A dream journey through Lahul-Pattan-Spiti-Kalpa - October 2010

#1 Oct 26th, 2010, 22:13
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It was back in 2004 when I visited Himalaya for the first time. A journey through the awesome Garhwal Himalaya is still vivid in my eyes. We went to Kedarnath and Badrinath during the Durga puja that year. Since then, my long (so called long! Spanning around 8-9 days) trips were only to the Himalaya except for some 2/3 day trips elsewhere. My most recent visit was in the Lahul-Pattan-Spiti-Kalpa valley early this month. Major trips over these years included a memorable trip to Hemkund-Valley of flowers in Uttarakhand during August 2006, a leisure time in Shimla-Manali during the winter in 2007, touching the Gaumukh-Tapovan in August 2008, a Kumaoni venture during September 2009, experiencing Sikkim during March 2010. During our journey to the Gurdongmar lake in north Sikkim, we experienced a ‘cold desert’ beauty of which cannot be captured by my mare words. When it comes to ‘cold desert’, Ladakh has no alternative. But my calculation clearly showed that it would take at least two weeks to cover that region. But managing the time for the Ladakh trip was a major constrain this year. The hunt for an alternative with comparable beauty was on. The Spiti vally started to attract me since then. And I was hell bent for this trip as soon as possible after I browsed through the pictures of this region.

Nowadays plenty of information is available on the internet, thanks to the individuals who are not just collecting information but sharing more than that. During the planning phase of this trip, I referred heavily on Indiamike, Team-bhp, Bhraman (a Bangali travel magazine), Tathyakendra (a Bengali magazine with detailed travel section). The adage "A picture is worth a thousand words" refers to the idea that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image also played a vital role for me here. To be honest, I have browsed through thousands of pictures of this region in Picasa, and other blogs to find out the best possible time for the trip. Finally I have chosen the first week of October to be the schedule for my journey in this region. Back from the trip, I have no doubt that it was the best possible time frame to venture this region. Crystal clear sky, beautiful fall colours, moderate cold and of course a thin crowd what else I could be rewarded with?
Spiti, a house for clear blue sky, cold desert, scarce trees, ragged snow capped mountains, thin air, beautiful canyons, unusual clay and rock formations along the river bed and in the mountains is undoubtedly the most beautiful place I have been so far. Beside this, this is a place of divine spirituality and of immense historic importance. Spiti is the place where you will see the Key, Dhankar and Tabo Monasteries which are some thousand years old. I feel extremely lucky to get to view these places and Monasteries which are in true sense of danger due to aging, unusual weather conditions and maintenance. If not properly maintained, these, especially the Dhankar and the Tabo Monasteries will get destroyed in the years to come. What pained me heavily is the deep cracks developed on the walls of the Dhankar Monasteries and the erased out paintings on the Tabo Monasteries walls. Initiatives are on to restore the damages and to form eco-tourism around these sites, but to be honest; it did not look like enough. I would like to request all of you reading this blog to think over this a little otherwise our heritage will be poorer soon. Of late, the World Monuments Fund (http://www.dhangkar.com/dhangkarinitiative.htm) has started restoration activities. I would like to take this opportunity to urge all of you to donate generously for this restoration activity. I believe little contributions from us will definitely make a big impact on saving our history and heritage.
I would also like to put light on the hardship of the life of the car drivers in this region. In addition to the meagre salary they draw from the car owners they are entitled to a small daily allowance which depends on the region they are travelling. They have to negotiate the worst road conditions, have to entertain our order to drive on roads having no driving conditions, have to cover distances with the constrains on time, have to stay away from their family sometimes for months. Yet they are always cheerful. And beyond doubt they are the main architect our journey. Manoj Kumar Kalsi was with us throughout the journey. At the first glance, he appeared as an angry young man waiting with the Scorpeo right at the exit on the Chandigrah railway station 3.20 am in the morning. This was probably natural as he did not get a chance to sleep that night. But as time passed, he became a friend of mine. The cooperation he did with us is outstanding. The way he drove us throughout the journey is excellent. And I have decided to do my next trips in Himachal (Kalpa and Dharamsala) with him only.
Now coming back to my trip story, I would like to thank Indiamikers for detailing out their trip reports in this forum. This tour of mine was heavily guided by Indiamike reason behind is probably the amount of planning that one has to do to venture out in this region. During the October 2 – October 9 period this year, I was blessed to be in Lahul-Pattan-Spiti-Kalpa valleys of Himachal Pradesh. Lahaul & Spiti is a big district having international boundary with Tibet. It attained the status of a district in the year 1960. Till then it was merely a Tehsil of Kullu Sub-division. The valleys. mountains, glaciers, rivers, forests, pastures, gompas (monastries) and ancient buildings of the former ruling dynasty are the principal objects of study. The rugged awe-inspiring snow clad mountains are standing invitation to the hikers, mountaineers and adventurers. The entire district is full of natural scenery exorting the tourists and visitors to explore and imbibe its hidden grandeur. The customs, myths, beliefs and conventions of the simple unsophisticated people are the unique features of this border highland. Every village or a hamlet has a prayer flag fluttering over the Buddhist monastery. These shrines are the centers of the cultural life of the people that have influenced their religious beliefs for centuries and round which their social life revolves.
Lahaul & Spiti, which now form, a district of Himachal Pradesh, bordering Tibet, were at one time separate Himalayan waziries or cantons of the Kullu sub-divisions, and Kullu itself formed a part of Kangra district of Punjab. As is clear from the name ‘Lahaul & Spiti’, the district comprises two different mountains tracts, one known as Lahaul and the other as Spiti. Hence the name of the district came into being with the formation of these two parts into a revenue district. The names, Lahaul & Spiti, have different origins.

