Spiti Tales- High altitude Villages

Finally, we are in Kaza- the district headquarter of Spiti.  We ended up spending two days here and explored the nearby villages. Kaza is the biggest town and commercial center in Spiti.  It has the only fuel station in the entire Spiti valley,  a cyber cafe, and erratic mobile network. After spending days in the remote, serene Himalayas it was like coming back to the chaotic city life.

We started early and went on the now familiar road.  Spiti river, our delightful companion also joined and took us through the valley to the villages.

Spiti Valley and Spiti River

 

Spiti River – shimmering and tinkling like a silver anklet

Along the way, there are interesting artworks curated by nature.

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Our first stop was Dhankar village which was the erstwhile capital of Spiti. The main attraction here is the magnificent Dhankar Gompa perched high on top of a hill. At a staggering height of 3,894 meters,  Dhankar gompa is awe inspiring. From a distance, the entire complex looks fragile and in fact, this is one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world.

 

Is this for real?

Dhankar Fort is the tallest structure and Dhankar Gompa is seen below

Dhankar Fort

 

Dhankar means fort on a cliff and this monastery is more than 1000 years old. I can’t imagine how they managed to build such a  gravity_defying structure in that period. You have to leave the vehicle and walk up to the monastery.

That day it was closed for repairs. So we missed the trek and the dizzying views from the top.   Why is it that most revered places of worship are at such heights and terrains?

After a long stretch of barren mountains, we came upon green patches and a cluster of houses.

Desolate and remote

Compact houses and farmlands

The Spitian villages are sparsely populated.( The 2011 census says  33,224  is the total population).  They all have a monastery, traditional mud houses, and farmlands.   Agriculture, livestock, and tourism are their main source of income. Barley, potato, and peas are the main cash crops.  Summer months are for farming and preparing food and fodder for the harsh winter. In winter everything comes to a standstill and people are confined to their homes.  It is hard to imagine how they are coping with their limited resources.   Apart from the motorable roads, there is hardly any signs of development.

Whitewashed mud houses with prayer flags

Traditional houses and new concrete buildings in Kibber Village.  Some have converted to Homestays where you can stay with a local family.

 

Langza is another picturesque village.  It is known for the fossils of marine animals and plants.   We saw two young girls trying to sell the fossils they have collected. Though it is illegal, there are no stringent laws to regulate this.  A huge statue of Buddha is seen overlooking the valley.  Ideal spot for the obligatory group photo!

Buddha at Langza Village

From Langza the road climbed higher and now we are in Komic Village.

I don’t dispute the altitude!

 

Komic Monastery is relatively small.  A few monks were in the prayer hall chanting.

 

Komic Monastery

The post office in Hikkim is claimed to be the highest post office in the world. Having read about it in travel journals, I was keen to go there.   A steep trek through loose gravel takes you to a nondescript house.  Nobody was seen outside. We took some photos and went in.  The small dark room was teeming with tourists.  Mr. Rinchen Cherring,  the branch postmaster was at the center of the melee handing out postcards, stamps, envelopes and patiently answering queries.  I also bought postcards and deposited them with reverence. One was addressed to myself and I  received it after one month.What an exciting journey for a postcard!

Mr.Rinchen Cherring and his charming post office. It remains closed for 6 months in winter.

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On the way back from the successful Mission Postcard, I met a group of children.  Their school was closed and they were out to play.   It was refreshing to see them making do with what they have.They don’t have fancy toys or the latest gizmos.  We bartered smiles. I like children who don’t live in a fantasy world with superheroes.

Pick up the sticks.

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Kee Monastery was the last stop.  Imposing structure and spectacular setting but I decided to skip it.

Kee Monastery- The biggest monastery in Spiti

A school was seen nearby.  After the morning dose of extreme solitude, the school seemed the perfect getaway. And I wasn’t disappointed. It was a riot of colors and laughter out there.

The School near Kee Monastery.

Running amok

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Zen and the motorcycle.

That night I dreamt of a boy zooming down the mountain on a motorbike with his red robes billowing around.

 

 

Spiti Tales- Mountains, valleys, lakes, and bridges.

After bidding farewell to the divine Kinnaur Kailash, we set out for  Tabo. This route is known for landslides and we knew the photo stops would be considerably reduced. We passed through Akpa, Morang, Spello and Pooh.The road conditions varied from smooth tarmac to narrow mud tracks.  On the way, there are some lovely bridges and waterfalls. This stretch has some of the finest bridges  I have ever seen, ranging from Bailey, suspension to massive modern ones.

