Adventure · Himalaya · Photography · Travel Writing

Pin – A haunting beauty


After a glimpse of the Ibex and a satisfying visit to Kungri monastery, it was time for me to leave the isolated and beautiful valley of Pin. A large part of the valley is protected as a national park. That leaves hiking entirely possible but roads – even in summers when the hills are stable and there’s no snow – are iffy at best.

I recall we left a bit past 4 pm and Tashi, my driver for the day drove much faster than before. I had to ask him to slow down on numerous occasions on the way back as not only the ride was bumpy but also the sun was out and I was, at-last, witness to the legendary beauty of pin valley. What a difference a bit of sunlight had made – the sky was deep azure, the snow was clear white, the rocks were – well they were muddy brown.

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Not all rocks were a dull brown, some were a dark shade of rust – they reminded me of the the zion canyon national park in Utah and a little bit of what i had seen of the Rockies.

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When i was coming into this valley, earlier that day, a combination of the minor landslide we had faced, the subtle tension with Tashi, and an onset of flu had all colluded against my good mood of this entire trip. Hence, i had just rushed in, photographed a little too quickly, and perhaps what served my hubris right, eaten a bit of snow while hoping to see the ibexes. When we were going back, there was no self imposed deadline and i could see sights which i had missed earlier. By way of an example, I could appreciate the scarcely populated villages, the greenery – even spot an isolated tree or two and given the distances between individual mountains and the river, appreciate the wide Empty expanse that lay before my eyes.

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Even the very same scene that I had captured while coming in, where I mentioned that the clouds were so dense they appeared to touch the ground – look how different it appeared now!

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It was all so spectacularly beautiful – like this mountain opposite Gulling village that didn’t look half as majestic when I was coming in.

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Earlier, as we were leaving Mudh village, Tashi had let two men get into the car – he said they were known to him. Further, these two wouldn’t share the cost of the ride but since they all were locals and I was alone I figured it’s better not to argue. A little later, near Gulling though, he let yet another man get into the car and suddenly all the other seats (front and rear) were taken up by complete strangers. I was a bit taken aback and feeling apprehensive hinted to Tashi, that I had paid for the entire car, not a seat. He initially pretended to ignore my point but after these three were let off Gulling, he profusely apologized – so he knew he had done something he shouldn’t have. Anyways, I let that matter drop there and towards the end he asked if we should let an elderly gentleman ride with us – and I thought it was futile to argue.

Perhaps as consolation, when I looked up, the universe had sent burning gold to the top of the mountains while all else was duller, earth.

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Anyhow, after the car was free again of the visitors, Tashi and I got talking about wildlife. He had seen much – woolly hares, ibexes, blue sheep, grey ghosts.

As we exited the valley, and he spotted something crossing the road bringing the car to a sliding halt but a bit too late for my camera. The animal – a red fox – was already climbing rapidly uphill. I could only get a tail – note how well camouflaged it really is. The discussion then veered to the snow leopard and that visitors desirous of seeing this wonderful and sensibly elusive animal sometimes camp for days.

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As the car was still stationary, Tashi quietly bowed towards an odd shaped rock that completely dwarfed a regular house next to it.

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The puzzlement on my face extracted a word from his mouth –  ‘Padmasambhava’. That is the name for the revered Buddhist guru Rinpoche who was the founder of kungri gompa. I looked many times at this rock but failed to identify a humanoid shape leave alone the face of the guru. Perhaps i had failed the mindfulness test that day – loss of patience, and hence an inability to see what the devout see. Maybe there were snow leopards all around but they didn’t grant an audience to an angry, touristic visitor.

The landscape makes no such judgment. When we left the valley, the hoodoos on the opposite side of the Spiti river were partially lit by the evening sun.

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Pin had been such a fascinating and offbeat place to visit – that i kicked myself for not starting sooner in the day for that place. Even then, I was very satisfied with a short, breakneck visit than none at all. I would have regretted missing it otherwise. This shot, captured towards the end of the trip, just as we exited the valley shows the ‘chorten‘ at Attergu and perhaps best displays the scale of the valley’s mountains. [it’s the little white structure on the bottom right]

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Back in the main market of Kaza, I had a quick word with the Taxi operators’ union about the ‘forced’ sharing of the vehicle. They just shrugged and said ‘Sir, we’ll have a word with the driver’. It appears that due to shortage of vehicles in Spiti, people get into anything that moves. Anyhow, I didn’t push the discussion further and returned to the hotel.

Later that evening, I discussed with the hotel’s manager regarding a visit to Losar (further down in the valley of Spiti) and he was said sure I could but the snow would be twice the amount I had seen in Pin valley. The mighty pass of  Kunzum la wouldn’t open for at-least another month and hence an exit to the plains via the town of Manali was out of question.

I have no memory of dinner that evening – instead sleeping off early to board the long distance bus to Peo that left at 7 in the morning. My vaguely sketched return plan was to board back to back buses and be back to Delhi. But what do we know when we set off on unplanned travels?

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[p.s. Have you, dear reader, ever lost patience while traveling? lost your cool and later felt bad about it?]

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