I’m overwhelmed, stunned and slightly disoriented by the landscape I’ve just witnessed and encountered in the past 4 or 5 hours.
This is what I was waiting for clearly. Turn after turn, bend after bend, one breath-taking sight after the other. Spiti valley is ethereal (so much that I have to use a cliché). Laying eyes on its grey rocky and sandy terrain makes me more and more certain that this is not for the consumption of the masses. There’s a reason it’s so difficult to reach and the roads are so bumpy. This is the abode of the gods. Not of the mortals. One is put in their place quite literally before they lay their eyes on this.
The region is so extremely volatile that each layer reveals the play of a different force of nature. The top of each hill is made of chunks of rocks that have risen up as a result of great tectonic forces. Layers of rock that have been compressed together in strange angles. One layer over the other creating alien patterns of browns, reds, and greys.
Years of wind have then carved these meticulously and continue to do so even today. Sharp jagged edges give way to a great slide of what looks like sand, made of lose chips of broken stones. To think that this side of the Himalayas is changing constantly is thrilling but to fathom the amount of time it takes for each of these changes, commands respect and a kind of mortal fear. I feel pious here. And maybe the others do to. The valley is dotted with white stupas with gold peaks around which colourful prayer flags flap madly in the cold wind. Yet the miles are deserted and devoid of human presence.
I’m glad there’s only two buses to and fro. If only the other vehicles could be limited too. I am absolutely certain the locals could beat me up for my nonsense sentiment.
My neck is crammed and my eyes are slightly itchy because I’ve looked left and right and tried to observe as much detail as I could on the way. My phone (smart as it is) lay switched off in my bag. No electricity to charge it in Batal. I regret that I couldn’t click and capture what I saw. (All images here have been lifted from Google to give context). What heavenly forces carve our planet.
The crown of rocks tumbles into a progression of sandy downpour of greys, light browns and red that then culminates at the river banks – sedimentary compilations miraculously held together by rounded water smoothed stones of various sizes. Here too the wind and water have a surprising role to play. Years of trickling down and swishing by has given rise to sharp knife (only from far) like structures on the bank that stands perpendicularly up a slanting porous sandy river bank. From the looks of it a slight touch can bring it all down. But they clearly are sturdier than that.
At first I thought, these were remnants of old broken bridges because how can such vertical cones stand on a slope? But on the next turn of the bus, a few of these spikes came at really close view.
Grey and brown, and dusty, this terrain is further made beautiful by its yellow and light green valleys and vegetation. Neatly curated pea farms, dusty in the Himalayan heat, sways across the expanse of the Spiti river valley.
Horses graze, buffaloes too at times. I wish I had paid more attention to Mankotia ma’am and her gutka stained lessons in school. Geography is hardly a subject for the classroom.
The guy next to me in the bus to Kaza is very shy. This tall gangly boy in his early 20s boarded the bus from Kullu he says. That means he’s been on the bus since 4.30 in the morning. He’s been to Kaza many times he says. I don’t think he’s going to travel because he has three rather heavy bags – one on his lap that keeps sliding, one beneath the seat oddly sticking out and eating up some of my leg space and one on the carrier above our seat. I ask him about the passing landmarks and infrequent villages that dot the valley. A conversation he’s only reluctantly interested in. An introvert’s dilemma when stuck with someone who refuses to acknowledge their discomfort. I don’t care at the moment. I’m too excited. So he has monosyllabic answers for me.
He has the window seat and I keep staring out of the window on his end. He’s highly uncomfortable and fidgets around. Eventually he doesn’t care anymore either. He even points out Ki monastery and Khibber and suggests I should visit these places. But he’s genuinely interested when a very daringly prominent and unabashed rainbow breaks out in the valley ahead of us. He leans out of the window almost. Then adjusts a bit to allow me a look too.
There are two rainbows. One faint but the other one is so bold that I feel someone’s playing a prank on me. This is the first rainbow of my life. Witnessed firsthand and for long enough to even get bored and look elsewhere. What else is new huh?
Pratik is on the seat next to me. He seemed dexterous with occupying seats and has even found me an empty one. It’s a 2-3 bus. He’s on the aisle of the three-seater next to me. An obnoxious man sits next to him. He seemed like trouble the moment I lay my eyes on him. It seems as though his face was burnt by acid a long time ago. Parts of his face looks as though the skin has been stitched into place. One of his ears (the left one) seems to have melted inwards and remains as a stub. His looks are not the problem. His behavior is. He’s one of those loud over-confident ones. Ones who know everything about everything and always say so with an arrogant emphasis. When the bus waited at Batal he lit up a beedi in the bus stinking it up while the rest squatted on the rocks outside to smoke.
Pratik has started a friendly conversation with him. I know he’ll regret it. I know I’ll regret it too if I intervene. Soon I see Pratik vacate his seat and continue his journey standing as the obnoxious man spreads himself out in the empty seats. Now he’s in Kaza too. Saw him today. He immediately went on to ask me where Pratik (‘Hyderabadi Biriyani’ it seems) is. How come I’m alone? Curiosity on his face.