The road to Kaza in Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh is one of the riskiest ones in the world but the journey is worth every minute of the fear
by Anubhav Das
Having spent most of my childhood in Kolkata, my familiarities revolved around narrow lanes, yellow taxis, hand pulled rickshaws and ageing British buildings. For a long time, I had been unfamiliar with mountains and certainly not the mountains that I saw in Kaza, located in the remote but exquisite Lahaul-Spiti Valley.
My only experience of mountains had been Ruskin Bond’s books – who because of his stay in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand set most of his stories there. Apart from his books, I had no other access to the pine trees, waterfalls and snow peaks. This however changed after our trip to Kaza which is in Himachal Pradesh.
Ma, Baba and I chose Spiti Valley to spend our puja holidays in 2018. We took our flight from Kolkata to to Delhi and then booked a taxi to Shimla. From Shimla, it took us another two days to reach Kaza. The road to Kaza was rough and tiring. Narrow roads, rutted with tyre marks – bumpy yet adventurous.
Physical hurdles of the road were accompanied by mental challenges. The possibility of being smashed by a rolling boulder was present throughout. The scenery kept us distracted but wasn’t enough to stop our subconscious prayers. After being glued to our cab’s seat for eight hours, we reached Kalpa, a tiny remote village on the banks of Sutlej river, known for its apple orchards. Kalpa’s main highlight was the stunning view of Kinner Kailash from our hotel porch.
After a tiring day’s journey, the view felt rewarding. Evening tea and pakoras intensified our delight. Next morning, the temperature had plunged to -5 degrees. Being from the plains, this had been my first taste of mountain temperatures. I was shivering but my father, who hails from Shillong didn’t move an inch.
As the journey continued, a gradual shift was witnessed. The mountains slowly changed from lush green to greyish-white. A shift in the landscape resulted in a change of vegetation. Shrubs and pine trees could not be spotted beyond a point. Rocks were the only display. A diverse range of rock formations had designed an uncanny yet breath-taking landscape.
It felt as if God himself had created this place. At this point, the Spiti river became our companion. While we were having a tough time bumping along on the narrow gravel road, Spiti flowed effortlessly between the two mountains through her self-made route. Unlike us, she was familiar with the terrain and for her flowing through the Himalayan mountains was a daily affair.
After crossing many bridges, crossing innumerable rock formations and dodging many boulders, we finally came across a stretch of the cold desert of Kaza in Spiti. The three of us were already awe struck but the cold desert made our jaws drop. We were suddenly surrounded by heaps of sand and gravel draped by snow.
The mountains took a step back and the road became linear. The sky was navy blue and did not possess a single cloud. The experience was surreal. It was almost as if we were a part of an oil painting. None of us wanted the road to end but it ended at Kaza.
We reached our hotel at 6.30 in the evening. At Kaza, we all found ourselves gasping for air even though we had barely taken a few steps. This, coupled with the freezing cold temperature, compelled us to stay indoors for the rest of the evening.
Witnessing the night sky of Kaza was life changing. It was easily one of the highlights of the trip. The dark blue sky was illuminated with millions of stars. The moon was round, large and very bright. The sky was perfect for finding constellations even though we didn’t try to spot any.
Instead we gazed at the sky and enjoyed the solitude. We wanted to embrace every minute of the night but we had had a hectic day. Thus, we were all ready to embrace sleep.
The next morning, we all woke up to a surprise. All the taps in our room were out of water. Upon enquiring we got to know that every droplet of water had turned to ice overnight! According to the hotel staff, this was a regular affair. After a scrumptious breakfast at the hotel, we spent the rest of the day exploring bits of Kaza, the administrative headquarters of Spiti district.
We visited the world’s highest post office, the world’s highest village and also spotted the rare and famous red fox. We visited a few monasteries and even came across a mummy of a monk which apparently had growing nails and hair. The day was sunny, perfect for exploration.
Sadly even day two came to an end soon. The last day’s morning at Kaza was spent packing. We had to head back. We bid a sad goodbye to Kaza and began our journey back to Shimla. The three of us have visited many places since across India in the last eight years but the trip to Kaza has been life changing.
Since then we have been cherishing the memories and photos of the valley, waiting for an opportunity to revisit the place. The untarred road to Kaza is one of the riskiest roads in the world. But for the sheer beauty of Spiti Valley, it is a risk worth taking.
Photographs by Anubhav Das
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Anubhav is a student of class 11 who is interested in creative writing, filmmaking and photography. He has taken up humanities and aspires to be a screenwriter.