To the land of Bhotias, Lahaul

Dear you,

So it was my last exam of 4th semester. I had decided quite earlier that I’ll not spend one more night in Delhi. Pabbar valley it was to be. And so I packed my bags and the next morning got down from a bus at Shimla. It was 29th May 2016. Shimla always reminds me of the winters of 2014. That was my first encounter with heavy snowfall. Anyway back to the present. At the bus stand before buying a ticket for Rohru I get into a conversation with a driver and a conductor standing nearby. They tell me Rohru is too bad for now because of the ongoing tunnel construction. It doesn’t take me more than 5minutes to change my plans. I ask if there is a bus to Keylong. I’m told I’ll have to go to Manali. And so I do.

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Keylong. view from Kadrang gompa on the opposite side.

On the way to Manali our bus meets with a tyre puncture in the middle of a road under construction. Three uncles from the bus wearing googles take in-charge of inspection. I spend my time watching them and one shadow man who followed the conductor/driver wherever the bus stops. A little later I meet Emma from London who was going to stay in Manali for a few days after her tiring travel throughout India. I reach Manali at 7pm and was disappointed by the warm weather and the number of people there. It seems a little difficult to find a place for the night. At HPTDC, I meet Gaur uncle and get an amazing offer. The old couple give me the extra bed in their room for the night and through them I also meet Sringya and her family(from Rajasthan) and also another couple from Delhi, all of them staying in the adjacent rooms.

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Winding roads.

The next morning I woke up at 2:30am to leave at 4am for keylong. The couple from Delhi, I’ll call them Joshi’s from here on, also joins me till Rohtang. On the way Joshi starts telling me his love story and how they got married while his wife managed to get a window seat feigning illness. I was caught by surprise at the disclosure. At 6:20am, we reach Rohtang which is under deep snow and I take leave from the Joshi’s. For the rest of the journey I move to the seat in the front beside the conductor Bhupender and talking to him about everything on the road. It is the journey from Rohtang to Keylong which is the most beautiful part.

On the way there is a pagal nala so named because it keeps changing its course leading to accidents. There is also the temple of the local diety Raja Ghempan. And then the beautiful lake and helipad at Sissu. At 10:30am I reach Keylong and find a room in the PWD guesthouse. The lady in the office of the DC is surprised to know that I’m travelling alone and asks me to take her to Delhi. I tell her she is lucky to be living here. I utilize my phone network here to call everyone and talk for hours. Then I head to Kadrang gompa on the other side of the river. What had looked like an easy walk turns out to be a tiring journey which takes me 3hours. I meet Tenzin on the way back who is returning from school. I wonder how those little legs walk all the distance twice everyday. While retuning the weather takes a turn and suddenly it’s drizzling and very cold. I almost run on the climb downhill. After returning, I have my dinner at a small restaurant nearby and head back to my room for deep sleep.

I woke up at 5am and to catch the bus to Jispa I have to run to the bus stand. I’m almost panting because of the steep climb. I get a ticket till Rarik(that’s the last point till now as bus routes till Leh aren’t open yet) and decide to turn back in the same bus. I meet Neera, the woman conductor in the bus. At the stopover at Darcha, an old woman asks me to stay at her house. I tell her next time. At Jispa the bus stops a bit further than where I had to get down and I have to walk back almost 2kms to reach the guesthouse. On the way I ask for a glass of water at a house and end up getting invited into the house itself.

The house is celebrating retirement of one teacher and I get invited for the lunch. I’m shown around the house and head upstairs where Wangmo is getting ready for shagun.

Here I’m not only gifted a cholu(the local dress of the Bhotia women) but get two offers of marriage from Lahaul! After a glimpse into the life of a Bhotia from Lahaul I say my “julay” to everyone and start walking to the guesthouse dressed in a cholu. I get mistaken for a Darcha girl on the way. Finally at 10:30am I have reached. I go out for some food in the restaurant located next to the guesthouse. Then I go the riverside and sit there listening to the sound of water.  After coming back I meet P. Negi and others and we get talking on all anything and everything from trees in the region to politics and religion.     My lunch is from Negijee this time. I take a walk along the river and then return to my room and read for a while.

For dinner I have shepta(a Tibetan speciality adapted by bhotias). Well, I ate the vegetarian version! Without the lamb. Nevertheless, I was happy with it.

First day of June and I wake up with no water or electricity. If that wasn’t enough, the main door was locked. After some moments of panic, I manage to open the other door through the window. Finally I get to fix the leaky water pipe as well and get ready on time. I catch the bus to Keylong saying my goodbyes all the way. On reaching Keylong at 8am I take the bus to Triloknath. After visiting the temple I head to Udaipur. From here the bus takes a U-turn and goes back to Triloknath and further to other beautiful villages like Hinsa and Jhakli. Another beautiful village nearby is Shansha(with a mere population of 320 people). After sitting in the bus for almost entire day I reach back to Keylong in the evening. For the first time, I felt a little lonely during the day and wished I had some company. This time  I had a little difficulty in finding accommodation maybe because of the rush to Leh. However, I do find a place at hotel valley view and fall asleep quickly after dinner.

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Let’s rest.
The next morning I’m at the bus stop again waiting for the bus to Delhi. On the way the old woman from Udaipur who is going to Kullu says something which struck me. “Aapke yaha paani band milta hai, hamare yaha khula khula rehta hai.” Sure she had never read Marx. Yet, it wasn’t difficult to understand how something like water which nature provides for free has become a commodity in cities. From Manali, I meet an old talkative couple from Ghaziabad who keep chatting the entire journey. I help aunty find a western toilet at Mandi since I was familiar to the bus stop!
The next morning I wake up in the heat of Delhi but with loads of beautiful memories of the waters of Chandrabhaga and mountains of Lahaul.

Always yours,

Muskaan

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