Heavenly Solitude

Our plan to complete the circuit from Shimla to Manali via Kinnaur and Lahaul Spiti was entirely dependent on Mother Nature. Incessant rain at the onset had suggested snow in the upper reaches of Himachal. It also suggested closure of Kunzum La, the pass that would deliver us into Lahaul. We decided to take our chances, nonetheless, and plunged ahead to Kaza from Tabo, instead of backtracking.

Along the way, we made the acquaintance of a thousand year old Buddhist monastery, the Dhankar Gompa, perched at a height of 12,774 feet. One of the major attractions of the monastery is the statue of Vairochana (Dhayan Buddha), consisting of 4 figures seated back to back. It also houses a collection of crumbling old thankas.

The spectacular view of the confluence of the Spiti and Pin rivers from this lofty point, however, was what indelibly etched itself on my mind. The refreshing aqua of the Pin waters even inviting a quick detour to its beautiful valley.

Conditioned to a sparse and rugged terrain by now, Kaza, the administrative hub of Spiti, came as a bit of a surprise. It displayed all the signs of apathy that follow commercial success; its natural splendor overwhelmed. Haphazard construction, an influx of dubious businesses, inflated tariffs and rude outsiders!

The food was disappointing to say the least; relief came our way in the guise of a delicious mutton thukpa at Kibber. At 14,200 feet, it sits atop a summit of limestone rock and was once said to be the highest inhabited village.

Located slightly lower, not too far from here, is the dominating edifice of the Ki monastery, Spiti’s largest and oldest. Both places make for a worthy day-excursion from Kaza.

On our return, the travelers’ grapevine was abuzz with news of the Kunzum Pass being thrown open for light vehicles. A little later we heard the unanticipated avalanche at Batal (thirty stranded schoolchildren were airlifted just a few days prior to our visit) had also been cut through. Heartened at this, we prepared to embark early the following day for our ambitious 12-hour journey to Manali.

The drive, all 200 kilometres of it, although bone-tiring and treacherous, was astounding; lending itself to countless photo opportunities.Losar, where we stopped for breakfast is the last checkpoint before Kunzum, a snowy landscape at 15000 feet; its eerie isolation marked by prayer flags and stupas. After a quick chai stop at a makeshift dhaba in Batal on the banks of the Chandra River, we broke for lunch at Chhattru.

Then began our final lap, the ascent to the Rohtang Pass at 13000 feet. Soon after, alpine green replaced rocky brown. And, wait for it, hundreds of tourists, as many vehicles and blaring music replaced heavenly solitude. Our holiday was definitely over!

Note: This can also be read at The Tribune.

15 comments

  • Never understand people who blare horns and play music when they get a rare chance to listen to the sounds of silence….but then again, many feel the need to drown out their own thoughts! Pity!

  • Preet P S Gill

    I can say no more than repeat what Air Commodore (later Air chief Marshal)
    Dilbagh Singh , my station commander at Poona, told me while launching me on
    my first bombing mission to Krachi in 1971 ” I wish I was young enough to go
    along with you.” Your mission could not have been any less adventurous than
    those raids deep into Paki territory by night. Keep it up and keep us, the armchair
    travelers, posted.

  • The place seems to be out of this world precisely because it still has not been infested with too many visitors. Rugged and rough terrain, but a remarkable effort.

  • Sounds heavenly. Despite the road blocks.

  • This is a phenomenal blog – one amongst the best travel blogs I’ve read in a long long long time. And so much about and around Chandigarh that I did not know. I wish I’d stumbled upon your space earlier.

    What zest for travel and travel writing! You have a brand new permanent fan woman.

  • Ah! This brings back a flood of memories! We have been to Spiti a couple of times … both from Kinnaur and Manali side, but the most adventurous was when we decided to camp there, with our rickety camping equipment…very close to Losar, next to the river there. Some 14-15 of us, including 6-7 kids. Cant tell you the way the icy winds cut through you in the evenings..brrr..Washing dishes with that river water was almost saying goodbye to your hands for a few hours! To top it all, Savera, the younger one was only two! Definitely not a place for two year olds. Then there was this arduous trek to Chandratal….but so very gratifying. That sight was heavenly. The dhaba at Batal has been a landmark there. The rajma chawal after those drives is God sent. But people getting stuck there and having to be air lifted seems like a recurring event there. A couple of year back some 30-40 people had to go thru the same ordeal.

    • It really is a surreal world out there…!
      Sadly, we were unable to make it to Chandratal due avalanches. Have plans to return to explore high altitude aqua bodies next year….

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