We were finally out of our home, braving the pandemic, the paperwork, the RT-PCR tests, and the full-scale anxiety regarding everything related and unrelated to the trip. The Lahaul-Spiti-Kinnaur region had been in our bucket list for ever. Since the bucket-kicking time seems nearer and nearer and since it is definitely one of the most sparsely populated areas on the planet, we focused on it. Of course, by the time we reached Kaza we saw that everyone else had had the same epiphany. Our driver, Kishore-ji, told us that this time of year there are only a handful of tourists in and around Kaza. But this time the number was much higher. The amount of sight-seeing cars all around bore a rather boring witness to that. But we will come to that when I tell you about Kaza. We had credit shells which took care of plane fares. Himachal Pradesh Tourism was brilliant and adjusted the advances paid for an earlier trip that was lost in the pandemic. So the plans were on point. And after waiting for a couple of months we finally embarked upon this much needed trip.
Chandigarh and Manali were old friends. HPTDC Hotel Kunzam was right on the Mall. It was what was to be expected and the restaurant was fantastic. We had promised to pamper ourselves. And so we did.
Our single night at Manali assured us that the planning was right. The sheer number of tourists who brazenly unmasked themselves was a bit too high for comfort. (This had changed soon. As I heard later, Manali police had started collecting a penalty of Rs. 5000/- from each tourist brave enough to fully face them.) Anyhow, our early departure was a comfort as the sky was clean and the crowds were thin.
The trip actually began as we moved through Solang Valley towards Atal Tunnel. The tunnel is long and well maintained. I am not a supporter of violating the mountains, but this tunnel seemed like a true engineering marvel.
Once you cross Atal Tunnel (Rohtang Pass is lovely, but it takes much longer and isn’t fuel efficient, hence the tunnel) you come to a country that is simply amazing.
If you come here during fall, you will have a riot of colours all around.
This is the Lahaul region. The river that will accompany you will be called Chenub by Google Map, but it is actually Chandra.
It will meet Bhaga at Tandi, and will become Chandrabhaga. Lahaul and Spiti are neighbouring regions (competitive too, I’ll explain in a later post) and they are equally breathtaking. This area is different from all hill areas that I have visited so far. There is no chasing snow peaks, almost all the peaks speak of traces of white or are covered in snow. You know winter is coming when the mountains allow the whiteness to take over. Do not worry; there are no White Walkers here. As you gradually climb above the tree line, you are in another world altogether.
Thanks to Google we found this typically local structure: the Gondhla Fort. It is situated on a slight detour from the main road which finds the highway soon enough. But hidden from the road is this delightful structure. This fortress is quite old and is a remnant of a different world.
In about one hour you will reach Keylong. Do stay at the Chandrabhaga Hotel, belonging to HPTDC (a small video here). It has the best view and extremely friendly service. We mostly prefer Government accommodations. They may not have the shiny glamour of privatization, but they do have the best properties and more often than not, decent friendly faces.
Avoid the Keylong market road if you are not on foot. Traffic is a bit of a nightmare there. Your driver, if you have a hired vehicle, might insist on going to Udaipur. Go if you want brilliant views of the Lahaul valley.
The destination itself is not quite worthy of the time. But if you go to the Trilokinath temple, a nice surprise will await you. This, though they claim it as a temple dedicated to Shiva, is actually a Buddhist temple. You will find all the remnants within and you will find Buddhist monks there. This is quite unique and a happy mingling of two closely related faiths. The temple itself is not much to look at, but the significance is considerable.
I spoke to one of the monks. There was no wish for demolishing the temple and recreating the monastery.
After returning from the trip my erstwhile students, now friends, Sharanya and Paulami gifted me a book about this unique man called Pundit Nain Singh who had surveyed (clandestinely) parts of Tibet and adjoining mountains on behalf of the British during 1865-1874. The book is fascinating, but I when I came across the following passage I was quite astounded. In his diaries Nain Singh wrote:
From Bharmor, crossing Himalayan range of Chauvia in three days saw the temple of Trilokinath on the left bank of Chandra Bhaga River. This temple is built in Indian style. But the marble statue is of Budha and religious rituals are performed in Tibetan tradition. Besides this appointed priest is a Lama and inside the temple a huge lamb, which can contain 15 seers (seer = about a kilogram) of Ghee (proceeded butter), is kept continuously lit day and night near the statue of Buddha.Saga of a Native Explorer by Surendra Singh Pangtey, page 44
Such links with the past make life even more interesting.
There are several Gompas in Keylong. We missed the brilliant Yordong Monastery located on a steep mountain face. The stairs were welcoming, and we do love a bit of a climb, but time was not on our side. Of course, while climbing, remember the air is thinner here. And we did not get to visit Tayul Monastery either. We completely ran out of time. Kardang Monastery, located high above Kardang village, took a bit of time to visit, and was fascinating. It was quite wonderful to think that the small village was once the capital of the Lahaul region! The monastery itself was the largest at the time. It was established about nine centuries back. The current buildings are about a century old.
The priestess who showed us the main temple offered us tea and her soft prayers added to the experience.
This monastery is quite old and gives lovely views of snow covered peaks and of Keylong.
On your way downward please stop for a moment and visit the Guru Ghantal monastery overlooking Chandrabhaga. It has the old stone structure, though sanitation pipes ruin most of the beauty.
Shoshur Monastery is historic. It was built in 17th Century and has murals inside. As there was no one around us, we could not see the murals.
Also, the monastery is not quite inviting. The fact that it is accessible only through a scary road, did not help. Keeping that road in mind, we came down in a hurry as the weather was changing. We did end up witnessing a fantastic sunset once the clouds cleared.
Keylong is a quiet and lovely town. It is located in a place that looks at Manali in the South, Dalhousie in the West, Leh in the North and Kaza in the East. We stayed there primarily as we knew acclimatization would be an issue, but we fell in love with the town. Our trip took us Kaza-wards and we knew Kunzum Pass wouldn’t be quite happy. But I will tell you all about that in the next post.
Earlier Posts: 1. Old Lucknow 2. Colonial Lucknow 3. Going Downhill - Versey to Dentam 4. Going to Garhwal 5. The Walkers 6. Palamau 7. Rishikesh 8. Kolkata Kolkata 9. The Roar of the Clouds - Santiniketan 10. Of Pests and Men - Uttarey 11. Where Hikers Fear to Tread - Rudranath 12. Old Times 13. History in Ruins - Pushpagiri 14. Once There was a Heaven 15. Serenity 16. Pilgrim's Progress - Kedarnath 17. Unfinished - Gaumukh 18. Ghatshila 19. Nothing Important 20. Manu's Alaya - Manali 21. Santiniketan 22. Little Lhasa - Dharamshala 23. From Varuna to Assi - Varanasi 24. Tunganath 25. Transitory Blues 26. Gurudongmar 27. The Beginning 28. Yumesamdong 29. Bangali in Bangkok 30. Mukutmanipur 31. Rasvanti 32. The Old Town and the Sea 33. Budapest 34. The Last Post of 2019 35. Travel Travails 36. Cluj-Napoça 37. Presenting the Past 38. Far From the Urban Crowd 39. Silent Night Sleepless Night 40. Norwich 41. Photo Essay - The Road 42. Photo Story - The Days of the Goddess 43. Badrinath 44. Monumental Mistakes 45. Odyssey Now 46. To the Mountains