The good roads

Mud roads.Don’t miss the Mummy rock. Pc: Ajay

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The Border Road Organisation (BRO) is responsible for the maintenance of these mountain roads and frequently we came across people engaged in clearing the rock_  strewn paths. They have put up a number of quirky sign boards all along the route doling out safety precautions. ‘If married, divorce speed’, ‘ Be gentle on my curves’,  ‘Mind your brakes or break your mind’ and ‘Be Mr.Late than late Mr.’  are a few I remember now.

Our first halt was at Khab. This is where the mighty Sutlej which originates from Tibet meets Spiti river coming from the Spiti valley. The landscape is barren, arid and vast. The greenery has almost vanished. Mighty mountains lead us to a narrow tunnel with overhanging rocks.  Though technically we are still in Kinnaur I  feel we have entered the surreal land of Spiti.

The gateway to Spiti

Khab Bridge adorned with prayer flags.

The confluence of Satluj and Spiti rivers. Satluj is muddy brown and Spiti river is ash gray.

The rocks show a range of colors and some of them have striations. Wish we had a geologist in our group!

This rock reminded me of a gargoyle with cold, evil eyes.

Rock art Pc: Ajay

Boulders perched precariously

Our convoy.

 

Khab has another significance. Shipki La-the high mountain pass and border post on the India-China border is about 40 km from here. You require special permits to go there.

A slice of the sky Pc: Mangesh

Face off! Mr.Snub nose and Ms.Sharp nose.

From Khab to Hangrung valley

From Khab, the road ascended through a series of switchbacks. There were no other vehicles in sight. It was like going into an alien, remote land. All we could see were the mountains in different colors and dimensions. The landscape is like Ladakh except that Ladakh is always bursting with tourists.

Ka loops

A patch of green.

The next stop was Nako -a beautiful village and often a night stop for the travelers. Nako is an important center of Buddhism. There are two main monasteries (gompas) and many temples in the Nako village. Guru Rinpoche is believed to have meditated in the caves seen up in the mountains.We could not go inside the monasteries as they were closed to the public.

Old Nako Gompa

After a quick lunch, we went over to Nako Lake. After the rocky, dusty, barren terrains, the shimmering lake was like an oasis. It looks more like a  large pond.

Enchanting Nako Lake

Nako lake is a natural lake and remains frozen during winter. The water was crystal clear and green reflecting the trees around the periphery.  The tranquility and silence all around was overpowering.  Though Nako has become quite popular on the travel circuit, there were not many people around.  I can imagine how this place would look with a bunch of noisy, selfie_ obsessed tourists.

Circumambulating the lake

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The walkway around the lake leads to the Nako village and its cluster of houses made of earth and stone. Fodder and firewood are piled on the wooden roofs and most houses have a pen for their cattle.   Prayer wheels, colorful prayer flags, and cairns with inscribed mantras seen among the winding lanes reflect the age-old Buddhist traditions.

Nako Village homes

A pen with no inmates

All peace and quiet here.

Where are the people?

I wanted to peek inside.

Mani stones

Prayer wheels and Mani stones

The premises are kept very clean. But where are the people?   Most people-both men and women work in the fields.Their main crops are peas, potato, wheat, and barley. The Himachal government has provided many houses with solar panels and they also have a helipad to transport people in case of an emergency. New concrete buildings are coming up beside the traditional homestays and small guesthouses. I did not see a school or a hospital.

Two sisters were seen out there enjoying the sun.IMG_5245IMG_5246

I had not even heard of Nako before coming here and now I am leaving with pleasant memories of a small, peaceful village.

 

 

Dragon Tales-The Bridge on the River Po

As I   was coming out of the Punakha dzong  I  could see a long bridge in the distance  and wanted to  have a closer look.After  a short   trek through a dirt path  I am standing on the bridge and as expected this was another  magnificent structure.It is  the second  longest suspension bridge in Bhutan and  stretches over the Po Chhu.  I knew it would take considerable time to cross the bridge  but it was too good to pass up .I associate bridges with romance and pathos and this bridge  was exceptional  all the way.

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The mighty bridge spanning 350 m

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A long way to go

The bridge is sturdier and less  bouncy  compared to the one in  Paro  and  offers  stunning views of the  mountains and villages.I saw a variety of people on the bridge-school children,villagers, monks and  a quadruped.
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The lone monk pc:Dr Bruno

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Back from the school

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In meditation

Colorful prayer flags seemed to be telling me something and I wished I could read what is written on them.It started swaying  gently as I reached the centre.I think this bridge would make an ideal location for movies.But it is not very easy  getting permits for movie shooting.  Bhutan has strict regulations and hefty royalty fees . Bhutan April 2016 395IMG_0767

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Gently flows the River Po

 

Now I am at the other end and a prayer wheel welcomes you to the village.A two storey building   and rice fields  are the main sights.d2d1

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Is this a museum ? office ? residence ? This is a general store.

