Spiti – Are you Serene or Sanguine?
At once, you are massive
Silent, Somber, Still and Serene.
Lost in myself…
I turn around and see –
You are green, vibrant and dynamic.
Streams gushing, rocks rolling,
Rivers flowing, Flowers blooming –
Blue, red, yellow
And all other hues…
The writer of the verse quoted above is Ms Raji Suresh, one of the participants of our recently concluded Lahaul- Spiti Drive for 2019; our fifth year covering this route. These lines encapsulate, in the most lyrical way possible, the absolutely thrilling and otherworldly quality of this experience.
The journey began on the 6th of July as we left Delhi in a convoy comprising 13 cars at the break of dawn, making a quick stop at Haveli for breakfast and getting back on the road to cover a distance of 450 km to the idyllic town of Narkanda in Himachal Pradesh. Our late evening arrival into the beautiful town was rendered even more magical by the setting of our resort. Nestled amidst tranquil apple orchards, the warm people at the Tethys Resort treated us to a roaring bonfire and a delicious buffet dinner, with an ample serving of stories about the rich history of the region. The following day had us driving towards Sangla via the absolutely gorgeous Kinnaur Valley. Here, we had the opportunity to visit India’s largest private sector hydroelectric plant, the Karcham Wangtoo Hydroelectric Plant on the Sutlej River. Post this very exciting & informative tour of the plant, we set out towards Banjara Camps, a luxurious glamping experience, our not-so-humble [and we say it with utmost delight!] abode for the next two nights.
Having had our fill of the stunning Sangla Valley, we drove to Chitkul which enjoys the distinction of being India’s last village on the ancient Hindustan – Tibet route. And if this was not heavenly enough, a picnic lunch besides a rippling stream made sure even the most unyielding amongst us were charmed by the grace of unspoilt nature. Day four of the excursion was tailor-made for driving enthusiasts. We started pre-dawn to catch the early morning calm of Kalpa [the only place in India where pine nuts grow], as the towering Kinnaur Kailash Peak looked down upon us in all its magnificence. With the World’s Most Treacherous Road splayed out before us, we proceeded to cover the 190 km distance to Tabo for a well-deserved break. En route, made a stop at the ‘Most Treacherous’ Road in the World’ signage and clicked photographs next to it.
Postcards from the Past
The setting of India’s oldest monastery, a mud structure which dates back to 996 A.D, Tabo was a welcome revelation. Here, our guide, fondly called by the participants as Lama Ji, gave us insights on the monastery, Buddhism, enlightenment and who could be the next Dalai Lama? Our next stop on the fifth day of our journey was the Dhankar Monastery. Strategically built at the highest location in the Spiti Valley [at a daunting height of 3,894 metres], the Dhankar Gompa has at its center a four sided meditating statue of Lord Buddha. Post offering our respects here, we continued towards Kaza – the largest township in Spiti, situated at an altitude of 12,000 feet. After checking in, settling down at our hotel in KAZA and finishing dinner, the participants decided to explore the place at night on foot. They all walked around for our hours, gazing at the mesmerising points of glittery light shining above in the sky, lying down in the middle of the road, and wondering about our place in nature’s grand scheme of life.
The villages around Kaza are believed to be some of the highest in the world. Frozen in time, these make for some of the most picturesque drives of the entire expedition. Amongst other main attractions, we also pay a visit to the Key Monastery; prettily perched atop a cliff overlooking the spectacular valleys below. Another highlight of this day was visiting the Buddha statue at Langza, which is a fairly new addition to the landscape. It feels as if the Buddha has been made to sit there to keep an eye on the pristine valley. We also visit Hikkim – the highest post office in the world from where we send out postcards to family and friends along with visiting Komic, the highest village in the world connected by a motorable road.
The seventh day proved to be another one to clock for the driving aficionados amongst us. We left at dawn for Manali with 205 km of momentous terrain ahead of us, which took us through the famous Kunzum and Rohtang Pass. At Kunzum Pass, due to non-availability of washrooms, the team of Adventures Overland helped set up a toilet tent for the ladies. Gliding across rivers, glaciers and undulating tracks in our vehicles, this was definitely the best and the most fascinating [not to mention difficult!] drive of our journey. We had to change the punctured tires on our vehicles multiple number of times owing to the non-existence of proper roads; we had to drive through walls of snow to reach our destination – it was a heady feeling like none other. The changing hues of the landscape made for a captivating backdrop to our adventure, that had more than delivered on the promises it had earlier proffered.
After 15 hours of arduous – yet spirit-lifting – driving the previous day, the penultimate day of our journey offered a much-needed break to all the participants. Sleeping, shopping at the Mall Road, sightseeing, cafe hopping in Old Manali – we did it all! The trip culminated with a grand farewell dinner for the participants where they were shown a 15 minutes video of the Great Indian World Trip, handed over certificates for successfully and safely completing one the most challenging and difficult road trips in India. Also, one of the participants, Kannappa from Bengaluru who was not very fluent in Hindi, was made to enact the famous speech of the character Chatur from the movie 3 Idiots, making everyone laugh their heads off. The next morning, it was time to head back to Delhi in two groups. Ardent promises were made to meet again, while we parted ways in the sweetest ways imaginable.
As Ms Raji Suresh, an educator from Chennai, beautifully concludes in verse:
I ask again –
Spiti – Are you Serene or Sanguine?
I take a little of you,
Leave a little of me
Realize, we are a bit of both.
Stupefying and Splendid!