Friday 12 July 2013

Spiti: Travelogue- Part 1

It all started around 2 and half months ago when I had made the illustration on “Meditation is Inner Space Exploration’, a message which I had got during meditation. A few days later another idea occurred to me. Why not construct a sort of matrix around exploration in the physical world and manifest the same ideas there? I had read a bit about Spiti, not much, but just the fact that it’s like Tibet, probably had registered in my sub-conscious. So again a couple of days later, I woke up and declared to my husband that I’m going on a solo trip to Spiti. “What…Sticky??” he asked. Later I realized that not many people (in my circle) had heard about this place.
I wanted to have a unique vacation, so after some googling, I decided I would volunteer as well travel in Spiti. My tickets were booked and confirmed and details were sorted out but there were times I felt that I’d taken an impulsive decision about traveling solo to a place few had visited (none that I personally knew) and that too for 16 days. There were days, especially when I read about the rape case in Manali (where I was to stop for a day), when fear would seize me and I would ask my husband if he wants to come with me. But Dj being Dj would tell me that I SHOULD go solo and it’s going to be a learning experience for me. And I’m glad I didn’t back out.
Then just a week before I was to leave, the rains were creating havoc in the North with landslides, cloud bursts and flooded roads and airport. Friends and well wishers who knew about my trip stared calling me, some asking me to reconsider, others asking me to cancel. I was utterly confused. Are these signs that I should cancel my trip?, I asked. Just one day before I was to leave, I decided that I would resort to meditation to see how I feel about the whole thing.
I sat down to meditate and surprisingly went very deep within a few moments. I don’t know why but I invoked the Spirits of the Himalayas, Spiti and Rains to guide me. Since childhood I’ve inherently believed in the sentience of everything. In that deep state a got a message: “You are most welcome to come and visit us. We will take care of you. You will be safe”. I opened my eyes and there was this quiet inner confidence that regardless of what I hear in the news or weather forecasts, I will be taken care of. I had been taking daily updates from my travel coordinator in Spiti and he had told me that the road from Manali to Kaza was not yet open because of snow fall and rains and wasn’t sure when it would open. I told him that I would anyways come to Manali and then take a call.
I left on 19th June and reached Delhi. The Delhi airport which had been flooded till the previous day was dry and clean. There was no rain that day too. I was hoping that I would get a nice co-passenger in the bus to Manali and that came in the form of a cute little school girl.
In Manali, I ditched the tourist spots and instead chose to go to Van Vihar- a forest full of tall cedar trees. I carried a book and my favorite music and sat watching the play of sunlight on different shades of green with the sound of a distant river in the background.

In Manali with giant trees.
On 21st morning I was scheduled to leave from Manali and till 8 pm the previous day I had no confirmation about whether the roads were open. The driver of the share taxi said he would call me at 2.30 in the middle of the night to confirm and if it was open we would leave at 3 am.
On 21st the driver did confirm that the road was open and that we would leave at 3 am. I remembered the message I got during meditation that I will be taken care of. Later the travel coordinator too was surprised that while most travelers had canceled their trip, I, a solo woman traveler, had stuck to mine, also told him that I felt that somehow my trip would be smooth, and to top it all, not a day sooner nor later, but the day I was scheduled to travel did the Manali-Kaza route open!!
In hindsight I feel this trip was meaningful to me at many different levels. Largely one of them was about looking fear in the eye and converting the same to love and trusting. At 3 am, in the middle of the night, I had to go to the taxi stand, that too with 2 heavy bags (I hate to carry luggage but love packing a lot of things!!) I had no choice but to ask the hotel manager to help me and accompany me. To be honest, I could feel the fear rising, but I took a deep breath, and sent out love towards the man and the situation and decided to just Trust. I was also apprehensive about who would sit next to me in a share taxi (next to the driver).  Even that was taken care of in the form of a lady Army officer who was traveling to Spiti with her boyfriend.

