was really great to have a candlelight dinner on that cold night.

A full stretched view of Kinnaur khailash region
A full stretched view of Kinnaur khailash region

     We headed back to the room after finishing dinner and I was already thinking of the next day’s plan. Those guys were planning to do trekking the next day and then go to Spiti the day after that. Actually, their plans were similar to mine but they had one day extra. I thought a little adjustment in my plan could match with theirs but I decided not to do it. Even though I felt really comfortable with them, travelling alone has its own perks. I had confidence by then that I could do the rest of my trip alone. Also there were chances that I might get friendly with some other guys in the rest of my trip!! So I said that I was going to leave the next day for Tabo which was my next pit stop. I asked Thotharam how to get to Peo in the morning from Kalpa. I knew the bus to Kaza is at 7 am so I had to reach at least by 6 am to book the seats. But he said there were no buses to Peo from Kalpa until 9 am. He then suggested a different plan- to get the 11 am bus to Nako which would reach Nako by evening and stay there and the next day go to Kaza by taking the afternoon bus. So for that, I might have to skip Tabo. I was really confused what do to on the next day because Nako wasn’t in my plan initially. After a few minutes Jayesh came to the room and said that he had talked to Thotharam and he suggested that I could walk to Peo early in the morning like a lot of foreigners do rather than taking a bus or cab. I thought that was a good idea and decided to go for it. I kept the alarm for 4 am and went to sleep.

Day 3

     I woke up early in the morning. If I were to get the Kaza bus I should leave the room at least by 5 am. I snoozed the alarm for 1 hr and went back to sleep since I felt lazy to get up so early. When I woke up at 5 am, I could hear the rains outside. It was so cold inside the room even though I had put a heavy blanket on top of me. Walking all the way to Peo in this weather seemed suicidal. I decided to go for the plan B (Nako) so that I could get some more time to sleep. Finally we all woke up after 8 am and realized there was no power. I washed my face and we all went outside. It was really cloudy outside and drizzling also. The mountains were only partially visible. There was a Belgian guy near our room who also came outside to check the weather.  I told Jayesh that if it was raining here, then there were chances of snowfall on the top of Kalpa where they were planning to do trekking. Jayesh and Vasu were so excited on hearing this. While we were talking, Thotharam came and said it was better to leave then to catch the Peo bus. I thanked him for suggesting Nako, said goodbye to all, hoping we all could catch up later somewhere in Spiti valley and left the room. I had hardly spent a day with him but we had really become good friends. Vasu accompanied me to the bus stop.The bus arrived at 9 am sharp. We had one last hug and then I boarded the bus.

Reckong Peo bus station.
Reckong Peo bus station.

     There I was all alone again.  But I was sure something unexpected would happen anytime, wondering with whom I was going to end up by the evening. I enquired about the Nako bus when I reached the Peo bus stand. It was around 11.30 but the booking counter hadn’t opened yet. I went to an ATM counter nearby to get some cash as I was afraid there won’t be any ATM available as I went up towards Spiti. I had some food and came back to the counter which had opened by that time. I specifically asked for a right window seat and got it. The bus took off finally and after some distance it reached near the river Sutlej. As I travelled further I saw several sign boards saying ‘You are travelling through one of the most treacherous roads in the world’ and I couldn’t agree more. The condition of the road was quite dangerous in many areas. You would become sacred by looking at the side of the mountains near the side of the road. It was not green as one could see from Shimla to Peo but instead it was all sharp rocks bulging towards the edges of the roads. I started listening to music but didn’t close my eyes for a second even though I was really tired because I didn’t want to miss out anything. You never knew what was going to come up next after each turn around the corner.

Here the bridges not just connects roads but the civilizations itself
Here the bridges not just connect roads but the civilizations itself

     The bus stopped for lunch at a place called Spillow, a small town. I talked to a local man while having lunch in the restaurant. I told him I was coming from Kerala alone. Here is the interesting thing, these people see many foreigners both male and female travelling alone there knowing nothing but English yet it didn’t surprise them a bit. But as soon as they realized that you were an Indian especially from the South travelling there alone, they found it hard to believe! I noticed this reaction every time I mentioned it to the people I met there. He told me there was nothing to worry about there, as the people there were really nice and helpful which was true every bit as I learned from my own experience.

