My first solo trip to Spiti Valley was filled with many firsts, including hitchhiking in India for the first time! Come along?
As I walk along the green fields of Pin Valley, I smile in delight at the pink, purple and yellow flowers in bloom. I haven’t seen greenery for the last 3 weeks in the mountain desert terrain of Spiti.
I carefully walk across the fragile bridge across the Spiti River, to the village of Gulling. The goal is to hitchhike my way back to Kaza, Spiti’s capital, instead of waiting for a bus that may / may not show up the next morning.
I have never hitch-hiked in India before. It would be a parent’s worst nightmare for their 23-year-old daughter in the northern cities of India. But my time in Spiti has convinced me that there isn’t a safer alternative to travel the region. The mountain people welcome you with big hearts, space or no space. And it’s a great way to meet fellow mountain travelers.
As I reach Gulling, I’m greeted by a gorgeous view of green slopes topped by snow-capped peaks, some of which have melted into swift waterfalls. The aroma of freshly cooked breakfast draws me in to a little dhaba. I chat with the cook as he whips up breakfast, and ask him if any cars will be heading to Kaza soon.
Immediately, he calls out to an elderly gentleman, who in turn, summons some boys to find me a ride. By the time breakfast is done, the entire village is scrambling around to find a way to get me to Kaza.
Also read: 10 Offbeat Things to do in Spiti Valley
The cook invites me to take refuge in the shade of his dhaba for the few or many hours before a car passes by their humble village. But I insist on taking my restless self to walk the single road of the village under the trees.
As I stroll along, every passer-by has a smile to give and help to offer. A young man tries to initiate a conversation in English. I oblige, and gradually break into Hindi, to which he seems surprised.
Immediately, he insists that I join him for tea, and as I run out of excuses, I follow him into a shed by the roadside. He calls a boy and tells him to make us his best tea. As the boy heads out, I look at the tattered, isolated surroundings of the shed.
Over the next hour, I hear everything about this man and his family, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his move to Pin Valley many years ago. It’s only in Spiti, I think to myself, that my eyes didn’t subconsciously dart around for escape routes.
I find a ride just after noon. As we drive through the precarious mountain roads, with the majestic Himalayas watching over us, I feel glad, yet again, that Spiti has salvaged the notion of atithi devo bhava for me. All the world has heard of Indian hospitality, but living in the cities made it seem like a hoax.
Typically, Spiti’s mountain villages have a population of merely 50-100 people in a dozen or less households. They are often 5-10 hour hikes away from Kaza, Spiti’s administrative headquarter. Perhaps it is this unique geography that hasn’t allowed the peculiarities of urban India to seep into its hospitable culture.
Also read: Why Travelling Solo in India is Not So Scary