In ancient Buddhist scripures, 'Padma thangyiang' and 'Mam-kambum' there is mention of a country named Khasa or Hasha to the south of Ladakh and Zangskar. It is possible also that 'Garzha' may be corruption of Khasa or Hasha. Between the 6th century B.C. and the 5th century A.D., the Saka and Khasa tribes, after having been driven out from Central Asia by the Huns, crossed over into India. many of these settled down in the valleys of Mid-Himalayas between Garhwal and Ladakh. This is borne out by the numerous remains of their graves found in these valleys. There is a nullah near Keylong known as Shaks, which seems to have taken its name after the Saka tribe settled in the Bhaga valley.

The geography and history being said, I will now provide a report on the trip of my life so far!

May 2010 – September 29: This period cannot be left out of the trip report since the trip could not have been so successful without a detailed planning in this period. Indiamike, Team-bhp helped me a lot to plan for trip. Railway ticket was booked from Howrah to Chandigarh at Kalka Mail departing Howrah at 7.40 pm and scheduled to reach Chandigarh at 3.20 am to nights later. Several unwanted situations arrived as our tour commencement date came closer. This included a devastating flood in Uttarakhand and some parts of Himachal Pradesh and National Capital Region. Some tourists had to be air lifted from cut-off hills even. Some of my friends cancelled their journey in these regions. But fortunately I never thought of cancelling this trip and was finally heavily rewarded.

September 30, 2010: My journey began from home at 6.30 pm to Howrah station by a hired taxi. The roads were very empty even on a working Thursday the reason of which I would not like to mention! But a delay was in offer for us due to a punctured type few meters ahead of the Howrah Bridge. This was my first ever experience of tyre puncture on a Kolkata street. We reached Howrah Station at 7.05 pm and boarded the train on time. There were only 8 passengers in a 46 passenger capacity coach which ensured a comfortable and peaceful journey. The train finally flagged off at 8.00 pm with a delay of 20 minutes. The rest of the day and the following day passed on event less and of course peacefully.
October1, 2010: This was one of the two days reserved for rest in our 10 day long trip! Went through the print out of Indiamiker Kshil’s trip report, had frequent foods, gossip sessions etc. I would like to mention here that I like long distance train journeys, so spending almost 32 hours in a train was a pleasant experience for me!

October2, 2010: Woke up at 2.50 am in the early morning and realised that we are running on time. I gave a call to Manoj, our car operator for the tour. We landed at the Chandigarh railway station on time and headed for the exit where our Scorpeo for the entire trip was waiting. With a short introduction we loaded our luggage at the back of the Scorpeo and started a long journey to Manali, our destination for the day. We took the Swarghat-Sundernagar-Bilaspur route and the condition of the road was very bad. We took a break for breakfast at Bilaspur. Finally we reached our hotel at Manali at 1.00 pm.
After lunch we headed for the Vasistha Temple and hotspring. Spent some time there and came back to the Hidimba Temple complex near our hotel. Hidimba Temple complex always attracts me since my maiden visit to Manali some three years back. Spent time there till dusk and came down the steps through the Pine forest in the temple complex to our hotel. After some snacks and evening tea, we headed for the Manali Mall through the slopes. Had some shopping in the crowded Mall road and a good Bengali dinner at a Bengali restaurant on the Mall road. Then we took an auto rickshaw from the bus stand to our hotel. The only thing left for the day was a sound sleep till early next morning.

