Next morning started with a trip to Nako. I had little interest in the place but thought might as well see it while in the vicinity. A woman requested her to drop her grandson to the village school, so that was another reason. Strangely, the children learn Hindi and English, but no local language in school. The drive took only a few minutes but we spent more time finding the space to park. The village is overrun with hotels, guest houses and similar buildings. Nako lake is another big disappointment. It is more like a dirty green pond rather than a lake. We saw it for a minute and went back to the car immediately.

View from road after Nako

View from road after Nako

After a few minutes of driving, we had to stop again due to traffic slowing down due to a small landslide. There were a few workers, I think from BRO (Border Roads Organisation) managing traffic. I came to know that that particular section collapsed only a few days later cutting off the traffic for a week, probably more. The mountains just after this section were very colourful and diverse and a lot of tourists were stopping every now and then to take photographs. After a while, we had to drive down the mountain and travel along the river. We passed a few small villages on the way and stopped at Tabo for some rest and lunch. It seemed mostly empty with only one tourist in sight and most locals inside their homes or probably in their farms. We had lunch in a small dhaba full of dogs and flies. Tabo monastery is quite old (996 AD ) but has a few new structures including a hostel, eating joint and new gompas etc.

Inside monastery in Tabo

Inside monastery in Tabo

The sun was so strong that most pictures came up way too over exposed on almost every normal setting. There was a small Buddhist temple that we saw first. Then a big hall with some paintings and sculptures. It was very dark inside and it took some time to adjust. There were a bunch of paintings and sculptures representing different characters of their mythology. I don’t know much about this so I can’t really say anything about that. They were selling some posters, tshirts and some other souvenirs. I considered getting a small poster, but there was no practical way to carry it back home. Photography was prohibited inside so there are no pictures. There are a bunch of caves only a few meters from the main roads which were used by monks as a quiet place to pray and meditate. I don’t think that they can be used for this anymore. There are a lot of hotels and guesthouses in Tabo too and more coming up. Another peaceful place going down the gutter.

View from Road below Dhankar

View from Road below Dhankar

We kept on driving and passed the road leading to Pin valley. We had no exact plan for the day and I was considering visiting Pin valley on this trip. But eventually decided against it. I had already seen some of it the last time and wanted to leave some for the next time. Next we stopped at a point just below Dhankar village. From there a few white buildings, presumably some part of the monastery and houses were faintly visible. View from Dhankar village is very good, it was nice to see it from the other side too. We then drove non-stop to Kaza and halted at Jamaica’s hotel there. He was still in Chandrataal and scheduled to come next day or day after that. I didn’t want to stay in Kaza waiting for him. We got some fuel from the pump there and moved on to Kibber. Most of Kaza was empty at the time as a lot of tourists were stuck near Lohsar due to cloudburst as mentioned in previous post. The bridge was open for traffic when we passed it next afternoon. There were a lot of stones and mud on it, but it was not holding up the traffic as it was doing before.

View of Dhankar from below

View of Dhankar from below

On our way to Kibber, 3 local women asked for a lift and gave us some of the dried apricots to eat. We reached our guest house at around 2 pm. There were a lot of teenagers in the guest house. Later the staff told me that the group was led by famous Indian mountaineer Bachendri Pal. They were going on a 3 day trek to a nearby pass. Fortunately, there was still a room available. After lunch, I still had 3-4 hours of day light left. I asked couple of locals if it was possible to make a quick hike to Gete and come back. Their replies were quite confusing. For people who don’t know, Gete is a very small settlement of 4-5 houses with great view of Kii monastery and Spiti river valley. I filled up my water bottle and camera and started on foot. The fields just behind the guesthouse were watered by a small stream coming from the general direction of Gete. So I followed the water for a while till it became too hard to walk alongside.

Pea fields in Kibber

Pea fields in Kibber

Apparently, locals in Lahaul Spiti region offer horns of animals like goat and perhaps ibex as offering to some gods or maybe spirits. There was a small white temple like structure full of such horns in middle of the fields and in many other places. There were few women working in their pea farms but it didn’t seem like the plants were ready for harvest yet. The rolling hills had a dirt path used by cars but I used shortcuts. It seemed like I was getting used to hiking in the high altitude. A light breeze was blowing when I started the hike. But it turned in to a almost a full fledged gale by the time I could see my destination in the distance. Whenever I was standing still, I could see my heavy DSLR swaying with the wind. Thankfully there was no dust, otherwise it’d have been very difficult. Whatever little I understand of this phenomena, sun heats up the air trapped in small river valleys and when it starts to go down in evening, the cold wind rushes down displacing the hot air almost violently. There were a few prayer flags on the ledges every now and they looked ready to break free and take flight any moment. While I was standing on top of one ledge, I heard someone shouting but there was no one in sight. Maybe wind carried the voice from afar.

Kii Monastery and the nearby village

Kii Monastery and the nearby village

Eventually I reached Gete with a view of Kanamo peak behind it and it was just as quiet and picturesque as it was last time. Took a few pictures of the village , valley and the monastery below and started to walk back to the guest house. Then a foreigner couple drove up on a scooter and said hello. They had seen me coming down from the ledge and asked if there was something to see there. While coming back, I took a slightly different route and ended up on a nearly straight drop of around 10 meters just above the road leading to Kibber. But managed to climb down slowly one step at a time. The hike had tired me out but it was a nice use of the time. I had a hot shower, my last for rest of the stay in Lahaul Spiti and had dinner soon after. The wind at the time was not strong but was cold enough that everyone was wearing jackets, caps etc. I noticed a very large and dark patch on my left leg in evening. I was wearing shorts for the last 2 days and the sun was directly on top of my left knee while I was in the car. That left me with a dark sun burn patch and it is still quite dark even after more than 5 weeks. There was more sunburn on my face and arms later but this was the worse of it.

