TO travel is to find your soul,your conscience and to escape.
Especially escape.Thats what it has always meant to me.Travelling frees my mind of each and every preoccupation,takes it to a tranquil standstill,beautiful,quite,quiant.Mountains allure me,seduce me, belittles me, humbles me for which I have always been grateful. Like sunflowers transfixed by brilliant sunshine,I would gaze at them for hours, the orange hues burning up the peaks representing a surreal image of warmth,simplicity and wonder.”Never lose your sense of wonder” quoted JRR Tolkien and I could not agree more.Everything becomes much more meaningful and deep. From the passing people to flowing rivers, glistening in the golden suns, roaring in the valleys and mystical in the snow as they struggle to leave the thawing ice, thrust into the world like a baby taking his first steps.Nature has the ability to change us, better us, embolden us. Because no amount of wealth or material possession matters to the green valleys, the white snow or the flowing waters as they nonchalantly throw a myriad of technicolor tantrums keeping our eyes and mind in rapt attention.They merely see us,chuckle and move along wondering why was it so complex to us(life!hello).
I still remember the day my dear friend called me up and asked a plain, simple question laced with a monotone to put a hummingbird to sleep. “Will you go to Sangla with me?”,”Sangla and chitkul” he added. Being an avid recruiter of knowledge, googled it up and was immediately was enamoured by the pristine valley and the glowing reviews showered upon it. I had to go.Like one of those shiny toys you show to a child to grab his attention.It grabbed mine. Backpacks packed, money borrowed(I’snt it always), sleep depraved we waited for daybreak. Unfortunately or fortunately I did not know how to ride a motorbike, so I pillion rode the entirety of the journey. Some might argue its boring, not being able to feel the rush of the throttle on a highway, I felt the rush of euphoria, wind in my face, daft punk in my ears. It was good. We set out from Delhi at 4 am in the morning.As a habit we always travel early, try to cover maximum distance possible and reach our goal by dusk, stopping only to eat, rest, relieve etc. As advanced western disturbances where paying our country a late visit, we could only make it up to Solan the first day, drenched on six separate occasions from head to toe. The next day we set out for Narkanda, a small town some 60 kms from Shimla, which means it was about 120 kms from Solan.
Me and my friend shared a philosophy that places where every selfie snapping,insta uploading pseudo traveller moron could reach, we would not stop there. So we skipped Shimla, which felt gaunt, overcrowded and quite frankly uninteresting, we set out for Narkanda via Kufri road.While riding, we encountered a few light showers, nothing serious and reached by 6 pm. It was markedly different. Snow had fallen the previous day and it was enchanting. Checking into a cheap guesthouse, whole of the courtyard was white.
The next day,snowfall had started around 6 am in the morning and went upto 4 hours straight. 4 hours no one could take away from my life. As if I had stumbled through the wardrobe into Narnia, or in the land of Frozen and Elsa ready to appear from the receding treelines piercing the gorgeous ambience with her song .It was ridiculously ravishing. White on ground,white on trees, white from the skies. Literally heaven on earth. Or the place north of the Wall( Sorry! I had to,got rocks by the way, hodor!!!).
Riding out after snow had stopped falling, same imageries dominated for a few hours. White on green pines, some low lying areas like Rampur along the Sutlej leading upto Kinnaur.One could almost smell the changes in the air,people became more traditional.Green hats became a common theme, once firmly in the land of kinnaur. I must confess Kinnaur is the most absurdly beautiful districts in Himachal Pradesh. Geologically every rock formation was askew. Ridges hanging precariously over narrow, unbelievably dangerous paths as a roaring Sutlej smashed everything in its way to be with us. Traditional colour was unfolding, a lot more temples, a lot more apple orchards and a lot more native vibes.We navigated some of the toughest, narrowest roads. Peaks started to appear.Distant, daring and dangerous, a spiritual aura was starting to grab a foothold in my mind.