Photos for the day >> Manali - Oct 2, 2010

October3, 2010: My alarm was set at 5.00 am sharp and did no delay in getting up and ready for the day’s journey. By 5.45 am, when the sky started to become clear, I came out of the room and decided to revisit the Hidimba Temple which was few steps away from our hotel. At 7.30 am, we started our journey to Keylong. The road was through places like Kothi-Marrhi-Rhotang Pass-Gramphoo-Khoksar-Sissu-Gondhla-Tandi. The road condition was good till Kothi but pathetic after that. The landscapes around the roads were a treat to the eyes but hardly moved me because the awesome landscapes of the Spiti vally were in my mind radar. We took our breakfast Marrhi and visited the temple at a height. We then laft Marrhi at 9.30 am and started our journey to Keylong. We had on the way was the Rhotang Pass, a place where I did not even thought of stopping for a photo session. The Rhotang top looked very bare probably due to lack of snow! But some enthusiast tourists clad in heavy woollen cloths (hired from the shops on way) were spotted there along with the mules to take the tourists to the snow point (though I could not see any snow in near and rear vicinity  ) ! The journey ahead was through a very bad stretch (Heavy rainfall over the past few months made this situation). We then reached Keylong and checked in a hotel at lower Keylong as the upper Keylong was very dusty due to ongoing read repairing work. We had our lunch by 2.00 pm and started our journey for Sashur Monastery. The link road to the Sashur Monastery was very picturesque with trees wearing fall colours. We reached Monastery in a short while and found that nobody was around to open the gates and take us inside. We soon spotted a local boy and he showed us the way inside the Monastery and we found that doors had no locks in them. So the great Monastery was all ours! We spent some time watching the paintings and the idols inside the Monastery, rotating a giant prayer wheel etc. After that we returned back to our hotel and decided to walk on the lower Keylong Mall road. Close to our hotel was the statue of Biplabi Rash Behari Bose. A small slope behind the statue will lead you to the PWD Circuit House there. I tried to book this place but was not allotted any place. A walk through the lower Keylong road leaving behind the statue will take you to a Lord Hanuman temple. The local police station can be easily spotted there. A big play ground lies in front of it. We then walked on and found a Mahishasurmardini temple. Moving on, we reached the Keylong bus stand, a big compound along with a two storied building housing waiting rooms, eateries and few shops on the rear side. The dusk was about to embark around 6.00 pm and the cold had started to put its nail on us. We started our return journey back to the hotel to have some rest after a semi-busy day. Around 8 in the evening we went to the restaurant of our hotel and found foreigners already occupying majority of the seats to enjoy the opening ceremony of the 19th Commonwelth Games occurring at Delhi. They were enjoying the moments with huge roars. The ceremony was indeed gorgeous and so was the food! The platform for a sound sleep was all set and we did no mistake to go to bed by 10.00 pm with alarm set at 5.15 am the following morning.

Photos for the day >> Manali to Keylong - Oct 3, 2010

October4, 2010: The morning was pleasant. Cool breeze along with polite sunlight greeted us as we went to the hotel roof. We could see the entire valley clearly from the hotel roof. The valley had some lush green step farming grounds adding to the beauty of it was the trees with fall colours. This clearly indicated that Autumn has arrived at this place! After breakfast, we started for Udaipur and Triloknath at around 8.45 am. We had to come back to Tandi to catch the road to Udaipur. Although the road condition was not good, the route was very charming and green. Chandra Bhaga/Chenab river was all along the journey. We reached Triloknath temple around 11.00 am. Trilokinath temple is representative of the Kashmiri-Kannauj style of, Lalitaditya of Kashmir (725-756). Most of the Trilokinath temple is of much later period, but the column bases of the original porch of the sanctuary are of a very special type characteristic of the reign of Lalitaditya. This Shiva temple was transformed into a Buddhist shrine by Padma Sambhava. However, according to Goetz its present Lamaistic image of Avalokiteshvara-Trilokinath cannot be earlier than the 12th C. This temple continues to attract both the Hindu and the Buddhist pilgrims. In the centre of the compound one can still see the Nandi Bull of Lord Shiva. There is also a drain in a wall of the temple at the level of the platform in the sanctorum which was probably built at the time of construction to drain out the water or milk which was poured over the Shiva. The temple is built in the classical style introduced in the hills in the 7th and 8th C. As is typical to the style this temple consists of a curvilinear stone tower(shikhara) crowned with the characteristic 'amalka' (imitating a segmented gourd). Like plains there is no pillared hall (mandapa) in the hills perhaps owing to non-availability of clear ground.
There was only a thin crowd in the temple and we enjoyed the surroundings to the fullest. The entire valley was visible from one outside the temple and it was beautiful beyond mention. After a while, we started our journey towards the Udaipur Mrikula Mata Temple. Reached there at around 12.15 pm and again found the temple deserted and the entrance locked. We then started to explore the place. It had some nice apple orchards nearby. Work was on to pluck the apples from the trees. The red coloured Royal variety was in majority there except for few Golden varieties. After the priest was back, we entered the temple. Beautiful were the wooden sculptures inside the temple. But so painful is the fact that the structure of the temple got leaned by about 10/15 degrees. Few supporting pillars have been installed to prevent further leaning of the structure. The deity here is Mrikula Mata, the Durga Mata. The Markula Devi temple goes back to Ajayvarman's reign in Kashmir, though no original work of so early a date survives. But part of the Markula temple has been copied during repairs in the 11/12th and 16th C. The phase of Kashmiri art in the 11th and 12th C in its transition to the Lamaistic art of Western Tibet is represented by the inner facade of the temple; main characteristic of this transitional phase being three headed Vishnu images.
The PWD rest house was nearby and was superb. But we had to move on due to lack of time! On the return journey, we first decided to stay at Khoksar PWD and booked two rooms over phone once we were at Tandi. But as we moved on, the sky was becoming overcast and sensing the fact that Khoksar will have some crowd and evenly noisy, we decided to spend the night at Gondhla PWD. So we headed for the place and found that the chowkidar went to his village with the rest house locked when we reached the RH at 3.30 pm. The keeper of a local hospital located beside the rest house came to our rescue and called up the chowkidar and informed him about our arrival. Meanwhile I called up the PWD office and changed our booking to Gondhla RH. The chowkidar appeared after some 20 minutes and opened up the rooms for us and showed us the kitten with no equipments! The only source of food was few local eateries on the road, 10 minutes drive away. Gondhla, a place which was not in our radar suddenly became our home for a night. Right after the PWD RH boundary was a huge greenery of potato cultivation. The river Chenab was clear in our vision from the RH. Without further delay, we stepped into the field and started to descend to the river. The field looked awesome with the dipping sun shine on the yellowish green fields. But river Chenab was a little too far away. And we had to drop desire to catch her. Back to the RH we became a bit conscious about the availability of our dinner. So we started for the market at around 5.30 pm and found that the market was too basic with 2/3 shops selling local foods (cowmen, thukpa and momos). The chowkidar of the RH who was strolling on the market came to our rescue and convinced one shop owner to prepare rice and egg curry for our dinner. Delighted, I went ahead and described the way and ingredients to prepare it. Result was a quality dinner beyond expectation! We were back to the RH by 8.00 pm and prepared to sleep soon with the alarm set at 6.00 am in the following morning.