Some blue sheep we saw near Kibber

Some blue sheep we saw near Kibber

Once back at guest house, I switched on the geyser and waited for one hour to get the water hot. Still had to bathe with cold water. Slept soon after dinner. Our journey next morning began with a quick visit to Tashi Gong village. After driving for a few minutes we saw a herd of Blue Sheep consisiting of 16-20 animals. They didn’t seem to be particularly afraid and kept on grazing and staring at us alternatively. TWe another smaller herd a few I had mistakenly assumed that the same road led to Langza too. So it was a bit of surprise when the road ended a few kms after passing Tashi Zom instead of going on towards Langza. So we drove to Tashi Gong and stopped there. I was hoping that the “guest house” we had visited last time would be open. The village had changed very little from the last time. The owner had another child this time, a boy along with the girl from last time. We asked for some chai and they started cooking full meal for us instead. We hardly had the appetite for that kind of food early morning and VK was hardly the type to eat something different from his usual daal roti chawal thing. Finally, we settled for some rotis with eggs and jam. For some reason, white flour is gaining popularity in the region even as rest of the people slowly stop using it. But the rotis were thicker and tasted different.

Tashi Gong Village

Tashi Gong Village

There are 4, maybe 5 children in the village and a teacher runs special classes for them. Another new thing was people using electric churners to make butter. Earlier they used to do it manually in leather bags. This time, they had attached churner to a plastic container. It is less tiring and probably faster. Even the Gaddi shepherds I met later were using plastic cans to churn butter instead of leather bags just 4 years back, but atleast they were doing it by hand. More on that maybe later. We took leave from the family and started drive towards Chandrataal. Instead of passing through Kaza, we passed through Chicham via the brand new bridge inaugurated just a few days before. Two years back, I was dangling in the rope way’s trolley hundreds of meters above the gorge. It was sitting just beside the bridge looking sad and discarded.

Eroded mountains forming razor sharp pillars

Eroded mountains forming razor sharp pillars

 

These with flat tops

These with flat tops

Drive from this point onwards was mostly unremarkable for me with lots of familiar sights and a few new. The much feared and talked about flooded nalah in Losar was dry by the time we reached there. I was prepared to spend a night in Losar in case it was still flooded. But the bridge was open for traffic and we passed it easily and stooped at a dhaba near police check post for lunch. Our last stop for the day was at Chandrataal campsite which looks worse with every passing year. Too many greedy campsite owners and too many stupid tourists. Jamaica was surprised to see me . He was not expecting me for atleast 1-2 more days. After some chai, I tried to set up my tent with his help. It was much easier than it seemed earlier. My first attempt in Delhi was not successful. High humidity and hundreds of mosquitoes had forced me to abandon the attempt within minutes. So I was slightly worried if the tent would work properly or not. Thankfully, we were able to set it up without much difficulty. There is not much else to talk about about this day after this. More in next post.

Previous Post: Kinnaur Lahaul Spiti Trip 2017: Ropa Valley and Leo 

We intended to leave by 6:30 am, but started the drive only by 7 am. This path was a bit more “adventurous” and had quite a few interesting sights. We saw very few other vehicles on the road. We made a rest stop at Reckong Peo for lunch. It had a great view of Panch Kailash parvats. Apart from that, there is nothing special about it. It is just a typical crowded mountain town with crazy traffic. We had lunch there in some small dhaba and drove off. There was a Tibetan monastery which the driver said that I should see. But it was damaged in a landslide and was closed for visitors.
Sunrise in Chitkul

Sunrise in Chitkul

 We went further up to Kalpa to get a hotel just above the village. At first glance, Kalpa seemed to be only marginally better than Reckong Peo and I wanted to move on further to Rodhi. supposedly the last Indian village on the route. It’s perhaps the 3rd or maybe 4th such “last village” I visited. But eventually settled for one near the road with good view of mountains in front and village below.. After getting some rest I walked out to explore and maybe find something interesting. I was waiting for clouds over Panch Kailash mountains to clear up but weather gods were not agreeing. The hotel I was staying in was constructed on a fruit orchard along the road and there were way too many new hotels coming up. At this rate, there’d be only hotels and nothing beautiful left there.
View of Kalpa village

View of Kalpa village

I kept walking and had the first close up view of a mysterious looking fruit tree  I had first noticed in Sangla. It’s yellow brown fruits were size of a walnut and so ripe that they were falling off the branches. Perhaps I kept staring at the tree for too long because a local girl from a nearby orchard came up with some of those fruits and shoved some in my hands. I was confused and looked on blankly. She gestured at me to eat them and said local name of the fruit which I forgot. Turned out that I was staring at fresh ripe apricots. Most of the time, I’ve seen and eaten them dry. I think it was my first time eating them fresh. I tried to thank her but she was already running back.
I walked for a few minutes but didn’t find anything interesting at the time. Atleast it was quiet and the view was nice. When I reached back to the hotel, driver met me outside and said that I should see Rodhi. As I had nothing better to do, we started the drive and reached there in a few minutes. On the way, we passed a certain “suicide point”. It’s nothing but a rather straight and steep fall down the cliff, may about 700-800 meters. Someone had made a small platform kind of thing near the road and two tourists  were sitting on it contemplating their place in universe or maybe gathering courage to take the leap.  One can see probably dozens of such “points” all over the region in a single day. But local Indian tourists need someone to pour cement and make it official.
The

