Travel seems like a luxury. We save, to indulge in travel. And as teenagers it’s even more of a far-away dream with our limited time and funds. But nothing is impossible. This Diwali, I, along with my two sisters, backpacked through Spiti valley for 14 days in under 10k. And the experiences were more than memorable. We travelled on a whim, accepting local offers, dined with communities, hitchhiked and that’s when our journey truly began.
Spiti is a cold desert mountain valley meaning ‘The Middle Land’ that is the land between Tibet and India. Ibn Battuta rightly said, “Travelling — it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
Spiti is accessible by road from two sides — from Manali, and from Shimla. We went via Shimla, towards Kaza for a number of reasons. It allows your body to acclimatise to the cold weather and high altitude; you won’t have to get a permit for Rohtang; and it is comparatively a whole lot cheaper.
We boarded the flight from Pune to Chandigarh, and from there took a bus till the local bus stand. With frequent buses, we reached Shimla in about 5 hours. Shimla was buzzing with tourists, however, after bargaining we got a decent room at Hotel Classic for Rs 700 for a night. Exhausted, shivering and sleep deprived, we passed out within minutes.
The next day after a glorious sunrise we had breakfast at The Coffee House and were very impressed with its old school furniture, uniformed waiters and blackboard menu. After that we explored the Jakhu Temple dedicated to the Hindu god Hanuman, the viceregal lodge which looks like a cross between Harry Potters Hogwarts School and the Tower of London, and the second-oldest Christ Church in northern India. After having delicious Rajma-Chawal at a local dhaba we inquired about the buses.
The whole of our journey was done by local HRTC buses. These buses are reliable, safe, cheap and frequent throughout North India. At around 6 in the evening, we took a local bus from ISBT up to Reckong Peo. The bus journey was a gruesome 10 hours. This town, known to the locals as ‘Peo’, is spread out along a loop. We stayed at Hotel Ridang which is in the main bazaar and offers a range of tidy rooms for Rs 700. The local bazaar was bustling with excited locals speaking Kinnauri, visiting the ‘Lavi Fair’ which we were lucky to be able to attend! We had steaming Momos and soul-warming Thukpa, a delicacy that is prepared with steaming vegetable stock and delicious noodles.
The next day, as there was a bus strike, so we hitchhiked till the pretty village Kalpa, which is a 20-minute drive. Offering majestic views of Kinner Kailash, Kalpa is a little gem. The surrounding orchards are beautiful and provide easy walks, or you can just wander through the narrow cobbled streets. According to legend, this was the winter home of Shiva, and there are some impressive Kinnauri-style temples and a colourful Buddhist temple. We stayed at the Chini bungalow, with the most majestic view whilst surrounded by apple orchards and a soothing silence. The rooms were cheap due to lack of tourists.
Just down the street, the ‘Dinesh Bhojnalaya’ served the most mouth watering Aloo Parathas and coffee for a really good price! It was run by this friendly couple who suggested some must-visit places. We embarked on a four-hour trek to the meadow which is filled with trees, and has natural beauty that makes you ache with gratitude. When you travel through small towns and villages, watching communities being so utterly satisfied with so less, you realise there is so much more to life.
After soaking in the beauty of Kalpa, we took a local bus till Nako, which took around 10 hours. Nako is a sleepy settlement and offers very reasonable homestays for Rs 200. The homestay Old Monk is run by this old couple who won’t stop buttering your Parathas and feeding you, with a guaranteed walk down memory lane, reminding you of your grandparents! Nako lake was quite magnificent with its natural beauty.
However Rohtang La, on the road between Manali and Spiti, is open only till mid-October and unfortunately we were unable to visit it due to hazardous weather conditions and snow. We returned back with our rucksacks, but this time filled with memories and conversations.
During travelling, meeting new people becomes an everyday thing. Every now and then you make a new friend from Buddhists to Muslims to Hindus. The culture, thoughts, values, history may differ but while engaging in conversations, you realise how we all come from the same place and think alike.