CHAPTER 3 – A Wanderer’s Dreamland
Kye & Kibber Villages,
Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh
6th September 2016
Tuesday, 07:30 hrs
I woke up at 7:30 am to the sound of Kshitij unpacking his hiking shoes from the backpack. He was apparently feeling a lot better now and had decided to embark on his journey into the landscapes of Spiti. So even though I did not want to leave my cozy bed yet, his enthusiasm prompted me to shrug off my laziness.
“Dude what time is it? How come you are up so early?”
“Early? It’s already 7:30!! I’ve wasted enough time just lying idle for the past 24 hours and there’s a lot of lost time I have to make up for. What are your plans for the day?” he asked, while keeping his camera in the backpack.
“I have absolutely no clue!!”, I replied while rubbing my eyes to clear the last shreds of drowsiness off my eyes. “I have been told by my friends to visit Kibber without fail…so that’s where I am planning to go to. Also, I saw from the map pinned up on the notice board outside that Kye Monastery happens to be on the way to Kibber as well, so will pay it a visit – if possible. Planning to cover these 2 villages on foot. What about your itinerary?”
”Don’t have a plan either. Will probably walk around and see if I can hitch a ride. Was planning on visiting Langza and Komic. However, if you are OK with it then I can join you and we can both hike or hitchhike our way to Kye and Kibber!! What do you say?”
The proposition was too tempting to resist. It’s rare to find like-minded budget travelers in unknown landscapes, so his offer was hard to ignore. Who doesn’t want a travel companion who shares your vision of a perfect travel experience? Travelling across the beautiful valley on public transport is cumbersome if you have limited time at your disposal. Most of the local buses from Kaza to other villages usually run either early in the morning or late in the evenings. So it actually makes more sense to spend the night in some beautiful home stay in Kibber, or maybe Langza for that matter, and continue from there early in the morning – if you are genuinely interested in budget travelling, that is!! Even then, your logistics options are very limited and, therefore, planning is recommended. However, I actually find immense joy in this scarcity as it is probably the reason why Spiti has remained relatively untouched by flock of “tourists”; who are amazing at promoting their brand of irresponsible travel culture at every corner across the landscapes in plain sights, in the form of plastic, bottles, wrappers, etc.
By the time we finished our breakfast it was almost 8:30 am. But before we could be on our way the Hostel owner wanted to see me. As it turned out, there was a group of riders from Chandigarh checking in that day and since I did not have a prior booking at the hostel the owner asked me to meet him again in the evening. Although he assured me about keeping some temporary sleeping arrangements for tonight, yet with the looming possibility of having to search for a new place on our return, to spend the night in, we started walking towards Kye Monastery. Still under the influence of a chilly Himalayan night under the Milky Way that I had experienced the night before, I was not expecting the sun to beat so strongly on us during the morning at all. During all the excitement, I had forgotten that at these high altitudes and barren landscapes, as in Spiti, facing the sun is as big a task as bearing the cold winds blowing across these stark empty valleys at night!! Without proper sunscreen protection, we soon realised the massive mistake we had made – and we had only been walking for 15 minutes!! Suddenly the sound of a diesel engine reverberated across the arid landscape and forced us to turn our heads back in anticipation. To our relief there was a tractor, with an empty trailer, which filled our hearts with hope. As we were to experience through our subsequent encounters with locals, the bigheartedness and empathy of the generous people of Spiti is bound to leave all backpackers speechless!! The sprightly driver was kind enough to drop us off at the bridge across Spiti River, connecting Kaza to Rangrik village.
Having spent some time walking downstream and dipping our hands in the icy-cold waters of mountain rivulets, we were again picked up by another tractor. I probably will come back to Spiti on a motorbike, to absorb the panoramic landscapes but the view from the back of a trailer wasn’t that bad either. Considering the vehicle was barely managing to climb up the mountains at a snail’s pace, it gave us ample amount to time to soak in the panorama to our heart’s content!!
Before long, we were at the doorsteps of Kye village – beyond which the majestic Kye Monastery was visible in all its glory!! We got down at the village entrance itself, which is around 2-3 kilometers before Monastery gate. Interestingly, it was not the monastery which had caught our attention first…..rather it was the small soul clad in red sweater which was looking at us from atop his school compound wall, while picking his nose all along!!
