06 Oct 2011
Travel to the place
Where we spread love,
Freedom to serve
And land to move.
The sound of the alarm woke me up. It was cold and my body was stiff. Last Night, I took the medicine to ease out the pain but I guess it didn’t help. Lazily, I moved my legs around a bit and got up. I looked out of the window and welcomed the dawn inaugurating a new day in the Spiti Valley….
I took a deep breath, got ready, grabbed all my possessions and went downstairs. The caretaker was up already, helping a Bengali family loading the luggage in the car and afterwards he helped me mounting the bag on the bike. And he also told me that my stay in Batal has also been confirmed. As it all happened, i had a little talk with him last night and told him about the rest of my plan. As planned earlier, i was going to cover the distance till Batal i.e. on the other side of the valley after crossing the Kunzum Pass. But i was not sure of the accommodation there as it is a inhabited place and only a makeshift tent operates here in the summers. That to because of it’s proximity to the Chandratal (The Moon Lake) – As per the information i got from reading some blogs. Visiting Chandratal was very much in my plan and after coming this far i didn’t want to miss on it. So much so that i even thought of crossing the Kunzum Pass again from Batal and back to Losar (A small village before the climb to the Kunzum Pass) in absence of any accommodation. And when i told all this to the caretaker, he told me that he would ask his boss to give a call and check that whether the tent is still in operation or is closed. And in the morning he gave me the good news and told me that my stay is confirmed and the person there would be expecting me to reach there by the afternoon. I thanked him for all this and set out again.
My first destination of the day was the Ki Monastery which at 13, 668 feet asl is located on the top of a hill. Ki or the fort monastery is architecturally based on the ‘Pasada’ style and is also the biggest monastery and a religious training center for lamas in the Spiti Valley. Historically speaking, Ki Monastery is said to have been founded by Dromton (Brom-ston, 1008-1064 CE), a pupil of the famous teacher, Atisha, in the 11th century. Marred by several wars and natural calamities, it has stood the test of time. Ki Monastery was attacked by the Mongols during the 17th century, during the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama, and thus became a Gelugpa establishment. In 1820 it was attacked again during the wars between Ladakh and Kulu. In 1841 it was severely damaged by the Dogra army under Ghulam Khan and Rahim Khan. Later that same year the monastery suffered more damage from a Sikh army. In the 1840s it was ravaged by fire and, in 1975, a violent earthquake caused further damage which was later repaired with the help of the Archaeological Survey of India and the State Public Works Department.
I parked my bike in the parking area and looked around in order to find someone to guide me a bit. Being so early in the morning, there was no one around and the gate of the monastery was also closed. So, I went back towards the bike and as i switched on the ignition of the bike, I saw a monk, who upon seeing me directed me to come along with the bike to the entrance gate of the monastery at the top. I followed his directions and moved to the entrance and later he came and opened the door of the old monastery. He asked me about the purpose of my visit and the place i have come from and some other details. Then he took me to the monastery kitchen. It was too cold outside and at the same time it was so warm and cozy inside. The light was dim and at some places it was completely dark, the walls made of mud, the stairs uneven and narrow leading up and down linking the numerous rooms inside. I, on the other hand was trying to hold my excitement and was amazed of whatever i was seeing. It was like walking in the castle and feeling the same way that i felt while reading the story books when i was little. The pleasure, the joy, the power of imagining things which made the word in the books come alive and the moments when you used to be lost in your own little world. My chain of thoughts was broken as I entered the kitchen and the monk present there offered me a cup of tea. The monk there told me that if i want, I could take the pictures in the kitchen but as he would take me to the temples, photography is not allowed inside. Then he took me to the temples, told me about the their significance and showed me the collection of ancient murals, books, rare paintings with gold work on them brought from Tibet during Chinese invasion all of high aesthetic value. By that time a tourist family had also joined in and the thing that annoyed me was the amount of noise they were making. Please! Respect the customs and written on the sign boards as well, Do not make any noise….
Enlightened and touched by the politeness, the simplicity, the tradition and the values, I moved on. Back on the road, my mind was still clouded by the events that just took place and here as well my eyes were having a feast of such beautiful landscape that surrounded me. Every now and then i would pass through a small village and the kids were greeting me with a lovely smile and each time i used to smile back and wave my hand towards them and hear them giggle. The life could be so simple but here we are stuck in the cities, used to its pace and the comforts….
The drive as it was from the last few days was a hard one. There were patches of good tar road but they were constantly making the way for the loose dirt tracks. The distance sign pic that you are seeing above. Well, I slipped while taking the same because of the gravel present on the road and fell down with the bike. Yes, I didn’t use the side stand at the first place. My knee was hurt and there were some scratches on the hand as well and the mobile which i was using to click the pic was escaped from the scratches. I remember praying when I picked it up and was cleaning the dust from the screen. Please God! Please God! No scratches on the screen.
By the time, I reached Losar, I was feeling tired and hungry. At 13, 386 feet, Losar is the last village before the ascent to the Kunzum Pass to move to the other side of the Spiti Valley. Just before the police barricade at the end of the village, I saw a tea shop and made a stop. And before moving to the Kunzum Pass, it was necessary for me to register as well. So, i spent some time there relaxing, drinking tea and finishing a pack of biscuits. It was around 11.30 a.m and it was cold and windy out there.