The road to Sangla was meandering, steep, slow. The Baspa river, almost dry looked up at us like an old man reflecting upon his youth. Sangla is a small,small hamlet surrounded by the mighty Kinner Kailash overlooking like a concerned guardian. At night, the stars came in thousands, no more shy as they were in Noida and the moon looked like a giant iceball someone through up in the sky. Chitkul village was about 10 kms from Sangla. It was the very description of beautiful little fairytale villages we heard stories as children. Gorgeous green bridges arched over small rivulets and ravines, some thawing ,some fastidiously frozen. Small cattle herds silently trudging along the mud and snow, while the whole valley was vividly white. Locals informed us about the green carpet it became come june, come summers. I could imagine all the pure, simple life in the summers while witnessing the idyllic laziness in the spring.Sadly, due to heavy snow Chitkul was inaccessible, so we turned around from Rachcham, a small sleepy village where even drinking water was frozen. From here to we went to Reckong Peo.
Same landscapes followed. Everything, the mountains, rocks jutting out of them was disproportionate which made for a carefully colorful experience.Reckong Peo was a big, bustling town , the headquarters of kinnaur district. Kalpa, our last stop for the day was about 6km from Peo. It was really peaceful here. Kinner Kailash, in its naked glory, glistening in the moonlight, as was every other adjoining, jutting peaks.
Kaza.Our next and last stop. A desolate place in the desolate Lahaul and Spiti district. After green, white and weird Kinnaur barren landscapes awaited. Roads are a nightmare there. Well for the first 10-15 kms from Peo, there is literally no road. Its just boulders and extended family spread notoriously on our way.Sutlej was now firmly grown up, wide, fast and a little scary. No wonder it is the fastest flowing river in Asia. Pines got stunted to shrubs, which got lost in the brown rocks which after sometime turned to sand, rubble, coarse. Before entering the Spiti valley, there is a confluence of Sutlej and Spiti. Brown, unabeted, brash sutlej meeting the calm, torquoise, mystical Spiti just stole my heart and was one of the highlight moments of the journey. Moving forward height was getting prominent. Roads were welcoming, the sun happy and the mountains(Pir Panjal Range) a shade of white and a shock of brown.
Acsending through numerous hairpin turns, roads crossed looked tiny, dizzy. The Spiti river was a tiny azure line dissecting the chocolate brown valleys creating the most splendid of contrasts. There is a reason this valley is known as the ‘mini Ladakh’ .The general barrenness ,roads shooting straight up in the skies and the clean blue heavens above. On our way, we crossed through a settlement named Nako , where I befriended a cat.
Now, at a constant height of about 3500 m and 1080 p aspect ratio, cold was bitter, biting and in your bones. We could see frozen waterfalls, frozen ice sheets on the roads. By the time we were firmly in the Spiti valley, it was horribly chilling. Winds would carry out your soul if you did not wear really warm clothes. But nothing beats the view. Panoramic vistas ,snow and brown mountains for as long and as far as I could gauge. The river Spiti is the most splendid thing I have ever laid my eyes upon. It was an amalgamation of the most brilliant blue and the most generous green one could fathom. It moves leisurely, basking in my dumfounded awe, smiling from ear to ear as it transfixed my soul. It kept getting narrower along with the valley, sun being chased away by the darkness. The latter part of the journey to Kaza was as depressing as it was majestic. Forlorn nostalgia filled the empty roads. In the cold winds, the low humming of the motorbike seemed like an irregular heartbeat ready to stop at any moment of time.If it did , we would have surely frozen to death. A little gratitude to the brave apache rtr 160. Take a bow sir!
It was -13°c at kaza in the night, which means it was cold, to put it mildly. Kaza was like 5 houses and a petrol pump.And an ATM.And some really big , hairy, friendly dogs. That’s Kaza in a nutshell. But what was around and above was celestial. Cavernous skies dotted with brilliant stars. Strange blue emanated in the entire valley. One could clearly make out the concave skyline arched over like a bent, loaded bow.And then there was the moon.
Looking back, I gained some eye opening insights during that trip. Rungs of consciousness ladder scaled, sense of wonder magnified, perspectives gained. But mostly I closed my eyes and listened to the music in the air, sometimes still, sometimes on the move.
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