Pretty sure these kids are used to cameras, with photographers frequently visiting this corner of the Himalayas. No sooner had we start walking towards him that his smile grew bigger and bigger. Soon he was joined by his friend, both equally excited to tell us their names in whatever broken pieces of Hindi language they could manage to stitch together. I could only watch into those joyful eyes of these little souls – their innocence, the charm of those red patches on their cheeks and nose, as is symbolic of all the beautiful people living in these cold mountains; a life far away from city dwellers in relentless pursuit of material happiness, having left their real happiness back in the villages they had abandoned long ago!!
The day had only just begun and Kye village was slowly coming to life. With children running across the courtyards in a distance, the village ladies were also starting to get busy with preparing their harvests near the streets. We casually greeted a few ladies who were taking their harvests our for drying when an old woman from the rooftop loudly exclaimed –
“Namaste!! Gaadi nahin hai tum ladkon k paas?” (Hello….don’t you boys have a vehicle with you?)
“Nahin aunty, paidal hi aa rahe hain. Aise hi maja aa raha hai….aaram se aapke gaon mein ghum rahe hain, bahut achha lag raha hai!!” (No, we are on foot!! But we like it this way, getting to enjoy the spirit of your beautiful village at a leisurely pace!!)
“Gaon achha laga tumhe? Pahad mein to beta aise hi chhote chhote gaon hote hain…..kahan se ho tum dono?” (Did you like our village? Well that’s how the villages on hills usually are; small and beautiful. Where are you kids from?)
“Ye Pune se hai. Main Dehradun se” (He is from Pune while I come from Dehradun)
“Dehradun? Wahan to main gayi hun 1-2 baar. Ye gaon achha lag raha hai to yahin bas jaao ab? Kyun? Kitni umar hai tumhari?” (Dehradun? I have been to that place 1 or 2 times before. Well if you like this village so much, why don’t you guys settle down here? How old are you boys?”
“28”, we said while moving towards the shady patch under a tree.
“Haan fir to badiya hai. Umar ho gayi hai….yahin shaadi kara dete hain tum dono ki. Achhi nahin lagi yahan koi tumhe? Abhi bata do fir mat bolna!!” (Then that’s perfect. You are old enough to get married to somebody here and get settled in this village!! Have you found someone suitable in the village till now?), the old lady was trying to have her share of fun in this lazy morning. The ladies working nearby broke into a loud giggle while we sheepishly tried to avoid the question.
“Dekh lo meri 3 ladkiyaan kaam kar rahi hain yahan….shaadi kara dete hain tumari badi 2 ladkiyon se!!” (Look these are my 3 daughters working over there. If you say yes then I can get you guys married to the elder ones.), the old lady went even further in pulling our leg. It triggered a resounding laughter from the ladies working around us.
All we could do was to drop the conversation before it made us any more uncomfortable!! The old lady broke into a fit of laughter from the top of her house, bidding us adieu and lifting our spirits with a nice stint of humour as we walked towards Kye Monastery. Even while climbing our way up to the monastery, we could see first signals of a disaster waiting to happen for this beautiful valley. Our small backpacks were not sufficient to store all the plastic garbage we found along the trail; a cold reminder of the horrid experiences my friends recently had around Pangong Tso and other beautiful regions of Leh-Ladakh!! A small portion of me was pleased, though– for I got to experience the true spirit of Spiti before it, potentially, gets destroyed by careless tourists. But I was mostly distraught, pissed off and extremely frustrated at the prospect that this place might not be the same for next generations. Hope it does not happen, but the symptoms are already difficult to ignore!! So collecting whatever garbage we could, we took a detour from the paved road and hiked directly along the face of the hill towards the Monastery gate.
Once entering the Monastery gate, I spent the next hour at the monastery scampering from corner to corner – from rushing to the restaurant for a quick and much deserved bite (yes…I had absolutely nothing to eat in my backpack…), being told by an apprentice wrapped in red, making him look a lot more mature than boys of his age, that the restaurant was closed, climbing as quickly as we could hoping the monastery canteen might be open to finding out that breakfast was finished and there was still a lot of time left for lunch time….to finally finding a tap in a corner of the compound to fill our water bottles in!! Located at an altitude of 4166 meters on the top of a picture-perfect hilltop, Kye Monastery is a spectacular Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. Having had to face multiple enemy raids, attacks and natural disasters in its 1000 years of existence, much of the present Gompa is composed of irregular box-like structures as a result of multiple rounds of renovation and rebuilding.
