I am guilty of being stuck in a mundane 9-5 corporate job trying to convince myself that this is what I am going to do for the rest of my life, somewhere inside me I always knew that I am not cut our for the 'regular' life that everyone expects me to lead. In order to satisfy this urge I travel to Punjab and Himachal Pradesh once every year with my childhood friend Nitin (it was one of those emotional pacts we had made a couple of years ago to travel together every year no matter what)...we used to save our leaves for that one trip that makes us believe that we still have a soul and that we can pursue our passion of travelling across India while keeping our jobs and hoped that maybe someday we will be able to build a cottage and run a restaurant somewhere high up in the magical hills of Himachal...
Though most of my travels thus far have been to the popular hill stations such as Manali, Shimla, Dalhousie, McLeodganj etc., I always wanted to venture onto an unknown path without any preconceived notions about the place...and go solo for a change!
The idea of my first solo trip to Spiti valley and Kinnaur came about in a rather unconventional way -
I was watching the movie 'Highway' which is a pretty much shot on the roads and little known locales in the Himalayas...I was instantly hooked on and pulled into this new world. Though I could not identify the exact place where majority of the movie was shot, I knew it was in Himachal Pradesh; in one of the scenes I managed to notice a police station sign board behind one of the actors which read "Judicial lock up - Kalpa" and later on I noticed in another scene at a bus stand where in a small corner of the screen I saw the name of the bus depot - Reckong Peo ...that was it, this was going to be the destination for my first solo trip!!! I felt a bit like a detective who had cracked his first case without any help from anyone...cheap thrills, I say!
One thing led to another, after some planning and deliberation - I had the final plan in place for my solo trip from Punjab to Kinnaur/Spiti and back; of course this was possible due to some research and detailed information that I got from several blogs and travel websites. I decided to pack light and travel to "explore" and not just visit these places like a typical tourist, I booked nothing apart from my flight tickets and a cab for 7 days. During the initial days of browsing the net to get to know about the places - I realized that I actually enjoy the process of planning for a holiday quite a bit as well!!!
Day 1 - Mumbai to Chandigarh by flight, around 2 hours and 15 minutes...
I have this theory that if something starts well it will end well too and likewise if it doesn't start off well it most likely will not end well too, however this theory of mine was going to be put to the test soon on this trip. The owner of the cab that I had booked called me the night before I was going to Chandigarh to say that the cab had some problems and could not be taken for this trip and that he would 'upgrade' me to a better car, I was fine with this since it was a better car he was giving me at the same price...bring it on! Upon reaching Chandigarh airport, I get another call from him, this time he said that the other car that was going to pick me up was stuck in the town from where it was going to come to Chandigarh that morning...at this point of time I started thinking that this guy was going to mess up my trip and I panicked a little. He quickly gave me an alternative and offered to pick me up in a temporary car that will take me to the town where my cab was stuck and promised that there would not further changes from thereon. I had to wait for around 20 minutes for this cab to pick me up since it was a last minute change and I thought probably this driver didn't get enough notice to be there on time to pick me up. I was getting a little impatient however I was mildly amused while waiting at the airport with all the 'Punjabi ness' around me...I love the audacious nature of the Punjabi's and the way they freely express themselves especially the local people residing in Punjab not the Punjabi's from other parts of the country who are just visiting... it's different!
I saw a small bus with around 10-15 people that I assumed was probably a big family going on a vacation...I see all the men dressed in loose Hawaiian shirts, cool eyewear, tight t-shirts and khakhi shorts (some of them were wearing black formal shoes) alight from the bus adjusting themselves as they were coming out one by one, I knew these men along with the entire entourage were heading towards Goa for sure; they were followed by their loud wives who looked hassled rounding up their inquisitive kids and gathering all their belongings at the same time managing their hair and gaudy makeup. I heard one of the men say in a calm tone (in Punjabi) to the ladies - "Oye, don't worry, the plane will not leave without us...and don't forget the bag that has the parathas and aachar"
Luckily, my car was there in a few minutes and I headed towards my friend's house before I began my journey.
Day 1 - Chandigarh to Rampur via Shimla - around 7.5 hours due to heavy traffic in Shimla and some bad road patches. Bunty the cab driver and my friend for the next 7 days was a young fun loving chap from Kufri, a small town near Shimla...he ensured that he provided me with all necessary information about the places we were going to visit.
After an unexpectedly long drive due to traffic snarls at Shimla, we reached Rampur and I quickly checked into a hotel without much fuss just to spend the night and leave for Sangla the next morning.
Day 2 - Rampur to Raksham (near Sangla) - around 4.5 hours; the roads started getting worse 30 mins after leaving Rampur as we approached the entry point of Kinnaur district all the way till the Karchham Wangtu hydro project plant area, the hilly roads to reach Sangla were quite narrow and I had quite a few 'scary' moments on this route - there were some really sharp blind turns and many trucks speeding down the hill. Bunty was driving with one hand on the wheel and seemed surprisingly calm on these roads!
On the way to Sangla
Upon reaching Sangla I decided to stay a little away from the hustle bustle of the market at moved towards the river side village of Raksham which had some very beautiful views of the snow clad mountains and the river bed...