Have you traveled on a narrow road? How big was it? Big enough that a car and bike could pass at the same time? Have you done that at 12,000 feet, with a sheer drop on the other side? And a rock face that can smash your skull on this side?
That’s what this was like. Lovely roads. A big thumbs up to BRO (Border Roads Organization) and the Indian Army for keeping these roads alive.
Except, it would soon be dark and we were no where close our destination. A tip to the travellers looking to go there – never look at the distance. Look at the travel time. A 5 km stretch can take you three hours.
Google Maps was insisting that we ‘take a sharp U-turn’. Except, there was a rough path big enough for sheep or perhaps a skinny map down that path. We decided to follow the road, and a few locals (yay! human sighting!) said that was the way to go. They also gave us directions, telling us that we’d come up to a gypsy camp a little ahead and not to take the road that goes down. Continue going up, they said.
So we continued going up, and by the time we took the next turn around the mountain, it was pitch dark. All we had for company was a massive herd of sheep (or is it flock of sheep) that surrounded us suddenly. We did not know where the road ended since those nimble-footed creatures were standing all over. And then they too left us in the dark, on a road that was barely seen and scrub and forests on all sides.
Before we left for the trip, someone has said ‘If you find a bus, just follow it.’ One of the greatest pieces of advice anyone could give in that region. And lucky us, we found a bus. It was almost like the Knight Bus in Harry Potter. He was at a distance, and he was going at speeds that made us think he was actually floating above the ground. It was pitch dark and all we could see was the faint glow of the bus. But that was no reason for him to go slow. He disappeared into a pile of rocks like Alibaba and we followed hurriedly, half expecting to crash into the rocks or just fall off the edge, and we find a road… and just around it our hotel.
After Shimla, you would be hard pressed to find fancy hotels. A warm quilt, a soft pillow and if you are lucky, hot water in the bathroom.
I realised for the first time why people there were always smiling, happy and polite. When you wake up to such beauty, it is hard to hold onto anger. When you face those massive mountains everyday, it is hard to hold on to your puny human ego.
As mentioned earlier, Chitkul is a the last Indian village before the Tibet / China border.
A group of houses, a little monastery and a big river with massive fields. What would it be to live there, by the river, day after day? What would it be to carry massive loads of grain, like those women?
And more importantly, why did these people go there and settle, high in the mountains?
(To be continued…)