Although resembling more like a fort than a Gompa, it is a renowned religious training center for the Lamas. The monastery stands proudly as an excellent example of monastic structures heavily influenced by Chinese architecture. Regular invasions have led to temples built on top of one another resulting in presence of low rooms and narrow corridors throughout the monastery. Dimly lit passages, difficult staircases and small doors lead to prayer rooms. The walls of the monastery are decorated with beautiful paintings and murals, thangkas (a painted or embroidered Tibetan banner), valuable manuscripts, stucco images, and unique wind instruments. The wind instruments are still put to use during the staging of Chham in summers.
No sooner had I started enjoying the view from the top than I found myself surrounded by inquisitive eyes, looking for answers and explanations that I did not have – as I was to realise pretty soon. A group of Israelis had just parked their cab outside and having found no monk around to shoot down with their questions, they turned towards the only Indian they could find in the empty courtyard. Thus, ensued a round of interesting QnA for which I was terribly prepared –
Why is the small statue of Buddha inside the temple wet?
What is Buddhism? How is the Buddhist way of propagating their faith different from that of Hindus, Muslims or Christians?
We have heard that the youngest child of every family in the village is enrolled to study the faith in monasteries….what if the family has another child after that? What happens in this scenario?
Why most of the Buddhist monasteries are located in high Himalayan ranges? Is it difficult for Buddhists to meditate in the plains?
What if I want to become a Buddhist? What is the process to become one?
Can you tell us about the history of this monastery? Why is it famous?
Phew….firstly, they should have done their homework right. Secondly, they should have learnt to read Hindi because most of the wisdom I imparted to these inquisitive souls were translated straight from multiple signboards I had been reading on my way to the Monastery!! Such evident was my desperation to break free of this QnA session that another Indian guy – a fellow traveller, I assumed, sitting on the terrace above broke into a fit of laughter. As soon as Kshitij returned from his photo-walk into the prayer chamber, I excused myself from the knowledge-seekers and made a dash towards the exit. Only if Mr. Amir Khan had not brainwashed me into Atithi Devo Bhava, I would have probably traded my time spent with those Israeli guys for a gram of hashish – of course, they would have had some….they always do!!
It was by 13:00 hrs that we decided to take to the roads once again and head towards our next destination – Kibber Village. The road from Kye to Kibber is a fairly comfortable and well maintained one. However, we still did not have a vehicle and were starting to get a little jealous of all these power-packed super fit Germans passing us by on their bicycles. People do cover extravagant distances just to ride their bicycles (…and their luck in the process…) along the energy-sapping circuits in Spiti. Only yesterday had I heard in hostel about a guy who had been cycling all the way from Kolkata to Kaza on bicycle!! As luck would have it, we managed to hitch another ride on a trailer. While the trailer crawled up the mountains towards Kibber, we managed to get our first glimpse of the village of Kibber. Also, nestled close to Kibber among towering peaks was the small village of Chicham – a sight to behold!!
I had heard from several bikers about a breathtaking rope way across the deep gorge, connecting Chicham to the village of Kibber. Although I had to give the ride on this indigenous rope way a miss due to some poor time management and planning on my part, I believe one should come prepared and definitely not miss this journey in a basket across the deathly ravine. It is an amazing show of will power of Spiti, and their sense of adventure as well. For, I have been told, what usually looks like a small cage supported on small wheel capable of carrying only 2-3 people at a time, the locals usually get in groups of 5-6 to embark on this journey – a nerve-raking sight and experience indeed for the travellers, I can imagine!!
As I approached closer to the village of Kibber, its simplicity and beauty unraveled spectacularly in front of my eyes. Once considered to be the highest motorable village in the world, before Komic was connected to the road network of India. Perched up high on the summit of a limestone rock, the small village catches the eye with its peculiar red-and-black colored houses. It took me quite a lot of time to gather my thoughts and start walking once we got off the trailer, as I was lost in a breathtaking display of untouched landscape all around me. The vast emptiness suggested they could probably beat the best of the Bugyals, or lush green Himalayan meadows, had there been a green cover on it. Far in the distance opposite to the village I could see the mighty snow-covered peak of Ka-Namo (The White Lady). But I was way too eager now to pay a visit to, what turned out to be, a deal-maker for me in Kibber; the reason I would come here again and again if given a chance.
