Striking features & eyes, trimmed beard, a shaved head and an infectious laugh – that was Karan. In short an attractive guy 😊
He ran the cafe and it had a few dorm rooms. He showed us the space and it was very comfortable and cozy. There was one bathroom and it was attached to our dorm room, it was good enough.
It was time to eat something, the cafe was filled with young monks, 8-12 year old boys in training enjoying soup and noodles. Bhim started talking to a couple of guys sitting on the other side, they told us to join them. All were from Bangalore and they were editors / photographers.
A bearded guy, Darshan introduced himself, he was on Spiti tour on a bike and a couple of his friends with his wife Swapna( yup my namesake) were in Kaza, a petite lean guy sitting with him was Neel- an ultra runner he was running for the past two months in the Himalayas clocking his runs from one pass to another. They were going to Ladakh from Spiti after a few days.
He was documenting his running with the help of another friend Timothy who drove from Bangalore by car. Darshan quipped that Neel was initially running with another Belgian runner but he felt the Belgian guy was slowing him down so he was solo now.
When we mentioned we were trekkers he started rattling about this pass, that pass, what was the pace we maintained in our treks. I realised that Neel like a true blue runner was not interested in the journey but destination. He wanted to strictly run at a target pace he set for himself so he could checklist as many places as possible.
He even insisted we trek to Chandratal with him. Bhim and I looked at each other and smiled. We were easy going taking in the moments trekkers. No check lists please. Trekking was all about the journey, not the destination and Neel was an ultra runner, a man on a mission. Timothy joined in with the others and pretty soon it was time for them to go back to Kaza, we wished Neel all the best.
What do we do now? We wanted to visit Kibber village and Chicham- the bridge and the village. Did we have time? It was past noon already. There would be a bus back to Kaza from Key at 8 am tomorrow but did we want to go so soon?
Karan helped us out on this.We spoke to him and he said Kibber was at least 8-9 kms from Key and Chicham even further. There were only two ways to go about it. Hitchhike or walk if one didn’t hire a vehicle, it would be too late to start now. He then suggested we trek to Gete-Tashigang today. The Gete village was way above Key and above the mountain top. One had to trek their the way up, the path started behind the key monastery from the school. And according to him ‘It will take you guys 1-1.5 hour tops’, Yeah right!
We decided to trek and started our way up. The air was pretty thin, drizzly a bit and 15 minutes into it I decided to stay put. The thin air and high altitude, looking up at the treacherous trail near vertical made me stop. Bhim said we would go together if not No. I insisted he go ahead and I would sit there and wait for him. He continued while I took in the view.
No matter how many treks I have done, there were moments when I felt panic and cold feet, sometimes my fears took over me and this was that moment. After some time, I saw Bhim calling out my name, waving and moving ahead.
I started playing music and enjoying the view. But the moment I started listening to Jim Morrison’s interviews, something snapped inside me. I bloody well had to overcome this fear so I got up and started trekking uphill. I would continue as long as I could push myself.
The path became treacherous and I saw a guy go up till a point and turn back. When I asked him on his way down, he said he didn’t want to go further, the mud was damn slippery and he had to get back as his friends were waiting for him down in the monastery. With my heart in my mouth I continued, I couldn’t see Bhim, he must have been over the mountain top by now.
There was a point where the path was slippery with mud, stones and near vertical. I had no walking stick or trekking pole and as I looked back, it would be a treacherous descent too. I looked up, I was closer to the mountain top with flags but my heart was beating faster and before I did anything stupid out of fear, I decided to stop right there and relax. The problem was the point where I sat was the most slippery. I sat on the edge, not able to sit nor able to stabilize but my instincts told me to stay put until I got a hold of myself.
Listening to Jim Morrison again, I debated whether I should go up or go all the way down, both looked precarious. And that’s when I looked at the landscape forgetting my fears, the breathtaking landscape with the Key Monastery looking small.. Did I really hike up the way here? Gosh Bhim was all the way up! It takes your breath away knowing how much of a thin line it is between fear and courage.
As I kept slipping and holding onto the rocks, I decided not to wait for Bhim to come and help me. Today was not that day. I needed to get over my fear of death, of falling and get my butt moving. There was no one except me to do this.
The Mountains show you a mirror, tells you how alone you are and how beautiful it can be. I shakily got up, kept slipping, kept walking down, completely trusting my shoes and my body. I kept repeating to myself, ‘ I don’t need to be rescued, I can do this’.