The “Suicide Point” between Kalpa and Rodhi

Rodhi village by itself was pretty quiet and there was only one small guest house there which was locked at that time. Apart from some labourers working on the road, there were only a few locals outside. Rest were probably having an afternoon siesta. Some other locals were working in their farms and no one paid us much attention apart from a few local children. They were too shy and quick for me to take any pictures though. We stayed there for a few minutes and then drove back to the hotel. The driver had befriended 2 hotel employees, 2 cousins from Bihar brought in to Kalpa by their uncle for summer. They had little knowledge about the place apart from some random rumours and heresy.
View of the beautiful mountains

View of the beautiful mountains

I was getting a bit restless again, so I walked down the hill to village below. The stairs led directly to the main village square or whatever one can call such place. There was a small tea shop with a poster of Mithun Chakravarty inside and a bench outside. I asked for a mint tea and sat down on bench to wait. Then I noticed this man in the picture below walking at brisk pace. He stopped in front of chai shop and  probably greeted some people inside. I asked if he’d like to have some tea too. At this point, a Nepali labourer who was sitting nearby told me that I talking to a deaf and mute person. So he (Nepali labourer) asked him same question in sign language to which that local man agreed happily.  He made his living working as a casual labourer and herder for the animals of local villagers. He went inside the shop to have his chai and got out after finishing it in what seemed to be just a few seconds. My mint tea was so green and sweet, that it felt like drinking mint flavoured hot Mountain Dew. But at least it had some mint and honey in it.
A local in Kalpa

A local in Kalpa

After tea, I walked around the streets and found two temples. There were no people inside apart from two Italians in the first one. As it’s common in this region, they were mostly made of wood and stone. But the newer structures were using modern construction methods. Most of these temples had some wooden carvings, designs, some demon like masks and two leopards (tigers ?), one male and female each on entrances. Doors were mostly made of wood, but some were covered with sheets of what seemed like silver. A lot like the one in Sarahan’s Bhima Kali temple in my previous post. The sheets and temple walls usually had Indian religious designs and gods. There was one notable addition of a soldier firing his gun on wall designs of one temple.
Carving a soldier with his gun in the temple

Carving a soldier with his gun in the temple

Some of the buildings in the neighbourhood were abandoned for some reason. They were mostly made of stone and seemed to be empty for years. Most new houses were made of concrete and bricks. By this time, sun was going down and it got dark rather suddenly. Most of the shopkeepers were already starting to pack up for the day.  So I retraced my steps back to the hotel. Even that short climb left me gasping for breath and concerned about the hiking part of the plan. Only one other room in the hotel was occupied and even they were probably in their room. So I was the only one in dining area. I asked for some chicken curry as I imagined that I’d get NOT daal-chawal food now only after reaching Manali. There were a few books in dining area but not a single one was to my liking. I picked one up anyway and tried to read it to pass time.
A building in Kalpa temple

A building in Kalpa temple

As I was finishing my meal, R Kumar, who I met in my previous trip walked in. It was a nice surprise meeting him after such a long time. I had met him two years back in Kaza at Jamaica’s hotel and spent a few days traveling in Spiti with him. He suggested that I should visit Ropa and Pin valleys and provided some more information about the route he had just covered. Before I started the trip, a small bridge near Losar was under water due to some cloud burst or maybe glacier melting. The water levels stayed high for most part of the day making it almost impossible and very risky to cross the bridge in any type of car. He did it early morning when the water levels were low, but the water still flooded inside the Gypsy. Later it had some mechanical issues and needed some repairs. He had been driving since morning and went off to sleep soon.
Last sun rays of the day on a mountain peak in distance

Last sun rays of the day on a mountain peak in distance

He was still asleep next morning when we left the hotel. On the way, a local woman decked up in local green dress and lots of jewelery asked for a lift till the bus stand in Reckong Peo. There was some local festival going on and she had missed the group bus. After we dropped her there, we saw quite a few local people dressed up like her on their way. It is somewhat comforting to know that there are still some places in India where even the women in their best jewelery feel comfortable enough to ask complete strangers for a lift. Compare it to Delhi or most other cities and it’s an entirely different story. If I am not forgetting someone, we gave lifts to a old woman in Ropa, a school boy near Nako and 3 women in Kibber.
A very noisy waterfall we saw on the way

A very noisy waterfall we saw on the way

Coming back to the topic, instead of going straight towards Kaza, we took a detour to Ropa valley. I was hoping to stay there for the night. This valley is off the main road and has only 4, or maybe 5 small villages. Their names were Shyaso, Sunnam, Gyamo and Ropa being the last one. First few minutes of drive on the approach road were along a fairly strong mountain stream. But as we approached villages, we could see a number of apple farms on the mountain slopes. Such farming activity was impossible earlier. But with electric pumps, it is now possible to get water from river and irrigate such farms almost anywhere. The contrast of a large green patch on a bare brown mountain was a sight to behold.  There was some flat ground near the river bank and there were a lot of farms around the settlements. On the way, a old woman asked for lift till Ropa and we dropped her where the road ended.
I asked some locals if there was some guesthouse or a place to stay. One said that there used to be one a few years back, but was demolished or maybe closed down.
Behind Ropa village

Behind Ropa village

That meant that we had to go towards Nako or someplace nearby instead of spending night in Ropa village. But before that, I wanted to see if it had something interesting. As mentioned earlier, it was yet another “last village” on the road. The village was not that big and had old style as well as modern houses with a fair bit of construction going on. There was a small trail from where the houses ended going along side river. I started walking on that and noticed a large number of Himalayan mountain lizards almost everywhere basking in the sun. Their size ranged from 8 inches to probably 20. This is a common specie in the region, but I have never seen such a large number in a single place. I saw atleast 20 while walking 10 meters just along the trail.
Doorway of a house in Ropa