The Mutton Thupka at Norling’s!!!
Kshitij tells me he hasn’t eaten better Pasta anywhere else. I am of the opinion that the Thupka was the best I had tasted since the time I started growing up with a compulsory Tibetan cuisine part of my daily diet – even beating my previous top-ranking Thupka from German Café in Mcleodganj!! I spent close to an hour or so basking under the afternoon sun, soaking up the landscapes along with a lot of sunlight in the process.
We basked under the afternoon sun, not caring for once about the prospects of severe sun-tan, for close to an hour or so after which we decided to explore the village on foot. A small village with around 100 houses all painted in white with red rooftops, Kibber is a sight to behold with its unique houses made up of adobe bricks and a boasting a distinct architecture against the backdrop of majestic barren mountains, making any traveler’s heart skip a beat!! Agriculture forms the backbone of local economy and lush green fields are abundant during the summer months – a sight difficult to fathom especially when you see the barren mountains surrounding the region. As we made our way to the top of the village towards the village monastery, we realized we were being followed….
“Who are you? What is your name?”, we turned around and asked.
There he was, walking behind us with a smile stretching from one ear to the other, carrying a school bag on his shoulders which was pretty big for his small frame. I guess he had no idea what we were talking about – all he knew was the word “Chocolate”. Chocolate was his answer to every question we threw at him – from asking where he lived, where he studied, which standard was he studying in, how many friends he had to asking if he could look into the camera while we captured his innocence and infectious happiness.
It was only when we asked him his name that he replied in a broken dialect which we could not understand. Repenting the fact we did not have anything to eat in our backpack, we tried looking for any shop in the village we could find a chocolate for the kid but we failed in our pursuits. And to add to our misery, the kid just wouldn’t stop following us!! We told him all the stories we could make – that we had eaten up every chocolate we had and asking him to run to his friends as we had given a few chocolates to his friends. But he wasn’t having any of it, not wiping the smile off his face even for a moment. Fortunately, when we thought we had got ourselves into a fix, he suddenly turned towards a door and disappeared behind it. Just like that – there were no handshakes, no goodbyes…he parted ways exactly the way he had joined us; out of the blue.
We resumed our walk to the top and soon reached the opposite end of the village, overlooking the valley. The vast expanse of desolate landscape spread across us in all its majesty, making us realise how precariously the village was perched atop a limestone hill and jealous of the fact that the villagers could wake up to this beautiful vista every single day.We could see Chicham at a distance, looking much more beautiful now that we were a lot closer to it than when we had seen it before. While Kshitij unpacked his tripod and began capturing the memories on film, I sat at a distance, overlooking the gorge below and trying to absorb the panorama which was laid out before my eyes. Such was the beauty surrounding us that we had lost track of our time and by the time I came to my senses and looked at my watch it was already close to 5 pm!!
We quickly packed up the gear and started making a swift descent to Kibber’s entry. We were sure that once the sun sets behind the mountain it would become dark in a matter of minutes….add to it the fact that we probably had to cross the landscape constituting Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary, the information bulletin outside Kibber suggesting possible sightings of Snow Leopards in the area had already instilled a slight fear in our minds. But Kibber did not let us leave before cheering our souls for one last time. Exactly where we had parted ways, there was the kid again playing with his friends. He had the same smile when he saw us walking towards him. Finally there were proper farewell handshakes and a small game of football with the kids before we resumed our descent. Now that I think about it, given the fact this place is now frequented by photographers and travellers I believe these kids are probably used to chocolates in exchange for a photograph or two. Anyhow, we quickly moved out of the village only to find there were no vehicles going back to Kaza we could hitch a ride on!! So with a sense of urgency we started sliding down the mountains, bypassing the paved roads and trails – as there was no need to follow them now on our way downhill. Along one of these downward sections near the village was when we met a man in uniform, gingerly making his way towards the village –
Kidhar ja rahe ho is time? Ab to andhera hone ko hai bhai?” (Where are you guys going at this time? It’s about to get dark now) he stopped in his stride and asked.
“Trying to reach Kaza, sir, before night falls. At least planning to reach Kye in 2 hours and find a place to stay there, if it gets to dark”, we replied. A conversation at this point was not what we were looking for at that point of time, but then you can’t turn a soldier away, can you? “Are you from this part of India?” we asked.