The distance from Losar to Kunzum Pass is 19 kms and then from Kunzum Pass to Batal is 10 kms which on the other side of the Spiti Valley was my stop for the day. And upon inquiring, I got to know that the road that I left behind and by this I mean the entire bad stretches from Rampur to Karchaam, Karchaam to Chitkul, Malling, Tabo till here are considered to be good of what i would encounter next i.e till Marhi which comes after crossing Rohtang Pass. Covering the same on the bike is even more challenging as compared to the 4 wheelers. Hmmmm….. No point looking back, I have come this far and I would complete the entire stretch….
Slowly, I made my way up on the crumbling roads with the tyre of the bike slipping every now and then. The key to maneuver through these roads was patience as driving anything above 15-20 kmph was suicidal and then you need luck as well as you do not want a punctured tyre or any other complications with your vehicles up there. All my concentration was on the road and i set myself small goals all the way in order to cover the distance. But then again, it was all worth it as the views I was subjected too were to die for. With all the luck by my side, I safely made my way up to the Kunzum Pass @ 14, 931 feet asl. My highest point till date and the highest point in my entire journey. It was sure windy up there. The winds were too strong, the views were breathtaking and I was on the top.
All of a sudden, the scenery was changed, the structure of the mountains with a lot of snow on top of them, the nip in the air and of course the strong winds. As if i had stepped onto a different land altogether. It was a steep descent after that. Batal is situated at an altitude of 12, 800 feet approx. and in 10 kms from Kunzum Pass to Batal the descent was more than 2000 feet. On the way to Batal, I saw a punctured Alto parked on the side of the road and there was no one around. It was just after crossing the Kunzum Pass and I wondered what would have happened to the one’s in there. At the same time the clouds were also building up and I could see an end to my plan of going to Chandratal later that day. After numerous loops, cuts and bends on the off road, finally I made it to Batal. And my first reaction was of ‘ What land I have come to’. To be precise, I could see only 2 tents/ dhabas and an under construction building of H.P.P.W.D. It was 2.00 p.m and the owner of one of the tent/dhaba was expecting me. It looked small from outside but as i entered through the small entrance the area inside just widened up. So much so that i was living the exact scene as pictured in the movie ‘Harry Potter and the goblet of fire’ where upon entering the tent, the whole area just widened up. As i noticed, there were 3 people running the whole operation Dorjee (the owner), His wife and a helper. Every year they would come here in May/ June and leave by mid October. And these are just not ordinary people, they are the lifeline of that area. Last Year only i.e. September 2010, they rescued closed to 150 tourist who were stuck by the sudden snowfall in the entire area including Chandratal (The Moon Lake). Look at the pic captioned ‘my halt for the day’ and you would see a board that is the cover story of the couple by Hindustan Times when they rescued the tourists. The date if i remember correctly was 22 Sep 2010 or somewhere around that. They fed them, gave them a shelter to sleep, hope and a warm atmosphere to lighten the mood.
That time they were helping some guys with the petrol as they ran out of there’s and a guy whose car got punctured near the Kunzum Pass. Yes, the car that I saw. The guy was sitting here and upon asking he told me that it happened in the morning and he was along with his family. They walked till here and then he requested some tourists passing by and sent his family along with them and as there was no facility of repairing the punctured tyre in batal he had sent the same to Chattru after requesting a bus driver which is situated 30 kms from batal. The plan for visiting Chandratal (The Moon Lake) was cancelled for the day and I was not sure of visiting the same the next day. The weather had gone bad and it was too cold. Every now and then i would step out of the tent to see what is going around and would step back in immediately. One instance while i saw standing outside soaking in the atmosphere. I could feel the snowflakes on my face and burning my skin. It was not snowing that time but the strong winds were bringing down the snowflakes from the nearby mountains. I had never witnessed snowfall but now this way was fun as well. By the nightfall, in the dark, it was all that spooky. I was lone tourist staying for that day as the guy who was waiting for the tyre got the same in the evening and left. After dinner Dorjee took me to another tent or the sleeping area and as i was alone, so i had the liberty to take as many quilts i wanted. Well, it took 4 heavy quilts for me to make the bed and get comfortable. Thank God my mobile had the flash light and some battery left so doing things were possible. And then came the scary part as i was lying down, I could hear the sound of the winds and the noise made when they were striking the tent. It was so loud and seemed so threatening that i was expecting that anytime now it would blew away the tent. And above all, i was still not sure of making it to Chandratal the next day as the weather was going bad and my priority was to cross Rohtang Pass before it gets closed down as the first snowfall was expected anytime then. And with that thought still unsure and listening to the wind sounds, i went to sleep…..
Travel to the place
Where we can live,
Of joy and sprinkle its grace,
And do anything, anywhere.
End of Day 6 – Oct 6, 2011
Total Driving (Kaza to Batal via Ki Monastery) – 110 km
Start Time – 07.00 a.m, End Time – 02.00 p.m
PS : .c – pics from camera, .mb – pics from mobile, Poem by – Divyesh J. Shah
Contd… To the Final Part…..