‘How was the trip from Kaza to Tabo and then to Dhankar?’ asked our guide.

‘Unforgettable!’ said Specky and then looked towards me for my opinion.

I said, ‘Yeahabsolutely!’

Since that day we call every fantastic trip or unforgettable moment a ‘yeahabsolute’ moment! The trip actually began at Manali and took us to the dizzying heights of Rohtang Pass and from there to the windy and chilly altitude of Kunzum Pass before we drove into Kaza.

The co-ordinator there said, ‘You’ll be off to Tabo tomorrow. The place has a famous monastery and then trek to the caves where monks go in retreat for inner solitude and realisation. From there you’ll be driven to Dhankar which has one of the highest monasteries and will stay with a Spitian family there.’

She explained to us the itinerary for the rest of the days too and we were thrilled to know that we’ll be going to the highest motorable village in the world and the highest Post Office in Asia, besides visiting other monasteries, meeting Yaks en route, interacting with the locals, going for short treks wherever possible, and getting to know the loving as well as the wild side of the mountain ranges of Spiti.

‘This is theoretically a dream trip,’ I told Specky later as we were relaxing in the hotel room in Kaza.

Specky asked, ‘How would you define a dream trip?’

‘Quite simple, really,’ I said, ‘and then in rhyme
I went on to tell her that unfavourable clime
Will probably transform a trip from the mundane
To one that memory will retain!’

‘Did you just make up this poem?’ she asked, surprised at the beat and rhythm in my words.

I smiled and said, ‘Yes. A great yeahabsolute trip will have adventure, human interaction, unexpectedness, some adrenaline rush, lots of huffs and puffs, a bit of stimulation for the brain, some happiness for the tummy, and the opportunity for the camera to click some lovely shots. Some nature and also a chance to do something that you’ve never done before.’

Specky sighed and said, ‘Good night. Tomorrow is the first day. I wish you get a bit of everything tomorrow.’

The next day was indeed one that came with almost everything that I ever wished a great trip to have. There was not just a bit of everything but also had everything in every bit of the day!

Let me explain the ‘yeahabsolute’ nature of this trip through a few pictures and short explanations.

The adrenaline rush

The adventure, when you are driving or being driven in a place which has treacherous and absolutely inhospitable terrain, is in every moment. Whichever side you happen to glance, you see the dna of some unexpected adventure.

‘What’s that?’ I asked.

‘Nothing much,’ said our guide, ‘it is an old bridge that people use to cross the river. A river that is extremely unpredictable. It can come snarling at you any moment and then be like a monk the next.’

I said, ‘That bridge seems to be a great spot to walk across. Let’s go there. We’ll walk across and be back and experience the might of a Spitian river thundering below us.’

We went there… and the moment was unbelievable.

01. The 'yeahabsolute' trip_walking across a trembling bridge!

01. The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_walking across a trembling bridge!

A road which isn’t a road!

Will an adventure trip remain one if you travel on perfection? This trip was one that made us drive on roads that, at best, were dirt tracks… and where even the mountain animals would have been fearful at certain times. The higher we went, the better became the thrill!

‘Life isn’t life if you walk on paths that are without challenges,’ I said.

Specky, as usual just smiled and looked dreamily towards the rising peaks on the horizon.

02. The 'yeahabsolute' trip_driving on a road that isn't a road!

02. The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_driving on a road that isn’t a road!

Art, peace, realisation, and strength converge here

When culture and art and all things great
Come together to meet and mate
They make us smile and simply say:
This is what I call ‘The traveller’s fate’!

03 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_The monastery where art, peace, realisation, and strength go together

03 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_The monastery where art, peace, realisation, and strength go together

The protectors eliminate bad odours from life…

‘Who are they?’ I asked, pointing to the colourful gargoyle-like sculptures perched on the walls just outside the inner sanctum of the monastery.

The guide said, ‘They protect by eliminating bad odours that try and enter to disturb the peace here and those who come here seeking peace.’ And then later, by way of explanation, he showed me the Ambipur freshener that he had inside the SUV and added, ‘Ambipur protects you from harmful odours by eliminating them.’

Such is the simplicity of logic that one encounters high up in the Spitian region.

04 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_the protectors eliminate bad odours from life...

04 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_the protectors eliminate bad odours from life…

Fun @ 15000 ft above sea level brings together

A great trip becomes better when you come across scenes like this. monks playing cricket @ 15000 feet above sea level in a climate that makes them use a drum with burning wood as the wickets. so the logic is… play hard and then rush to warm yourself up for another over of fun.