“No no…I am from Mumbai. Our team is posted here for a few days. In a few weeks’ time we will move downhill as another team comes to take our place here”, he said with a relief on his face.
“Oh wow…you do get to travel a lot in that sense, isn’t it? You are probably coming from the high Himalayas of Kashmir to Spiti and will again travel to some beautiful landscapes…you must have enjoyed your stay here in Kibber!!” we enquired.
“You guys liked it? What is there to like here? Emptiness all around…try waking up to this sight for a month and you will come to know what I am talking about. We are not here because we enjoy it, we have to be here because of these innocent residents. The J&K border is only 50kms from here…if there is no presence of our troops in this area the militants would behead each one of them. We are the only ones standing in their way. Duty hai…hum nahin karenge to sab ko problem ho jayegi!! (It’s our duty…if we don’t do it all of you will get into trouble!!)”, he calmly replied.
There were no words that could express our gratitude for brave-hearts of the kind he was. A heartfelt thank you and a firm handshake was probably the best way we could let him know how indebted we were for his sacrifice and his love for the country. Filled up with a sense of bravado after this encounter, with rejuvenated spirits we started doubling down the hills. The sun was beginning to cast long shadows on the deserted roads and we were already having a hard time catching up with the fast receding daylight. Walking as briskly as we could, we did not feel any semblance of cold that the shadows brought with them at this altitude. But then we were still a long way from Kye – let alone Kaza for that matter. With the sun almost behind the mountains, the cool breeze made its way along the valley, shrouding the landscape with a sense of calmness and solitude. The last batches of bikers were making their way past us towards their next halt/camping stations, while we walked under the careful watch of steep mountain face overlooking the valley. As luck would have it, we were not alone for long, for we soon found a travel companion – a cloth merchant walking towards Kaza who walked past us at am impressive pace. But his electric walking pace was understandable, given he was used to making regular trips to Kibber to sell ready-made clothes to the villagers. He told us the walk from Kibber to Kaza took almost 3 hours for him, so there was the confirmation that we would not be reaching the town before nightfall at any rate today!! While walking with us, he expressed his desire to search for a job in some major town in the Himalayan plains; before backtracking and sharing his plans to open a trade office in Kaza, hire a few people to make journeys on foot like he had been making all these years, and earn a handsome profit selling his goods to nearby villages as well. We were all ears to his entrepreneur self before he decided we were walking too slow to keep up with his schedule and bade goodbye to us!!
We could see the familiar sight of the Kye monastery at a distance, although draped in an orange hue now with the snow capped peaks in the backdrop shimmering with the last light of the day. Across the valley the sun was already making its way towards the shelter of the mountains and the valley was shrouded in a cool breeze rushing towards the town of Kaza. The steep rock cliffs towering behind the monastery had their gaze fixed on us as we gingerly made our way towards Kye village. It was already close to 7:00 pm and the light had well and truly started to fade as we walked towards the village.
“Dude…I think we should look for a place to stay tonight in the village itself. I don’t think walking in the dark is a particularly great idea!!” exclaimed Kshitij as soon as he had the village in his sights. “I have heard from a lot of people that the area here is prone to landslides, especially after dark. It is not safe to walk here after dark”.
“Come on…landslides do not follow the clock. Where do you read all this stuff from? Also, I don’t think we are going to get mugged in this part of the country, are we? But, if it is the image of Snow Leopard, donning the billboards on our way, that is troubling your mind then I don’t blame you ……truth be told, I am scared about it as well!!” I conceded.
No sooner had I said it that we heard the sound of pebbles rolling down the hill we were walking adjacent to, which brought a cold sweat on my brow. Stupid as he sounded, he was probably right and I was certainly trapped in a landslide now!! Or…so I thought. Our heads immediately turned towards the hill top as I started running away from the sound, towards the village buildings… skidding to a sudden halt while beating Kshitij down with an accusing stare!! Silence ensued for a few moments, broken by a loud laughter from both of us. While we stood there laughing, some cows lazily made their way down the hill, merrily sliding down the loose rocks along the slope and sending a loud rumble echoing across the valley. This was probably the “landslide” people had been telling Kshitij about!! But it was enough to bring us to a consensus that it was probably safe for us to look for a shelter in the village itself. It wasn’t an entirely bad idea, especially considering the prospects of capturing night shot of Kye Monastery with the massive arm of Milky Way making up the backdrop. But I was still a little apprehensive about troubling the locals at this time in the evening.
