High rocky hills kissing the sky, muddy water streams cutting furiously through the hills and small villages popping-up their beautiful face every now and then. On this road trip from Delhi to Spiti, I succumbed to the magic of the Himalayas.
Driving on those rough terrains through mighty mountains during the day and looking at the innumerable stars on pitch dark nights have made for some of the best experiences of my life and left me wondering about my tiny existence in this whole gamut of Universe. The beauty of these gigantic mountains, the immensity of the lands on which they look down, the simplicity of the people living here all worked on my mind like a spell.
Journey to the Spiti Valley — a desert mountain valley located high in the Himalayas, north-east of Himachal Pradesh, India, is the most beautiful drive I've done so far. It isn't a smooth drive – dangerous roads, no petrol pumps for hundreds of kilometres, low oxygen levels due to the high altitude – but it surely is worth all the effort. You get to drive through lush green pine forests in Kalpa with an amazing view of Kinner Kailash mountain ranges along the rivers Baspa and Sutlej and experience the tribal life of Himalayas in remote villages in Kinnaur valley. While driving towards Spiti, you'll be amazed to see how the scenery changes dramatically from green pines to rocky mountains and how the smooth drives get tough and then dangerous on the rocky terrains of high Himalayas.
This valley is one of the best geological sites in the world, as per them. You would be surprised to see how villages will suddenly emerge as you drive farther from just nowhere and the simple people of this region will make you wonder how they can be so happy and peaceful, living in such adverse conditions.
It has been said that everyone who visits Spiti begins a new life. Spiti plays an interesting, very different hand, luring you to its untouched surreal beauty and offering an introduction to the simpler ways of life — I can never forget my interaction with locals at Ribba, Hansa and Giu. There are some extraordinary stories too — of 500 years old mystical mummy that was discovered some 25 years back, of a peak changing colours every hour of the day, of painted caves where monks stayed some hundred years ago. Many a times, I wished that this trip to Himalayas would never end, that I never come back to the city.
Embracing the mountains at Matiyana
An early start ensured we were out of the city in good time (before traffic rush starts) and have our lunch in the midst of pine trees. Air got cooler and smelled of the green pines post Kalka. It was fun to play hide and seek with a hill train snaking up the Shivalik foot hills through a zig-zag narrow gauge and tunnels. There are 103 tunnels on the route of this hill train that runs from Kalka to Shimla. After a delicious lunch at Dharampur, bypassing Shimla, we reached Matiyana, a quiet, scenic town surrounded by apple orchards. The final leg of the drive from Shimla to Matiyana through the dense pine forests and apple orchards is awe-inspiring.
Matiyana is a quiet, relaxed small village with a breathtakingly beautiful view of the Shivalik ranges. It is known for quality apples (Golden Spur) that are grown here. We were taken care of like their own family members. Local food was generously served in kitchen-cum-dining hall. It was a big hall with angithi (fireplace) in the middle and a working shelf on one side and seating arrangement (on floor) on the other three sides.
Touching the dead end of India at Chitkul
Driving along the Hindustan-Tibet road which is cut into rocks and goes along the Sutlej River we reached Karchham. On the way, one must stop at Rampur to buy some fresh seasonal fruit. Plums, apricot and peaches were available in abundance in June when we visited. A stop at Rahul Dhaba, Bhavanagar is recommended for some authentic home-style cooking.
The drive along Baspa River past Rakcham was spectacular. Tall