Journey to Spiti (part 2)

Day five – Dhankar and Pin

Dhankar monastery.

Dhankar monastery.

Dhankar is taken from a mystical fairytale..some flecks of white paint scattered to the Himalayan winds and landed on the most improbable location high on a quickly eroding hilltop (..moraine; not even a solid rock) where the white-washed buildings that make up Dhankar monastery have clung fast by sheer force of magic for over a thousand years. This place really moved us. The road from Tabo followed the riverbed for some hour until it started climbing the half kilometer vertically up to the Dhankar monastery at 3890m along a serpentine road – the location is just unreal, looking down on the confluence of the Pin and Spiti rivers deep deep in the valley below. We left the jeep, said goodbye to the women who had hitchhiked with us, and Sunil guided us into the gompa. As we climbed up the narrow stairs in the dark inside the monastery we could hear drums beating, and once we reached the top floor where the roof opened up to the sky we could hear the monks chanting. We waited outside in silence for the prayers to finish and I wondered how much of the scene around us might have looked the same a thousand years ago..the monastery with the prayer flags moving in the wind, the view over the barren landscape and snowcapped mountains in the distance, perhaps even the exact words of the monks sacred chant?

Edel at the top of Dhankar monastery.

Edel at the top of Dhankar monastery.

When I asked Sunil how old the buildings were his reply “too much old” had a point – a poster pointed out Dhankar is in imminent danger of collapsing and is listed on a top-100 most endangered world monuments.

A monk eventually popped out and was surprised to see us – we were the first tourists to make it to Dhankar after the long winter. Once the prayer ceremony was finished three more monks showed up – it had sounded like many more back when they were in the prayer room – they gave us tea and showed us around to see all the paintings and ceremonial masks in the many rooms inside the monastery. One of them had very good english, and talking about where we were from Edel mentioned Sweden is very cold and I bragged we had -26 the other winter…he told us it sometimes gets down to -40 in this valley! Three of the monks got a lift with us the short way to Dhankar village, and we left them some of the bags of nuts we had brought for trekking (..can’t be easy to get supplies to a place like this).

Children of Upper Gulling village, Pin river valley.

Children in the Upper Gulling village.

From Dhankar we moved along the Pin river up the valley to Gulling village – Sunil sent us of on a short walk to Upper Gulling a little higher up the mountain and once we got there we were surrounded by little children who wanted their photo taken. Think we had chanced upon their small school actually – more and more children showed up, smiling and pushing each other for the top spots in front of the camera and laughing every time we showed them the photos afterwards. So much fun, and they would almost never let us leave. Wonder if they got any class at all done that day. Once we finally broke free and made our way back to Gulling we had some lunch in a 10 sq.m. restaurant and then made off again to the town of Kaza, once Sunil had found a way to break into the jeep as the keys had gotten locked inside! Luckily it didn’t take too long – the glacial meltwater passing the road on the way was much worse on the way back around lunch and might have made it impassable a few hours later (the whole Pin river had actually changed color from blue to brown since the morning).

Day six – Kibber and Ki

Kibber village.

Kibber village.

We stayed in Kaza at 3700m and drove the short way to Kibber village at 4200m in the morning. We walked around Kibber for  an hour, it’s a very picturesque little village – apart from just one or two corrugated tin roofs and a few satellite dishes it looks fully traditional. We saw plenty of yaks between the houses, and Edel got stuck with an extremely clingy child that wanted to be carried everywhere. From Kibber we walked downhill to Ki monastery at 3950m. Ki is another hilltop monastery – the location is beautiful, though it’s closer to Kaza town and didn’t quite have the “fantasy” feeling of Dhankar.

Prayer flags on a hill near Kaza.

Prayer flags on a hill near Kaza.

Day seven – return to Nako

Sunset view over Nako.

Sunset view over Nako.

Starting the long way back now – passed Tabo and the terrible landslide area of Malling before spending the night in Nako. Did a nice walk up a hill above town to watch the sunset among the prayer flags in the evening. The guesthouse in Nako was a little dingy, and sported some frightening looking electrical cables by the shower. Food was great though, eaten by a kerosene light as power came and went a bit.

Day eight,nine – return to Kalpa, Rampur

Nice refreshing non-electrocuting showers in our favourite hotel in Kalpa in the evening after another long day on the road. We left Kalpa the next morning just as the sun rose over the Kinner Kailash mountains. It actually set again, to finally rise three quarters of an hour later, as we climbed the serpentine roads down from Kalpa which is about 900 meters above the river valley. The drive down is nice, bonsai-like pines growing out from between the rocks, but once we reached the valley and continued the road towards Rampur the scenery got pretty boring with dam and road construction going on everywhere. The valley used to be very beautiful before the power dams according to the guidebook, but perhaps in the end it’s better they sacrifice one scenic valley than sacrifice the entire natural world by continuing to burn coal…? One amusement along this stretch anyway was the funny roadsigns; some like “What is hurry?” cautioning to drive slower, some like “Sorry for the aah, ooh, auch – inconvenience regretted” apologizing for the state of the road and one “All we need is your smile and cooperation” that presumably has some sort of purpose also…

In Rampur we said goodbye to Sunil, really had a good time with him – playing cards in the evenings and he put us on the phone with his daughters to try their english. And he’d been a fantastically safe driver, something we really appreciated on these roads – most days we barely hit 50kmph. We got a bit of a shock to be back on the public bus to Shimla after the luxury of the jeep for 9 days, but I’ll save that for the next post.

Thanks for the comments everyone – as the roadsign said: All we need is your smile and cooperation to keep us going… 🙂

Leave a Reply