The bus to Kaza goes on top of Rohtangla, towards keylong. The road to Rohtangla is the site for probably the highest traffic jam in the world.
The bus had stopped for about 15 minutes, so like most passengers, I got out of the bus, got on to rock on the adjoining hill and sat there waiting for traffic to clear. I was joined by a tall foreigner who wanted to know what was going on and when the bus would start. I had no idea, but we struck a conversation.
Matt was from San Luis Obispo, CA. A place I knew when I was in San Francisco, but not much more. He was a rafting guide and instructor and a civil engineering student and was traveling in India for a few month. He had come to India and headed up north as monsoons were soon approaching. Random chit chat, nothing memorable.
We had lunch together at the small shop in keylong, and then the bus turns eastwards and downwards towards Spiti. The road to Spiti passes through some of the most fascinating and rough terrain i had seen in my life, long winding barren roads going down to the river, crossing it over a bend and climbing back up again to the top of the pass and going down again, must have happened many times, i would briefly wake up from the nap, read a book (I had that one book with me till the end of the trip, that I still remember it was Jung’s Man and his symbols).
What i remember next was the Bus had stopped in a large flat barren valley, the folks were out of the bus and wandering around, it turned out that the axle of the bus had fallen off and it could not go further. If you imagine the Lunar landscape, that was it, a few shrubs here and there, no trees, no water, nothing, That’s what we were looking at. The next bus would come a day later, and it was foolhardy to wait for it. The next village was apparently about 30 km away, some of the locals knew it, so I along with Matt followed them, trekking through nowhere.
Not sure how far we were from the village but we had walked about a few hours when a caravan of Army trucks appeared out of nowhere, we later learnt that they were heading to a location where one of their planes/helicopter had crashed a few years ago and located recently. Anyways the trucks on this ominous mission were welcomed, they offered to drop us on a village en route. Saved by the Army. We did not realize it then, but appearance of the Army trucks probably saved our lives. I had no water and very little to eat, and would not have survived the cold (like -10 degrees) and windy desert night on our own.
The next part of how we ended up in Kaza is a blur, I remember getting dropped off at a small village that had a couple of houses and a Stupa, there somebody fed us some momos and soup, we eventually got on another small truck towards Kaza. The driver was insane, and he could very well be reckless, there was no road, and there were no other vehicles or people on the road. I was right on the edge of the truck, as I was terribly motion sick, and was throwing up every 5 minutes, I had a crazy headache. It was terrible.
It was late about 10 PM in the night when we got off the truck and ambled towards the first guest house we saw in Kaza, They had a small room with two beds, Matt and I took it and crashed almost right away. It had been a very interesting day. I made a friend on the trip and found some shelter, in some unknown part of the world.
We used to live in this town called Dalhousie in the not so high Himalayas when I was a kid, and my father used to point us to this section of perpetually snow-capped mountains way in the distance, and used to call it Lahaul & Spiti.
Spiti means the middle land, between India and Tibet. This is where I was now, probably is the most desolate place I have seen in my life. This year it was more, because the road to Shimla had been cut off by the recent flooding that had destroyed the bridges (Apparently, Chinese had released a lot of water from their dams in retribution for Dalai Lama visiting Tabo(or was it Kalpa) earlier that year), So the handful tourists that may normally come from Shimla had not arrived also.
Kaza is a dusty little town, it was a district headquarters a few restaurants, and a few small hotels. But even this boring town had lots of things for things to do for us, we hung around in the restaurants having the hot tea and momos, our favorite was this one on the open roof with a single table, besides vertical mountain wall of about 1000 ft (it was very high). We stayed here for a few days, just roaming around, doing nothing particular or trying to anything. Most of the day was spend chatting or walking to the nearby Gompa, having tea and reading books.
From here we wanted to make the circuit to Shimla. Since the bridges and roads had been washed away, we would have to rely on walking and getting help from locals. Part of our agenda was the famed Apricot whiskey that the natives of Kinnaur were reputed to make.
We would also meet some people who even in one meeting, I would remember for a long time, from whom I heard some incredible journeys and travel stories, and caught the itch to leave home and travel.