It was then that we noticed that our shadows had started becoming taller…the pebbles next to us illuminated and a low humming sound reverberated across the valley around us. Judging that it was probably not a motorbike, our heads turned instinctively and there she was – the trusted and beloved car of a generation, Maruti Zen!! It was our last hope to reach Kaza and our arms automatically extended outwards, thumb pointing towards the direction of the town. The driver took a moment to, probably, weigh the pros and cons of stopping his vehicle at that point of time but the rear brake lamps illuminated brightly to our extreme happiness and the car came to a halt a few meters ahead of us!! After brief introductions we were on our way speeding across the deserted roads towards Kaza when the dreaded question popped up again during the casual conversations –
“So where are you guys staying in Kaza?”
I turned towards Kshitij sitting in the back seat, but the words had already escaped his mouth before I could signal him to be a little careful about it!! Not that we did not want to share the information that we were staying in Zostel, but the visible disappointment on the gentleman’s face and the silence which ensued thereafter indicated that my apprehension was probably justified. During the course of the day, mention of the word Zostel had brought mixed responses from the locals we conversed with. The general feeling we could sense was that the locals were not particularly impressed, or in agreement, with Zostel operating in the region. The reasons could have been varied – from Zostel offering an experience not aligned to local lifestyle, to the indifferent attitude of the management of the place towards the peace and tranquillity of the town. We never got a clear answer to this question, but judging by the tone and expressions in their answers it was probably one of the two reasons. It had suddenly become pitch dark outside and if not for the kindness of this gentleman with the car there was no way we could walk through that eerie darkness. After about 20 mins of small talks the guy was kind enough to drop us near the petrol pump at the entrance of Kaza. Reflecting on the day that had past us by, we gingerly walked past the small Kaza marketplace. The air was filled with an aroma of steamed wontons and noodles with small restaurants buzzing with last set of customers for the day. But we were searching for a small doorway into paradise – that was what travellers had told us about the place!! Just around the corner we could see the pale orange light through a small doorway with a small wooden plank affixed in the wall.
Located below their office in Kaza, Sol Cafe & Traveler’s Lounge is run by an NGO called Ecosphere which has been doing tremendous work towards the local civilization of the region. The Sol Café is a place to relax and share stories from the road, while enjoying some of the finest cookies, cakes & coffee in all of Spiti. The menu & design of the café were created with the help of resident French bakers. Influences of Buddhist, Tibetan & Spitian culture is visible in the interiors, with a beautiful wall mural created by a past volunteer standing out as a highlight of this cafe. The menu features a variety of cookies, cakes, & muffins as well as classic French crepes, waffles all with the local twist of using tsampa flour in most of the baked goods. All of the money raised from business in the café goes directly towards supporting community initiatives undertaken by Ecosphere. As we walked through the doorway into the cafe, there was a familiar feeling of warmth in the cosy ambience of this beautiful place. Kshitij and I found a couch at the corner of the cafe to rest our backpacks at; while we were greeted by the warm smile of Kritika, a traveller who was volunteering for Ecosphere and managing the cafe for that week. I already knew what I had to order – SeaBuckthorn Tea!! Sea Buckthorns are berries found in high altitude regions of Trans-Himalayan belt in Spiti and is a local source of tasty vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Baked into cookies, muffins, cakes or consumed as tea, it is a flavour you should definitely try whenever you are in Spiti!!
While we were busy sipping our tea and muffins at our leisurely pace, I saw a familiar face across the table casually sipping his coffee and smiling at me. Unable to recollect where I had met him, he probably read the puzzled look on my face and put his coffee down.
“Hi. You were there at Kye Monastery battling those Israeli travellers, right? I was sitting on the balcony of Monk quarters on the first floor, if you remember!!”
“Oh yes, now I remember!! Hi, I am Divas and he is my companion for the road, Kshitij. Nice meeting you.”, I said while pointing towards a vacant couch on our table and indicating him to join us.
“I’m doing great!! I am Rohit. So are you guys riding across the valley on your vehicles?”, he asked while taking the couch on our table.