Entering Spiti
There were many opportunities for me to convert fear into love. On the treacherous roads where, an inch here or there would have sent us tumbling hundreds of feet below, I instinctively invoked the Spirits and guardians of the roads and adjoining mountains, sent them love, and knew I would be taken care of. When I had an opted for yak safari, I was told these were wild yaks and there were no stirrups or leash to hold on to. I patted the yak and gave it a lot of love, but somewhere on the way, the yak gave a shudder and the next thing I knew I was on the ground. Luckily I landed on my bum so damage was minimal! Instead of fearing the yak, I chose to love it and proceed.
The innocent yak which threw me off its back..
I was allotted a guide for 5 days. Spiti is sparsely populated and villages are situated with an hour or 2 (minimum) walking distance from each other. We trekked and traveled from one mountain to another with not another human soul in sight. But I felt no fear, nor did I even remotely feel threatened or uncomfortable with the guide. Altitude sickness hit me in a bad way and left me puking with a severe headache the day I landed in Kaza. Though these symptoms subsided after medication, one that persisted throughout my 16 day trip was sleeplessness. Oh my God, I’d never experienced insomnia and often boast that I can sleep anywhere, any place. Night after night, as I lay awake, in complete darkness and the eerie silence, listening to the amplified sound of my own heart beat, there were times I felt fearful and wished desperately that time should compress itself that the sun should rise soon. But I asked myself that if this is happening, how can I make the best of it? So I lay listening to my own breath and heart beat, sometimes chanting, sometimes carrying on imaginary conversations with the night fairies, and sometimes trying to read a book in torchlight! That is how I would spend 5-6 hrs each night!!. 

During these times as well as others, especially in the village I volunteered, time moved real slow. In Spiti, electricity is a luxury. In the 12 days I spend in Spiti, there was just one day when they had power, that too for a couple of hours. I was told that during winter, which lasts for 8 months under a blanket of snow, there is no electricity and now even during summer months, it had been a month since they had any. There is no phone connection in the villages and no running tap water. And strangely there is no concept of bathroom. Even during summer, the days were sunny but cold and nights were freezing. I was tempted to ask, when and where do people bathe, but refrained from doing so. Luckily in the home-stay I volunteered, there was a green house and I was asked to shower there. The toilets are dry compost.  That means no water to be used. I must say it did take a while getting used to coming out of the toilet without hearing the sound of the flush.
At Langza ....admiring the scenery

On that one day when there was electricity for some time, the TV was on and I was amused to see how all activity had stopped in the house and all members were staring at the screen with mouths open and wide-eyed. The TV was belting out some crass reality show with some cheap Bollywood music and slap-stick humor (sorry, I’m biased!!) And I remember thinking “Oh God! These pure innocent people are getting corrupt watching this”. But then that was their only source of entertainment and only connection to the outside world.
The people of Spiti deserve a special mention. One must go there to believe that such simple hearted people still exist on Earth. As I mentioned, on my first day in Kaza, I was severely ill with altitude sickness. I had puked 5 times and thought my head would explode. And there was no one to attend to me. But I decided to take one moment at a time and opened the door for some fresh air. And a man staying in the adjacent room asked me if I needed some help looking at my red face. He told the guest house owner who brought medicines for me. Though the guest house didn’t serve food, he still made some dal-rice because I was too ill to go out and eat. The food came but I couldn’t get myself to eat more than 2 morsels. When I was to check out 2 days later I asked him for the bill and noticed that he had not included the amount for dinner. I was surprised when he said that he had waived off that amount because I had not eaten more than 2 spoons. I insisted that I pay him but he just refused to tell me. I of course tipped him an approximate amount, but here was a man who had not taken into consideration the effort he had put in to cook a meal and whatever xyz costs business demands!!. Later I was to discover that all Spitians are too simple-hearted, almost unbelievably so. 
The lady who invited me for breakfast as I was simply passing by.

Wherever I went  people would greet me with a genuine smile and say ‘Julay’ (hello). From a group of little girls who invited me to join them when they realized I was traveling alone, to women who invited me to come and eat in their homes when I greeted them while passing by their homes, or several others (monks, nuns, shamans, medicine men) who took time out to meet me and talk to me, all of them won my heart.
I noticed that everybody in the villages knows everybody else. I saw children from other homes come and have tea or breakfast. Even when we went out to work on the fields the doors were never locked. Everywhere I went, be in homes or monasteries, I was welcomed with copious amounts of tea. I saw the lady of my home-stay carry extra tea and breakfast/lunch and give it to other villagers working in their fields on the way to her own. I thought to myself, that probably this is how life was meant to be lived on Earth. But somewhere down the way, we have terribly messed everything up.

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