To truly meet people with different cultures to our own .. I feel it’s important to try and understand what’s important to them .. their religions, faith, and inspiration.
In Parts One and Two we did .. from Outer Mongolia west to Nepal .. we shared the lives of friendly, tolerant Muslim folk, and the unforgiving environment in which they have survived for centuries.
Now, as we move west, we encounter devout Hindu’s, who are renowned worldwide for their exceptional drive to a higher level of spirituality.
The Beetles followed the sun to Rishikesh, so a few years back I headed north from there to the lower Himalayas, walked to the esteemed Temples of Kedarnath and Tungnath, then hiked the hills around Badrinath, This is exceptional country with a powerful feel to it.
The next town north is Chitgul, however there is no road, (see Map), so you have to take a long route around. Luck smiled..I made friends with a great Korean bloke, (Rajah), who speaks perfect Hindi, and we found many tiny back trails to the very special town of Sarahan..and then invited to stay with their revered Holy Man.
From there on it’s all hairy scary roads cut into soft soil where avalanches are inevitable. I figure if you’re jammed inside a bus carrying twice as many standing as seated, which goes over the edge to join those plainly visible below, then it’s all over rover.
So sit on the roof, from where you could at least make a leap for the cliff.
Chitgul is truly enchanting, hidden away in such a wild, remote setting.
Yet, when they won’t let me sit on the roof anymore, I figured I’d pushed my luck enough for now, turned around and went back.
This year, to meet more of the folk who live in the High Hills, I board a small private bus in a place called Manali. We drive for 4 hours up a road jam packed with Indian tourists to Rohtang Pass .. only to run smack bang into quirky Indian officialdom.
Here’s an Army check-post who refuse to let me an two Italian blokes pass through without a “Permission Form”.We have“Inner Line Permits”, but this is some other thing they’ve invented, and not bothered to tell anyone, least of all Travel Agents or bus drivers. Our fellow Indian passengers put in a mighty effort trying to get us through the checkpoint, but tis all to no avail. Their orders say you can not pass this point without a Permission form. Ah well, we turn around, and find a way back to Manali to get the mysterious Form .. the Italian lads try again next day, while I elect to have another go at the alternative route via Sarahan .. but here’s the good one ..
India has this thing about obeying orders to the exact letter .. regardless of the initial reason for the order .. so when I later meet someone who had the same “Permission Form” problem, and ask them how’d they go .. they reply ..
“Oh we just walked around, up the hill, and met our bus on the other side.”
“But it’s all open ground, surely the Army men could see you ?”
“Yes, but their orders are specific, none shall pass through this checkpoint. They don’t say anything about walking around it !”
Oh man, that’s Indian logic for you.
Anyway I back track to Shimla, then squeeze into a Govt bus, and with the pleasant company of an Argentinian tourist, take the long way around to Kaza. This road winding down and along the Sangla River Valley is still woopsy, but much improved.
However it’s a fascinating part of India, with very different towns such as Rekong Peo. Further on Tabo Monastery, is a good stopover, then it’s away an awa for a purely enchanting drive along the Chinese border to Kaza. From here it’s but a short drive to visit fabled Key Monastery, then venture up to a small town called Kibber, and meet friendly modern day Israeli backpackers.
Here’s the Kibber schoolroom !
Next day it’s back in a Govt bus, rattling along a dirt track, through such a bleak unforgiving land.
This road heads to Leh, and the far west capitol of Kashmir, Srinager..
.. then back to a place named Kargil. The people here are mainly friendly Muslims, yet there is an intriguing town SE in the back blocks called Padum.
Bus’s leave at 6am, bur none turn up .. however“shared taxis” go at 7am. I hang around till 9am, find a shared Taxi, (which is a 4wd station wagon), put my backpack and day bag on board .. then whooska, suddenly it drives off !
Here I am sitting on a bench in the market with nothing. Have they nicked my bags and shot through ? So I just sit there for hours, debating if I should go to the Cops, until finally the 4wd comes back at 12 noon. Myself and 8 locals cram in, then off we go. At first it’s a bitumen road, but soon turns into a dirt road .. which evolves into a rough as guts goat track, then becomes a shallow stream of melting ice waters !
As we venture further the sun sets o’er a vast array of snow covered peaks. Our driver gets lost, ends up in a cow paddock, then jumps the wall of an isolated house .. to wake them up and check where we are ?
We’re packed in a Station Wagon like sardines, bumping around all the long night .. yet it’s an experience I wouldn’t miss for anything.
.. to be way up here with a shining moon; brilliant stars; glimmering white peaks left right and centre; Hindi music playing .. truly we are enveloped in an ethereal world.
After Padum, it’s back to Leh, then north to Panamik hamlet, which is as far as any roads go, and the final destination of our Himalayan exploration.
.. and guess what .. here live even more, friendly, contented folk. Groups of ladies laughing together, children playing as free as the wind. These people have none of the material possessions we treasure in the west, yet are so happy, considerate and kind.
However the day dawns when I must turn my feet homeward bound.
Umm .. one problem .. there’s been a flash flood, and the road is blocked. I get a lift to the blockage with two local blokes, and oh boy what a sight. For about 200m the road is entirely covered with boulders and mud. Oh well, c’est la vie. They give me a long stick to probe the depth of this mud, so, carrying my backpack, I scramble from boulder to boulder, while occasionally ending up thigh deep in mud. Tis hard yacka, but once across my friends press on ahead, while I start a hard, lonesome, long walk.
Rests become frequent, I’m tired and struggling .. then during one rest, while wondering about this valley’s history, “Bingo”, up pops a flash of inspiration
.. I am actually walking the ancient “Silk Road” .. how good it that !
To be up here, on the far side of Earth from home, and truly living a one off day.
This journey is now complete. I have been fortunate enough to meet folk from Outer Mongolia clean across to Kashmir .. shared my life with folk who live way up here, and can only say how wonderful they are .. these special people of the high hills.