On the Way (to and from) Mars

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Brahma Muhurta

So Spiti is always a place I will associate with Serendipity. For me, the two names are interchangeable because of the series of events that led me there. Mainly, bumping into a distant cousin of mine (whom I had never met) at the guest house I was staying at in Solang Nala. I had pretty much decided not to venture over to Spiti because of my time constraints and also I was a little wary making it there by myself because it is such an arduous journey. 

Goes to show – never be fixed in your thoughts or actions, the only constant is change. When I got back from my magical journey to Beas Kund, my cousin Tampi offered me a trip to Spiti to tag along with him while he took take of some business. I am SO HAPPY I said yes – now Spiti is embedded in my heart as an absolutely ancient and holy space. And what better person to go with? The citizens of Spiti believe that Tampi had spent much time there in previous lives, hence his attachment and devotion to the preservation of Spiti.

So off we go! 3:30am the next morning and I am giddy in our 4×4, ready for a whole different type of adventure. I know nothing of Spiti, and Tampi keeps me entertained the entire journey with folktales and legends of this strange place. He has even written a book called Spiti through Legend and Lore, and has worked to preserve the magic of this place. I am cursing myself for leaving my copy in Delhi…these posts would be a lot better informed if I had it with me! ah well…

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Nothing says I Love You more than a big dirty snow heart

So our first hurdle is Rohtang Pass, a mountain pass that connects Kullu Valley with Lahaul & Spiti. Situated at about 13,000 feet, it offers a view all the way to China! OK OK just kidding, that is what they tell the tourists haha! Above is the silence and peace of the pass as the sun is about to rise. I was lucky to experience this place without the obnoxiousness of tourism creeping in, and to imagine what it must have been like before it was ruined. To the right is what Rohtang is normally like – covered with so many humans, they look like ants. Do you think Bollywood has influenced this scene or what! Tampi and I had great fun making fun of the tackiness of our surroundings

 

 

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I was hoping it was a mirage

 

 

 

Nothing like honoring a great mountain pass with….snowmobiles!!! and donkeys, and trash, and tubing…

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Fur Coats and Boots for the Freezing 50 degree weather

  The locals like to make idiots out of all the tourists, convincing them to buy full snowsuits, fur coats, and ridiculous boots. In the middle of the day, all that is required is a long sleeved shirt!

You can always tell the newlyweds – the woman is wearing a full red snowsuit with painful heels and her chooras( wedding bangles). Tampi and I had great fun laughing at everyone…

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If the snow is brown it means it is dirty…just a tip for next time

 

 

And we had too good a time cracking up at this guy…a little unsteady on our ‘snow legs’ are we? I wonder if he knows he has a huge stain on his butt…

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An artist admiring his work

This guy has to embed his name forever in the snow. Or maybe he is professing his love to his girlfriend by showing the immortality of their bond by writing their initials in the snow…until it melts and gets washed away of course!

 

Ok enough of the trivialities of Rohtang – Let us move onward into Lahaul valley where the mountains are unforgiving!

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Lahaul Valley

Coming down from Rohtang Pass we enter Lahaul Valley. At first the way is narrow and winding along the Chandra River, but it soon opens, inviting us to gape at its splendour. The valley formed by the Chandra River is known as Rangoli. It is a wild and desolate valley, with vast stretches of snowfields and glacial formations. It is uninhabited until we reach Khoksar, the first shanty village in the valley.During summers there is a rich growth of alpine flowers, beautiful potato fields and numerous water channels . Herds of goats and sheep can be seen grazing around.

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Ice Wall

And here is one of those crazy glacial formations that we have to drive through. Did I mention it is the end of July here? The road is very precarious to Spiti (about a 12-15 hour journey), and already we have to slow down from hitting a boulder at Rohtang. A 4×4 is no match for nature! Maybe that is why man feels the need to buy  bigger and bigger cars…fear of the unknown.

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Chandra in Her element

The Chandra River is not subtle. She is mighty and fast, the color of steel blue. Chand means the moon in Hindi, and like the moon, she causes turbulence and is ever-changing. Very appropriate for such a terrain!

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Resting in the Mountain-scape

More of the open majesty of the Lahaul Valley. Did I mention it just gets better from here? It seems the more ‘far out’ you go, the more ridiculously bizarre the terrain gets.

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No Mercy from Her
I have always had an affinity for the moon. So driving along the Chandra, I was entranced by the way she moved, and cut through the valley with ease. I found my favorite river.
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And my favorite dhaba!!!! So if you ever find yourself travelling to Spiti, make sure you stop at Chandra dhaba. It is by far the tastiest place I have ever eaten at. And the owner, Dorje, and his wife are open 24/7 for the weary travellers to come eat, share stories, and rest by the warm glowing fire.
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Ah yes, weary travellers. We saw a surprising amount of motorcycle gangs, both Western and Indian, roaming around these parts. They asked us if the road was as bad to Spiti – we had to lie and say it was good to keep their morale up!
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Dorje working his magic. Nothing like curry, rajma and chawal with some delectable sweet pickled pears. My God it was heaven. At the ashram, we were taught to cook mindfully, but Dorje takes this to a whole different realm, cooking and serving his food with the utmost love and devotion for whomever happens to walk in his dhaba that day. A true yogi.
 
 
 
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Tampi cannot help himself to another one of Dorje’s baturas…basically like fried dough with tons of ghee (see recipes)!!! The dhaba is literally a shanty with benches and I have to say the best mini convenience ‘store’ I could have imagined in such a barren region.
 
 

 
 
 

 
 
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So after traversing the Lahaul Valley, to get to Spiti we have to climb and cross yet another mountain pass. Kunzum Pass is by far my favorite. Less ostentatious and expansive, it is inhabited by the spirit of Kunzum Ma who waits for those to come and ask for her blessings. Kunzum Pass sits at an easy 15,000 feet, marking entry into another planet.


 
 
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Another view of the Buddhist temple. When we got there, Tampi was remarking how he would probably meet someone he knew. Upon arriving, we saw a host of female monks, and the head of their monastery…who Tampi knew from the time he was writing his book! Serendipity once again my friends…
 
 
 
 
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Kunzum Pass is very unique in that most passes are narrow ridges along the tops of 4mountains. Kunzum is more like a desert, allowing you a view unlike any other. But then again every view is unlike another no?
 
 
 
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Female monks taking a stroll along the pass. If female yogis are called yoginis, then female monks are…monkinis?!!
 
 
 
 
 
 
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The Head Monk. He and his crew of monkinis were here awaiting the Dalai Lama’s visit to Spiti.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Prayer flags are everywhere. The swing all around the Kunzum temple, marking the blessings that float up to the heavens.
 

 
 
 
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A lone female monk, enjoying the snow banks that create an impressive wall around Kunzum.
 

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One thing to definitely learn from Indian culture: Guest is God. everywhere we went we were treated with chai and sweets, no matter how poor the people were, they always offered you something straight from their heart.
 
We enjoyed some sweet bread and chai offered from their hands…enough to energize us for the last few hours into SPITI!!
 
 
As you can imagine, Spiti is not an easy place to get to. Climbing Rohtang pass, traversing Lahaul valley, and climbing Kunzum pass, we finally reached the outskirts of our destination, a place that rests beyond imagination.
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