And so we continue…
I was pretty sure last night was a dream. But then, I also remember the smell of late night chai as we sat together, huddled, looking at the sky at 2am, watching the Milky Way. What a spectacular moment that was? As I lay in bed, I started to wonder. When I write the most memorable parts of this trip or prepare a list of must-dos and must-watch, how was I supposed to narrow down the list to a few? The trip seemed to be getting better day-by-day.
Our morning breakfast was very different here. We set out to Chandra Taal at around 7 am because our surprise breakfast was planned on the banks of the breathtakingly gorgeous lake. As we neared the spot where we were to camp for the next two hours, I vividly remember my first impression of what I saw. I thought we were approaching a giant mirror because something was shining blue and had the clouds and the sky on it. I realized that it could not be the sky so it should probably be a mirror. As it turned out, this magnanimous mirror is nothing but the moon lake, better known as Chandra taal. The blue lake is surrounded by a lot of green land and has snow capped mountains adorning the background. During my younger years, I used to paint a lot and therefore had a thing for colours, which was quite evident in my future paintings as well as my writings, where I end up investing several words in my article to describe the change in colours in the natural surroundings. This place gave me the same feeling. I sat down on the green patch, just near the lake and as I looked around, the colours green-blue-brown-light blue-white just blended with each other seamlessly. I would have loved to recreate some part of this beauty right there, on the banks of the Chandra Taal. But alas, that was not to be!
The locals, who were with us through this trip, shared stories of Chandra Taal. As it turned out, this was said to be the same place from where Lord Indra had picked up Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas to take him on a journey to heaven. While mythology was not each person’s cup of tea, at that moment, I wished I could have been a part of Chandra taal eons ago, when this place was far more pristine – a virgin in itself. The peaks surrounding this lake, namely the Moulkila and Chandrabhaga, were around 3000 metres to 6300 metres in height.
And in the stories of history, this was also known to be the halting area of traders once upon a time when they stopped here before moving ahead to Kunzum and Sarchu.
Our breakfast was primarily a cold one yet a large spread. This was necessitated because it is forbidden to set up camp and cook on the banks of the lake. Both Suraj Tal and Chandra Tal are sacred and life giving lakes. However, hot parathas, made by our cooks at the campsite were brought to us in hot cases, served with chai. We also had mueseli with milk and buttered bread. After spending the two hours, walking along the lake, setting foot into some parts of the lake, and lying down on the cool green grass catching a quick snooze, we headed back to our camp site. The photo lovers in our group were having a veritable feast with the vistas. We got ready and checked out soon thereafter, as we were to leave for Kaza.
We were all dreading the 15 km drive uptil Batal (remember the non existent roads). The road to Kaza forks just before we reached the Chacha Chachi dhaba. Thankfully, the roads got better as we started climbing Kunzum La. The pass lies at approximately 4500m and separates the Kullu and Spiti valleys. We stopped on top to enjoy the scenery and the snow. Our ever-equipped guides from The Road Less Travelled immediately opened their flasks and served us hot coffee and biscuits. Oh… I was getting used to this decadent luxury. I reminded myself that back in Mumbai, I would have to do everything myself.
We visited the Kunzum Mata temple to express our gratitude for our successful trip and offered prayers for a safe journey ahead. The famous mountaineer George Mallory had a habit. Each time he climbed a peak; he would place a florin to the Goddess of the peak and say, “The Queen of England sends you her wishes and requests a safe passage for her subjects back home.” When he scaled Everest (yes, mountaineers believe that he was the first one to climb Chomolungma, or Everest as we know it), he forgot to carry a coin and sadly, he never came back.
From Kunzum La, the drive towards Kaza was downward and then straight. We stopped for some stomach refueling enroute. The routine of Chai, Omelettes and Maggi was very enjoyable. Somewhere along the route, the roads became very good with proper tarmac where we could land an aeroplane. The title of the journey ‘Highway to Heaven’ seemed apt.
Our hotel in Kaza was The Grand Dewachan – a delightful boutique hotel that was really pretty and much above the standard of the average hotels and homestays in the region.
The Road Less Travelled team, Jangu and his team of helpers including Raman were ready with a hearty lunch. These people seemed to be ready always – whatever the location maybe and however difficult the journey might have been. Special mention to Raman – his hospitality was amazing. He ensured that we were well fed at all times. At times, he would insist that we drink garlic soup (at high altitudes) or offer us hot honey ginger water that would get us all warmed up in the mornings. After our dinner, they would wash the vessels in freezing water and keep things ready for the next meal.
We cat napped at Grand Dewachan and got ready for some spectacular sights in the evening. Our first halt was to the Tabo Monastry. Tabo has the distinction of being India’s oldest running monastery, set up in 1066, when monks were very active spreading the teachings of Buddha. Exquisite tapestries adorn the walls. The keeper of the monastery lived next door and he accompanied us throughout the visit. Please note, photography is strictly prohibited in the monastery as the light spoils the tapestries.
The energy in the monastery was palpable. We spent a short while before heading out and capturing the beauty of the exteriors through our lenses.
The best was reserved for the last – a visit to the Dhankar monastery atop a hill overlooking the entire Pin valley. Dhankar was the erstwhile capital of Spiti and the ruins of the palace stand testimony of an era gone by.
The view from the monastery was breathtaking. We got a birds eyeview of the Pin river as it joins the Spiti river. The monastery is unique in the fact that it is a school for those who opt to join the monastic order. Scores of children were sitting in the open, enjoying the warm rays of the sun, as they rote learned the scriptures. I couldn’t think of a better location to sit and study; much better than the stuffy classrooms that we, the so-called ‘modern’ people, are used to.
Brahmany kites and eagles were gliding in the skies looking for rodents and vermin. The Road Less Travelled was ready with salty butter tea served on the ledge, overlooking the valley. The scene was perfect – the setting sun spreading its last golden rays for the day, the chants of the children, the cold breeze blowing and the salty butter tea. We felt that we had blended into the local environment. The only thing that gave us away was our clothes.
After spending what seemed like eternity, we went back to our waiting vehicles before proceeding back to our hotel. Dusk was passing by and the lights of Kaza town were coming on. They shimmered against the brown and white backdrop of the mountains as we drove down the hill. There was so much to talk about as we reached our hotel. But the silence was surreal and none of us felt like breaking it.
Dinner was by a bonfire. A table set up with thukpas, siddu (a himachal delicacy), veg and chicken thenthuk (a Tibetan dish), followed up with motichoor laddus and ice cream. We were nearing the end of the trip. The problem was that mountains were captivating and none of us felt like leaving. Discussions around the bonfire were centred on the experiences and sights that we had enjoyed over the past 8 – 9 days.
To be continued…
PEN NAME : PENDULUM