One great thing about being born and brought up in the mountains is that no matter where you are, the mountains beckon you back to them. It is the only place where one feels both happiness and humbled at the same time.
When I was asked to organize a trip for the WWF Explorers, little did I know that in the days to follow, I would begin with a life changing, heart wrenching, but indescribably rewarding, journey of my life. The WWF Explorers group from Delhi had people from diverse backgrounds, united by their passion to travel and photograph Himalayan landscapes.
The past couple of years has seen an increase in tourist attention to Himachal. Traditionally, tourist traffic was concentrated largely around Shimla the summer capital of British India. Spiti -not yet so frequented by tourists - was just the place to visit.
Spiti and Kinnaur are two of the most fascinating regions fringing the Tibetian Plateau.Their geographical inaccessibility has resulted in their attracting the sporadic attention of only the most tenacious of travelers. The journey began at Shimla with the Explorers gearing up for the travel ahead. Shimla, a hill station established by the British in the Himalayan periphery to escape the summer of the Indian planes, is today a bustling town that grew and spread down both sides of its famous Ridge with a panoramic view of snow capped mountains.
Starting early from Shimla, crossing Narkanda, famous for its Hatupeak, and continuing on the same highway to Rampur Bushair, the journey from Shimla up the Satluj valley sees a gradual transition in people, culture and landscape.
Crossing the unknown and inaccessible valley’s famous Wangtu bridge to Karchham, one starts gaining altitude and roads jutting out of rocks become a common sight along Satluj across to Kinnaur. Kinnaur is a region of high mountain ranges enclosing narrow valleys of the Satluj, occupying the north east corner of Himachal Pradesh.
The majestic Kinner Kailash range, dominates the heart of Kinnaur. The remarkable sight of Kinner Kailash silhouetted against the sky and snowy peaks takes your breath away.
Passing Spillo, to Khab ( the confluence of the Spiti river and river Satluj) where we left the Satluj to climb up to Nako a little further ahead crossing the famous Malingnala finally to Sumdo, where Spiti begins.
Having gotten accustomed to the remote beauty of the mountains, you are taken by surprise the moment you enter Spiti. One is struck by the bareness, brown but colorful.
In the old days, difficulty of access inhibited visitors - only those who were able to endure a considerable degree of physical hardship, braved these routes up the Satluj and the Spiti Valley. Spiti is a true cold desert country enclosed between the Greater Himalayas and the Zaskar. The brown and yellow slopes with steep rocky faces, with hues of black, white, grey green and pink. The terrain with its barren landscapes and looming rock faces is stark and awe inspiring.
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 arose. Ranges of the greater Himalaya enclosed Spiti in a semicircular arc.
With the passage of time, glacial movements have left deep impact on the catchments. Streams meander over wide beds of sand and gravel and stone leaving steep-sided high terraces. Over time, this has resulted in clefts, pinnacles and buttresses of fantastic shapes spread liberally over the Spiti landscape. For those who venture on these trails it is most treacherous, yet the most adventurous of all.
At Kaza, water begins to freeze by the end of September and rainfall is virtually unknown in summer, but autumn ends up even drier and dustier.
On route to Hikkim, a small and a beautiful village CCKN (Chau Chau Kang Nilda (6380m)chauchau -cone shaped Nilda -moon conical peak isolated and rising like a” moon in the sky”. Beautifully in the backdrop
No account about Spiti would be complete without the mention of its many other facets like the deep spirituality yet the toughness of its people. Buddhism is the major religion in the area closer to Laddakh and Spiti. Its Gompas (monasteries) are a sight to behold by virtue of their position, impressively sprawled on the hillock above the village, with massive walls, small windows, prayer flags and inside, a maze of tiny dark rooms and passages. Old values still remain; here religion is the real guiding force.
This is both a blue sheep and ibex country. Ibex mainly found on the right bank of the Spiti and Satluj, whereas blue sheep are seen in far greater numbers in the left bank areas.
Among the carnivores, the fox and the snow wolf are common.The year-round inhabitants of Spiti include partridges, snow cocks, vultures, ravens, and snow pigeons.
The Himalayas as far as the eyes can see make you feel small and yet strangely significant at the same time. Join the WWF Explorers as we make our way back to the serrated moonscape of Spiti.
Shimla to Shimla Date: 13-20 August, 2016
Cost: INR 34,000/-
Day 1- Shimla - Peo
Day 2- Reckong Peo -Tabo
Day 3- Tabo to Kibber (acclimatization and stay)
Day 4 - Scouting blue sheep (Kibber)
Day 5- Kibber to Hikkim to Komic to lanza to Kaza
Day 6- Kaza to Pin valley, Mudd Village, stay at Tabo
Day 7- Tabo to Reckong Peo
Day 8- Reckong Peo to Shimla.