An old lady was seen turning the prayer wheel and  three kids were playing in the court yard.They  were very friendly and curious  and asked  a lot of questions.  I can’t remember the last time  a child wanted to know my name ! The youngest kid was the centre of attention and she entertained us with her antics.Even the dogs were in awe of her.

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Playtime

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Little Miss Sunshine

 

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The boss with her loyal guards

The girls   insisted on accompanying me  to the other end.They cross the bridge  every day to go  to the school and dzong.I had to coax them to go back after we reached half way and made a promise to visit them before they start going to college.I looked on as they waltzed their way back.

Today was  a day of serendipitous moments and I  wish I  could stay.

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Goodbye

Turtles can fly ?

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On a serious note,Turtles can fly  is a 2004 Kurdish movie directed by  Bahman Gobadi.This is one movie I wish everyone watches at least once to see the horrors of mindless war through the eyes of innocent children.

I had seen this movie many years ago  but  still feel   connected to it.

Haunting and lyrical.That is the power of  cinema and children.

 

Kindertransport-A mission of hope and glory.

Have you heard of Kindertransport?I never knew.Movies have opened my eyes to many wonders and yesterday a  documentary made me see the horrors of the holocaust through the eyes of children.

 

Into the arms of strangers-stories of the Kindertransport is an academy award_ winning documentary. It is a heartwrenching account of those dark days and a  rescue mission which saw thousands of Jewish children between the age of  5 and 17 from Germany, Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia leaving their parents to go to foster homes Britain-the only country which agreed to accept them.Between December 1938 and August 1939 more than 10,000 children were brought to Britain and this is their story narrated by the survivors in their 60s and 70s.

They recall their idyllic carefree life with parents, the preparations for the trip, final goodbyes, the journey, discovery of a new country and learning to live with foster parents.They speak from the heart and tell you their struggles to adjust to the new family and surroundings and living with the hopes of reuniting with their families.They come to know of their parents and siblings perishing in the concentration camps and a few fortunate ones are reunited with their families.What I find most refreshing is that they narrate their stories with candor.They also acknowledge the foster parents and their limitations.They are all survivors and show immense dignity and grace.Many have settled down in UK and USA and are shown leading meaningful lives with children and grandchildren.

There are some movies which have to be seen by all and this is one of them.Yes, there are many popular movies like Schindler’s List, The boy in the striped pyjamas, The pianist,  etc.I find this more intense and moving.Even if you are not a fan of cinema, please find time to watch this.

Four statues were erected to commemorate this epic rescue mission in UK, Poland, Germany, and Holland.Frank Meisler, the sculptor had been on kindertransport.What an irony of fate.

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Kindertransport-Meisler

Courtesy google images

 

“I ceased to be a child when I boarded the train in Prague.It is strange that it’s only six years out of a long life and those six years will affect the rest of your life” -this is how Eva Hayman,  a survivor recalls.

I salute all those kind souls who made the mission possible and those foster parents who gave them a home and life.

Growing pains

What is the ideal age to switch from seeing a pediatrician to a physician ?This has been a sore point   and has led to heated debates  among my colleagues from both the specialities.We ,the humble pediatricians , feel that after the age of 12 children can be seen by GPs or physicians.I find it amusing to see  strapping   boys with acne and moustaches  waiting  in the reception  area teeming with  kids  of different age groups.Many of them are embarrassed to be seen  by their “baby” doctors but are dragged to our side by the parents.Their reasoning is  very simple-Doc,you have seen him/her from day one,can’t you see them  for some more years? Wish we get an   adolescent medicine   specialist in my hospital  .Personally I  dont want to deal with teenage issues.  It is  nice to see  these children grow into confident adults but I  don’t want  them as my patients.I am happiest when I am with my toddlers and newborns.

Movies on children.

I like well- made children movies, not those kinds where children look and act like adults mouthing preachy dialogues.I also wonder how the directors work with these little ones to bring in all the nuances of a magical childhood.Do they tempt them with chocolates, ice creams or promise a visit to Disneyland? It is also sad to see many popular child stars succumbing to the pressures of stardom and ending up alcoholics and drug addicts.Some have died very young and some have committed suicide- a heavy price to pay for instant fame and fortunes.I think we never let them grow and always visualise them as the adorable characters they portrayed.

Some of my  favourite movies are     The kid,To kill a mocking bird, E.T,Kramer vs Kramer, Sixth sense, The 400 blows, Le petit Nicolas, The  colour of paradise ,Children of heaven ,Turtles can fly, Masoom,Stanley ka dabba,Taare zammen par,Timepass,Shala and Fandry.

What is your favourite?