Doorway of a house in Ropa

There were a few labourers ahead who were working to expand the trail and maybe make a road. They seemed surprised to see me there but were friendly enough. After a while, there were a lot more fruit orchards but the place seemed empty. Most of the apples were ripe and ready for plucking. I was briefly tempted to pluck one and get a taste. After walking on a comparatively straight path, the trail led to top of a ridge and became a bit tough to walk on. From there, I could see a small shed with a shining tin roof at some distance. I spent a little time considering whether to walk till there or not. Eventually I turned back after considering the long drive that lay ahead of us.
While on the way back, I heard a very strange sound twice and I had no idea what kind of animal made noises like that. After a minute I came across a local villagers resting in shade and asked him if he heard the same thing. He said it was a “khota” (donkey) probably tied in some shed up the hill. Seemed logical, but I have never heard a donkey make noise like that. When I got back, driver suggested that we leave for Nako instead of Kaza or Tabo.
As soon as we cleared Ropa valley and got on the main road, one front tyre of Innova got punctured by a sharp stone.  The tyre nuts had probably expanded due to the heat and we could get them off only after pouring 2 bottles full of water on them. Later, we had to stop at Pooh and get some more repairs done.
A very beautiful view near confluence of Spiti and Sutlej

A very beautiful view near confluence of Spiti and Sutlej

We stopped at a small settlement Kah (2920 m) on the way for some tea, food and rest after seeing dhaba signboards. But the first one we entered didn’t have anything. Other one across the road, seemed closed but it’s owner came out and asked us to go downstairs. There she served us some rajma chawal in a pretty dingy looking “dhaba” kind of place. But it was something after such a long drive. The family had a bunch of apricot trees too and they were drying them in open. They sell them for Rs 250 to 450 per kg. Here, we buy them for three to four times as much.
There is a big patch of empty land in the village overlooking Spiti river as it flows by. Seemed like a nice place for camping.
Kah village

Kah village

We then left for Nako and found another road going towards Leo village not too far from our destination. It was another mountain village like Ropa but a bit bigger and many fruit farms.   Most of it is settled on a single mountain. There is a new bridge and remains of one old one. The latter was washed away in a flood in 2002. As we crossed the bridge, we stopped to ask a local. When he realised that we were going to Leo as tourists, he laughed and exclaimed, “What are you going to do there ? There’s nothing for tourists.”  There are two more villages on this road, I don’t remember the names now, but seemed interesting enough for a short trip.
Old bridge. Notice the almost black water

Old bridge. Notice the almost black water

But we pressed on regardless and stopped at village bazaar for a cup of sugary tea. Two men were playing a game of carom inside the shop and we watched them as we sipped our chai. The people were friendly and seemed amused to have “tourists” in their village. Like Ropa, Leo didn’t have any accommodation either. So we left for Nako as the sunset was approaching. We were only 6-7 km away from Nako, when we passed a small roadside restaurant with guesthouse along the road. The driver was not very fond of Nako and I liked view of the mountains from that point. So we decided to halt there. The guest house was run a by a small family and had only 3 or may be 2 rooms. Bathroom was shared but we just needed to spend the night.
View of Leo village

View of Leo village

We had some tea after putting my luggage there and walked off to take some pictures. After dinner of Thupka noodles, I stayed on the roof, trying to get some pictures of milky way in the night sky before going off to sleep. There were too many bullet riders who made the task of taking pictures in dark very difficult, but that maybe is a story for some other time.

I took the overnight Himachal Tourism’s Delhi-Shimla Volvo bus and reached Shimla early morning. My driver VK with his Toyota Innova met me at around 8 am and we managed to get out of the city just before the morning rush started. Few km after Theog, we stopped in a small roadside dhaba for a breakfast of aaloo paranthas and chai. This was my first time on this route but I kept dozing off for 5-10 minutes every now and then due to lack of sleep in the bus. The views were pretty nice, specially after the heat, humidity and dust of Delhi but I was somewhat impatient for the higher altitudes.

Saw many such

Saw many such “structures” on the way

There were a lot of fruit farms on the way and harvesting was going on. So there were a lot of trucks and people working there.  After crossing Jeori, VK informed me that the road to Srahan was damaged in a landslide sometime back and we had to take an alternate road. That “road” was just a mud track on a high hill through fruit orchards. It was full of deep mud pools, rocks and everything got a good shake while we were on it. If I knew about it earlier, I’d have given Sarahan a miss. It was a nice enough place, more so for someone coming from New Delhi but not completely worth that ride.

After putting away luggage at the hotel, I walked out to explore Sarahan. The only obvious landmark was the large and ancient Bhima Kali Temple which overpowers everything else in the village. I am not that interested in temples, monasteries kind of places, but decided to give it a try. According to some accounts, human sacrifices were performed in the premises till only a few hundred years before. It was almost empty at the time with only a few locals chatting and 2 Indian tourists. There are multiple sections built of stone and wood which include guesthouse, a small eatery, smaller stone temples for some other deities, a museum, store house and so on. When I tried to enter the main complex, a policeman armed with an ancient Lee Enflield 303 rifle informed that visitors can not take any leather accessories, phones and cameras inside. So i put all of that in a locker, put on a red cap provided there and went inside.