Photos for the day >> Keylong to Udaipur and Trilokenath to Gondhla - Oct 4, 2010

October5, 2010: The morning was again pleasing and the sky was clear. The stage was all set to begin a long journey to the Spiti valley with Chandrataal Lake on route. After the bidding the chowkidar good bye, we started our journey at around 8.20 am. On the way we spotted a village called Sissu. As this place was also not in my radar, we missed the chance to spend the previous night at the PWD RH here. This place has been named Tourist Village by the tourism department and there is a road through this village which will take you to the Chenab River easily. Beautiful indeed is this place. We had a small break at Khoksar for breakfast and tea. We visited the small temple at the Khoksar PWD RH complex. The road to the Spiti valley beyond Khoksar was through places like Gramphoo-Chhatru-Bara Drara-Chhota Drara-Batal-Kunzum Pass-Lossar-Hanse-Kiato-Pangmo-Hula-Murang-Sumling-Khurik-Rangrik. The road was full of beauty all around but a bit bumpy! We reached Batal around 12.30 pm and headed to for the Chandrataal Lake via the motorable Batal-Chandrataal road. The road was extremely narrow and the car leaned upto 30-35 degrees while negotiating some slide regions. On the way we spotted four Tempo travellers (later came to know that they are about 50 from a Delhi college). After about 7 kilometres, the cars were not allowed to proceed further. So we had to start walking to the Taal. It took us about an hour to walk up to a place from where the lake was visible. From a height, it looked Emerald green. Utter pleasing was the experience to catch the first glimpse if the lake. We then descended up to the lake slowly and felt like reaching a place of divine peace. But the peace lasted for a very short time. The amount of chaos that the other group started creating after seeing the lake was very much unsuitable for the situation there. I wish the no car should be allowed in the road so that people are left with no energy to shout here near the lake! We reached Chandrataal Lake at around 2.00 pm and strong wind started blowing all around. This made the reflection of the mountain peaks on the lake a bit hazy. If someone wishes to catch the reflection of the peaks on the lake morning is the best time. But it was very tough for us to match this condition in our express journey. Chandrataal is a favourite halting place for the shepherds because of rich growth of grass. The water in the lake is so clear that stones at its bottom are easily visible. We then had to move on and we reached the place where the car was parked at around 3.30 pm and we were well 2.30 hours behind the schedule. But this hardly bothered anyone of us and we moved on through the extremely narrow trail towards the Batal-Chandrataal link road. The road to Kunzum top was a steep ascent from this point. Though higher than the Rohtang Pass, Kunzum is safer and provides easier ascent and descent. The altitude of this pass is about 4590 m. The panorama as viewed from the top is breathtaking. The lofty Shigri Parbat can be seen right in front in all its grandeur. The crest of the pass has been marked by a chhorten of stones erected ages ago. A temple was there on the top. After a short break on the Kunzum top, we headed for Lossar, the first inhabited village on the Spiti side if you advance to the valley from Manali over Kunzum pass. Situated at a height of 4,085 m., the village is singularly secluded. The neatly white-washed mud houses with red bands look extremely picturesque. The contrast is rendered all the more appealing by verdant fields and willow plantations around the village. We stopped at the Lossar check post for registering our vehicle information. Getting off from the car, I started to roam around the village and small gompa in the village. The flat roofed houses are topped by white flagpole which the superstitious believe saves them from evil spirits and brings prosperity. There is a PWD rest house at the edge of the village where we could and should have stayed. Two tourists whon we met on the road to Lossar from Kunzum top on a motor cycle took shelter in the PWD RH. A few meters from the rest house from Spiti river in all its serenity. It was 5.30 pm when we reached Lossar and the day light stared dwindling. After about half an hour, we started our journey towards Kaza, to be specific Rangrik. After we crossed Lossar, we saw signs of road which was missing throughout our journey from Gramphoo. The road was through a wide valley rich with potato cultivation. The journey was amazing in dim light. But this came to an end as it was well past 6.00 pm and dark all around. We reached Rangrik and decided to stay there. It was completely dark outside except for few lights in the Kaza village. The sky was clear and full of start with a beautiful moon. We had our dinner at 9.00 pm and went to sleep.

