Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Spiti valley (1) - Incredible India greets from the Himalaya

After exploring Delhi and some if the sights in the past weeks, the public holiday on the 2nd September was perfectly made for taking some days off! Since my later travel itinerary will most likely bring me to the south and west of India, I have to focus on travels into the north and east as long as my internship is lasting. Another reason to go to the mountains for my first trip is the fact, that by the end of September or early October the passes up to the north will be closed and the only chance to reach the states of Himachal Pradesh or Jammu & Kashmir would be by the far more expensive plane. The disadvantage of that is not just the money matter, but also the short time for reaching those destinations and the issue of not getting used to the high altitude step by step. If you plan to flight into the area of Leh & Ladakh, then you really need some more time than we had. Indeed Caro, Jenny and I were taking the Wednesday and Friday off and due to the Thursday’s holiday and the weekend, we had 5 days to spare. Initially we wanted to go to the mentioned Leh area, but as you might know, the flash floods from early August pretty much destroyed some of the roads and the city itself. Also, we didn’t want to be in the way of the helpers, nor use their limited resources for our needs. So we decided to get on a bus journey to Spiti valley.
Tuesday afternoon I had to leave work early, because at 5.20 pm we were supposed to stand at Connaught Place and jump on the bus, but as usually it comes different. Although we had to rush to be there in time, we still couldn’t leave punctually! Our bus was delayed and actually we also were never too sure where it was exactly going to depart. Anyway, the time passed by really fast, partly because we were talking to an Indian writer and two of the outcomes I have to mention here. One is the fact that he is quite infamous or even hated amongst the Indian readership, because he sees all the Indians as primitive beings, which only recognise humans as flesh. While listening to his strict words, ironically I could observe an obvious male monkey sitting on a wall. He was just letting the females through, if they were willing to pay with the only thing they could give him: their body. It was very strange because the writer’s words perfectly fitted to monkeys, but not to Indians as I have met them so far. We were not just talking about the general Indian, but also about one particular one: Ghandi, who in his opinion was just teaching useless things without any proof of truth. Maybe the Ghandi scientific approach was a bit short, but no doubt he had his positive influence on India. Anyway, the other thing worth telling you might be the book recommendation what he gave me on my request. It is “The continent of circe” by Nirod C. Chaudhari, which he said will make me remembering his former words and in the meanwhile I also know, why that might be so. The subtitle of the book is called “Essay of the people of India”, so I guess I know, where he got his impressions from.
Two hours after our expected departure we were finally sitting in the bus looking forward to 15 hours of travelling up to Manali, where we planned to hire a jeep including driver to explore the mountain area in the few five days we had. But before seeing scenic mountain skylines and monasteries, we had to watch 2 endless long bollywood movies in hindi, had to stop several hundred times for toilet and food breaks and also had to wait in a traffic jam up on a pass into the mountains. The obvious reason was some rocks falling down on the street and blocking it. In line with about 50 military trucks, we had to wait and wait and wait… the military was on their way to Leh and Ladakh, which they supplied with food, water and tool to recover from the damaging floods. Moreover waiting and watching these military people throwing stones in a valley, we also had the opportunity to take some pictures.

Some-when after we lost another 2 hours, we continued heading north and reached Manali after 20 hours of bus ride. Manali is the place to arrange you some tour through Spiti valley, especially if you don’t have the time to take the local bus. After checking renting fares of Jeeps and bargaining, we had about an hour for dinner and getting ready for our trip. Just for the purpose of advices and comparison I state that we had to pay 10000 rupees (170 Euros) for 5 days including Jonny, our driver as well as his food and accommodation and petrol for the car! This was by far the best price we could get and honestly Caro’s Hindi skills were helping us superbly. In the late evening we left the civilisation with Jonny our driver. The journey over night brought us up on the Rohtang Pass and the higher we climbed up to the almost 4000 metre top, the more fog we had to face. Honestly it was not that much fun, because we could only see as far as half a metre lets you see. This is kind of scary when you know that there deep side along the serpentines. The girls were sleeping on the back seats and Jonny and I had to take care that everything was save. Sometimes it was very crucial and we had to go back some metre, but still it was a nice night. I was tired as hell and Jonny and I couldn’t talk much, because of Hindi-English language barriers, but we managed to understand each other blind. Sometimes we stopped in the middle of nowhere and had some chai in soil and brick made compounds in the mountain. That was pretty amazing, seeing people living in up in this unlikely conditions. So step by step we made our way up on the one side and a little down on the other side, where finally also found some sleep for some hours. The month just turned into September, but in a night in the mountains above 3500 m you can really feel the cold. On the next morning we had to wake up early to follow our journeys timetable, but no day in the mountains starts without having chai. Since we spent the night in the car right next to a little brick house in Chhatru, it was no problem to get the Indian tea and spice mixture. While waiting for the chai, I had a lot time to explore the area and totally realise that we must be on a high altitude already.

Pictures were taken and the chai made us wake up and our journey continued. As a friend of climbing and bouldering, I was almost upset that we could stay in the area around Chhatru, because along the river there were plenty of nice boulders and for those I even brought my climbing shoes and chalk bag. But nevertheless we had a great goal this day, because we wanted to hike up to Chandra Tal. After a couple of hours driving on bad streets and jumping up and down in the Jeep, we reached the base from where we did a 3 hours hike up to the famous lake of Chandra Tal, which is situated at an altitude of about 4300 metres in the Himalaya. Again nobody moved even a toe without having a cup of chai before. At that time we met a newly married Israeli couple, which joined us on our walk. The air notable became thinner and we had to breathe kind of heavy. Reaching the top was therefore the more stunning, because the colourful play of the different impressions of sky, clouds, mountains and lake were overwhelming. We liked it so much that we spontaneously decided to have a swim in the cold lake ;-)

Since the two friends we made, were hitchhiking their honeymoon, we of course offered them some places in our Jeep, especially since at least 3 more people would have fitted in! The next stop should have been Lahore, where you register yourself and show passports. This identification is for the reason if you get lost and somebody has to come looking for you. But we first of all not reached the spot. Why we got delayed another time is again an incredible India story for itself. Somehow we realised that the Jeep was driving straight anymore and by looking at the front tires, it was easy to tell that one of them was not in its proper position. Some part of the wheel suspension broke and we were all alone in the middle of nowhere, apparently without jack or extra wheel part. So what to do then waiting! After half an hour the first car came gave us a jack without getting something in exchange, and off they were again. Some more cars passed us before another car gave us the broken part we needed, but also left. And since the first jack we got, didn’t bring the car up, we had to wait until a Jeep of Israeli backpackers came by, stopped, offered us their jack, and actually helped us to fix the break-down. This was somehow random, but incredible India just started as the Indian driver started to hammer with the other not working jack at a steel part of the broken wheel part. I’ve never thought that they will be able to fix our car, because they actually bended and broke more than they could heal. But finally our Israeli friends seemed to have a good idea and so they could use the old jack a lever... After 3 hours it was done and at the maximum of 7 cars could easily pass our street blockage. The day and our journey were saved and we didn’t have to think about how our limited time was running away.

The six of us continued to Lahore, where we not just had to leave our passport detail, but also wanted to stay. However we had a run after the crazy day, so we continued driving to Kaza, the heart of Spiti valley, from where a lot of monasteries and Hindu temples can be visited. Jonny more and more became part of our travel expedition than he just would be our driver. We could understand each other pretty good and had a fun time.

..to be continued...

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