On the roads of Spiti, you are never a stranger. Julley Spiti.
These are the experiences of a first time trekker, a choice-less trekker and an overtly enthusiastic trekker.
From a plan that began on a WhatsApp group titled I'm too lazy 2 type twice around February 2016, we had planned and paid and were ready to embark on an adventure we didn't expect to fall through. Between us, we had planned too many trips for them to fall short so we had to be calm. But it happened so the discussions turned to how much money was needed, our fitness level, size of backpacks, trekking shoes or normal runners?
We reached Kaza two days prior to the trek to acclimatize and during the five-day trek, we stayed and past through more than seven villages. We were a group of eight trekkers with two friendly and extremely reliable guides. Unfortunately, we only got to know our fellow trekker during the last couple of days. By the end, they were friendly enough to ask Sarju why she was wearing Zumba shoes for a trek (I swear this still cracks me up).
Spiti Valley has been excessively popularised over the last few years and I was worried about the influx of visitors in the region. Are they going to be real, inquisitive travellers or your average tourist? Needlessly to say, it wasn't worth worrying about this. There's no escaping the pseudo tortured/new-age traveller but take that into stride. Meeting them will be an experience on its own!
The people of Spiti Valley are kind and friendly and they will never make you feel unwelcome. Being respectful of people's culture is not hard neither is adjusting to a new way of life for a few days. As a traveller, this is what you sign up for. As a traveller, you must be aware. Through a separate group of travellers, we saw everything you should not do when you travel and I think that made the three of us even more conscious about the way we were being. In general, we aren't the disruptive kind but at the same time, I think we unknowingly bore the burden as representatives for future travellers and visitors that would pass by, to make sure that the Spitians wouldn't generalise us in turn, ruining what could be the most beautiful experience for travellers.
This was our journey route: Kaza - Kibber/Kee Monstery - Langza - Komic - Demul - Lalung - Dhankar - Kaza.
The trekking began from Langza but we got a warm up while at the Kee Monastery. What were only seen from photographs, travel articles and tag searches on Instagram became a reality for us. On our way from Manali to Kaza, we had the pleasure to be accompanied by a very decent driver. I don't know why, but we decided to wash clothes in our less than 12 hour stop at Manali so naturally, we had wet T-shirts and pants. Wondering what to do, Debbie and Sarju devised a plan to try to dry socks through the taxi window. At the sight of that, our driver himself took out a jacket also to dry it the way we were! I reckon we were the strangest looking car and we attracted a lot of unwarranted attention from bikers and other cars. Every window had garments. It was this driver that pointed out Kee Monastery from the distance to us as we were heading to Kaza. Even from the distance, it just felt so unreal and instantly, a sense of restlessness was instilled in us: when is this beginning?
While each of us had our own travel playlists, the soundtrack of the trek was the Buddhist mantra Om Mani Padme Hum played everywhere we went and also by our guide Tashi during the trek. This calm and beautiful tune never failed to put me in touch with my humility. We weren't looking for spirituality but I think spirituality transcends human understanding and at certain moments, it sure seemed to have found us.
By the end of the trek, Sarju was a convert while Debbie felt that she has trekked enough for the next few years. I remain enthusiastic as ever.
I feel the need to include that we booked our travels through Spiti Holiday Adventure and also to state that this is not some form of advert or paid commercial. They have been operating in Spiti Valley for years and all their guides are Spitians (in other words, providing employment locally) who thread the roads often. And by often, I mean literally every week once the trekking season is on! The company was founded by Ramesh Lotey who is normally in the office and who you'll meet before you embark on any one of their expeditions. He is an exceptionally nice man and it was a pleasure to meet him.
Given the limited and difficult connectivity in Kaza, the staff still managed to communicate with me through email and was exceptional at getting back of queries.
If you do plan a trip, Debbie, Sarju and I cannot praise them enough and we earnestly recommend them.