Diya Gupta

Writer


The End of the Winding Road

12:04 PM, Monday, 26th May, 2014
Shaun explores Spiti
Rangrik, the tiny village where we live.
The mountains surrounding our little flat
On a summer’s day in Sheffield last year, my friend Jason and I stood at his desk, looking at Google Earth. We were at work – but everyone takes time out to gaze at the world unfolding on their computer screens through the wonder that is Google Earth, don’t they? It is a healthy reminder of the vastness of human existence in contrast to our individual microcosmic lives; it lends our working day a sense of proportion to know that, as we type and attend meetings, Amazonian tribes gather in the jungle and the Maasai in Africa are off fetching firewood and preparing to hunt.

As Jason and I continued to look at his screen, a tiny road that curled through the Himalayas in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh intrigued us both. “Wow, there’s absolutely nothing else in sight except mountains!” I exclaimed. “Yes, that’s the road leading to Spiti – the place I was telling you about,” he replied. “There’s a school there.”

Eleven months later, that tiny road materialised in front of Shaun and me as we rattled along its bumpy contours and hairpin bends. We were on a two-day journey to Spiti from Dharamshala, packed into a Tata Safari with a Buddhist monk, his 85-year-old father, the driver, a teenaged boy, and everyone’s bags and baggage – including our CO2 fire extinguisher, bicycle pump, sulphuric acid and other tame chemicals, and only one or two normal items, like sweaters and some jeans.

It was a long journey. 15 hours of driving on the first day (we set off at 5 am – had I forgotten to tell everyone that I’m not a morning person? Ask anyone I’ve ever worked with!), and 9 hours on the second. Most of the roads were pretty hairy, often with no barricades on the side, and the drop below sheer and rather terrifying. The rain pelted down on us; evidence of recent landslides was all around; and at one point a boulder that had rolled off a mountain inconsiderately placed itself in our path.

But it was beautiful. The lush greenery of the hills of Himachal was interrupted by gushing waterfalls, fed by the recent rain. Unable to contain themselves, a few waterfalls spilled out on to the road, and we passed a mud-splattered truck whose driver was giving it a good wash under one such natural shower. As we drove on from Reckong Peo, where we had stopped overnight, the landscape began to change: green trees started dissipating, to be replaced by barer, craggier rock faces. Amidst these mountains, the greenish-grey Satluj carved and wound its way, to be joined by the Spiti River further upstream.

We stopped for a welcome cup of tea at a village called Nako, where the quietude – and the altitude – was palpable. But it was as we crossed Sumdo and entered the Spiti valley that Shaun and I looked out of the car windows, almost unable to believe what we saw. The sun shone down from a brilliant blue sky on to giant snow-covered peaks that drew closer and closer. Weathered mountain faces displayed an enormous variety of rock formations – surely a geologist’s dream! The lower valley showed smudges of green: the first signs of cultivation at the onset of summer. Branches carrying tender white apple blossom stretched out delicately towards the sky.

The pictures don’t do Spiti justice, Shaun and I agreed. As the sky darkened, our car finally stopped in front of a small, whitewashed, two-storeyed, flat-roofed building, in the style of other houses we had passed on our way. There was a temporary power failure, so we were greeted by candlelight and flashlight, plenty of tea and a host of smiles.

We had arrived. At last. In this strange and beautiful and remote place, with what looked, in the gathering dusk, like the Alps and the Grand Canyon surrounding us. This wasn’t vicarious living through Google Earth. This was real.
Comments.
Laura Clark on 5:32 PM, 10th June, 2014
Sounds incredible! Can't wait to see more photos!
Diya on 3:08 PM, 29th May, 2014
Cheers, Leanne! And thank you for commenting here!
Leanne Adkin on 2:52 AM, 29th May, 2014
Wonderful! I'm really enjoying these updates. You two are amazing xx
Diya on 11:27 AM, 27th May, 2014
Thanks, Dunstan! :-)
Dunstan on 11:00 PM, 26th May, 2014
Beautiful imagery.
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