Photos for the day >> Gondhla to Rangrik - Oct 5, 2010

October6, 2010: My cell phone rang at 6.00 am sharp in the morning and woke me up. I removed the curtains from the glass window and was amazed to see the vista around. I had no idea where we reached yesterday night. With no further delay I came out with my camera and binocular. But binocular was not at all needed to see the Key Monastery and a big status of Lord Buddha at the main Rangrik village market. The first sun ray on the snow clad mountain created a beautiful scene. A little down the road was the residential quarter of the State Electricity Board engineers. That compound was very attractive with colourful trees. At a distance we could see the air eroded mountain trail. We soon got prepared and headed for the Key Monastry at around 9.00 am. From Rangrik, after crossing the bridge over the Spiti river, a road heads towards Key and Kibber. We decided to head for the Kibber village first.
Kibber is located at a height of about 14,200 ft in a narrow valley on the summit of a limestone rock. It is only 16 kms from Kaza and a bus service plies between these two places in summer. Kibber is a rather pleasant village with plenty of cultivation. The moment you get down from the bus you are greeted by lush green fields which look strikingly refreshing against the arid backdrop of lofty hills. Our car stopped near the Kibber Govt. School and we started walking down the village roads. There is a monastery in Kibber which is named after Serkang Rimpochhe of Tabo. We had to negotiate some ascent to reach the monastery. The villagers were busy taking the crops to their home. Potato, peas are main crops found here. It was amazing to see people living at such a high altitude. They have a tough lifestyle yet they have an ever smiling face. From the monastery compound we could see another village at a distance. Soon we had to start our return journey to the Key Monastery.
Kye monastery is the largest in the valley and holds a powerful sway over the most populous part of the valley around Kaza. The gompa is an irregular heap of low rooms and narrow corridors on a monolithic conical hill. From a distance is resembles the Thiksey monastery near Leh in Ladakh. The irregular prayer chambers are interconnected by dark passages, tortuous staircases and small doors. Hundreds of lamas receive their religious training in the monastery. It is also known for its beautiful murals, thankas, rare manuscripts, stucco images and peculiar wind instruments that form part of the orchestra whenever Chham is enacted in the gompa in summer. Another interesting aspect of the gompa is its collection of weapons which may have been used to ward off marauders as also to maintain its control over people betraying a church-militant character. A young lama there greeted us with tea. Then he took us through the different rooms where the paintings were kept. The paintings were well kept but the signs of ageing were all around. After some quality time at the Key Monastery we headed for the Lanza monastery at around 11.30 am.
We had to come back to the bridge over the Spiti river from where we took the link road towards the Key monastery. On the road towards Kaza, we noticed another link road to the Lanza village. The road was narrow and no sign of tar was around. Travel to Langza from Kaza involves a journey on one of the world's highest motorable roads. The road traverses along the mountain side above Kaza wherefrom the traveller gets a spectacular view of the meandering Spiti River, its tributaries and villages between Kewling and Hull. Opposite this mountain is the Kwang range. Views include the Nakedh Mountain. The route gradually snakes into the Shila Valley, where the traveller gets the first view of the Chocho Khang Namo mountain (5964mts), [translation: Chocho=princess, Khang=mountain, Namo=black]. Enroute is Chuling (4073mts) where blue sheep (bharal or tora) graze frequently. Other possible wildlife sightings include the Himalayan Red Fox. Shortly, the Chocho Khang Nilda (6380mts) [translation: Chocho=princess, Khang=mountain, Nilda= sun facing] spirals into view. The road enters the grazing lands of the Langza village at a place known as Kitzi lungpa (4226mts) where the vegetation is dominated by Thama ? a wild shrub used as cattle feed. Langza village is divided into the lower village (Langza Yogma) and upper village (Langza Gogma). At the top of Langza Gogma is the Lang (village temple), a 600 year old Buddhist temple. Travel upto this point from Kaza involves an ascent of 714mts.
An elderly priest greeted us in the monastery and opened up the doars for us. She also offered tea to us. This is very amazing; they are very caring about their guests despite all hardship they have to bear in their day to day life. We then went down to the status of Lord Buddha and took some snaps of the village. Winter being around, we could not see and greenery in the village. But signs of cultivation were clear in the village. The priest told us not miss the Komic monastery where a fare is in place. And definitely we were all set to head for Komic, not miss that.
Our journey started soon towards the Komic monastery. The road was again narrow. From a distance, we could catch the glimpse of the Komic monastery. The vista all along the road was awesome. Komic Gompa houses very friendly monks from the Sakyapa school. There are some interesting frescoes and masks used for Chaam dances in the old temple (near the guesthouse, out of the new temple complex). Unfortunately entrance to the old temple is forbidden for women. There’s also a stuffed snow leopard hung above the entrance. The major attraction on the Komic monastery compound was a fare going on around that time. Hundreds of people gathered there to enjoy the occasion. Vollyball was being played at that height. Locals and outsiders were selling goods in that compound. Foods were being distributed from the monastery guest house free of cost. People were enjoying tasty foods sitting on the ground. Over an hour passed by very swiftly and eventfully. Around 2.00 pm, we started to descend back to Kaza. Our next destination was Pin Valley, but only till Kungry Monastery.
Soon we reached Kaza and went passed it. The road was through a small villages called Lara. Then we reached Attargo from where we had to cross the river to reach Pin valley. One of the four local units of Spiti is the Pin valley which lies on either side of the Pin river. Geographically,the Pin valley is shut off from the rest of Spiti by high mountains. The only opening has been provided by the Pin river that forces its way through a deep narrow gorge to join the main river Spiti, at Attargu. The Pin valley is famous for its internationally recognised Chaumurti horses that are bred and sold for considerable sums in Rampur-Bushahar during Lavi fair and in Ladakh. At a little elevation from the road was the Kungry monastery. This was the biggest of all the monasteries we have visited so far in this valley. A school was there in the monastery compound. It is the main centre of Nyingmapa order of Vajrayana sect of Buddhism in Spiti and widely popular for the sword dance performances of Buzhens. But unfortunately the main monastery was closed as the lamas went to a nearby village for some event. We strolled on the monastery compound for some time and an intern lady showed us some nearby temples. From Kungry monastery, the view of the Pin valley was good. But we did not much greenery as winter has started to set in. At around 4.30 pm, we started our return journey back to Rangrik and reached there at 5.45pm. After reaching the hotel, I started a walk towards the Spiti river with a wish to reach the river bed as it seemed so close while crossing the river on car. But from the hotel, it was too far away and sun light started to drop rapidly as it was well past 6.00 pm. I had to drop the idea to reach the river bed again after a similar failed attempt at Gondhla. I had to return to the hotel. The rest of the day was quite uneventful and a routine life.