I remembered a sentence from Jim Morrison’s interview, ‘A hero is someone who rebels against the facts of existence, he conquers them but that can only work in moments, it’s not a lasting thing but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.’ That line and his voice truly kept me going as I made my way down.
It seems like a trivial thing but that trek to whatever extent I did told me what I could be capable of, if only I let myself do it. I call it my breakthrough. It changed a lot of things in me.
I trekked down, found another path that led from the monk’s dorms and was finally back to the cafe. I was sweating profusely and I saw Karan waving and smiling saying Aren’t you feeling hot with that jacket on? Yup right I was with the trek, my fears, thoughts and the path!
I crashed onto the bed and in 30 minutes Bhim came drenched in sweat, smiling and bright. He had made it to the top and showed me pictures of the Mountain top with prayer flags, it was filled with carcasses, horns and skulls of sheep and cattle. He said there was the village a little above it and he had to face his own challenges. He was on a precipice and he had to jump from one rock to another with a sheer drop down. My mate had balls! He was like 1 hour my ass! These Pahadi guys and their estimation of trekking time! As we looked up we saw the trail to Gete, shit it was freaking scary!!
Bhim was ravenously hungry so we ordered sandwiches. Karan joined us for sometime and we asked him one question, Why was he here of all places? How come? Out came that laugh again! Gosh this guy!😊
A native of Simla, he ran a travel company with his friend. A year and half ago he had come to Spiti and ended up staying for a couple of months. When he visited Key, he saw this cafe was being run by locals and badly mismanaged, so he took a lease of the cafe that was a part of the monastery. As he put it best, ‘ I found a purpose to my life’.
Mavericks,rebels,going against the mainstream, we all were in our own way. As I looked at Bhim, Karan, myself and a few others we met during our time in the mountains, there was a kinship, of going against the tide, of not being a part of a race, of living our life the way we want to live.
We relaxed for some time and thought where do we go from here? Do we stay or not?
We decided to explore the villages tomorrow. We would start off early, walking it would be, which meant we had to stay here for another night and take the bus to Kaza day after tomorrow. It was done! There was still the monastery we had to go to.
Karan being the crazy chap he is said there was no food for now but he could whip up something later in the night or we could try asking in the monastery if there was any food left, they would never say No and it would be an experience.
So at sunset we walked our way up to the monastery, an uphill climb and there were no travellers except us. All doors were closed and we started asking around. Then came a Lama, wearing spectacles and a lovely smile. When we told him we were staying in the cafe and could we get something to eat? He gave us hot tea and took us directly to the monastery kitchen.
In that cold weather, sitting in that hot kitchen, with the woodfire burning and cauldrons, our hearts warmed up. He apologised about the Dal (Lentils) getting over and gave us Hot Kadhi made with creamy curd that could be dipped with ‘Tingmo’ – a hearty Tibetan bread. You have no idea what it did to us.
I felt lots of gratitude, blessed and overwhelmed. To sit here, to get hot food, it was beyond words. The Lama told us to help ourselves to Kadhi and Tingmo as much as we wanted, he had to go for his prayers. When we asked him if we could attend the morning prayers tomorrow, he gracefully said Yes and told us to have breakfast.
That was the best meal I had in Spiti. I could see even Bhim getting overwhelmed. Kindness was intrinsic in the people of Spiti. I am sure we had some Karmic connection from our past lives with this land.
We were chatting with the handy man who was helping in the kitchen, there was a nun who was eating with us, she had come from Ladakh, smiling and kind. The man told us to sit with the monks in the temple tomorrow and attend prayers. After dinner, we walked down in silence, the experience calmed us. We looked out from the monastery, the dusk changing to night in the Spiti Landscape, the prayer flags swaying in the breeze and silence.
We sat in the cafe for sometime reading some of the books kept in the shelf. One particular book that interested me was Himalayas by Michael Palin based on the BBC TV series he did. Karan asked if we were leaving tomorrow or staying back. We both said in unison, we are staying for another day. We also got introduced to Karan’s precocious little puppy, an adorable one with shiny black fur, her name was Noorie and she was teething so she was gnawing anything that could fit her tiny mouth including our fingers.
It was night time and we were sitting in the cafe and chatting with Noorie lying beside me on the sofa, Karan gently took a sleepy Noorie in his arms to his room. He told us we could stay in the cafe as long as we wanted to and to switch off the lights and bolt the door when we were done and bid us Good Night.
Another spontaneous plan made. This place felt different. We had left the tourists/travellers and the rest of the world behind, beyond this were the nomads, gypsies, wanderlusts, the crazy ones and the wild at heart..
To be continued..