It has been quite an adventure so far travelling through Kinnaur. But I have come here to experience Spiti. I am in Tabo, a quaint little village famous for its mud monastery. The monastery dates back to 996 and was founded by the great translator,Rinchen Zangpo. I am eager to visit the place but decide to climb the nearby hill to explore a few caves. The elevation means that I have stunning views of the whole of Tabo nestled in the arms of the mountains. I immerse myself in the sense of peace that surrounds the place and make my way down and head to the Tabo monastery after breakfast of some Parathas and Yak butter!
The monastery is delightful mix of modern and the old. Newer prayer halls blend into the older mud structures. It is much like the Alchi Chos-Khor in Ladakh. I seem to enjoy the thick scent of the air that I associate with all the monasteries I have been to. I wonder at the skill of the artists who painted the murals that I see a thousand years later. But, it is noon already and we must leave for Kaza. A quick lunch (momos) at one of the many idyllic cafes and we are off!
Just as we are about to depart, news comes in that it might take a while to reach Kaza as there has been a landslide. We decide to proceed regardless. There are a few tough spots of slushy terrain where the hatchbacks might need a tow. But we make it through these patches and take the path that leads to Dhanker. This is a small village which can be traveled to by ascending a mountain. The road is pretty steep an narrow. As we make our way upwards, I recollect sitting in awe at the views that unfold as we stop at every other hairpin bend. The whole of the Pin Valley (Closed roads meant we couldn’t visit) reveals itself. The Spiti river is a bit murky this time of the year as I see it draining the valley forming distinct yet interlinked streams. The mountains are different shades of brown with green patches near the smallest of villages. Just as we cross another hairpin, I get the first view of the Dhanker village and monastery. I have never seen anything like it. The monastery seems to be built in ‘anthill’ like formations. As we reach the newly built prayer hall a little way away from the monastery, we realize that Kaza will have to wait till tomorrow.
I seem to feed on uncertainty (maybe I have said this before in another piece). The fact that we would be staying in Dhanker fills me with a weird sense of excitement. A homestay was picked for the night called the ‘Desal Homestay’. The path leading to the homestay was precarious, but we managed it!
The place is a typical Spiti house. White with black borders near the roof and a central tandoor running through the house. The homestay is run by a former forest guard who worked in the pin valley. His son drives a Tata Sumo. The children go to the nearby school. As we sit around for dinner of Rajma and Ti Momos, the television plays in the background. I really take to the simple lifestyle and decide to comeback whenever I have more days at my disposal.
We are low on fuel, last being filled in Rekong Peo. We get a few liters from the monastery to make it to Kaza. It is only a short way but the already tough roads are in terrible shape. Parts of the road are severely affected by the landslide forming huge mounds tough for small vehicles to deal with. Slush just adds to the problems! We tackle one obstacle at a time. But, what is a journey worth if there are only smooth well defined paths.
As we head closer to Kaza, we make it a point to visit the Sherkhang Gompa. It is a simple climb and there is a solitary monk in the premises.
We are stuck in a slush, the rugged terrain means the wheel balancing is off. Trying to get out by revving is meaningless and results in us getting deeper in the hole. We unload the luggage and try to no effect. A Thar is tried as a towing option. But, as the place we are stuck in happens to be on a bend, the tow rope is at an angle and breaks due to the tension and takes the tow hook too! Further towing is out of question. At last, it is a shovel that does the trick. We remove the mud that covers almost half the front tires which means that with a little push from the many helpful people, we are back on track. Phew!
Check out this clip: Stuck! On the way to Kaza.
As we reach Kaza and fill up at supposedly highest petrol pump (3740 m), it is necessary we get the car up to speed which has a few dents and a rattled underbody. It is a deaf/dumb mechanic who does an excellent job and we cannot thank him enough.
Cold winds sweep the valley as we get to our stay in Rangrik just outside Kaza. There is still time left and we make our way to the iconic Ki monastery ( Pictures of which are synonymous with Spiti). The monastery offers great views and we meet a few humble monks who show us around and invite us to the kitchen. The aromas are enticing and we are particularly hungry after a tough day, but we decide to get to Kibber and then have dinner back in Rangrik. Kibber is a beautiful village and is one of the highest out there.
We don’t have time for another day in Kaza which would have let us visit Langza, Hikkim, Komic, Chicham, Tashigong and other villages. I mentally make plans for a separate trip especially for these and also the Pin Valley which we missed due to the landslides.
It has been a great two days. I look at the stars (clear skies that night) in the biting winds and prepare myself for the journey the awaits: To Kunzum La and then Manali. Little to I know that the biggest adventures still await!