We woke up early and walked up towards the monastery. The atmosphere was tranquil. We asked for the Lama that helped us last evening, we were informed he was busy so we explored the monastery. The old path of the monastery led us to the roof.
There were monks going about their daily chores. Around 7.30 am we entered the main altar and the resident monks chanting , we came inside and were about to sit down in a corner when one of them signalled us to sit on the comfortable seats meant for monks. In every buddhist temple, there were seats specifically assigned for the monks.
Once we sat, we closed our eyes as the chants reverberated in the room. One could feel the vibration and energy. The monks had graciously allowed us to be a part of the prayers. We got into a trance and went deeper when one of the monks gently gave us butter tea. It was a part of the process. It was the monks first meal of the day and they would continue reading the scriptures and praying while the younger monks would get them Butter tea, all of them carried their own cups. Knowing that we didn’t carry anything, one of them got us cups, poured butter tea and gave it to us along with bread.
Kindness and Benevolence. Buddhism was just that, no questions asked. They allowed us to be a part of their ritual, we were included in the most natural way and I have not seen this happening in any other religion. After butter tea, they got Sattu, a powder made from lentils and pulses. Highly nutritious,protein and very filling. We saw the monks making balls with it and eating while praying. This would be the only meal until their final meal at 6 pm. We didn’t realize how time passed by, it was almost two hours.
It was time to leave, the monks would continue their prayers. We did our salutations at the altar and made our way out of the temple. The handy man whom we met last night said Hello and told us to come around 6.30 pm for dinner, the monks would finish their meal by that time.
We got ready and asked a just woken up Karan which village should we visit first. He suggested we visit Chicham first then go to Kibber. And he said Guys, hitchhike! There were already visitors coming to the cafe and we saw him getting busy. We got onto the road.
What we didn’t know was the amount of walking we had to do. Walking up in the mountains with the hot sun and cold breeze hitting us was something else. Chicham and Kibber were at a higher altitude and we were gasping as we walked. Was it 8 kms or 18 kms? We would take a breather now and then and keep walking. The only vehicles we saw were hired private ones filled with tourists. And the sun in the mountains kills you. It’s direct. If you remove your sweater you felt cold, if you had it on, you would sweat and feel like you would pass out from the heat.
We didn’t realise then how much we walked. There was no sign of civilization. In the middle of nowhere, we would hear a vehicle from a km away and use the sign as we walked but no one stopped. Some genuinely wanted to but it was full. Bikes didn’t have space either. Solo riders had baggage and the ones that had space were from Delhi and well they were, what do I say? Top rate assholes so we didn’t expect them to stop either.
After more than an hour we saw a convoy of foreigners on bikes, we felt some hope initially but they were spearheaded by another guy from Delhi so we knew he would not stop, the White guys waved at us and just then we saw a van was trailing behind them and they stopped. The van belonged to the convoy. Their luggage was in the van.
The driver and the guide told us to quickly get in before the bikers saw us, the van had to tail behind those bikers at all times. The driver asked where we wanted to go, we told him wherever they wanted to drop us off, we didn’t mind, we thanked him profusely for taking us in.
I mean these guys would incur the wrath of the people who hired them but they were locals, they were all heart and they would stop for people who needed help. That’s how people are in the mountains. To our luck, the van was going to Chicham bridge! We were so happy that we were going there directly.
He dropped us right at the massive Chicham bridge and boy was it massive! You would think you are in Grand Canyon. Until a few years ago locals crossed the gorge using a treacherous rope bridge- sitting in a crate and pulling the flimsy ropes to go to the other side. This was the only way to connect to Kibber in those times.
This one was a suspended bridge and at the height it was built, it was Asia’s tallest bridge built at an altitude of almost 14,000 feet. And I can tell you this, no photo/video/ Gopro can justify what you see with your naked eyes! We were open mouthed as we saw the gushing river, the deep gorge and surrounding canyons, you could feel your feet tingling with excitement. The gushing water over the years was creating natural landscapes and routes. The bridge opened two years ago. The roads were narrow and considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world.
Saying a big thank you to the driver we started walking on the road leading to Chicham village. We were shaking our heads because walking this route to the bridge was impossible, it was at least 14 kms away from Key, thank God we hitchhiked!
As we kept walking we looked around and saw the landscape. The bluest blue skies and the mountains seemed so perfect and still, it was as Bhim put it, a Windows XP wallpaper we had walked into! We were smiling big, opened our arms wide and said this is it. How awesome is this! And we were in it, in this amazing dream like landscape.
There were no milestones to tell us how far we were to Chicham village except there was only one road leading to it.
We heard a vehicle and asked for a lift. It was a pick up truck and of course driven by locals, when we said Chicham he told us to get in but where?? Bhim tried to unlock the back latch of the truck but it was not opening so he stood at the back holding onto it with feet perched on the edge, I did the same. Shit! the hands were slipping, one couldn’t hang on to it, not on these roads, one turn and we could nicely be hurled into the valley.
The man shouted Get inside! Get inside the back of the truck! That’s when we got it. We jumped over at the back and landed, Thump! And off he went. The back of the truck smelled of sheep, they must have just dropped them off. We were so excited taking this ride, we sat down and burst out laughing! When will we ever get to do this?? The bumpy roads meant we were sliding from front to back. We were just happy we got a ride, see our pic and our happy ecstatic smiles!
The man stopped at the outskirts of Chicham village. Bhim told me to watch him as he got down from the truck and I followed it to the T. We thanked the guys. Our hearts were thumping with joy, we were kids again! Bhim said thank god we were both agile and could take the rough ride. Trekking in the Himalayas sure does help. 😊
We walked towards the village. It was a tiny hamlet, really tiny and no tourists seemed to be here as yet. Most of them visited the bridge, stopped here briefly and left. We were hungry so we started asking for a place to eat but the only cafe that was there was closed. One kind man told us to wait, he would inform the guy. Usually around this time everyone would be working in the fields.
Finally the man came and opened the door to his small space. We had Chowmein, Maggi and hot chai. Bhim was chatting with a bright young boy who dropped in while I was feeding a dog who sat under the table. We spent a good one hour there taking in all that we experienced. We made our way out and Bhim decided to check if anyone from the village was going to Kibber, we could get a ride.
There was a small car ready to go and Bhim ran towards him and asked if we could get a ride. The guy told us to get in. He was very friendly, talking about the bridge, the difficulties of getting goods up here, the weather conditions. This amazing guy dropped us right in the centre of Kibber village and this was not even his destination. He was going in the other direction and this man had a big heart to drop us. Can you imagine any stranger doing that? In the city?
Thanking him, we turned and looked at the landscape.. The breathtaking Kibber landscape..
To be continued..