BhimaKali temple, Sarahan

BhimaKali temple, Sarahan

There was a board with a pretty interesting text about Goddess Bhima Kali, but photography was not allowed there and I don’t have a great memory. It read something like, ” When the mountains are overrun with demons and their misdeeds, I’ll take the avatar of Bhima Kali to destroy and consume them”. It is a very rough translation from a fading memory. It was much more poetic and impressive at that time.

The actual idols are now placed at an upper floor but the door was locked. A priest unlocked the door and went up after 3-4 other people came in while I was wandering around. I went up a few minutes later over a narrow flight of stairs. The sanctum had an old Bhima Kali idol in middle and smaller idols of various other gods and even Buddha in front of it. I walked around the temple complex a little bit more but there was nothing much to see. The museum was undergoing some renovations and rest of rooms were closed. There were a few large grey and black lizards lazing around in the sun. Saw a lot of them in the region over the next few days.

Carvings on temple doors

Carvings on temple doors

After I got out of temple, I walked around the town a little bit, but it was just a bunch of small shops selling usual stuff and guest-houses and hotels type of buildings. Near my hotel, I noticed a small stream coming down from the mountain. I briefly considered walking up the trail along it’s side but kept on walking back to hotel. It was too muddy and I was quite tired already. There was some kind of fair and festival going on nearby. I could hear a little bit of noise.Some people from the hotel and my driver went away to attend that. I had an early dinner and went to sleep soon after.

View from hotel in evening

View from hotel in evening

We started early next morning but the drive down that mud road was as bad as ever. Thankfully, it was much better once we reached the main road. There is a big hydel power project on Satluj river in this area with multiple dams, tunnels and huge distribution network infrastructure points every now and then. There were signs warning about dangers associated with being too close to river in case water is suddenly released from any of the reservoirs upstream. A few  tourists have been washed away recently in such a way.

The weather was quite nice with some mist, cool breeze and clouds everywhere.We made a stop at Sangla for some minor repair on the car, but I didn’t like the place enough to spend more time there. There is an ancient fort, temple and some hiking trails and forested areas behind the main town. But we gave that a miss. Raksham which we passed later was much more picturesque. The beautiful river valley has a number of majestic mountain peaks, some of which were still covered in snow. There were beautiful fruit farms almost everywhere and colourful wild flowers growing in every available space. There was an ITBP checkpost on the way, where they noted down our details.

A beautiful mountain near road

A beautiful mountain near road

Chitkul was a much smaller village with a few hotels. After having lunch in the hotel, I walked up to the river to take some pictures and kept walking alongside riverbank upstream till the trail ended at main “road”. There were only a few workers working on some new buildings and expansion of road which is little more than dirt track right now.

A view between Rakcham and Chitkul

A view between Rakcham and Chitkul

Proceeding further up the road is prohibited due to it’s proximity with Tibet border and there is a ITBP checkpost and base to enforce the rule. The soldier manning the road barrier was quite friendly though. When I was walking back to the village, I saw a lot of Pikas. Normally it is quite rare to have them sit still for more than one second unless it’s early morning or late evening. But I must have photographed atleast 5-6 of them in one hour which is extremely rare, Most of them stayed still even in my near proximity and kind of posed for the pictures. Perhaps they were the reincarnated spirits of people who died while taking selfies.

One of many Pikas I saw

One of many Pikas I saw

I walked through the village for a while and stumbled on to the famous Last Indian Dhaba by accident. A HRTC bus was about to start it’s 15-16 hours journey to Chandigarh via Reckong Peo and it’s passengers were just drinking tea or smoking. I had a cup of tea there before walking back to hotel as a drizzle started. I stayed there watching birds and grey skies, then grew restless as there was still plenty of daylight left. I put on my slippers and walked through the village streets. Locals paid little attention to me except a few idle glances every now and then.

In Chitkul. Perhaps used for storing supplies

In CHitkul village. Perhaps used for storing supplies

Interesting looking locks

Interesting looking locks

There was a path at end of the village which led up towards the mountains and to a stream flowing down it. This was primary source of water for most of the village. I walked in the stream to take some pictures as it was barely 10-12 cm high.. Within seconds my feet were almost frozen by the cold water. A few seconds later, one of the slippers slipped off my feet and I vainly tried to chase it. Thankfully, it stopped against a rock a few meters downstream and I was able to retrieve it. Walking half barefoot down the village streets was not a very pleasant idea for me.

Stream behind the Chitkul village

Stream behind the Chitkul village

While walking back, I asked some villagers about the trail going up the mountain. It was a walking route to some villages behind the mountains as well as the route for circumambulation around the majestic Kinner Kailash parvat.

A majestic looking jungle crow in the rain

A majestic looking jungle crow in the rain

I was considering staying in Chitkul for 2 nights, but changed my mind. It was a nice enough place, but I had seen most of it and wanted to leave the rest for some other time. Maybe my next trip will have more days specifically for this area. We left the place early next morning for Kalpa or some other place on the way.

Index post.

Dinner was fried chicken, potatoes, daal with rice. After serving us dinner, the caretaker went to his home for the night. The closest inhabited house in the village was about 150 meters away and the village was pretty quiet and had only a few lights on. So it was a pretty nice, quiet place. A lot of stars became visible few minutes later and we spent quiet a bit of time listening to the sound of river, nocturnal insects  and doing a bit of star gazing.  The beds were not not great but we slept comfortably. We packed up or stuff and started the drive early. We had planned to visit a place call Rikynjai, which was supposed to be a drive of about 4 hours according to Google Map. We called the only hotel there and made reservations. It was quite a bit more expensive then what I am usually willing to pay for a hotel, but it was supposed to be for just 1-2 nights.