A monk standing there remarked, ‘Sometimes we have lessons during these warm-up moments. So we love to mix studies and playtime well.’  Now this is the sort of philosophising that makes any trip unbeatable. I wasn’t wrong in calling it an ‘yeahabsolute’ trip that I’d want to repeat if given a chance.

05 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_fun can happen even 15000 ft above sea level

05 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_fun can happen even 15000 ft above sea level

Food is what the locals eat… always

What makes a trip perfect?

Will a Punjabi trying to search butter chicken in Chennai and a Malayali desperately looking for idlis while in Delhi represent a ‘perfect trip’ ? No. A perfect trip is when you order for and relish Thukpa and Veg Momos when you’re in Tabo. So the ideal recipe of a great trip is to accept the local food and enjoy the different flavours of the place!

06  The 'yeahabsolute' trip_food is what the locals eat

06 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_food is what the locals eat

Philosophy is for the ordinary fol too. A thoughtful Spitian!

A perfect trip is when you are not a mere traveller from outside, but someone who is there to listen to the thoughts and concerns of the people you’re with… and try and help them out.

We listened to what the locals had to say on a lot of issues and then suggested solutions to problems and issues that we felt we had some knowledge about.

07 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_Philosophy isn't only for the intellectuals and the monks

07 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_Philosophy isn’t only for the intellectuals and the mon

Have you reached high enough?

A memorable trip is when you go higher than what you planned… and during this trip I climbed on a raised mound that was higher than the highest point that we had been to, and announced, ‘Now I’ve gone higher than what I had planned initially.’

‘Do I see more if I climb higher?’ I asked.

The guide answered, ‘Not always. Most of the time it is better to get nearer to understand better.’ He probably did not realise that he had just revealed to me a mantra for relationships. The mountains do have such strange effects on people.

08 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_There are always a lot of things still higher up

08 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_There are always a lot of things still higher up

The unexpected is what makes a trip perfect

Yes, we were told at Dhankar that the Raid-de-Himalayas car rally will be passing from this place and we’ll need to re-schedule our plan, if we were going some place. The rally was divided into the ‘adventure’ mode and the ‘extreme’ mode… the guys taking part in the extreme mode were racing against time and so being faster or speedier on those treacherously winding roads will take them higher in rankings.

We stood there for more than four hours watching the zipping cars go by.

09 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_the unexpected can happen anytime

09 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_the unexpected can happen anytime

The unexpected is what makes a trip perfect

It wasn’t just cars taking part in that rally. There were the ATVs or the All terrain Vehicles too that we had seen and driven in at Rohtang. The guide said, ‘People pay big money to come to these places to watch the rallyists perform. We are here at this opportune moment when they are rallying on the Spiti leg. They will all be gone in a day or two and move to the Leh leg.’

We later came to know that the rallyists were staying in the same hotel in Kaza where we had spent a night!

10 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_the unexpected can happen anytime

10 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_the unexpected can happen anytime

The unexpected is what makes a trip perfect

Did I tell you even two-wheelers were there zipping dangerously. We were told by the rally officials standing there right next to us that they also had rescue teams stationed at crucial point. Spots that were risky to negotiate… or where there was a higher possibility of some vehicle tumbling down the slopes.

‘Only their fortune keeps them alive,’ said a villager.

The official said, ‘Not really. These guys are all people with a lot of spirit and it is their intuitive ability to accept and tackle challenges that sees them through.’

I agreed. This was certainly becoming a trip that deserved to be called a ‘yeahabsolute’ trip!

11 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_the unexpected can happen anytime

11 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_the unexpected can happen anytime

The unexpected is what makes a trip perfect

They came zooming at high speeds and I felt they would
Make some fatal error but they did not
Never did… and I clicked each twist and turn that I could
So my pictures could have caught
The excitement that happened at that height
That transformed our trip to be just ‘right’!

12 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_the unexpected can happen anytime

12 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_the unexpected can happen anytime

The unexpected is what makes a trip perfect

‘This,’ said an official at the Rally, ‘is our manual where every turn and every twist of the entire route is recorded for our reference. The drivers too have this booklet and the navigator is supposed to keep shouting every instruction every moment.’

