A Guest Post
My friend Roushan Singh travelled to the Spiti Valley in June 2012. In 2010, I also went to the Spiti Valley but Roushan managed to do something which I could not do and I am sure not many riders have done it either.
He actually went to the Kaurik village and Shipki La; the Indo-China Tibetan border.
Riding on the treacherous roads of Spiti Valley is a tough job but getting the permit to ride on those roads is the real deal. Roushan rode solo and with little help from Ashwini Boktapa; a Dogra Regiment soldier he achieved a great feat.
In his words : Shipki La : The Road Less Traveled
Day 3, Thursday evening, ReckongPeo, 4:30 P.M.
Permit!! If I get one today, in 24 hours Shipki La will be added to my feat.
I decided to rush to the DC office and getting the job done in thirty minutes was just not possible, yet I decided to give it a shot.
“Sir, I am a student from IITD. I want to visit Shipki La and Kaurik.”
I was told by one of my friends to say IITD loudly for the obvious reasons. I somehow felt that I should not do that yet I weighed my options and IIT tag won over the thirty minute time window.
“Did you just say Shipki La? No way. We don’t issue permits for that”, was the prompt reply from the Assistant Commissioner.
“But sir, I hear people have made it there. And I have everything, my ID, Driving license, passport with me.”
“No no, that’s not possible. And not after strict orders from the Home ministry when they caught a Chinese spy in Mcleodganj last year. Not a word anymore. You may leave now.”
I was sad but that’s the best one can do in a thirty minute window.
“Tarun, can you help?” I called up my friend immediately.
“Well, not much I think. Let me try.” And after a couple of hours, my phone rang.
“Here is a number, brother of my friend. He is in the Dogra Regiment . I am not saying he can take you there. But, who knows.”
I immediately called Ashwini Boktapa [brother of Naveen Boktapa, the man who walked over the snow laden Rohtang top, twice]. I got to know that the Commanding Officer in charge of the whole Himachal Tibet border area is in Reckong Peo itself. That made my day. Next morning the first thing to do was to meet the CO, ITBP.
I somehow find ITBP and army guys much friendlier than anybody from the local administration. I haven’t found a single person differ by my views till date. So when I was in the unit, I found a real warm reception. An hour and I was good to meet him.
“Why do you want to go? There is nothing there.” I was not surprised at all when the CO asked me this question.
“That’s precisely the reason I want to go there. The unattainable always has a special attraction. Besides, I travel to meet people around, learn their cultures, their way of living. I owe a lot to my travels. My rides have taught me much more than the last 5 years of my college life taught me. The Himalayas are my mantra of self development.”
“You seem to be an interesting person.” And the conversation continued for about 40 minutes. He himself made a few calls and tried finding if there is a way out.
The ITBP guys do not provide the permits. They simply decide on whether to let you go or not even if you have one. I was asked to meet the DM. DM Peo took some 10 minutes to consult others including the ITBP guys before signalling me a go ahead.
“Why should I restrict somebody from visiting somewhere? Get the certificate and I will sign.” He said to his assistant. I already felt high on cloud 9. Although there was no previous existing format and even the light was gone, I had my laptop. Based on a previous Kinner Kailash expedition permit, I typed a letter on my own. By the time I was back after getting the printouts, the situation was no more the same. The DM had left but still the luck was in my favour, the DM wanted me to meet me at his residence.
My permit problem was over on the very same day. My permit detail was phoned to all the officials in charge of respective posts. Apparently I was to be treated as a CO itself.
I was thankful to so many people who made it possible. I called up Ashwini, he was due to meet me next morning. He was going to Sumdo on a bus and was scheduled to pass Peo by 0715am. I couldn’t miss him. He was the guy behind everything.
So I got up early, packed everything, reached the bus stand by 0710. His bus had already left around 0635. However, the bus was supposed to stop at Spillow for refreshment. Those forty kilometres got the best of me. Mountains test your character, they surely do. The first half of the distance was seriously one hell of a ride. In an hour, I was there. The bus had arrived 2 minutes ago and Ashwini had just entered a dhaba. He came running to see me. The joy of meeting him gives me goose-bumps even today.
Day 5: Namgia
I was 2 kilometres beyond Khab and then I realised a local car was following me.
“Kahan ja rahe ho?”
“Shipki La? Wahan jana allowed nahi hai. Tumhein arrest kar lenge. Wapas laut jao.”
