Driving through the sparsely populated Spiti Valley as light slowly fades is a truly magical experience. Occasionally you see the villages with white houses next to the road or a bit further away. And sometimes you catch a glimpse of a faraway speck of light. The barrenness of the region settles into a comfortable darkness and there is a strange quiet. There are no birds here to bid the day goodbye.
It was evening when we reached Kaza. I think it was exactly 6 o’clock when Kishore-ji dropped us at The Spiti. On the way, from Rangrik we could see the village and the monastery of Key. We could tell how impressive it was even from all the way across the Spiti riverbed and the fields that separated this small village from the river. Evening was upon us, and all our attempts to photograph the monastery from that distance failed. The moving car did not help, and we did not have the heart to tell Kishore-ji to slow down. He had been driving for almost 12 hours straight. The road was tough, as I have already described in my earlier post, and we were all very tired. So it was quite a relief when we finally checked in.
Let me give you a few details here. Kaza is a remote village on the Indian borderland. It is smaller than the average metro city postcode. It is divided equally by a tributary that meets the Spiti. There is no luxury here. There are quite a few hotels, but they promise nothing more than very basic comfort. I don’t think anything more is needed. We had the Spiti Suite, but it was simply a large room. We did not mind.
The Spiti has no power backup (at least did not have any when we were there), not much variety in food, and the service is polite though somewhat rustic. The person-in-charge (the manager was away for the week as was reported) assured me that there are plans of renovation. That did not help us in any way as we had to sit in the dark (illuminated by the faint light from our LED torch/flashlight) for a while. If you decide to stay here, I would recommend their cottages, or the river facing double bed rooms. They give you better views. The most expensive room was not really suitable.
If you like hustle and bustle then I would recommend one of the properties in the market, such as the Zostel. The market is a fair distance from The Spiti, so we had to take the car. And I would recommend keeping two whole days for Kaza. Key Monastery is closed on certain days. You do not want to miss visiting this monastery. There are plenty to see here. And the monastery is one of the most impressive in India.
Even from a distance Key Monastery is imposing. [There are multiple spellings available, I write Key as this was the spelling on all signboards within the monastery.] As with almost all the monasteries in the region, there is a new structure drawing attention away from the old.
Don’t get me wrong, these new structures are also beautiful, but don’t let them distract you. Usually there are older and lovelier structures that speak of much more. A small staircase took us to the upper level which houses the old rock cut rooms which house the old Monastery. I found a fairly irritated Lama who was doing his best to keep the hordes of howling holidaymakers in control. My white hair and respectful questions calmed him down a bit, but before I climbed down the stairs another set of noisemakers sent his mood back to one of disdainful derision. I kept wondering how people could be so insensitive even in a place which is truly serene!
I learned a little bit from the holy man before he was engaged with the unholy commotion. Key Monastery was actually located in Rangrik, but constant attacks forced them to find this hillock and construct this brilliant temple. We took the Prasad they offered gladly and politely declined the tea. The second best thing about this Monastery is that it gives you awesome views of the Spiti Valley. Do notice the curious rock formations everywhere. This is very special to this region.
The best thing is that in those older sections you feel the preservation of a mystical past that is lost in the newer templated temples. This may well be an attempt to give tourists and such casual visitors a flashier and more decorated place to visit, keeping the spiritual free from selfie-seeking crowds.
One of the other attractions around Kaza is Langza. A fair distance away from Langza there is a huge Buddha statue, but once again, the surroundings are far more remarkable.
There used to be a grand palace belonging to the king of Kaza, but it is no longer there. We did see some ruins a bit further from the village. Maybe that was the palace at some point of time.
Langza is now quite a draw for all who are interested in winter sports. The undulating terrain makes great slopes for skiing.
Kibber is a picturesque village; we drove through, stopping only for a few snaps.
The drive through these hills is fascinating, as fascinating as the destinations. I have a small video. If you so wish you can watch it here.
Komik (supposedly the highest village in Asia) is another village with a very old Monastery (with a new one right next to it).
Komik has a collection of smart asses, literally. They often try to snatch food from tables of tourists. Before the modern metalled roads were built, these donkeys were the major means of goods transport through the narrow tracks that still can be seen. Now many of them are unemployed and they sometimes try to make an ass out of the visitors.
Chichham Bridge is interesting; apparently it is the highest bridge in the Asia. The landscape all around is unique.
We looked at these far-flung villages with a handful of huts and wondered just how strong human endurance and perseverance are. Even in places as unwelcome as these, people have settled and survived for centuries, without a trace of the basics we take for granted. Something as necessary as water is a luxury in these villages.
Hikkim has the world’s highest post office. It was excruciatingly crowded and I did want to post something to a friend. The lone man there, I guess the postmaster, helplessly told me he was out of stamps. Apparently a man from Bengal had come and bought three hundred and was now sitting with his family pasting them on postcards with a speed that would rival industrial mechanization! The postal man did promise to post a postcard for me once postage stamps came from Kaza. I paid him for the stamps, quite absolutely sure he will keep his word. He did. My friend received the postcard. The postcard travelled all the way from Hikkim to Darjeeling.
Kaza is breathtaking. The market is small. As some of you know, we are incorrigible café-cravers. Instead of usual eateries we always look for cafés. We managed to find a few in Kaza. The one cafe I would suggest is Café Piti. It has a lovely open area. The cuisine is international and the service is friendly.
There is another cafe, The Taste of Spiti, it specializes in local cuisine.
Our last night was spent listening to rap music by one of the staff members of the hotel. I made a video. If you are an ardent follower of rap, you can see it here. But before that, in the evening, we had a slightly unusual request and Kishore-ji humoured us. The weather was good, the roads were all safe. So we took the car on a drive in the dark. We went up to the foot of the Key Monastery hillock and just stopped there. Night in this valley is so incredibly different, I have no words. And at that moment photography was not our concern. We just immersed ourselves into the experience. The silent lights of Key Monastery, the moonlit hills and the complete stillness, were simply out of this world. We had had many remarkable nights on treks and on other travels, but this one would remain etched in our minds for a very long time.
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 47. Keylong 48. Where Moon River is Born