Read the previous part in Part 1.
That night I dreamed I was lying in darkness with nothing around me. Far and wide I could see nothing, and I was somewhere on the ground under the naked skies. I could see a few stars but there was no moon. The stars shone brightly, but one by one they started fading. An eagle flew right above my head, and its eyes were fixed on me, much as if it wanted to carry me with it to its nest. Its claws now fastened grip upon my feet, and in a moment I was flying high. I shouted for help, but there was no one around, and suddenly we rolled and now I was sitting on the eagle’s back. It was swooping down into the river. I would be drowned I knew. I frantically tried to loosen its clutch, shouting for help all the while. That was when my eyes opened. The night was old when I woke up. The sky was grey and in a while a sun would be up behind the hills, turning them from grey to orange. We needed to make haste. Packing our bags, we left the guest house even as the sun glared in red. It was morning already.
Now we climbed down the mountains, the car toiling its way slowly through the rugged terrain. Having overslept in the car yesterday, I wanted to stay up to see the road that led to Peo. And saw it I. Huge mountains on both sides, with tracks cut into them so that only two vehicles could cross at a time. We were climbing down a huge mountain, rocky and stony, and there was no sign of vegetation for miles and miles. No trees, not even a shrub, and hence no birds in the sky. Beside a twin mountain loomed high into the skies, same terrain, only rocks. Now we saw deep trenches in the mountains, which were made for mining; they were closed now, but would open up soon in the afternoon. The road was stony, and it was not a proper road. There were no proper roads at this height, because they would never be completed before the winter, and when the ice came down with all its might, covering the mountains from top to below with a sheet of white, like the shroud on a corpse, the roads would vanish deep into it and never come out, so that in the spring the local people would dig into the mountains once again, cutting roads for their convenience. The local people around here who were responsible for this styled themselves by calling them ‘BRO’, though it was only an abbreviation of ‘Border Roads Organization’.
The twin mountain which had been parallel for some time now started converging. In a while we would be shifting to that mountain, taking almost a U-turn in the beginning, but then moving on left towards our next destination. We had finished our climb-down from this mountain, and now we were to climb the other to reach at the top of it. Once there, we would cut into a valley, our next destination, Spiti Valley. But before that we had miles to cover, and we would be crossing the Hangrang Valley, with the famous Nako lake.
The sun was almost directly above us by the time we reached Nako. At an elevation of 3662 meters, the Nako lake is surrounded by willows and poplar trees. We stopped here for a while, for now we wanted to trek. After spending some time at the lake, which was serene and blue, and we saw birds, after a long while, and the water was cold, stark cold, yet it was refreshing and reminded me of years past by at another lake where I had been with other people, and she was there… oh how I wished I was back with her and that she was here, how I wish things had not been the way they were, but now was not the time to ponder over the past, for what lay before me was the prettiest lake I had ever seen so far. We climbed up a nearby hill, it was stony, but had turfs of grass; it reminded us that we were at a much lower altitude now. Now we were hungry, we hadn’t had a morsel to chew or bite since we woke up, and so we stopped by a nearby hut. It was a hotel to be precise, but it had only one table, and a small kitchen where a boy who knew how to cook only small things sat. We had rice and dal, the simplest of all foods possible. There was no other option. Fancy things were not available at such places. So we must needs make-do with whatever we could lay our hands on. After a lunch that seemed to go on forever, we finally got up and made preparations to move ahead. Already it was past afternoon. Our next stop would be at Spiti.
I was walking through a cave. The road was stony, and I was barefooted, such that the stones pricked my underfoot. The path was narrow and even so it was lined in the middle with molten coal, all black. I was walking through a mine. After what seemed hours of walking I finally saw a streak of light. The cave was coming to an end. I scampered towards the light. Now I stood at the brink of the world. Far far below me a river meandered across a stony bed. I could never reach there, it was too low. I slowly spread both my hands, even as a bird spreads her wings before its flight. As I closed my eyes, I could feel the sun heating up my eyes and small shapes walking about in my eyes. And then the push came. Before I could see who it was, I was falling down, down into the chasms. I knew that touch; I recognized it from caresses long back, but why would she push me? Now I opened my eyes, and the river was still far. I could see crows flying below me, but in a while I would be much closer to ground. Now I sped, the acceleration was taking effect. I sped towards the ground and even so, a hand came out of the river, grasping me and pulling me towards it. I tried to break free, but the grip was too strong, and now it held my shoulder, and I was shaking, shaking in trepidation, and then suddenly there was a jerk, and I woke up. Bad dream. Our car had come to a halt. We had entered the Spiti Valley.
