How did all this begin? When did my mind suddenly ponder on this travel plan. I wonder that myself. All I can remember is collecting bits of information about places that I had always wished to see. Probably, it was a strong urge to escape, to explore, to experience something new and to just be out there! Everything put together – it happened.
A journey into the high Himalaya, I finally set foot.
A stuffed backpack, myself and a landscape so extreme, vast and beautiful!
I trudged along amidst the high mountains, rocky cliffs, deep gorges, valleys, streams, rivers and distant snow-clad peaks, admiring its enormity and grandeur with every step. A constant smile within me, a weird sense of fear that I cannot put into words and the sheer uncertainty of each passing day and each passing moment, is probably what made my trip all the more exciting. There was no rigid plan to follow nor had I booked any guesthouses prior, all I knew was the general direction in which I was headed.
The general idea was to start my journey from Shimla, follow the path into the mountains through the Kinnuar and Spiti regions and end at Manali. No matter where I stayed, I knew I had to be back in Delhi by the morning of August 6th to catch my flight back to Bangalore.
I took a night train from Delhi to Kalka and then hopped onto a lovely toy-train from there to Shimla. From here the rest of the journey was either by bus or by foot. A couple of times I even hitched rides to get to places. On most of my bus rides I occupied the very first seat of the bus next to the driver, and it definitely is the best seat on the bus. Its big wide windshield in front gives a good, clear, unobstructed view of the road and landscape ahead of you. The bus drivers’ mastery, patience and egoless driving skills on those narrow roads, will amaze anybody.
As the road cuts through the mountains; you have a cut rock on one side & a river running through the deep valley on the other side. There are only day buses that shuttle through these routes, not only because the roads are really narrow but also because they are prone to regular landslides. As I travelled further on from Shimla, to Sangla, Rakscham, Chitkul, Kalpa, Nako, Kaza, Kungri, Mudh, Kibber , Rohtang pass & finally to Manali, all thanks to the day travels, I could literally witness the landscape transform from green alpine forest regions in Kinnuar to rocky cliffs, dry-barren, cold-desert regions as I moved higher into Spiti Valley. It was simply spectacular!
As much as I wanted to sit-put and start sketching at every place I travelled to, there was so much to see… I wanted to look at everything around me. It was a new place after all!! Rakscham and its tall pine trees, mountains, distant waterfalls, many streams, wildflower blooms, flocks of birds & its variety of moths, made me stay there an extra day.
Nako gave a feeling of being on top of the world! The red, yellow, green, blue & white prayer flags fluttered against the backdrop of the vast blue sky. The etched prayer stones placed all around gave a very unique spiritual feel to Nako town. The sighting of a herd of about 15 Himalayan Ibex as I hiked up towards Mudh, made it all worth it and is definitely one of the highlights of my trip. Little Mudh- its village, pea fields, ridged-mountains and its changing hues & shades of shadows as the clouds floated by and the sun went down, made it an ideal place to just breathe, sit back and relax. Just knowing that I was in snow leopard country and listening to a few stories of the mighty cat, made me feel comfortable and satisfied! Though I knew I was highly unlikely to see the snow leopard here, during this time of the year my eyes just wouldn’t stop searching. I was smitten by this little town, but could stay for just another day more. I was hoping to tuck-in a quick visit to Kibber into my trip as well. A stop-over at the famous Key Monastary and a long 8km slightly steep climb on foot, got me to Kibber by mid-afternoon. I guess,Kibber sure didn’t want me to leave the same day. I got lucky to bump into an NCF volunteer who was also leaving to Manali the next day by a shared taxi & I was more than happy to accept the offer to stay back at Kibber for the night and tag along the next day.
The drive from the cold-desert landscape back into high alpine forests was absolutely picturesque. I sat by the window and tried to soak in as much of the mountain-scape as i drove through them.The different terrains I passed, the many travelers I met on my journey, the little experiences I gathered and everything new that I encountered, made my trip complete. I am more than happy that my little mind pondered on such a spontaneous travel plan. I sure wouldn’t have traded it for anything! An experience that will linger on and remain forever!