MarkTravel with Travel Vlogger Shraddha Basu.
Hi everyone. It’s me, Shraddha Basu, travel blogger, traveling through the less traversed trails of the Himalayas. This is Part 2 of my adventure where we started our trek from Manali, visiting spectacular locations like Solang Valley, Hidimba Temple and experienced their rich culture and cuisine. I failed to restrain myself from spending while walking down the mall road, but this was just the beginning. The real adventure was yet to commence. If you haven’t read my previous blog, I highly recommend you to do so. I’m sure you will find it exciting. Read about the start of my adventure on the lonely peaks of the Himalayas in “Warm-Up in Manali.”
We left Manali around 7 in the morning and chose the route via Rohtang pass for Kaza. But before I begin with this blog, let me give you all some information about the place we were heading to. Kaza is a place that is less traversed by tourists but is one of the go-to destinations for travelers and adventurers. Kaza lies in the Spiti and Lahaul district of the Indian state Himachal Pradesh. People generally travel to this place via Ladakh, or via the Kinnaur district, or later via the Kalpa-Kinnaur route.
There are two ways to reach Kaza while on the Kalpa-Kinnaur route. One can directly come from Manali via the Rohtang pass and Spiti valley. The other route is from Shimla, through the Kinnaur district, covering places in-between like Narkanda, Sarahan, Kalpa, etc. We chose the former.
We made our way through the picturesque Manali hills to the Rohtang pass at a height of 13,000 ft. above sea level. Being a popular spot, many tourist vehicles were lined up, and people gathered here with all of their professional and unprofessional cameras to get some perfect shots of the picturesque landscape.
It’s advised to pack your breakfast with you before leaving Manali, just the way we did, as you’ll have to start very early and have to cover a big distance that takes approximately 12 hours. We did not stop anywhere other than for our lunch at Batal.
After a good 40 minutes after Rohtang, we were heading towards Batal. On the road to Batal. On the way, there is a place called Chatru where you’ll find a few camps and shops selling various small snacks which are perfect if you need to get out of the car for a bit.
When you leave Rohthang and move ahead, and especially if you’re a first-timer on that route, the scenery, as well as the dangerous road, are sure to get you goosebumps. Just like it happened with me. There is a popular saying in Hindi, “Jaan hatheli par leke chalna”, which means traveling with your life at risk. Even when we had come out of Kaza, this particular moment kept on haunting us at every other interval.
One of those moments which still makes my hair on my arms stand, was when we were struggling to cross a dangerous portion of the road on the side of a steep cliff, but another truck approaching from the other side. There was not much space on the road and it only allowed one vehicle to pass at a time. So, we had to put our car in reverse and drive backward on that dangerous slit of the road till the mountain allowed the road to expand just a little and the truck could safely pass by us.
These sorts of routes that can be found in the Himalayas have the prerequisite of a traveler having a strong heart and an adventurous mind. We then understood why we had to leave that early in the morning. I don't even want to imagine if we had to travel on this road after dark. It would have haunted me in my dreams for years.
However, even after this harrowing experience, our destination Chatru, made me feel that every bit of that dangerous road was worth having this location on my traveling bucket list. Chatru gave us some quality time with the locals and definitely some Instagram worthy scenes. But as we continued on our journey from Chatru, I understood how very ignorant I had been to the many-faced God that is the Himalayas.
When I imagined the Himalayas in my mind, the pictures that would form in my mind were the giant snow-capped peaks that reflected the sunlight, the dense coniferous forest on the slopes of the mountain, and the rivers that traversed and cut through the landscapes.
The journey from Chatru through Spiti shattered that ignorance. The scenery of mountains and valleys had their own looks and feel every few moments. All through the journey, I was amazed and mesmerized by the changing looks and views. Some just rocky and lifeless, while some with lush green forest but to describe that lushness, I was just lost for words.
On the way to Batal, there was a place where all those tourists from other buses had to get down from their vehicles to cross safely and smoothly, But our exceptional driver was capable of getting through that portion of road with all of us in the bus.
By 2 PM, we finally reached Batal for lunch. But the place was nothing like anywhere we halted before. It was chilly, windy, and did not showcase any scenic views. Yet that place was our only savior as it sheltered us from the cold and hot rajma-chawal to warm up. There were more options. If one is not fond of the dish, they can opt-in for some delicious Maggi noodles and momos. But I will advise everyone to get the rajma-chawal, as it makes a heavy meal for your journey till Kaza.
I remember meeting some interesting bikers and trekkers there, with whom we exchanged travel experiences.
Next, we were supposed to stop at Kunzum pass which is at a height of over 15,000 ft. From Batal, it's a perilous route that took us up to the diversion point which separated the route for Chandratal and Kaza, and the Kunzum pass lies on the way to Kaza. One sad part was that we were supposed to stay a night at Chandratal, but due to the road conditions, our driver didn’t want to take the risk to travel from Kaza to Chandratal the next day.