Photos for the day >> Rangrik to Kibber, Pin Valley a and back to Rangrik - Oct 6, 2010

October7, 2010: This morning I woke up at 6.30 am as I had prior information that the Kaza petrol pump opens at 9.30 am. We got ready for a long day with a slow pace and set off our journey at 9.00 am. The new Kaza monastery was located near the petrol pump which was still closed when we reached there. We then entered the monastery and stared to enjoy the beauty of the surrounding from the big monastery compound. After the petrol pump opened and our car got filled with fuel, we started our journey towards Dhankar Monastery. On the left bank of the Spiti river at a distance of 32 kms downstream from Kaza, near Shichling at an altitude of 3870 m, nestles the citadel of Dhankar, the official capital of Spiti. The citadel is built on a spur which projects into the main valley and ends in a precipice. The location of this fort is strategic as Spiti always had to suffer innumerable aggressions by its neighbors. The location allowed the Spitian to keep vigil on the approaches and to submit messages to surrounding inhabitations in case of danger. Whenever the Spitians were attacked, they built huge fires to signal meeting in the safe sanctuary of rocks, i.e., Dhankars. In the meeting all men and women decided the course of action to be taken against the aggressors.The fort of Dhankar now lies in ruins, but still is a place worthy of visit. From the remnants of the fort one can see vast expanses of the Spiti valley.
Dhankar is also of art historical importance. Founded between 7th and the 9th centuries, Dhankar's old temple complex occupies the southern part of the steep mountain slope of the village. It is known by the name of Lha-O-pa Gompa (monastery of the followers of Lha-O). The monastery consists of a number of multi-storeyed buildings perched together, giving a fortress like impression. There are five different halls including Kanjur, Lhakhang, and Dukhang where a life size silver statue of Vajradhara, the Diamond Being, is placed in a glass altar embellished with scarves and flowers. Most interesting at the Lha-O-pa gompa is the small chapel on the uppermost peak above the main monastery - Lhakhang Gongma. The building is decorated with depictions of Shakyamuni, Tsongkhapa and Lama Chodrag on the central wall Dhankar's main attraction. A young lama took us to a tour along these history in the deserted monastery. We were the only visitor in the monastery at the time we visited the monastery. What pained me is the present condition of the monastery. Most of the walls developed cracks, most of the paintings are no longer visible, and the basement is suffering from erosion. Earlier I had a plan to stay at Dhankar and trek to a fresh water lake some 2.5 kms away but had to drop this plan as I decided to spend another day at comfort at Rangrik! This will be a good reason to come back to this region again in future!
With a heavy mind, we headed for Tabo. The uniqueness of this monastery was one big reason that brought me here. We reached Tabo monastery compound at around 11.45 am. The road to the old monastery was through beautiful apple orchards. The apple trees were full of delicious red apples, but out of our reach. We could manage four of them from a backside tree. Coming back to the monastery tale, it belongs to the Gelugpa school. It is the cultural highlight of a visit to Spiti. The monks are used to opening the temples for tourists and did it quite eagerly for us. Again, like in most other Buddhist temples in Spiti, having a torch light was essential. Tabo Monastery was founded in 996AD. With its original decoration and art images intact, it is considered to be the oldest continuously functioning Buddhist monastery in India and the Himalayas. The unique beauty of its art and its pivotal historical role in the transmission of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and culture in the 10th and 11th century makes Tabo Monastery a historically significant site. Within the ancient monastery's compound are nine temples built between the late 10th and the 17th century and numerous stupas.
Tabo Monastery contains the largest number and best preserved group of Buddhist monuments in Himachal Pradesh. The 9 temples, 4 decorated stupas and cave shrines contain paintings datable to, the 10th-11th centuries for main temple (Tsug la Khang), 13th-14th centuries for the stupas and from the 15th to the 20th centuries for all the other temples.Except for the main temple and the painted interior of the stupas, all other paintings are attributable to periods where practitioners of the Gelugpa tradition within Tibetan Buddhism were present. In earlier times the Nyingmapa, Kadampa and Sakyapa traditions were present at Tabo Monastery.
The Sacred Compound (the monastery enclosure) is located in the middle of the valley a comfortable distance from the Spiti River. The compound is defined by a wall and includes 9 temples and many stupas. The intimate connection to the village is characteristic of Buddhist foundations of the Second Diffusion of Buddhism (chi dar) and distinguishes them from later foundations, such as Dung-kar and Key, also in Spiti. The latter, like their Tibetan counterparts, are located on rocky prominences above the villages.
