Adventure · Himalaya · India · Photography · Travel Writing

A Bright morning in Chitkul and a dark evening in Peo

Himachal bus trip continued

I woke up around five thirty the next morning and was in a self-congratulatory mood as i opened the window and looked outside – What a view!

Animated, grabbing my camera, I rushed outside in my pyjamas intending to capture some shots. Golden sunlight reflected off the high snow clad peaks while birds chirped all around and there were no sounds other than that. I’m unable to upload the video right now, but once youtube upload works again for me, you should get some idea. I got some excellent shots of the peaks nearby as well. My exuberance lasted about five minutes till I realized my stupidity and got back indoors – it was freezing.

Back in the bath, the geyser didn’t work and I had to fetch Raising, who helpfully supplied me with the water heater. It is photographed and shown below. Scared for my life, I used the broom as an insulator to lift and lower the naked filament it into a bucket of water and switch it on.

At nine, I was ready to leave the premises and checked out – I was on a budget but I didn’t intend to risk my life any further than necessary. Damru whipped up some amazing alu parathas for breakfast and the view was great too. L joined me shortly as well.

On a Raising’s recommendation, we decided to walk to the nearby river in search of a spring he had mentioned. I reckon we would have walked no more than a half kilometer, in the direction of Sangla (opposite direction of ITBP camp), and left the main road for a walking track (well marked), that got progressively lower as we walked further.

Population around was thin, and in another half kilometer, we had passed by a lady herding her donkeys and a lonely dzo (cross between a buffalo or cow and a yak). We tried asking for directions but the lady had already passed ahead and the dzo wasn’t interested in small talk with strangers.

So we continued to push forward and soon found ourselves hopelessly lost amidst a clutch of thorny bushes and stones used by the local population to mark the boundary of their fields. The first one shows L looking for a way ahead and the second is the area where we could not find anything (the path had ended)

The sun was getting warmer quickly and there was no one about to tell us where to go. So after a brief struggle with the bushes, we went towards the river abandoning the hope of reaching the spring.

We got close to the river but this truculent customer blocked access.

After some more pussyfooting around the bushes, we made it to the river and were very happy with the view. It was great! I captured this short video there –

Shortly thereafter, some of the herd started fighting and that made L and I quite wary of staying back any longer near the river and we hotfooted back.

On the way back, we met the lady and admired her donkeys. I always have thought of donkeys as docile, needlessly ridiculed animals – just look at this one, he’s sweet and carries two sacks-full of load.

On the way back there were many opportunities to get some superb shots of the scenery around.

At a half past one, I was waiting for the bus to take me back to Reckong Peo. A couple of Himalayan eagles were flying around and I was able to track one well enough to capture this shot.

Aboard the bus was the biggest surprise of all – the same driver as yesterday! He was visibly pleased to see me and the feeling was mutual. Once again, I was given the front seat and got talking to him. He was more than helpful and helped me sort out my travel plans for the remainder of the trip. His favourite word for Kaza was ‘Kaza to pare hai’ (kaza is far).

As I have posted many photos from the journey between Reckong peo and Chitkul a few posts back, I won’t be posting many here. However, this video and the few shots below should give you some idea of how close to the edge the bus gets and in general, why this road really deserves its place on the world’s deadliest roads TV show. It’s well worth the experience.

Dark clouds were filling the sky as we got to the temple of the devi that blesses the travellers on this road. By the time we were at Shongtong bridge, it was drizzling and that got me quite worried.

Kinnaur district is known for its landslides – just the year before my trip- later in the season, the CM of Himachal was trapped along with thousands of other people in the district when incessant rains caused massive landslides and closed the direct road to Shimla, the state capital. I asked the driver whether I should go up to Kalpa in the bus but he advised otherwise and suggested that it is safer to stay back in Reckong peo the night before boarding the morning bus for Kaza. That bus would leave at 7 am and will be booked solid. However, after we pulled into the Peo bus stand, driver-ji did me a good turn – he introduced me to the man on the ticket window. Mr B (on the window) not only generated a computerized ticket for me instantly, he assured me of a good seat on the bus.

With the drizzle increasing to a steady downpour, I scouted around for a hotel in Reckong peo and to my surprise, couldn’t spot anything good near the bus stand area. Tired, and wet, I settled for a cheap room at a totally forgettable establishment – but at a walking distance from the bus stand. The man at the counter didn’t want to own up to anything at all – there was no intercom to call the reception and he didn’t give me his real phone number (I discovered that later at night). The room was atrocious, with dirty sheets, and the door to the bathroom was at an elevation of well over one foot from the bedroom floor. It was however, secured just in time, as this view of the sky above should show you.

I walked a fair distance from the hotel to the main market of Reckong peo and saw sights exactly as described in guidebooks – cheapish clothes sold over the footpath, repair shops working on old bikes, several seedy looking personalities sauntering about doing whatever seedy looking personalities do.

If there was a high point in the evening, it was the discovery of this stall selling Safeda mangoes. The second was of this stall manned by a couple of Bihari boys – they made excellent golgappas and alu tikka. After a week in the mountains, these were manna from heaven and were graciously accepted.

My attempts to withdraw cash from an ATM failed as did the attempt to purchase Diamox (to battle AMS in spiti, should there be a need) and I walked back to the hotel.

There was a power outage and I had to sit in the restaurant opposite a man about five feet six tall, in his mid fifties, with salt and pepper hair and a goatee beard. It turned out he was a learned professor of physics who had got himself an education at IIT, then at Cambridge and taught for over three decades across the world. Now, he was semi-retired and was spending two months in reckong peo in this hovel that I was dreading my first night in. He lit up a bidi (Indian country cigarette) and elucidated the meaning of life for the next hour or so.

I had no option but to tolerate him. It was the lowest point of my trip


4 thoughts on “A Bright morning in Chitkul and a dark evening in Peo

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