Also a piece of advice, on these dangerous high altitude roads, the drivers are your guide. Don't go against their advice. They have a lifetime worth of experience on these roads and can sense when the weather might go bad.
We instead went for a Kaza sightseeing for the next day which was again an unforgettable experience. We consoled ourselves by saying that Chandratal lake is very similar to the Pangong Tso, Ladakh, but not as scenic, which is actually partially true. By the time we reached Kunzum pass it was already dusk. So, with just a few travelers, army men, and Himalayan cyclists, the environment itself was an experience like no other. The top of the peaks adorned a golden tinge and the weather conditions were tremendous. We were facing chilly winds at high altitudes, causing a few members of our group to start having an oxygen crisis. Only three of us dared to get down from the bus to experience the extremities. We got some awesome snaps and moved ahead. From there we crossed Losar (a small village) and found ourselves lost near Chhicham village.
It was getting dark, all of us struggled to find some milestone for Kaza, but after some time, we realized there were none. We waited in front of the Chhicham bridge for a long time in the hopes of stopping some other cars who would be able to direct us. After waiting for a long time, we could see our only ray of hope. A car was approaching. The four-wheeler asked us to follow them as they were going the same way. We gathered all our courage, trusted them, but could only follow them for about 20 mins. We had lost sight of the car on the meandering mountainous roads.
Now it was all dark and all our hope was on our driver now. After a while, however, we spotted a signboard, which we thought could show us the way. It did inform us about the route, but it definitely didn't inform us about the Himalayan ibex and red fox who were calling out all around us as we stooped to read the signpost. The rocky, groovy mountains roads illuminated by our vehicle’s headlights created an illusion of dragons in my mind, which was fun for me at the time because it distracted me from everything as I gazed at the clear sky above and enjoyed the constellations.
Sitting through rantings like “Kaza being the capital of the Spiti district, there should be some proper directions provided” and “we should have started earlier”, we finally reached Kaza at around 7 pm.
In Kaza, we had 3 rooms booked in the HPTDC hotel which was a very beautiful, well-maintained white-washed property in the vast brown valley. For that night I had nothing to talk about, as I was very exhausted after this 12-hour journey. I just had my dinner in silence, negotiated at what time to start the next day, and dived for the bed.
The next morning, we completed our breakfast and left the hotel to explore Kaza. We started with the largest and most popular monastery in Spiti. The icon of Kaza, the Key monastery, belonging to the Gelukpa school. Situated at a height of 13503 ft. We met a solo female traveler staying in the monastery for the last few days and she definitely inspired me with her stories. We then headed to Kibber, the second-highest village connected with motorable roads. Well, we just had some solitary beauty there, as all the houses were locked an’ no one lived there momentarily. At that time of the year, the locals come down to the lower parts of Himachal as during winter the weather conditions up in Kibber are too severe.
Till here things were smooth, but on the road to the highest village, Komic, it was a spectacular thrill. Through the beautiful golden Rocky Mountains and amazing natural textures, we had to navigate to Komic. We faced difficulty in this because it was not only the first time for us, it was the first time for even our driver. On the way, we crossed the highest fossil village called Lanza, much known for its huge Buddha statue. For the next few hours, we felt as if we were at the top of some other world, with golden rocky mountain ranges all around. Some houses suddenly caught our eyes at a distance and our guesses for it being Komic were fortunately correct.
We reached there hungry, whoever stepped down from the vehicle felt scarcity of oxygen including me which is common at over 15000 ft. height. We ordered 8 plates of Maggi for all of us from their menu which isn’t very big but you’d get dishes to stuff yourself well... like sandwiches, momos, Rotis, and others.
After exploring Komic for some time, having last night's memories still clearly etched on our minds, we hurried to get back to the hotel by dusk. We passed the Hikkim village, which is well known for having India’s highest post office. We captured the village's image in our minds and in the golden hours the village was cast in a beautiful golden glow.
We drove down to the hotel earlier than expected, so we took a breath of relief. Then it was just some good times for us.... relaxing and when it was all dark, we were suddenly re-energized with the fascination of getting a clear image of the galaxy in our mind. Oh yeah, Kaza also has the aero-space center since it's located so high and has some of the clearest views of the sky. Three over-enthusiastic people (me, my father, and a friend from our group) were momentarily a little scared on that dark road to the center because of some Himalayan dogs, but we reached the center soon enough. It was an otherworldly experience seeing the night sky in the soothing, cold breeze. We struggled to spot a few constellations but managed to locate a few.
I feel it was the best part of Kaza. I felt like spending the night under that sky. The next morning, we woke up early at 6 AM and left for Kalpa by 7 AM.
Follow us in my next blog for Kalpa as we explore Kinnaur-Kailash!!!
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By Shraddha Basu. (Guest Content Writer)