As we drive into the heart of India, dubbed Madhya Pradesh, I awake my sleepy self to the sight of the Betwa River, a beautiful expanse of clear water vigorously flowing through a dam. I am suddenly kicked about venturing into an India that is far off the tourist circuit; Spiti & Hegdenagar feel like a long time ago.
I’m reminiscing about the winter of 2007, that I spent traversing the famous backwaters of Kerala and discovering the ways of southern India. Through my rusty memory, I remember the tranquility of the waters, the countless coconut trees along the coast, and a beautiful evening sky.
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” ~Aldous Huxley. Delhi has a reputation of being a nightmare for single women. So when I made the ‘bold’ transition from one of the safest cities in the world, Singapore, to perhaps one of the most unsafe, I was filled with curiosity, and to be honest, a little intimidated.
No butterflies in my stomach, no goose bumps, no insomniac nights, no cold sweats; just 3 suitcases filled with life in Singapore and 6 years of travel memories from Southeast Asia. That marked my move last week. That has made Delhi my home atleast for the next one year.
Over a month long trip, I realized that there’s more to life in Spiti than initially meets the eye. Slow down, and find out for yourself. I sit by a Stupa on an elevation above the shore of the Spiti River, shielding myself from the sun. It’ll be a good fifteen minutes before the ball of fire sinks behind the mountain range and relieves human skins. Such penetrating sun rays would make a great premise for a sunscreen advert, I muse. In the shade of my Stupa, the strong wind feels icy cold and forces me to wear the cowl of my sweatshirt. Life in Spiti is baffling that way. You can be melting under the sun and shivering in the shade, simultaneously. To distract myself from my hot-cold battle, I look towards the only part of Kaza (Spiti’s administrative capital) that is soothingly green. The only crops that can survive the harsh desert climate are barley and peas. Since it’s spring turning into summer, the shores are filled with green grass and yellow barley. Occasionally …
While in Spiti, I discovered a fascinating legend about the spectacular Komic Monastery and why it is located in the village of Komic. Spiti is a land of legends. Every mountain peak and rock formation has a story lurking behind it, handed down by generations of Spitians. The most fascinating of them is one I heard from a local friend, of a mountain peak which changes colors a few times a day, reflecting the mood of the deity that inhabits it. It takes 3 days to walk to the base of this peak from his village in Linkti, camping at nightfall along the Spiti River… But I digress. The mystery mountain is a story for another day. I’m currently at 4587 metres at Komic, and literally high at what is said to be the highest inhabited village in the Himalayas. As I count the 13 houses in this small village, I try to imagine how people lead such isolated lives. Perhaps a consolation is the Buddhist Monastery at Komic, where lamas (monks) pray and meditate …
The drive from Shimla to Reckong Peo to Kaza is exhilarating but not for the faint-hearted. A once-in-a-lifetime experience! I’m en route to Spiti and going through a “sometimes the journey is as beautiful as the destination” moment. The drive from Shimla to Reckong Peo to Kaza – with a stopover at Kalpa – easily claims Himachal Pradesh to be the most beautiful state in India for a mountain lover. I watch the mighty Himalayas blanketed in Cedar trees for the first quarter of the journey. The landscape transforms to pine trees, until the mountains gradually become bare. I catch a glimpse of the River Satluj flowing below in a stream of clear white water. It gradually reduces to a blue-green trickle in the mountains. Then it meets the dam under construction in the Rampur district and changes to a disheartening brown. The winding road from Rampur to Kinnaur has been dug from the base of the mountains, leaving their rocky protrusions untouched. I’m stunned as I drive under these protrusions. It’s as though the Himalayas …
I’m not down that many pints, incase you’re wondering. Perhaps I’m high on the mystical landscape that surrounds me. I could never have guessed that eastern Germany’s best-kept travel secret would be Saxon Switzerland, in the state of Saxony.
Innsbruck, one of Austria‘s oldest cities, is probably every woman’s dream of old age; the only thing that gives away its 900 years is its charm. Right out of the train station, I’m awed by the towering presence of the Alps. People are going about their daily affairs – eating, strolling, chatting, catching a bus, cycling – as though the Alps are invisible, as though they’ve discovered how to look away from the gripping beauty of their snow covered peaks, as though there’s nothing extraordinary about living in a city surrounded by one of the most endearing mountain ranges in the world.
“Experiencing a country through its cities is like judging a book by its cover.” ~yours truly. Welcome to Gargnano. An unassuming little village on the northern shores of Lake Garda in Italy, away from the touristy towns of Desenzano and Sirmione. Here everyone knows everyone else. Two days is how long it takes for the locals to know me, despite my broken language.