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Splendor in Spiti

A local encounter I’ll never forget.

Sonal Gupta

India

“Some more?”, said the little monk as he gestured to the vast container of rice near him. I declined politely only to realise that it was a rhetoric question. ‘Some more.’ he said firmly as he gave me a second helping of what could easily be the best rajma-chawal I had had in a very long time. He watched intently as I finished the food, washed my plate and then led me through a labryinth of corridors, up stairs of unequal lengths to another kitchen where I sipped tea and witnessed the offerings made to the Hungry Ghosts or Preta by an old monk. I was at the Kee Gompa which at 13,668ft above sea level is the biggest monastery of Spiti Valley merely 12 kms away from Kaza. It was on a whim that I decided to travel to Spiti, one of the most remote and beautiful areas of Himachal Pradesh, scarcely aware of the fact that this month long sojourn would turn out to be my most memorable trip yet. The bumpy 12 hour ride from Manali where I was jammed between the driver and a co passenger with each of my legs on either side of the gear did nothing to dampen my spirit and when I finally reached Kaza, I was a bundle of nervous excitement and anticipation. And I had ample reason to be – it took a lot of coaxing (and coercion) to convince my apprehensive parents into letting my 19 year old self travel to a rugged terrain that the taxi driver aptly christened “Our very own Afghanistan” and a land of little or no cellphone connectivity. Nestled on the bank of the Spiti river, Kaza is a town struggling to retain its identity in a world desperate to shred it of its cultural heritage. With its bustling chaotic market, german bakery and cafes that serve everything from thenthuk to pizzas, its easy to dismiss Kaza as a town that has given in to the demands of the typical tourist. What many fail to observe, however, is the dichotomy that the town is representative of. The meditative calm of the Kaza monastery, the gushing sound of the river as it meanders beside the town and the sun dappled meadows and vegetation fields are examples of the calm complacency that this town offers amidst the chaos.


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