A thousand years ago Tabo served as a meeting place between two cultures, Indian and Tibetan.The assembly hall (du khang), ambulatory (kor lam) and perhaps cella (dri tsang khang) as they exist today, with only areas of damage and restoration, contain a single unified iconographic program. Both the sophistication of the underlying philosophical conception and the clarity of its expression in visual terms, testify to the presence of a unique and gifted personality, or personalities. Not only was there a will to create a symbolically coherent ritual space but also the means to gather artists and materials of the highest quality. The Main Temple appears to represent the entire Vajradhatu Mandala. This temple is not only one of the most stunning artistic achievements of its time, but it also documents the ideology of this remarkable royal dynasty. Comparing the different representation of historical personages, we see how the change in the style and composition of the images reflects social and political changes.
Needless to mention that Tabo monastery was the most unique and best monastery we have visited in this valley. We collected a booklet about the monastery and some T-shirts with the monastery logo printed on it from the monastery office. By then, it was lunch time and we had one at the monastery guest house.
We started our onwards journey from Tabo at 1.30 pm and our next stop was at Gue. About 50 kms from Tabo monastery, it has a mummified monk, Sangha Tenzin, who had given up his life while meditating in the position. Villagers came to know of this mummy after an earthquake in 1975 which brought down a part of the tomb. Local legends say, about 600 years ago when Gue was troubled by Scorpions, the monk, Sangha Tenzin, squatted down to mediated in the prescribed manner, after asking his disciples to entomb him. It is believed when his soul left the body, a rainbow appeared across the sky and scorpions mysteriously vanished from the village. The mummy is remarkable well preserved for its age and its skin is unbroken and the hair is still on the head. The link road to the Gue village was very scenic and rich by trees in fall colours along the road. We reached the Gue village and took the the keeper of the temple where the Mummy was kept with us to open the door for the temple. The mummy is kept inside a glass box and kept in a sitting position. Moving on, we took the road back to Sichiling and headed for the Nako lake.
We reached Nako lake at 4.30 pm. It is a high altitude lake in the Pooh sub-division of district Kinnaur. It forms part of the boundary of Nako village and seems that the village is half buried in the lake's border. It is about 3,662 metres (12,014 ft) above sea level. The lake is surrounded by willow and poplar trees. We got some good view of the lake and the reflection of the trees on the lake was awesome in the falling sun. We took a brief stroll in the village. But we had to return soon as our destination for the day was Kalpa, way far away.
We finally reached Kalpa at 8.00 pm. Though very tired, we had a mind rich with a huge Spitian memory. Our mind started to become bit heavy as we are coming close to the closure of our tour. That night we had a good Bengali food in a Bengali ran hotel. Before I went to the bed, I made no mistake to set the alarm in my cell phone at 5.30 am as I had to catch the Shivling peak before the first ray in the morning. This peak is famous for changing colour throughout the day.

Photos for the day >> Rangrik to Kalpa - Oct 7, 2010

October8, 2010: I woke up at 5.30 am in the morning. This small town located in the Sutlej River Valley, above Recong Peo in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh had enough in store to offer that morning. As the sun light started to step in, the mighty peaks appeared in front of my eyes. Since the sun was rising out of the other side of the mountain, I could see the riot of colours on some specific slopes of the mountain range. It was a treat to the eyes. I started wondering how the same range would look like at dusk! A long photo and telescoping session went thereafter.
Then I stepped out of my hotel and got lost in midst of apple orchards. But ‘apples apples everywhere, not a single piece to eat’, no one was allowed in to the orchard and plucking was prohibited. So we had to remain satisfied with a visual feast only.
After an early lunch at around 11.00 am, we left the hotel and headed for the Rhogi village. Apples were there as well. After a short walk in the village we went to the Chinni village and visited the temple there. The art works on the wooden temple was mesmerizing. Then we started our return journey towards Shimla.
Earlier we had plans to stay at Narkanda overnight, but later decided to reach Shimla as the hotels we targeted were all booked. We reached Shimla at 10.00 pm at night.