I did hear some of the navigators shouting to their drivers something that sounded like… ‘take the right at the fork… right… right… yes, not the left…’ and so on…

There was excitement during the time the rally passed through Dhankar… the entire village was there with us to see this event… and I saw a monk in Raybans, looking at the rushing vehicles in a detached sort of way.

13 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_the unexpected can happen anytime

13 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_the unexpected can happen anytime

The caves where monks meditate

These caves at Tabo were at a steep 100 metres from where we left our vehicle. The guide said that the monks were building a pukka pathway leading to the caves.

‘But wouldn’t that ruin the very premise of meditation then?’ I asked, ‘the villagers would then have easy access to the caves and the high decibels of civilization would never let them see the inner reality they come here for.’

The caves, we noticed, were of all sizes. some were small and some were large enough to have multiple rooms constructed within. there were open skylights in some of these larger caves. ‘When the monks come here to meditate, they are locked from outside. Other monks come daily to leave food through a small opening near the front entrance. These skylights prevent the caves from becoming too claustrophobic or full of stale air.’

Well, I thought, this trip is taking me through a world of experiences… and all this is happening in a single day!

14 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_inside a cave where monks meditate

14 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_inside a cave where monks meditate

Mountains intoxicate

This one is a shot of the cap of ‘zingaro’ – a super strong beer launched in 2000.

‘Look,’ I pointed it out to Specky, ‘United Breweries is here too!’

‘Aren’t the mountains intoxicating enough?’ she said.

So these are the sort of insights that you can keep interpreting in myriad ways… and they add up to convert any trip into a magical trip! I call such chance moments the enigma moments!

15 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_mountains can intoxicate... do people yet need this?

15 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_mountains can intoxicate… do people yet need this?

Creative design of nature can and does overwhelm you

Yes, this is probably what the churning of the earth does to the mighty mountains too. This is what any one going to these far far away places wants to see and click.

I am no exception. I know I cannot go there and climb them all… so i remain content clicking and preserving them all in my digital memory. The mind can forget, but the bytes that my DSLR captures have the power to remain fresh longer.

16 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_Just look at the creativity of sublime designs

16 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_Just look at the creativity of sublime designs

To meander is to try and lose yourself in a hopelessly romantic moment!

When I told my interpretation of the word ‘meander’ to my wife, she said, ‘To meander is to search for the right path.’

I really don’t know what these rivers meander for… to get or to avoid something… to remain distanced or to gain proximity… we drive on further, leaving the meandering river to pursue whatever it had decided to be after.

17 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_understanding what meandering really means

17 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_understanding what meandering really means

On decisions and desires at the top of a peak

Going from one village to another of these remote hamlets was easy… our guide knew which turn would be the right turn. Even the driver wasn’t so sure at times. It is good idea to get a guide along for such trips… they not only know the way, they also know the locals. In face, most of them are from these villages and can even get the monks to open up monasteries if you happen to reach there at unearthly hours. This did happen with us more than a couple of times…

18 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_decisions and desires take different routes here

18 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_decisions and desires take different routes here

A Spitian kitchen

Most of the homestays we did in the region had an almost similar kitchen layout. I’ll be sharing more pictures when I am writing about the layouts or the kitchens… but let me explain that these kitchens are like living rooms for the locals. They all have a smokeless wood burner, a stove that has its chimney going through the roof. The kitchen remains quite fresh, free of smoke, and rather warm at all moments as the temperatures outside can drop unimaginably. The days, even in October, can be harsh and we did have sun-burns despite using sun-screens regularly… but the evenings got colder and colder. There were evenings when we preferred to remain in and learn Spitian cooking from our hosts there.

19 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_inside the kitchen of our host in Dhankar

19 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_inside the kitchen of our host in Dhankar

Fashion is there everywhere

A trip is perfect when you go to a place and wear or try out the local dresses. we did that… and we also bought a few from this region. Some excellent lamb-wool caps, mufflers, gloves, and shawls…

This picture, however, is of a local walking by as I stood on the balcony above… and I did get an intimate peep into her fashion aspirations!

20 The 'yeahabsolute' trip_the heights in fashion

20 The ‘yeahabsolute’ trip_the heights in fashion

A perfect trip, according to me, has all of these… and maybe more. There are no limits to what you can explore or see or feel while you are travelling. You really need to open out and embrace moments as they come to you.

 

 

The Perfect Road Trip… certainly one of my most memorable road trips ever. Contest sponsored by Ambipur on indiblogger

 

Arvind Passey
26 July 2013