We were expecting a huge building with wooden architecture but all we could see was a helipad, group of school kids playing and monks walking in their maroon robes. The best thing about that place is that you do not have to go and negotiate with private hoteliers. You simply get a room in a lodge managed by the monastery authorities. No brainfuck, get the keys and get inside your room. We were as clueless today as we were on the very first day of trip. Rather than relaxing, we were discussing where to go next, reach Sangla-stay there or reach Chittkul, go to Jhakri and stay there. Deep down inside everyone of use knew that none of these options were feasible.
In the meantime, we met a group of people [engineers probably] from Bangalore, with a girl in their group. They were on their cycles, the simple Hero Ranger with gear type cycles, and they were on their way towards the Lahaul Valley, the road which made even our Royal Enfields toil hard. So conclusion of this very-short story is, ‘दम ना जगह का होता है, दम ना पैसे का होता है, दम सिर्फ और सिर्फ ‘बन्दे’ का होता है‘ [that Canadian is the perfect example] Well, there was nothing great about the great Tabo, except for the fact that it was built ages ago.
If you want to read more about the monastery and its history, click here.
We slept early because we had a tough day coming. Nobody wanted to unpack the bags because packing them and tying on the bikes one more time meant serious brain damage. So, we slept in our dirty clothes, at least I did. Early in the morning, it was decided that we will go until Sangla Valley and call it a day there itself. On our way, we got to know about the Monk who became a Mummy. Technically speaking, a Mummy is a dead body preserved by chemicals to last long. However, the Mummy we were going to see was unlike a conventional Mummy [ Conventional Mummy sounds weird]. It was not at all chemical Mummy and it was not of any king or a queen. It belonged to a monk, recovered by the Indian army during the Indo-China war of 1960s. The monk was probably squatting or may be in his ‘Samadhi’ when his soul left his body. Monks never die, only their souls leave their bodies, which means when I will die, something more than my soul will come out of my body 😉
There is an interesting tradition in the village and if I have not told you name of the village, it is Geu/GiuVillage, 12 kilometers detour from the main road. The Mummy resides inside a room and key of this room stays with a family for fifteen days. After every fifteen days, the key is given to a different family in the village. And during those 15 days, the ‘respective family’ will not only light the ‘diyas’ but will also show around to the visiting tourists.During the excavation program, the soldiers hit the body on its head and it is damaged to very minute extent. The locals say that this Mummy is centuries old because name of this monk is mentioned in their scriptures. And if that is true, then Indians knew the art of Mummying too, just the way they knew everything else, the Ancient Indian Culture you see 😉
Then we reached Sumdo, entry point of the great Kinnaur District, confluence point of Spiti and Sutlej River. Sutlej comes from China, probably from Kaurik in India and that reminds me of another story. When I was a teenager, I went to Shimla for the first time. I saw a milestone which read Kaurik 347 km and that day I decided that one day I will definitely go to this place. And I was just 15 years then. The better and exciting part of this dream is that it is still unfulfilled and I still want to go there and we all know where does it leave me.
Sumdo has a check post and every vehicle getting into or out of the Spiti Valley has to be registered here. Foreigners get their inner line permits there. The next 150 km were going to be dangerous because road blocks, landslides, tire punctures and fucking sunburns are a common property of those roads. One wrong move and you will find your body floating in the silty, black waters of the great Sutlej River. The road is an uphill climb and technically it ought to be a pass. Riders have advantage of holding the bike handle, whcih gives them support.
However the pillions are on their own and a lot depends upon their
a) On their will-power to bear pain, bumps, heat and agonizing pain of being a pillion
b) Riding skills of the man behind the steering handle.
By God’s grace, both the riders were exceptionally brilliant and one of them could be given 11 out of 10 points, obviously me 😉 [Read Jalori Pass for proof] But the road condition made it difficult for the pillion riders with every passing inch and that marked the start of Pillion Mania.
There, the sun rays are rich in ultra violet minerals and they hit you on the face, on the hands and in your eyes. The panoramic view is super cool but if you are not prepared well, you might end up looking like as black as coal, burnt and charred. With a sunscreen lotion of SPF 50+ on our face and arms, we managed to look like half burnt coal.
Our next destination was the famous Nako Lake, which did not surprise us much but it was a beautiful place. More than the lake, it was design of the village that actually surprised us. You keep moving in the streets, see no body whom you can ask for directions. It took us more than 20 minutes to find the lake. There was a museum showcasing local artifacts and hand tools. It was a well maintained museum. Post Nako, we realized that we are running out of petrol one more time and the next petrol pump was still far away.
There is a famous pic of Kinnaur available on the Internet. The roads look horrifying there and name of that place is Khaab. And that became the toughest phase of our journey. There was no road and I could not control he vehicle for few seconds. My pillion rider shouted at the top of his voice because he thought the world was coming to an end. I, somehow managed to escape through there but yes given half a chance to go to that place again, I would like to skip it twice for every time I am asked to go there.
Actually, I will not mind going there again.
Post Khaab, we reached Pooh, tried to get some oil but managed to get only two liters of petrol. We wasted 45 minutes in Pooh in search of petrol. For those, who want to get oil in Pooh, go to the Pooh Village, which is 4-5 kms above the National Highway-22. After that, it was as smooth as it could be. The road looked like Delhi-Gurgaon Highway (minus the mad traffic). The top speed that we achieved was close to 90 kmph. We had an internal protocol of not going above 70 kmph on the Kinnaur roads but the road was very good and it allowed us to breach the protocol. Post 2004 floods, the road has been diverged and that marks the start of very bad road. Potholes, water, dust and closeness to river Sutlej become property of the main road for more than 40 kilometers, until you reach Karchham.
Karcham is famous for two things, one is the Jay Pee hydro power project, which became operational months ago its scheduled date [very un-India] and the second reason is it takes you to the beautiful Sangla Valley. It was very dark when we reached at Karcham. Sangla is 20 km from Karcham. From Sangla you can reach the last village of Indo-China border, Chittkul. We decided to stay at Sangla and got hold of a room in the PWD rest house.
The riders were tired badly and the pillions were as light as gas. Riding, as I have already said is easy as compared to pillion riding. Our pillions were robust, durable, strong, resistant to corrosion and weathering effects. In layman terms, they were the best. barring one occasion, they did not trouble the rider with their intelligence or super-intelligence. In a nutshell, they own the third day of this journey.
The caretaker of the rest house was an entertaining person. He was offered drinks with the ‘साहब लोग ‘ and he made them look like fools. He self-ordered what to cook for us and drank 30% of the liquor meant for the ‘साहब लोग’.
Next on the radar ws Indo-China border but before that, we needed sleep. And we slept.