The route to Hikkim was pleasant primarily because the sun hadn’t hit us yet. There was a chill in the air and walking was a pleasure.
Bhim and I spoke about our lives, from how we were when we were younger to now, to our first crushes to knowing when it was love. When one goes on travels like this, it’s so important to have a buddy/companion who syncs with you.
Long hours of travelling means moments of silence, moments of random ramblings and having a companion with similar thoughts makes it pleasurable. Bhim and I could talk to each other anything under the sun, uncensored and no holds barred and that is a blessing.
We saw the trails across the mountains and made our way. Cutting across fields, blooming flowers, we stared walking on the trails and it was really beautiful. Sometimes we would stand for a moment and take it all in. Surrounded by it all, every breath was a breath of fresh air. Except for the sounds of the birds and the wind, there was no noise.
Finally we could see Hikkim. Ascents were tiring us now. After more than 10 days of trekking,backpacking and long rough rides in buses, the body was tiring out and seeing Hikkim on an elevation meant more ascents. We cut through the green fields and saw a bunch of vehicles at the top. We hoped that wasn’t the post office which meant another ascent. A lady working in the fields smiled when we greeted her and asked us where were we coming from. She pointed us out to the post office that was luckily not at an ascent.
We reached the post office. A small house with a post box and the staff sitting with stamps and right opposite was a small cafe. There were tourists coming continuously, writing postcards and of course taking a picture of them dropping the postcards in the post box. After all this was the highest post office in the world.
We were in no hurry so we stopped for lunch at the cafe. We ordered the usual, fried rice and Bhim ordered some Tibetan bread. I must admit this, we were getting fed up of the food. The more remote areas we went to, the more limited were the choices. We had enough of the above. Our cravings for South Indian food, pizza and beer were increasing by the day. 😊
After lunch, Bhim got out and started a conversation with some of the guys from the cafe. The man who made and served us food had five wives, yes five. When the others were talking about it I thought they were joking until I realised it was real. They actually called him as ‘the man with five wives’. Bhim told the man and his friends to have girlfriends instead of wives, lot less liability 😁 They all laughed and warmed up to us.
It was a wonderful afternoon as we sat and chatted with them. From governance to Kashmir, from getting good grass to jobs. As we continued our conversations, tourists kept coming, posting, taking pics and leaving. We were in no hurry. Langza from here by walk wouldn’t take more than 1.5 hrs and we had plenty of time.
Nawang, one of the staff members from the post office wanted to join the army. I remember him saying, ‘ Abhi join karke China ko sabak sikhana hai’( After joining the army, I have to teach China a lesson). He spoke about Indian tourists vs foreigners. He said Indians were the most fussy, most disrespectful while foreigners adjusted to everything, respected locals and were happy with anything. They didn’t interfere nor asked much. It was true and we have seen that with most of the travellers. It’s sad that in our country, we are the worst visitors of all.
He also spoke about this post office giving the highest revenues in the country. Every day 1500 yes, 1500 postcards were sent. It was a major attraction and yet they didn’t have a single toilet. They had spoken and written to local authorities but no response yet.
He also mentioned about the summer season being dull this time, very few tourists. Till May end, they had snow which meant most of the roads were blocked so the influx of tourists were a lot less. They just had one more month to go before peak tourist season ended. One doesn’t realise so many factors go into making a livelihood in this part of the country.
After all the tourists left, we finally posted our bit of postcards minus taking pics of ourselves. Nawang gave us souvenirs, postcard ‘inland’ letters.
For those who weren’t born in that era, we had inland letter, an open postcard letter format we could write on. This format was cheaper as it costed less money. There was no privacy as it was an open letter but no one cared at that time, we all used it. Now it was almost defunct. He stamped on it that stated- ‘Hikkim- the highest post office in the world’. Usually they wouldn’t give it to tourists but this man gave one each to us. It was priceless.
It was time to go. Thanking him, we said a big goodbye to everyone and made our way up to the main road. No vehicles could get inside Hikkim so all of them stopped at the main road and walked down. As we walked up, who did we see? Pasupathi and he was with Deepti, my fellow backpacker and her friends! They met in Kaza and now they were sharing a ride together. They worked out a deal with a vehicle where they could get to visit the 3 villages- Langza, Hikkim and Komic and from there go to Manali.
After a brief chat, we made our way out. There were two routes – One straight ahead and one was on an ascent. We naturally thought since Langza is at a lower altitude, it’s the straight route and happily walked on that route.
