It’s a lazy Sunday night and I stare at a map of Spiti for the umpteenth time wondering if I returned from Spiti too soon. A soothing Buddhist prayer song, ‘Om Mani Padme Hum‘, my new favourite picked from Zostel Spiti’s playlist, plays on YouTube. A silly pencil sketch I made of the old monastery at Tabo, while spending a pleasant evening there, brings a smile to my face. The memories are still fresh and the salty taste of the Spitian butter tea still lingers on my tongue. I lose track of time and wonder if I had left a little bit of myself somewhere back in those mountains, surreal landscapes and starry skies. Or maybe with those truly amazing mountain folks and travellers.
Before I write tales and post postcards of this fairy land, here is a little bit of Spiti in random order- for I still need to figure out where to begin and end the fabulous tale.
1. Spiti is where I had my first hitch-hiking experience
I hitch-hiked across the valley – on cars, JCBs, lorries and tractors. Sometimes for over a 100 Kms. I met various kinds of people, few travellers and few locals, on these rides and heard their stories. Farmers, naval commanders, government officers, drivers and more. It was absolutely fun having those conversations and sharing stories with them. But I still can’t figure out which was the bumpier ride: the one on a JCB or a tractor!
2. It truly transports you back in time
Barring the worse than dial-up day speeds you get on Wi-fi at Kaza and the intermittent connectivity on a BSNL phone, the place is practically cut off from the rest of the world. I functioned without most everyday technology throughout the two weeks. Sorry, no movie theatres in town. Not having social media was a welcome change; it meant more interaction with people around. There is no direct flight to Spiti and you have to do the arduous back-breaking 10-15 hr journey from Manali/Reckong Peo.
3. But once you complete the journey, the Spitian landscapes will surely blow your senses
I don’t think any picture does justice to the sheer beauty of the landscapes at Spiti. You could be using wide-angle lenses or shooting panoramas but the grandeur of the place can only be truly understood if you’re there.
4. Their Tsampas and Semthuks will leave you wanting more
The local cuisine is a total delight to the taste buds. Tsampa/Sattu (barley flour), Phemar, Semthuk, Thukpo roti & Timsok (Tibetan breads), Bhaglis and Momos of different kinds. And I don’t even want to get started on their butter tea. Also, the Spitians have found ways to use Barley in practically all their dishes and drinks. Their local drinks: Arak (a light flavoured vodka) and Chang (local beer) are made out of barley. The pea plantations have the sweetest peas possible and I gobbled kilos of peas throughout the trip.
5. World’s highest petrol pump, village and post office
That’s Kaza, Komic and Hikkim for you.
6. It’s the people who make you fall in love with the place more than those landscapes
‘Juley!’ (‘Hello!’ in Spitian language) is all you need to spark a conversation with the locals. Many a times, they respond not just with Juley but with an inivtation for a butter tea or with ‘Aao, matar khao!’ (‘Come, taste the peas!’) when you’re around the fields. A ‘Zhang song’ (‘Thank you!’) surely brings out the brightest smiles. Their hospitality is unmatched and they go out of their way to help you, leaving you stunned at times. To sum it up, they restored my faith in humanity.
7. You get to meet travellers from all around the world
Literally from all around the world. I met different people everyday, sometimes every few hours, and on most days, I was going around with other travellers. All these different cultures give you a new perspective and make you rethink your prejudices. And on many occasions inspire you to travel more often.
8. And most importantly, I can’t get enough of the Spitian night skies and the milky way
While the full moon at Kaza was quite a spectacle, I was more fascinated by the starry skies and the milky way that I saw almost every night. It was humbling to see the vast sky dotted with stars and the milky way band form a bridge between the mountains on either side. The shooting stars and meteor showers were the icing on the cake. The Spitian night skies have the power to seduce just anybody!
9. I finally found my moments of tranquility…
If these starry skies and landscapes don’t do the trick, the age-old monasteries at Spiti will make you feel closer to yourself and help you find a sense of meaning. I felt at absolute peace while sitting in those prayer halls with colorful murals. Not worrying about the past or the future; just lying there and enjoying that very moment of time.
So, what are your key takeaways from Spiti?
[P.S: Coming soon: Spiti in stories and postcards]