Reaching for the heights: Spiti and the long road to self-discovery

Reaching for the heights: Spiti and the long road to self-discovery

Submitted by alvin on Mon, 2016-06-06 10:12 Kee Monastery -Photographs by : Hari Somashekar Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. - Howard Thurman   The only journey is the journey within. - Rainer Maria Rilke   One great thing about being born and brought up in the mountains is that no matter where you are the mountains beckon you. It is the only place where one feels both happiness and humbled at the same time. Little did I know that in the days to follow, I would begin a journey which would be life-changing, heartwrenching, and indescribable. I had been asked to organise a trip for WWF Explorers. We had people from diverse backgrounds united by their passion for travelling and photographing the Himalayan landscapes. For the past couple of years, Himachal has seen a rise in tourists, with the inflow largely concentrated around Shimla, the summer capital of British India. Spiti was still not on the tourist radar. Spiti and Kinnaur are two of the most fascinating regions fringing the Tibetan Plateau. Their geographical inaccessibility has resulted in the two of them attracting the attention of only the most tenacious of travellers. It seemed exciting and fun to make a journey to this mysterious and forbidden land with friends who were touched by the Himalayan wonders. So we embarked on the journey, not knowing that it would change our lives forever The journey began at Shimla - a hill station established by the British to escape the oppressive summer of the Indian plains. Today, it is a bustling town that has grown and spread on both sides of its famous Ridge providing a panoramic view of snow-capped mountains Starting early from Shimla, we crossed Narkanda, famous for its Hatu peak, and continued on the same highway to Rampur Bushair. The journey from Shimla up the Sutlej Valley reveals a gradual transition in people, culture, and landscape. Crossing the famous Wangtu Bridge to Karchham, one starts gaining height. We moved towards Kinnaur, a region of high mountain ranges enclosing narrow valleys of the Sutlej, occupying the north-east corner of Himachal Pradesh. Kinnaur is a land steeped in mythology. According to ancient Indian texts, Kinners (people of kinnaur) were considered supernatural beings halfway between humans and Gods. The majestic Kinner-Kailash Range dominates the heart of Kinnaur. The remarkable sight of Kinner-Kailash silhouetted against the sky take your breath away. Kinner-Kailash Range is purportedly the mythical winter abode of Lord Shiva. Herd of Asiatic Ibex  Bharal at chichim  CCKN Peak Confluence of Spiti and Sutlej Rivers at KHAB  Enroute Kaza to Tabo Mountain Ranges seen from Shimla  Hoodos at Spiti  Malling  Nalla  Mount Kanamo Robin Accentor Hindustan Tibet Road Spiti River Bed from Hikkim Sunrise at Kinnaur kailash Satluj Valley    After passing Spillo to Khab (confluence of Spiti river and river Sutlej), we left Sutlej to climb up to Nako a little further ahead, crossing the famous Malingnala finally to Sumdo. Technically, we enter Spiti at Sumdo. The sun grew stronger as the day passed, and as the journey progressed, I, too, was changing. Trans-Himalayan wonderland Having got used to the remote beauty of the mountains, you are taken by surprise the moment you enter Spiti. One is stuck with the bareness, brown but colourful landscape. In the old days, difficulty of access meant that only the ones who were able to endure a considerable degree of physical hardship, braved these routes up the Sutlej and the Spiti Valley. Spiti is a cold desert country enclosed between the Greater Himalayas and the Zanskar. The brown and yellow slopes with steep rocky faces, with hues of black-white-grey-green and pink leave you speechless. The terrain with its barren landscapes and looming rock faces is stark and awe-inspiring, presenting a very different face of the Himalayas. A billion years ago, Spiti’s present location was the bed of the Tethys Sea, separating Asia from the ancient continent of Gondwana. Gondwana joined Asia to form the Indian subcontinent, and in the process pushed up the intermediate ground of the Tethys Sea. Over time, the sea dried up and the Himalayas sprang up. Ranges of the greater Himalaya enclosed Spiti in a semicircular arc. With the passage of time, the glacial movements have left a deep impact on the catchments. Streams meander over wide beds of sand and gravel and stone leaving steep-sided high terraces, resulting in clefts, pinnacles and buttresses of fantastic shape spread liberally over Spiti landscape. For those who dare to venture out, the journey can be treacherous yet adventurous and rewarding. To an outsider the very name Spiti inspires awe. At Kaza, water begins to freeze by the end of September, and rainfall is virtually unknown in summer. Autumn ends up even drier and dustier. Kanamo is gentle yet alluring. This white peak is located above Ki Gompa, the holiest mountain in Spiti. Ka means white or auspicious and Namo means hostess, so Kanamo means the mountain is a good omen or simply a white hostess. En route to Hikkim, a small and a beautiful village, CCKN (Chau Chau Kang Nilda (6380m) or Chau Chau, a remote peak in Spiti, rose like a “moon in the sky”, making the experience unforgettable. No account about Spiti would be complete without the mention of its many other facets. The deep spirituality yet the toughness and simplicity of its people stands out in marked contrast to the so called civilised people. Buddhism is the major religion in the area closer to Ladakh and Spiti. It’s Gompas (monasteries) are sight to behold by virtue of their position, impressively sprawled on the hillock above the village, with massive walls, small windows, prayer flags and from inside, a maze of tiny dark rooms and passages. Old values still remain, with religion being the guiding force This is both a blue sheep and ibex country. Ibex are mainly found on the right bank of the Spiti and Sutlej, whereas the blue sheep are seen in far greater numbers in the left bank areas. Both these creatures are found in high pastures. Among the carnivores, fox and the snow wolf are common. The year-round inhabitants are partridge, snow cock, vulture, raven, snow pigeon, and the cough. The whole region is, in fact, an undeclared wildlife sanctuary because of the Buddhist way of life. The journey so far was a revelation of my inner self, revealing to me the petty things that we as humans complain and brag about. The Himalayas make you feel strange and very small in comparison as individuals. I also realised that life is simple and full of little wonders but we are the ones who complicate it. Such is the nature of ultimate reality. The sheer beauty of natural wonders and the magic in everyday life opened my eyes to a whole new way of understanding. Photographs by : Hari Somashekar