Bridge leading over the river, missing a lot of wooden planks.

Bridge leading over the river, missing a lot of wooden planks.

At that time, the location of the hotel on Google Maps was shown somewhere near a small town called Nongstoin (West Khasi Hills) and we made the journey accordingly. Nongstoin turned out to be a small crappy town but the worse part was that the Google Maps was wrong yet again. The actual location of our planned destination was near Shillong, about a 100 km away. Now as I check it, the location has been updated to the actual coordinates. But at that time, we felt pretty annoyed. We thought about spending the night in Nongstoin and then move on to Shillong and Cherrapunji. There were no hotels and the only state run guest house was big but wifey didn’t like it.  So we started looking for some other place to stay.
Saw it on a pear tree outside our room in Rombagre

Saw it on a pear tree outside our room in Rombagre

We made some calls to the tourist department and they told us about 1 hotel 30-35 km away, Someone from the hotel was nearby and he said that he could meet and take us there as the actual location of hotel was on top of a hill in a wooded area with just a trail going there, But he couldn’t meet us and we never saw the landmark he told us to watch for on the way. So we had no choice at the time except to reach Shillong for the night. We reached there and I was pretty annoyed at everyone. Atleast the hotel there had hot running water, electricity and other utilities which worked properly. Hotel didn’t have dinner ready, so we went out to have something to eat and see the city.
Waterfall near Nognstoin

Waterfall near Nognstoin

 Compared to humid  West Garo Hills area, Shillong was comparatively cooler. We walked around looking for a place to eat. I was looking for local cuisine, but majority pf the restaurants just had the usual Chinese, south-Indian, north-Indian kind of stuff. There were a few signboards for bars but all were closed down after imposition of prohibition. People in villages were brewing their own booze (something like a fruit wine called bicchhi) and drinking it clandestinely and I suppose alcohol was available in black market in cities too. After a bit of walk, we found a small Naga food joint. The menu was rather limited and consisted mostly of 3-4 fish, pork and vegetable dishes with rice in different combinations. Wifey didn’t eat anything there though. I also bought a bottle of Naga chilli pickle from there. Only way I can eat it is by pouring 3-4 drops of the brine/oil in a large plate of rice. Eating the actual chilli makes whole mouth go numb and ass on fire next morning. Anyone reading this is welcome to to taste it.
Rolling green hills on way to Shillong from Tura

Rolling green hills on way to Shillong from Tura

We spent another day there and but didn’t like the Shillong city that much. If anything, parts of it like Police Bazar looked more like Mumbai rather than a charming hill city. It’s expanding too much, hills are being dug out, trees vanishing and ugly concrete buildings and shacks popping up everywhere, Traffic is as bad as any other big city but the drivers there don’t overtake in a jam or slow traffic as impatient idiots in rest of India do. It’s mostly because the roads are only double laned and overtaking in jam is a sure way of making thee situation even worse. So people actually follow the rules and don’t make it worse. Unfortunately rest of India lacks this basic common sense.
One interesting thing about the traffic in Shillong is the local taxis. These are mostly small cars like Maruti-800, Zen, Alto type and ply inside city limits. Normally 5 adults can sit in such a car in an uncomfortable cramped way. But these taxis regularly carry 10-12 people. Even the drivers seat has a passenger sharing it and 2-3 on the other one. Back seat will have 4-7 passengers more. How more people don’t die in such an arrangement and cars don’t breakdown in middle of street will remain a mystery. They’re pretty cheap though. Rs 10 -30 (maybe) for most local journeys per person and Rs 100 if you want the whole for yourself. We paid 100 whenever we needed it. Only one taxi driver tried to charge more during our stay there.
Laitlum Canyons

Laitlum Canyons

Next day, we visited Laitlum Canyons, a few km outside Shillong city limits and an interesting place which reminded me of Silent Hill. Once we passed the parking, everything was covered in fog with visibility of 4-5 meters at best. The place was essentially just a grass covered hill with fog everywhere. A slight drizzle and strong wind could do nothing to increase visibility.  A paved path went downwards but we didn’t feel like taking it at the time with rain and low visibility. There are pictures on internet which show the place without any fog and mist, but we liked it better this way. Some locals were gathering grass and digging up earth to presumably to plant something.
On the way back there by a old wood and grass building which was the residence of a local king. Driver asked if we wanted to see it but we drove to the Air Force museum. It was a smaller museum than Goa’s Naval Aviation Museum with the usual Hunter, Mig-21 and some other planes like trainers, transports in one section. Other section had an old Mi-4 helicopter, SAM and scale models of various planes on display. The indoor section had some stuff about history of the place, wars, local war heroes and the usual bombs, missiles etc. But the most impressive thing was a fully armed Jaguar on display on the main road outside air force station.
Iskra Trainer, Air Force Museum Shillong

Iskra Trainer, Air Force Museum Shillong

 In evening, we were searching again for some place to eat and entered one Maniupri restaurant in top floor of an old house. It was owned and operated by an artist family. At that time, they had a very limited menu. So i asked for some salad and one more dish which looked like a yellow, dry barfi but was spicy and salty. The salad was mostly cabbage along with some other veggies, spices but had something really with a strong smell and flavour., so I asked them what was in it. They said it was dried fish. Normally wifey will always take 1-39 bites out of whatever vegetarian stuff I’m eating but luckily for her, that time she had not. Previous night, she had ordered a vegetarian chop-suey in a Chinese place. After a long wait, waiter brought the bowl with a a huge omelet on  top which she didn’t like at all. Perks of being a vegetarian in a non-vegetarian place. :)
Our next stop was Cherrapunji and we were most interested in visiting  living root bridges. We searched for hotels and in finalised one in Laitkynsew. Upon asking, they shared phone number of a local guide and reserved a room for us. We called the guide but wifey did most of the talking as I couldn’t understand much of what he said. He lived nearby hotel and we fixed up a meeting point on the way.
More in next post.
More in next post.