     We left Spillow after a half an hour halt. If you have ‘Airtel’ mobile connection it was better to make all your calls before leaving Spillow because there won’t be any network further from that point. After we passed some distance, the bus stopped and I looked outside to see why it had stopped. The road ahead of us was blocked due to a landslide. I went near it to check the condition. The road was completely blocked as some very large heavy rocks had fallen from the top of the mountains.

Road block! BRO cleaning up the landslides near Spillow
Roadblock! BRO cleaning up the landslides near Spillow

     I realized it would take hours to clear the road so I went back to the bus. While I was walking back, I saw a lady running back into the bus, and then I looked up and saw some small pebbles coming from the top of the mountain and hitting the bus. I immediately ran back into the bus. There were some signboards along the road warning about these falling stones. They said ‘watch out for the shooting stones’ and I wondered earlier why they were called ‘shooting stones’ instead of ‘falling stones’, but now I understood why. They fell so fast from the top like someone was firing a bullet from up there! A small stone falling at that speed could really hurt if it hit you.

     I didn’t feel like talking to anyone in the bus and moreover, most of them were sleeping. There was a Lama sitting behind me but he was reading a book so I thought not to disturb him. I slept for almost an hour inside the bus and when I woke up I decided to go check out what was happening with the landslide situation. The roads there are maintained by BRO (Border Roads Organization). They came immediately whenever a landslide occurred and cleared it fast with big bulldozers and all. One officer stopped me from going further as I was walking towards the rocks. He warned me to stay back because they had drilled down the rocks and put some dynamites inside it in order to blast it. One guy who was sitting on top of the rock ran towards us after he lighted up the dynamites. Everyone gathered around there waited with anticipation to see what would happen next. The rock shattered into small pieces with a loud explosion and the sound echoed through the valley of Sutlej. BRO cleared the roads immediately after that and we resumed our journey.

The never ending journey through the twisted roads..
The never-ending journey through the twisted roads..

     We passed a village called Pooh/Puh. I knew this place from the movie ‘Highway’ which I had mentioned earlier. It was this tiny place which had sparked my ambition to come here. As we travelled further I saw a bridge cutting across the river Sutlej and I noticed a river joining with it from the left side. It must be the famous river ‘Spiti’. Sutlej was all muddy but Spiti had more clear water. Goodbye dirty Sutlej, see you back in a few days and hello Spiti!

Spiti(on the left) merge with Sutlej at Khab
Spiti(on the left) merging with Sutlej at Khab

     If you went straight instead of taking the bridge you would reach the Indo – China border which was hardly km from there. Looking at the map on my phone I learned that the place was called Khab. The change of scenery from Khab was unexpectedly breathtaking. The bus immediately began to travel through a steep road and the sides of the mountains on either side made you feel like you were travelling through the ‘Great Grand Canyon’. The sides looked like some painter had brushed that whole area with some big brush or something! I had never seen anything like that before. As if that wasn’t enough, the views dramatically changed as we climbed up further. How could I describe the surroundings there- let me say if you looked around there and  compared it with some photo which the NASA’s Mars rover ‘Curiosity’ had taken from the Martian surface, you could never differentiate them! The land there didn’t look similar to anything that you saw not only in India but in the whole world! All you could see is a lot of reddish mountains with no sight of vegetation at all till the horizon. The only thing that made you feel you were still on the earth was the snow capped Himalayan mountains on the right side. 

Where am I, at the Martian land?!
Where am I, at the Martian land?!

     The river Spiti wasn’t visible by then. From Ka it was better to sit on the left side of the bus which provided more scenery.I sat on the bus wondering what all I am going to see more on this strange land…

To be continued….

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