We were in a happy mood, Sun was up, it was past 3 pm, we were talking, singing, laughing and now and then wondering how come there are no vehicles on the road? After more than a hour we realised the terrain was completely different than what we saw day before yesterday. The landscape was barren, full of rocks but Langza route was anything but that.
Then we saw a huge township all the way down in the valley, it had to be Kaza! But where is Langza?? Where are those green landscapes and that big Buddha statue? Bhim kept reassuring it will be right around the mountain, maybe it’s the other side. We kept on walking until we realised we were descending towards Kaza! We walked a good 8 kms by now and there was no sight of Langza.
We finally saw a couple on the bike and stopped them. When we asked them, the lady said perplexed, But Langza is up there!
Fuck! We looked up and in no way could we ascend back uphill. The sun was hitting strong then Bhim said hey, let’s do something let’s wait for the bus that starts from Kaza at 5 pm, it’s on this route so let’s wait in the shade. That made sense.
We kept walking until we saw a tractor with some people working. When we asked about the bus, the man said But this is NOT the route. It’s on the other side of the mountain! You have to walk another 7-8 kms and wait at the diversion! Fuck fuck fuck!
The route was rough, pretty rough with rocks, steep descents and burning hot sun hitting directly, we walked, almost ran down. The steep descents and turns were making it very difficult to go faster. Our bodies were bearing the brunt of it all. Panic set in. The only bus that would go to Langza started from Kaza at 5 pm which meant around 5.30-5.45 pm, it would stop at the diversion and it was 4.45 pm with 7 kms to go! If we missed that, we still had to walk 11 kms to Kaza.
You have no idea how fast we were walking, the more we walked the more our bodies, our limbs ached. We were carrying 10-12 kgs backpack and it’s not easy doing that while descending on a raw route filled with rocks. At one point we realised we cannot make it so Bhim said the only way was to cut across the mountain to reach the other side. Freak! There was no trail to cut across but being the optimistic person he is, he said Yes, Yes there is a trail!
And so my friends, two crazy people cut across the mountain with no bloody trail! Narrow filled with rocks we descended and ascended. Now when I think of it, how crazy were we to do that! To cut across like that! We slipped tumbled and somehow came through until there was a steep descent full of rocks down to the road. As we were descending a red car stopped on the road looking at us. Bhim ran down, spoke to the guys and called me down.
I went down like a pack of cards as I descended. Thump thump thump! on the rocks, then got up, kept descending down until another big Thump on to the road. It was Nawang and his friend from Hikkim! They were going to Kaza and they stopped the car thinking who are these two people cutting across the mountain like that?😁
It was a god send truly! We would have never made it to the bus with our shenanigans I tell you! Bhim and me were totally covered in dust. Nawang said, if he didn’t have to pick his friend’s kid from his school in Kaza, he could have dropped us to Langza. We were truly grateful that they saw us, stopped the car and were dropping us off at the diversion.
Only until we sat in the car did we realise we never would have made it to the diversion. It was a good 4 kms away. Finally we got dropped off with Nawang telling us to wait right there and not to go anywhere, the bus would arrive. Where would we go? We were exhausted and spent.
Bhim and I looked at each other and burst out laughing! What else could one do? We had scratches, bruises, were totally burnt from the scorching sun and the body was aching big time. And just like that the Himalayas teaches you. Every single time! Puts you down to ground zero. Tells you not to get too cocky about yourself.
The sun was beating hard with no shade at all so we took shelter in that small board that showed directions of the three villages. One could hope that the bus left from Kaza, that’s the only thing we could do. Bhim took a picture of me sitting in that small spot of shade under the board. That’s a constant reminder of our thrills that day!
As we were waiting, we played a game of stones and aiming a target, yup that’s how crazy we are. I remember even at that time we were in high spirits, laughing off the whole misadventure. There was a biker couple who stopped seeing us and asked if we needed any help, we assured them we were ok and we were waiting for the bus.
Now when I think about it, we were so silly, when we saw the two routes from Hikkim, we thought the straight one down was Langza and didn’t ask anybody about it totally forgetting the villages were in a triangle route so Langza would slightly be at an ascent.
Finally, we saw the bus approaching and we waved it to stop. By now we were recognised by all the locals in the bus considering the amount of travel we did with them . They smiled and waved with the same driver and conductor who greeted us with a big smile.
Enroute to Langza 😊