This is going to be a short entry about our trip to Kasol in first week of May 2016. I still haven’t finished writing two more travelogues, so thought of finishing up the shorter ones first.
This time we had wifey’s cousin and her husband for company. Lets call them SS and AM. After the last trip with one other cousin (ACB from Spiti trip), I was somewhat wary of traveling with other people who have no idea about how we like to travel. It’s also because the Spiti trip “scared” ACB so much that he has sworn off almost all trips with us which involve walking for more than 1 hour in a day. Can’t say that I blame him. But Kasol was supposed to be a place to relax and just wander around and the plans were made with all four of us going there for 4-5 days.

first day in Kasol

But as with our every other trip, almost all the logistics were left to last minute and we had to do some last minute calls to get a hotel. Since the trip was supposed to be a relaxing one, a comparatively better hotel was essential. The place I booked actually turned out to be so bad that I created a Tripadvisor account just to write a long review against it. More on that maybe later.
Anyhow the trip began with a bus ride till Kullu from where we took a taxi from near airport. The taxi drivers there did their best to convince us to take all 4 of us in a small Alto car because it was the turn of that taxi at the taxi-stand. We insisted and got a bigger Maruti van though after a bit of stubbornness. The ride to Kasol from Kullu was uneventful but bumpy for most part. We found our hotel Deep Forest (don’t go there, ever.) and hoped to get some rest and hot breakfast before making plans for the day. The 2 room cottage that I had booked for Rs 6000 per day turned out to be an absolute disaster and I have written a fairly long review on this Tripadvisor link. Whoever reads this must boycott this place.

Route to Graahan

 

After a cold shower and some barely edible breakfast, rest of the folks stayed in for some sleep, while I picked up my camera and went on a walk around the town. Spending 20-25 minutes there made me realise  that I was not going to like that place much. Lots of college kids or young people from nearby cities on a break kind of crowd were everywhere. Then there were pilgrims to Manikaran Gurudwara passing through who make a mess in the town quite often. I finished walking around most of the town in about 30-35 minutes and ended up back near the hotel. A trail started from there going upstream alongside river. Since there was nothing better to do, I started walking in that direction. The wooded area nearby had some people resting and talking and further up there was a small campsite and a stone hut. I went past it along the trail alongside river following 2-3 water pipes. They went on further till the trail ended. I actually went further up till they path ended and had to retrace my steps back to the hut. Another rocky path from there went up the hill so I took that. After spending so much time in concrete filled hot cities, any place with trees, running water and nature was a relief. So I kept walking on the trail. There were some people working on a small clearing near the river, probably planting vegetables but I didn’t go there to ask.

View from the trail

View from the trail

The path was nice with thick tree cover all over and a lots of birds, insects and spider webs. After climbing downhill on other side, the path was relatively flat and much easier to walk on. I had seen no body else on the trail till now apart from the people mentioned earlier, so when I came across the first person coming from other direction I asked him about where the path led to. He said Graahan which I misheard as Graan which is Dogri for village. I asked him again name of the place and got the same answer and him looking at me with a confused expression. I thanked him and moved on and found two men carrying some heavy load on their backs walking in same direction as myself. It was them that I understood that village itself is called Graahan and was about 2-3 hours walk away. Adjusting according to pahadi time, it meant about 3 hours and 30 minutes more for me. So visiting the place was not possible considering I had company. If I was alone like my some other trips, then I could’ve gone there, but not that time. The time was just a few minutes before noon and I thought of walking a bit further before heading back. There was a small wooden bridge further up ahead over shallow stream. I rested there and had a drink of cold water. There were a few goats just across the bridge and a shepherd dog sleeping. I found the shepherd and asked him about the duration of walk village ahead. He answered the same, 2-3 hours walk. The man I had met 45 minutes before had said the same thing. So much for asking directions from pahadi people.

Shephard lady

He then started asking me about how is AAP doing in Delhi ? I was taken aback and asked what he meant exactly. He answered that he is reading so much about the good work being done by AAP in newspapers and was curious about it. He looked quite surprised that the “articles” he was reading were ads not news and had a lightbulb moment. I had little desire to talk about that ass Kanjriwaal and his chandaal party and had a bit of small talk with him. For someone who spent most of his time in jungle, he seemed to be quite aware of things going around in the world, mostly by radio and newspapers, I think.

View from a bridge

There was no cellphone coverage and it stayed that way till the stone hut. I arrived back to the hotel at around 1 pm. Rest of people were awake and we decided to look for a new hotel and have lunch. AM had short listed a few restaurants from Tripadvisor and surprisingly they turned out to be quite good. We first visited a place called Jim Morrison Cafe and had a long leisurely lunch. Me and wifey love these kind of places where you sit on ground and service is slow. I told them about the trail and village up ahead and they seemed excited about it. It was decided that we’d walk to Graahan early next morning and come back by evening. We then walked around the town looking for a new hotel and finalised one right next to the one where we were staying. Actually the hotel we actually ended up with was finalised next day, but that’s not that important. Anyhow, to make long story short, we planned to leave early morning and come back by evening after hiking till Graahan, a total of 16 km.

