From Nako to Tabo
On day 3, off we had to go, leaving behind the beautiful village of Nako to our next destination after a sumptuous homely Indian breakfast at the Hotel Lake view (named justifiably, being adjacent to the lake) that was ready in minutes. The friendly staff, not only made us feel at home but also shared with us their own experiences about life up here hidden from the rest of the world. Our journey began once again. The roads were minuscule in comparison to the mighty mountains spreading far and wide in shades of beige, brown and grey, like a painting that is too good to be true. I couldn’t help but interrupt our driver to stop several times because just when I thought I found my Elysium, there it was AGAIN a few meters away! Now isn’t that something?! The roads went on and on from one mountain to the next. We moved from one range to the next, amidst barren naked mountains, the only signs of life being some sparse brusque patchy greens. I experienced an effortless mindful state standing at the edge of those mountains. It struck a chord why the Himalayas are so closely associated with transcendence.
Amidst a blend of a crumpled and smooth ride, towards midday we were brought to a monastery, situated at an altitude of 3280 meters, just north of Sutluj river, which is hidden from sight to onlookers from the roads. As we entered the signature arch with the two golden lamas, inside the gate, there was a bright maroon Tibetan styled monument that wasn’t open to visitors. A stupa stood beside it, looking marvellous with the backdrop of snowcapped mountains and floating clouds, decorated in dazzling gold, white and a contrasting green. If it wasn’t a sunny afternoon, I probably couldn’t have stopped myself from sitting on the benches for hours on end, to just breeeeathe… We had to rush inside the functional section of the monastery before it was shut for lunch. On entering the monastery, my bare feet touching the cold ground on a hot Tuesday arvo, felt like I was in a whole new realm back in the 10th century. I found myself walking around a place that was practically pitch dark, tall walls full of ancient murals suddenly transforming into tunnels so low, almost touching our heads. The locals told me that lights are not used here to preserve the murals. The only source of light was an opening in its roof at the far end of the structure behind the idols. It was hard to keep up with the extensive artwork, sculptures and their deeper significance. We were lucky enough to find the monk of the monastery to be so kind as to take us around the monastery himself with a torchlight in his hand, taking the trouble to explain the murals in such a simplified way. Not only does it have an amalgamation of Indian and Tibetan cultures but also the religious, political and literary situation of its period.Tabo Monastery
From Tabo to Dhankar
Our next stop was at Dhankar for lunch. The whole village was visible when we entered the motorable road connecting it from Tabo. Sparsely set characteristic houses, appear like small white specks that slowly become distinct rectangular white or yellow structures with maroon roofs. The village, built on a mountain ridge, is believed by the locals to be geographically situated in the shape of a lotus flower whose petals are formed by 8 mountains that surround it. Dhankar Village
We went straight to the eat-out to fill our tummies up and headed next to the Dhankar lake trek (a failed one!) that starts right outside the monastery entrance lasting 2 Kms. A long mud trail marked only with footsteps and your calculated guess. After about 20 minutes climb, you reach the sharp perpendicular edge of the mountain, with a signboard pointing left towards the steepest part of the trek. Laid ahead, was a narrow loose track along the edge that was a foot or two wide. Unfortunately, the weather being way too windy and dusty, we could hardly visualize the path. A deep plunge to our right and a loose dusty wall standing erect to our left with nothing to hold on to let us only go a few steps ahead and we decided to turn back. The whole trek takes about 45 mins with a reward awaiting the adventure. It takes you to a flat land with a large scenic lake that is worth the trouble it takes getting there.
Our next stop definitely did not disappoint us. Perching on a cliff, it is full of prayer rooms, religious artifacts and wall paintings, that goes around like a maze with staircases made of mud and clay. The doors and support structures are made of rickety old wood that gives you an idea the period this place dates back to. There are several small doors to the exterior that end in a ridge with a narrow muddy rim to walk sideways with the most spectacular views of the village and the endless range of Himalayas all around.
Entry to Dhankar Monastery
One of the many prayer rooms in Dhankar Monastery
Stairways & pathways inside the Dhankar Monastery
View from the Dhankar Monastery
From Dhankar to Kaza
We hit the road again, just in time to reach Kaza, where our night stay was awaiting us. A bustling town with shops and market, the best place we found in days to stock up. Some of the china here is adorned with the local culture and are worth buying. We spent the rest of our evening relaxing at the Himalayan Café, a small cozy, best-in-town bistro where you can watch the locals going about their business-as-usual. I already had my order in mind, the local seabuckthorn tea, nothing like the tea I’ve had before. A very mild tea embellished with the orange berry flavour, known for its medicinal properties.
Seabuckthorn Tea at Himalaya Cafe
TIME OF VISIT: July 4th, 2017
BOOKING: We didn’t have to worry about travel or pre-booking our stay as we had booked a tour with the Spiti Holiday Adventure. Since their office is based out of Kaza without a branch elsewhere, we were apprehensive in making payments online but the customer reviews they had on social media were so strong, we went ahead and booked them. We couldn’t have been more right about picking them as the whole journey was as smooth and enjoyable as it could get. We had an Innova for the 4 of us with an experienced driver; all the overnight stays were ready for our arrival with breakfast and dinner included in the package. You can get more details on https://www.spitiholidayadventure.com/
NEED TO KNOW:
• Weather in the Himalayas is unpredictable. In July, the days were scorching and the nights were freezing with subzero temperatures. Be prepared for extremes of temperature. Dress in layers to be comfortable.
• Sun protective gear can never be enough here. Sunscreen, sunglasses, caps, anything that doesn’t take up too much space, you’ll be grateful to.
• There’s no mobile network AT ALL except for BSNL connections that work only in Kaza and Tabo.
• The ATMs didn’t work anywhere, we were well prepared with enough cash.
• A pair of good waterproof running shoes will be most suitable for treks.
• Be prepared to enjoy basic homely food that’s available. It’s a mighty task to get groceries up to these places all-round the year so the food that is available is the best they can do.
• We stocked up bottled water in our vehicle at all times and avoided the local supply. Who wants to ruin a perfectly great trip with gastroenteritis?
• Pack as light as possible, as you’ll be moving from one place to the next at least daily and you’ll have to move your load yourself.
• Avoid mountain sickness by moving gradually from a low altitude to a higher altitude, keeping yourself well hydrated at all times. Avoid medicating yourself prophylactically, as the medication can have serious side effects like dehydration that are in turn counterproductive.
• If you are driving by yourself, know that all roads are not motorable, some end abruptly, some are wide enough only for a small vehicle. It’s safe to have an experienced person who’s familiar with the routes. If you are planning on taking the local transport, be prepared to get stranded for hours owing to the sparse availability and be aware that once it gets dark, there’s no sign of life to show you directions.
• Make sure you visit the Dhankar lake before Chandratal lake, as the trek may not seem worth the view. People taking the tour starting from Manali to Shimla (and not the other way round) will have Chandratal on their itinerary before Dhankar.
• It is safer to have a leeway of 1.5-2 hours prior to sunset before getting starting for the Dhankar trek. Don’t expect any light other than natural light or any form of help in case you are out there by yourselves.