This is on every traveler’s list.
There are the ones who take their bikes up the roads where the ambiguity of sights is 1:100 is of praises galore.
There are the ones who have the courage to cycle there and film it on their go pros.
There are also the ones who take local buses and the hard way. There are some who go halfway.
We, on the other hand, were the ones who took a car from Old Manali upto Spiti Valley and went to all nooks and corners, stopped everywhere (literally!), played our favorite music, ate mountain food, made a bonfire, got baffled with oursleves and became better friends.
We were six. One of us had come all the way from Qatar with limited time. The rest of us, even though staying in the same city and in the same house stole some time together. The trip started with exhiliration. With the perfect spot to acclimatize at the end of the village in Purnima guest house, we had a classical view of the river and the mountains and nothing to disturb us.
Early next morning, on the way to Keylong, we stopped at Marhi for refreshments. The road ahead was crowded. We walked more and drove less. The next eight hours were spent on the edge of the mountains covering a distance of merely 10 kms.
As soon we covered the 55kms in about twelve hours instead of a maximum two hours, we stopped to eat something in Rohtang Pass. Temporary stores were made that sold tea, coffee, chips, maggi and other tid bits.
“The Journey is what that matters not the destination” Our harbor was till Sarchu.We did not have time to cover the other 263kms to Leh. Keylong was our first stop. The hotel we stayed in had nobody else. They made food for us and we made a perfect evening out of it in the garden overlooking the mountains on a full moon night.
Early next morning, going up to Trilokinath temple was our plan. This temple is most probably the only one where the Hindus and the Buddhists have been praying together since centuries.
To enter the temple, the pillars on either side of the diety is the passage. They say if your heart is clear this unconventional way is effortless. Happy with our clear hearts, we went into the 17th century Shashur Monastery. Built on a hill, it looked abandoned as we explored it. Soon, we heard a Lama(monk) doing his evening prayers and he allowed us to look around. Legend has it that a very pious Deva Gyatso, King of Bhutan built this monastery and used to stay there. When he died and his body was cremated, his heart did not burn. The heart is still in the monastery in his image and a lotus lights it. There is also a fifteen feet Thangka (paintings done on silk depicting Buddha’s teachings). We spent the whole evening on the terrace of the monastery, capturing moments.
With four days already gone by, the next stretch of immaculate beauty had to be covered. The next day, we went the highest we went in this trip @ 4892 meters. It was the month of June. While the whole world is experiencing heat strokes and the general perspiration, here in the Trans Himalayan range (where the roads are open only for five months months during summers) the sights of revelation made me submerge in its beauty.
Zing Zing Bar was our next stop for breakfast. This is where the oxygen level suddenly decreases and bouts of mild Hypoxia hit everyone. It was of no danger at all but we were shivering. The morning sun brought in warmth and we ate flat bread with potatoes stuffed in it(aloo paratha) and drank tea. It was quite a feat to stop laughing.
It of course did not end here. The view just got better. The mountains had snow melting as the summer sun shone on it forming surreal waterfalls.
The outcome of the shadow falling on it looked like a avalanche was on its way. Scary as it might sound, the repercussions were too less to cause any destruction to the human body but perceptions in the human mind did change forever.
As we got closer to Baralacha-La (La means Pass), the prayer flags could be seen at a distance and there was boundless snow. These passes are considered holy by the Buddhists maybe because they cite resemblance to what Heaven might look like. Prayer flags are tied on the rocks and as the wind blows, the prayers, they believe are sent to the Gods.
As we crossed Baralacha-la, the scenery became more brown. The snow disappered except at the end of the rainbow.
The Indian Army had a strong base here and the Border Roads Organsation(BRO) played the most crucial role here in keeping the route secure for traveling.
Sarchu was getting closer and the landscape had a tinge of green now.
The virgin lands of Sarchu was glistening and we got our cameras out and started walking taking in all we could.
Being the end of Himachal Pradesh and the entry point to Jammu and Kashmir, a lot of security prevailed here and as innocent by standers, we did our part and turned around.
On the way back to Keylong, we stopped at Jaipur (Don’t confuse it with the place in Rajasthan with the same name) for some delectable mountain goat and a taste of the village life.
The next day we were going back Parvati Valley where we stay for three more days. The journey on the way back was also full of roadblocks and landslides. BRO did its best but the rest of the travelers/tourists did not help much other than littering and creating noise.
It started getting green again as we crossed Rohtang and entered the Kullu district.
The sound of the gushing Parvati river welcomed us in the late afternoon and we felt at home.
Three days later, with heavy hearts it was time to “end all things good”. Every aspect of this trip was engraved in my head forever and I shall cherish every song I heard, every no/yes I said and every morsel I had. I came back to the real world but the wordliness made me wiser.
I travelled with five others in June 2011.
Where: Himachal Pradesh.
Spiti Valley: Keylong- Main big town.
How to Reach: Easily accessible by road. Delhi-Manali-Keylong-Spiti Valley
Flights are available from Delhi to Bhuntar
Stay: Move to Old Manali and stay a day or two to acclimatize
Purnima Guest House is a peaceful spot the end of the village in Old Manali. The family room that fits six is only for INR1200.
Numerous others can be found with no difficulty.
Eat: Old Manali being a transit for all travelers from all over the world, food here is for every kind. To pure vegetarian, wood oven pizzas, authentic mountain food and the usual, this hill station has it all. Most in house restaurants also has good food.
The Apple Crumble was one of my favorite from the German Bakery and Dylan Cafe’s coffee cookies with a cup of hot tea is scrumptious.
As you wander in the mountains, I would recommend sticking to some local food. Everything is prepared fresh using clean water and garden fresh vegetables and the meat is fresh too.
Best time to Visit: Manali is accessible throughout the year. For information on dates when the passes open to Spti Valley or Lahaul Valley and further to Ladakh, the website of Hiamchal Pradesh Govt. It starts opening around May.