This plant is used as cattle feed

This plant is used as cattle feed

But as happens in all my vacations, we woke up late, spent too much time on checking out and breakfast and started our hike at noon. I didn’t want to spend another minute in Kasol, so I was just thankful that we could manage to leave at last. The walk was supposed to be pretty uneventful. Altitude is not that high, 8 km is not such a long distance, scenery is nice and the participants not that old. But it turned out that I had not made myself amply clear. I realised too late that SS and Am had little idea about what trouble they had gotten themselves in to. They had probably expected a long leisurely walk through a wooded area but it was a quite a bit of challenge for them as they had very little experience. But they kept on walking without complaining. It was only after walking for about 3 hours that we had a discussion about going further up or going back, SS said that we should walk on further as we had already walked for so long and we could spend the night in some guest house there. I was only too happy to accept. There was a small issue about our luggage in the hotel and we had told them that we’d be back at night, but we decided to do something about that later. So we started walking with Graahan in mind. Going back to Kasol same day was out of question.

An old house in Graahan village

An old house in Graahan village

 

We met quite a few people from village as well as some foreign tourists walking on the route which was mostly just a trail going upstream along the river. SS and AM were quite tired after walking for 4 hours and we had to stop frequently. We stopped at one point from where we could see some house in the village at top of a mountain before making the final approach. That turned out to be the most tiring section but we managed to finish it and reached outskirts. We were still outside the village when owner of a guesthouse invited us to his place to check it out. Looking at how rest of the group was doing, I decided to check that out first and found it to be fairly good. Rest of the people soon joined up and chose to stay there rather than walk further up to main village. So we dropped our stuff, took off our shoes and asked for something to eat and drink. AM was pretty tired and started napping.

Children even here know fancy ways to pose for camera

Children even here know fancy ways to pose for camera

After some time, me and wifey took off to explore the village on our own. Unlike other places, it was pretty old fashioned with most houses made of wood and stone , narrow streets and poor cleanliness. A local dog took upon the duty of following us around and kept on getting in fights with other dogs. There wasn’t much to see in village at the time as it was getting pretty dark, so we headed back once it started drizzling. On the way, I noticed something glowing like a firefly , but went I went closer, it turned out to be some kind of brown scaly worm with an illuminated bottom. I had never seen anything like this and was pretty excited. Tried to take a few pictures but didn’t get any good ones due to rain and darkness. While coming back, we met uncle of the guesthouse’s owner who walked with us back to the guesthouse. We went to sleep soon after having dinner.

The glowing insect

The glowing insect

Next morning, AM decided to stay back and rest while me, wifey and SS walked up the trail leading to Sar Pass. We were told that there were a few waterfalls on the route. We found first one without much trouble and spent almost a hour there. Wifey and SS then wanted to go back but I dragged them along to the 2nd one. They reluctantly followed till the point we could hear the waterfall, but then sat down like stubborn mules refusing to go any further. I was told that I was free to do whatever I want while they sit down and chat which was fine by me. The next waterfall was even more impressive albeit a bit more difficult to reach. I went on further but getting to base or top of waterfall was almost impossible due to flow of water. The trail went on further ahead and looked quite challenging but we were not going any further. I reached back to the two women and we started walking back to the guest house. Before leaving in morning, we were trying to call our hotel but all of their phone numbers were wrong or not working. There was no cell phone coverage. So we had to use a WLL (wireless in local loop) phone from the guesthouse which had to be taken to a specific point uphill where it could catch some signals. But nothing worked. After lunch and some rest, all 4 of us walked to the village, found a cafe and had some tea and snacks. Initially, we had planned to stay in Graahan only for a few hours, but ended up liking it so much that we spent 2 nights there.

A friendly puppy

A friendly puppy

Next morning we started our walk back to Kasol same way we had come up. The walk was pretty uneventful apart from a large group of hikers (45-50 people) starting their journey towards the Sar Pass. Once at hotel, we found our luggage as it is and hotel owner pretty chill about it. There isn’t anything interesting to write about after this as it’s all the general touristy stuff of going to a bunch of restaurants and places. SS and AM visited Manikaran Gurudwara next day while me and wifey had a long lazy breakfast  before heading back to Delhi.

The second bigger waterfall

The second bigger waterfall

Just to end this post, few points about Kasol. These are not particularly nice about the place or the people who visit there:

1) Majority of local Indian tourists as well as pilgrims passing through are assholes of first order. They’ll litter, smoke, drink anywhere they want and never clean up after themselves. “Pilgrims” coming back from Manikaran gurdwara can be seen getting drunk on their way back in Kasol.
2) Most of people visit Kasol just to smoke pot and drugs are easily available. I don’t condemn or condone it in anyway, but almost every other person you make an eye contact for more than 1 second will try to sell you some drugs.
3) Local shopkeepers do their best to fleece tourists and everything is sold 10-40% above MRP. Supposedly because Kasol is a remote place even with a metaled road. Funnily, Graahan which doesn’t have any road, had the same prices.
4) Kasol was a destination for foreigners and laidback tourists who like to enjoy the nature in peace , but now most of them have moved to other places because of harassment by local tourists. The sexually frustrated Punjab Haryana (and perhaps others too) crowd do their best to make everyone else as miserable as possible in every way possible. A local business owner told us a story about how a bunch of Punjabis were harassing some Israeli women and then ran away after a beating.
5) Kasol these days is a lot like a smaller version of New Manali. Crowded, ugly, unplanned construction, no care about natural beauty of place and full of annoying, obnoxious people. Few days back people were outraging about a cafe not allowing local Indians to enter their premises. Now I know that the cafe management was absolutely justified.