The Spiti Valley is a desert mountain valley located high in the Himalaya mountains in the north-eastern part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The name “Spiti” means “The Middle Land”, i.e. the land between Tibet and India. The valley and surrounding region is one of the least populated regions in India and is the gateway to the northernmost reaches of the nation. After travelling for hours, we finally reached level ground. Here the road became wider, though not yet proper, and a vast expanse of green meadows stood in front of us. It almost felt as if I was in a scenery from Heidi where she stood at the foot of the Alps. The air smelled fresh, and it was growing colder. Now we came across small villages, with populations varying from fifteen to twenty. I wonder where they send the children to study, or what they do for a livelihood. In all the roads that I travelled, never once did I come across any school. I opened the window to feel the breeze, and the dust raked up by the rear tyres gushed in with it, and I realized I shouldn’t have opened it in the first place. We were now driving through the Spiti Valley, one of the most picturesque valleys in India. I spotted yaks in a field which was greener than any I had ever seen. Ahead, the Spiti river (which would later become the Sutlej) shone a deep blue. Deeper than the sky. It was almost as if a waterfall of indigo rushed into the river from the top of the mountains. We walked up to the riverside now. Spiti River originates from Kunzum Range, which is located at a height of 16,000 ft above sea level. The side scene of this river is absolutely perfect for cinematography and spectacular scenery. A number of Indian movies have been shot at by this riverside. The silence of this river deeply describes Buddhist culture and monasteries.
Sometimes, silence is all one needs. The water was cold, and I dipped my hand in it, waving it slowly forward and then back, seeing the ripples, and my face I saw clearly in it, the water was so transparent, and so clear; and so beautiful it was, and the stones below, as if there were no water, but only a thin blue film protecting them. My thoughts wandered back to what seemed like an entirely different life. Now I saw her, dancing upon the rocks in front, but she was only a mirage, yes, I knew that. But she smiled at me, the same old smile, and raised her arms forward, suggesting me to come over and hug her. But I knew, it was only a mirage. For she was thousands of miles away, thousands, and no matter what happened I could not meet her. Not now. Not soon. I looked at my phone. It had been two days since I was last in network. Cut off from the rest of the world, I realized that this life is not really that bad. Sometimes, disconnection is all one needs. Disconnected from the world, one can reflect on himself. Even if I had tried I could not get back in touch with my family or friends. What then was the use of such advanced technology and communication systems when they were in fact not even accessible everywhere? And tragic more was the realization that I in fact liked the absence of the technology. Sometimes, silence is all one needs.
Sitting there in silence, talking once a while, minds meditating, all I could think of was one thing. Sometimes happiness and peace trigger certain other emotions, and the cycle continues until the mind runs into a particular memory with which it feels most at home. That was exactly what happened with me. At this point, let me introduce to you my accomplices in this journey. We were six of us, the mad one, the stupid one, the neutral, the photographer, the lover, and me. While I will talk about them much more later, there was one thing I had realized in this duration. We can never learn enough about anyone. I saw the adventurer in them, the desire to travel, the desire to seek more, the wish to encompass the world, the will to do anything required in order to achieve their desires. We talked about things wild and things undiscovered, we talked about wishes unfulfilled and dreams that we chased, we talked about our sorrows and what made us happy and when we were done talking, we got back into our cars, for now the sun was almost about to start its course behind the mountains, and the stars would soon be busy with their work, lighting up the skies with almost an equal brightness, as if they wished to compete with the sun, and were almost tired of losing to it. An exhilarating happiness ran through me, and I shouted loud and clear. And the mountains echoed. Now the engines made a rum-dum, and we started moving through mountains again, at some points the crevices allowed sunlight to pass through as if a thin ray was all that remained of the sun, and at some points the mountains were so cut that they were both atop our heads and below our feet. Thus we began our trip to Kaza, the headquarters of Spiti.
Read the next part in Part 3.