“Permit hai mere paas.”
“Achha!! Permit hai tumhare paas. Aur koi doosra to nahi mila mujhe aisa. Maine socha tum raasta bhatak gaye hoge. Chalo badhiya hai, main wahan paidal ja chukka hoon. Kuch nahi hai wahan.”
Shipki La is the place where Satluj enters India. There is a trade route through the pass where locals pass and exchange trade goods with the other side. That was enough to increase my curiosity. Only locals and workers are issued special permits for that place.
Finally I arrived at a spot where there was no road beyond. Prohobited Area, AAGE JANA SAKHT MANA HAI!!
An old man came running to me. “Kahan se aaye ho? Yahan kisne aane diya tumhein? Raaste mein kisi ne roka nahi?”
I showed him my permit and told the whole story how I got one. 2 cups of tea, followed by juice, cashew and biscuits followed next.
They invariably treat every other visitor the same everywhere.
I came all the way from that bridge
He was the oldest person at the post and had been there around for at least last 17 years and he was unable to figure out reason behind my presence in that god-forbidden land. He took me around for a walk.
“ Ab to idhar bhi sadak aa gayi hai. Warna kuch saal pehle tak to neeche se saara samaan pata nahi kaise aise laate the hum. Main yahan raat bhar duty deta hoon torch mein. Koi harkat hui nahi us paar ki sab sachet. Unhone ne bhi apna survellience system laga rakha hai. Saari activity Beijing convey ho jati hai within minites. Yahan se to unka post najar nahi aa raha. But, upar hamara doosra post hai jahan se sab kuch najar aata hai.”
“Sir, ek photo le loon yahan ki?”
“ Na na, naukri se nikalwaoge tum humein. Chalo apni yaadgaari ke liye upar upar un peaks ki photo le lo. But, bas apne tak hi rakhna. Aisa nahi ki wapas jakar internet pe share kar diya.”
Day 6: 12 noon. Sumdo. Posts of ITBP as well as Himachal police. Somehow, nobody stopped me. I took the left diversion to Kaurik. Roughly 24 kms it says. I kept going uphill. And then, there was another Army Check Post.
“You came here with all this stuff? You should have deposited it below. And you have a permit? An officer or what?”
“I am just a student sir. Here is my permit.”
“And you got one? Anyways, this doesn’t mention your bike number. That means we can only allow you to move ahead on foot from here on.”
I couldn’t believe myself. They were asking me to walk 24 kilometres on foot. And then seven more kilometres to Lepcha post!!
“This is the format they have. I couldn’t have done anything to get my bike mentioned here.”
“But, we can’t help. You need to get in touch with ITBP. Besides, everything you have, you have to leave it here. Nothing electronic moves beyond this point.” I headed back to the ITBP post below.
Everything was seized here.
I showed my permits and told them the case. They were denying the fact that my permit was genuine.
“Ab to saab hi kuch kar sakte hain. Appko wait karna padega ek ghanta. Wo busy hain, abhi naha rahe hain.”
Well, I always have faith in ITBP. After all, I find them the friendliest lot. Finally after an hour, I was headed for Kaurik. If they tell the truth about hell after death, the roads that lead to hell would not be different from the roads that lead to Kaurik. It was so windy that I had to ride with closed eyes and it took me an hour to ride those 20 odd kilometres. Another post at Kaurik, another permit, and they finally allowed me to go till Lepcha post, the last corner of India.
Kaurik was a village some 30 years ago which was devastated by a massive landslide. Nothing but mud crumbling houses are left in the name of village. People long ago relocated to different places. Owing to its closeness to Sino-Indian border, there is a huge ITBP presence here. I rode 7 kilometres further into Lepcha post.
This is where everything ends. As usual, I got a real warm reception. There are 3 villages of Tibet, immediately after the border visible with naked eye. PLA doesn’t have an immediate post here. The only distant official Chinese construction visible is a yellow building some 8-10 kilometres away. I had access to the binoculars used by ITBP. And patches of greenery amidst this lunar landscape looked quite unreal. Villagers used to come for medicines and other essentials to these ITBP guys before they made it real strict from 2011 because of intrusion.
“Would you like to walk a little across into China? Every morning we go there.”
“Oh, I can’t believe what you just said. Of course, hell yeah!!”
And I actually walked a few hundred metres in China.
Look what I got from there.