“No….Ain’t got no vehicles with us. Have been hiking-hitch hiking all the way to Kye and Kibber today…..had an amazing time!!”, said Kshitij
“Ahhh nice….that’s amazing. I have been doing the same in Spiti for the past 1 week now!! It is amazing to see how helpful these locals are. I was sitting in Sol a few days ago when I got into a conversation with a few monks in the evening. I was casually mentioning about my desire to visit Dhankar Monastery when a monk offered to drop me there in his pickup. He was carrying vegetables from Kaza to Dhankar. So just like that, I sat in his jeep with only a small backpack with me and reached Dhankar at night. As it turned out on my arrival there, the monk was a relative of the head Lama of Dhankar monastery and was entrusted with buying supplies for some local celebration in the Monastery. They offered me a bed in their hostel, served me some of the best local cuisines from this region and we celebrated through the night. Next morning the same monk offered to drive me back to Kaza…he did not have anything to do in Kaza that day but still offered to drive me…can you believe that? Unfortunately, his car was not in a mood for a ride and did not start in the morning. So another monk from Kye offered to drop me till Kye Monastery on his motorcycle!! I had just reached the monastery when you guys came there. I have had memorable experiences like these in Spiti….absolutely heartwarming experiences!!”, said Rohit as he recollected some of his memorable experiences from the valley.
“That’s amazing man!! So how long will you be staying in Spiti?”, asked Kshitij
“I am leaving for Ladakh in a day or two. Met a biker yesterday who is driving to Ladakh and he has agreed to take me with him. Will plan for the next halt once I reach Ladakh.”, he said while asking Kritika to bring him an Apple Pie.
“You are working, right? How many leaves do you get? How long will you be on road?”, I asked, totally perplexed by his laid back travel plan.
“Hahaha….I have been travelling for almost a year now. Started from Kerala, moving upwards to Hampi, Gujarat, MP, Orissa, traveling through the Seven Sisters of North East…then to Bhutan, Nepal and back to India in Spiti. Left job in January this year and am spending all my savings on travel. As soon as I run out of money will head back to Pune and search for a new job!!”, he gleefully shared his travel experiences.
“Wow….that’s really inspiring man!! What has been your worst travel experience this year?”, said Kshitij as he became more and more interested in Rohit’s experiences.
“Ahh..I don’t know….probably has to be when I was thrown out of Bhutan with my luggage still in a hotel there!! It is a long story…I did not realize my permit was only for a single entry from India to Bhutan. So one day I was hitch hiking across the country when the route led me to India. So when I tried to hitch another ride to Bhutan I was stopped at the entry saying that I had no valid entry permit!! Having failed to convince them, I spent an entire week near the border town in India, waiting for my luggage to be handed over to me. Fortunately, nothing was stolen and I got my luggage after a long long wait!! Has to be the most unfortunate experience on road this year!!”, mentioned Rohit.
We soon lost track of our time during these conversations and came to our senses only when Kritika mentioned it was time to close the Cafe for the day. While we picked our stuff and headed towards the exit Kshitij had one last question for Rohit –
“You mentioned you were working in Pune earlier….may I know where?”
“Oh, I was working with a Consultancy firm over there. Paid me quite well but was hell of a place to work in!!”, he said.
“Mind telling me which firm was it?”, Kshitij had an evil smile on his face.
“It is not that famous. I was working with a company called ZS Associates…I don’t think you would know the company.”, said Rohit as we had our final handshakes.
The market place had a deserted look all around us and the place was starting to wrap itself around in a cold dark blanket. As we got ready to make our way down to Zostel to crash for the night, Kshitij had a big smile on his face –
“As a matter of fact, I know about the company”, he broke into a loud laughter. “I work there!! I had a hitch for it as soon as you said you worked with ‘A Consultancy firm’….that’s how most of my colleagues introduce themselves to a third person. The point is most on the consultants work with major companies and usually say ‘I am a Business Consultant at Deloitt or KPMG’ etc…we are probably the only ones from Pune who do not mention the name of our company upfront – for we know not many know about it”.
We all broke into a fit of laughter, which gently faded away into the chilly wind of the sleeping town. The stars had again sprinkled across the night sky, probably welcoming the arms of Milky Way to wrap around them once more tonight. But it was a spectacle I would have to miss – for the world was a small place and I sure did walk quite a bit of it through the day!!