Photos for the day >> Kalpa to Shimla - Oct 8, 2010

October9, 2010: This was a leisure day for the first time in this trip. We spent the day strolling across the crowded and familiar Mall road. We started our journey back to Chandigarh at 4.00 pm with a pleasing experience.

Car and Driver Details:
We took a Scorpeo for the entire trip. Manoj Kumar Kalsi drove us through this wonderful section of Himachal Pradesh. Hope I will have more trips with hime in near future. He can be reached at : 9816193433/9459959469.

Hotel Information:
Please refer to Kshil’s Report. I stayed mostly at places and sometimes the rooms he stayed. The rest you can decide on spot. None of my accommodation except in Manali was prebooked. Needless to say that we got the least value for money at Manali hotel.

Thanks to :All who travels and helps other travel.
#2 Oct 26th, 2010, 23:33
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#2
Excellent Post Jay along with some breath taking snaps!! I am feeling like trying it once more. And yes the Chandrataal, you are very right, for capturing breathtaking reflections, you need to be there in early morning and for Chandrataal only option is camping nearby.

Fabulous trip again, you made it in much shorter duration than what I did and so it was quite hectic as well but the weather rewarded you like anything. I still could see that Gondhla PWD RH, so close to Chandra and the sun down in backdrop of mountain in Losar when I was reading it. Moreover the Scorpio was, I guess, HP-01A-2200

Thanks again for sharing your experience and snaps with all of us and I am sure we would be able to see the same from the others who have completed this journey to heaven
#3 Oct 27th, 2010, 11:09
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#3
Thanks Kshil for taking time to read this out! Your trip report helped me a lot in getting to places/hotels on spot. The manager at Rakpa Regency hotel at Kalpa even asked me how did I came to know about room # 405. The weather was very rewarding indeed and helped us to cover the entire region in a very short time.
The Scorpeo was HP-01A-2200 but Vinkal got replaced by Manoj. But my experience with him is very good. Could make to places we wished with him.
#4 Oct 27th, 2010, 16:56
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#4
Ha ha, the rakpa regency guy should appreciate the new world connected through internet . I hope you enjoyed your stay in Spiti Sarai and even in Gondhla PWD too. Where you stayed in Keylong?

Cheers!!
#5 Oct 27th, 2010, 18:27
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#5
I stayed at hotel Tashi Delek at Keylong. Very nice hotel with an equally nice restaurant. It was about 400 yards from the statue of Biplabi Rash Behari Bose.
#6 Oct 27th, 2010, 22:19
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#6
Great, so if possible please share the contact details of Tashi Delek. Also no mention about Malling Block in your report, how is that zone now? It seems so much timid now, even people stop mentioning that name . It was a must mention for any Spiti trip to/from Kinnaur end. Probably the weather / road was so good, you might not even realize you are crossing an infamous stretch.

Also how far you approached in Pin Valley? Was it upto Kungri? As I didn't find any mention of Sagnam or Mud, I thought you may skip that. Was it because of time shortage because that's one of the most beautiful part of Spiti valley as per my own view?

Cheers!!
#7 Oct 28th, 2010, 12:31
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#7
The front desk no of Hotel Tashi Delek is 1900-222450(Never tried this nubmer, found this in the bill). Nice hotel and restaurant. The ambience of the restaurant was good too.
Could not get a feel of Malling nallah. That place was dry and dusty.
My Pin valley venture was till Kungri only. In addition, I did not find Pin Valley that green, probably because of the fact that the winter is around. May be sometime in near future I will be at Pin Vally for a trek! Will try to make it during monsoon.
#8 Oct 28th, 2010, 22:19
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#8
exhaustive trip report!
Very interesting read!
#9 Oct 29th, 2010, 02:10
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#9
Thanks for sharing..
Wonderful jaybecs
#10 Oct 29th, 2010, 15:03
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#10
The trip report is excellent. While reading Chandrataal part, I felt that I am in that world only…Fully lost in the writeup. You were really lucky to get a good weather. I missed that side (Kunzum and Lahaul district) due to snowfall when I visited in June beginning. The photos are also awesome.
#11 Oct 30th, 2010, 12:10
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#11
Its good to hear that you enjoyed this trip report. I am sure you will enjoy the region even better once you are there!
#12 Oct 30th, 2010, 13:06
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#12
Hi, Jeybecs

Its nice & elaborate trip report with beautiful photograph. in coming days member will keep in mind your report before coming to this place.

Regards
Sudeshna
#13 Nov 4th, 2010, 15:42
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#13
Nice details, Jayanta. Feeling the urge to visit these places in near future
Thanks,
Deep
visit my blog at http://yougodeep.blogspot.com
#14 Nov 4th, 2010, 16:09
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#14
I feel jealous after reading Chandrataal part. I did my first ever Himachal trip nearly on the same time( left from Mumbai on 30th September). I wanted to go for Chandrataal too but bad planning.
Hopefully, next year I will get to explore Spiti.

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