Waking up around 4.30 am, we made our way to the bus stand saying our goodbyes to the caretaker.
After waiting for an hour, we got into the bus. Slowly we would get used to the rhythm and system of the buses. First, getting a nice seat to sit down and stuffing our backpacks wherever we could and most importantly adjusting other passengers and their luggage into it. We would also experience the generosity and kindness of the pahadis during our entire journey.
It was a 10-12 hour ride and we were geared up for it. The bus made its way out of Simla before the place woke up and we saw the sun rise. Crossing small towns, the mountains were slowly making its appearance, the Kinnaur Kailash range peaking in and out. It was lush greenery interspersed with rains.
The beautiful strong Himachali women carrying children on their back, wrapped tightly with blankets to protect them from the cold was a sight for sore eyes. Their shining eyes and strength shone through carrying babies, luggage, getting in and out of the bus. The driver and bus conductor were ever so gracious stopping the bus whenever anyone flagged them on the road.
If you want to see India, the true India that is known for kindness, helping each other, a sense of community and caring, come to the mountains. The people there will remove every shred of pessimism, conflict and bitterness in you. Riding in buses give you a complete perspective of this country, it’s culture and it’s people in every way.
We were into our journey when a young Himachali woman got in, carrying a 1 year old boy and another son who was 4-5 years old, she was struggling. She found a seat as Bhim and I kept observing her.
We noticed the 1 year old had motion sickness and she was going towards the steps and making him throw up out of the door side window. Couple of times she almost fell as Bhim and I caught her. Then Bhim got up from his seat and exchanged and I made her sit near the window so she could be more comfortable.
Right then she gave me her baby to hold on to and she put her head out. The poor lady too had motion sickness and was throwing up continuously. The older son was being taken care of by others who made him comfortable. And I tell you this, considering how city kids are with their tantrums.
These kids didn’t make a sound, the older boy silently sat with the others while the baby boy sat comfortably on my lap. They were already adjusted to so many things. This is life, plus the kindness of other passengers together in this silently. Bhim couldn’t resist and clicked a pic of the baby boy on my lap and to me this is the most precious picture of the journey, It embodies India.
On such bus rides there are always breaks. Be that breakfast, nature calls and the conductor always stops when one requests for it. I know am writing this in detail because one starts valuing this so much. In our busy lives we don’t stop to think about another human except our immediately family and here everyone becomes one big family somehow.
Just before noon, we reached Rampur, there was a one hour break. It was hot now so we got down and sat near the building steps and waited. Just as we got into the bus, a Sardarji walked in and advertised about a ‘Magnetic Mala’ supposedly curing people of almost every ailment from heart to blood pressure to whatnot. I got it because it was pretty and I wanted something to remember from this moment. Paying 50 Rs I wore the ‘ Mala’. Bhim said let’s see what it does! Well we didn’t realise then what other elements/ people it would attract! We believe the Magnetic Mala added to our adventures 😊
During a stopover for lunch we asked the driver and conductor about buses from Reckong Peo for the next day, they told us there would be just one bus and we would have to check once we reach there. Let me tell you we were the only tourists. I realised other travellers going to Spiti hired vehicles/cabs or rode bikes, both expensive options. So it did feel good we were the only ones trying this option. Two South Indians standing out like Chalk and Cheese! 😊
Around 5 pm we reached Reckong Peo and right before we entered the small town we saw a road diversion leading to Kalpa. Once we got down at the bus stand we checked out the bus for tomorrow, the bus going to the next destination, Tabo was at 8.30 am. Now where do we stay?
Right opposite the bus stand was a small guesthouse with rooms. It seemed expensive for us because we were on a pretty tight budget. Here is where the hospitality and kindness of people comes in.
One local man who was in the bus asked us if we wanted to join him to Kalpa, taking a taxi ride and sharing would be cheap but how would we get back to Reckong Peo tomorrow morning? There were no buses from Kalpa so we told him we decided to stay back here. We were looking out for a place for the night but a cheap one as we couldn’t afford more.
He immediately called out to that guesthouse man, told him, ‘ Yeh mere dost hai, apne log thoda adjust karo’( These are my friends, give them a room at a lesser price) He negotiated for us, made sure we were comfortable and left for Kalpa. If not for him, the price would have been more. What can I say? We would experience this throughout.
After having chai, we made our way down into the market. With nothing to do, we strolled around this quaint small town surrounded by Kinnaur Kailash mountains. It was Sunday so this side was very quiet.
We found a small place that had Momos, yup another staple we would encounter during our Spiti trip. Over hot coffee we planned our next destination. Tabo it was. Known for its 1000 year old monastery, it would be good to stay there for a night and explore. We decided we would go according to the bus schedule and if nothing works we could hitchhike. The kindness of the people here showed us that was another option if nothing was available.
On another note, let me add that going solo to Spiti on a budget is difficult because it gets expensive both in travel and stay. Every room/bed is on a sharing basis as it’s run by the people who use their homes as Homestays. It’s mostly dormitories, so if you have a problem sharing a room with another stranger, especially as a woman, then get a friend along. I needed to say this out now itself. It’s a no glamour trip and don’t do this just for ‘picture perfect Instagram/Facebook pics’. Spiti is very raw and very unpredictable. There, disclaimer done!
It was time to retire for the night and face another day tomorrow. Question Swami and Bengalan Aunty would make their appearance! Who you say?? Wait for it!