That was the year people of Lahaul & Spiti and Kinnaur remember for two things. The visit of Dalai Lama, and the flash floods that disconnected them from the world. There probably was a connection, most locals belived that Chinese on the other side of the border had intentionally relesed lot more water from their dams to jeopardize Dalai Lama’s visit. Whatever may be the reason, I also visited Lahaul Spiti the same year.
The plan was to go from Manali to Shimla via Kinnaur and Spiti. Spiti, I had known was the land of perpetually snow capped peaks north of Dalhousie, where I grew up as a kid.
There is a old Buddhist curse that is paraphrased something like “May you be born in the land of high peaks and deep ravines”. Spiti was exactly what the originator was thinking about.
The plan was to all the way from Manali to Shimla via Spiti and Kinnaur. Just as we entered the Spiti valley, the axle of the bus we were traveling in broke, and with no habitation close we walked off to the next town that was about 4 hours of walk away, We were lucky to be picked up by some Army trucks that were seeking the site of a helicopter crash. In between that and a late night entry into Kaza, the dusty administrative center of Spiti, I remember only throwing up every 30 minutes, Lying in the back of an open truck with a mad man driving across the valley and the massive headaches because of Altitude sickness.
In the next few days in the radius of about 100km were some of the most idyllic and beautiful monasteries(Gompas) I had seen. These are well off the touristy Buddhist Gompa circuits of Ladakh and Sikkim( and probably arunachal). These are the monasteries that get very few visitors, and let tourists live in the monastery along with the monks, share the Tsampa at prayers with the few people that turn up. I have not seen this in any of the Ladakhi monasteries.
Tabo Monastery despite it simplicity was magical. The Gompa being on flat land, may be as spectacular as Dankar and Ki, But inside the temple are these almost real life statues of Monks projecting from the walls. How they could make it 1000 years ago I cannot really fathom? Dalai Lama himself expressed his desire to retire here.
We had to return back to Kaza from Kinnaur as we figured the bridge would take a lot more time to be build, but not before we tasted the divine Apricot Whiskey that Kinnauris are proud of. It’s probably a mistake to compare it to the French Cointraeu as Apricots taste way better than Oranges. It was disappointing because we wanted to go to the Kailash peak, but then we set ourselves up for the gruelling 14 day travel up to Ladakh, that started at Kibber, that dubs itself the highest continously inhabited town in the world. But the story of 2 1/2 men and 2 donkeys I will leave for another day.
Still unencumbered by loads of tourists, Spiti is what Ladakh could have been. Beautiful yet Quaint.