Thursday 24th june 2011

An inadvertent wait but a sleep well deserved, we had to wait for the town to wake up. Our guest house owner, over dinner, passingly mentioned that someone sold petrol in the town. It was priced at a 80% premium, but we really didn’t have a choice. Sanju finds the guy and says he has 12 litres to spare but for Rs. 1250.

I give him the money but ask him to bargain to a 1000 Rs. Sanju comes back with a 10 litre can not completely full and hands over Rs. 100 to me.

My flabbergasted expression makes him retort- “What can I do? The guy says he had bought 12litres and was expecting Rs 1250 for it. If the 12litres has become 9, it was not his problem. Facts didn’t interest him, he was only certain that he expected to be paid for 12litres and the only compromise he could make was a discount of Rs. 100”. The premium now was more than 100% but like I said “we had no choice”. These were small learning’s we were making on the way and realized that the only enemy we faced was ourselves and our complacency, forgetting obvious stuff was the costliest mistakes one could make on the road.

Tanks filled, we ride out of Nako. It’s a sharp descent, coming down from Nako, and I find myself riding behind Aby, who was now back on the bike. A couple of hairy incidents over the past days had ebbed his confidence but now he was eager to ride. A descent of close to 1500meters along a narrow single laned cliff road was however a bit too much for his nerves and the moment he had to pass an approaching lorry keeping to the cliff side of the road he passed the bike to me and instead got into the SUV to play cameraman.

A rather tame crossing of the Malling Nullah, it being early in the season, the snow had not begun really melting. With brief instructions on how to handle the bike during the crossing, all the riders have a sudden spurt in confidence. They have tackled breakdowns, good roads, landslides, nonexistent roads and now this river crossing. Most of the group had barely imagined doing all of this.

It’s the final leg of the descent to Tabo when Josie slides into a corner. The speed was slow and the surface sandy, his naturally protected body, ensured no damage was done. He was quick to step up, dust his body and get back onto the bike. His ego the only thing which was slightly bruised.

We detour at Tabo monastery, make a quick vist, sit in a deserted café and have a sandwich lunch. Its Hot really HOT. We buy another 15 litres of petrol at Tabo at premium of Rs.90/lt.

Aby by now was back in the groove and wanted to ride to restore his confidence. The stretch now was flat and pretty easy riding so he was back to his confident self. We were getting close to Dhankar and our scheduled halt for the night. Following as the sweep, I came around a sharp curve, when I noticed a particularly pretty and open space by the river where rest of the group had stopped. It was perfect for a photo break and allowing for some more time on the road befor the ascent to Dhankar, and our halt for the night. I pulled over and noticed Aby pulling on his trousers and grimacing at a nasty looking bruise on his calf. He had slid into the corner, applied the front brakes, lost his front tyre, and rest was lost in a cloud of dust. The nasty bruise turned out to be rather superficial, but it took away any regained confidence- Aby barely rode through the rest of the journey.

The halt made Sonu realize that he had forgotten his shoes at the monastery. He turned back taking a bike with him, while we lined up for a photo session, and a stone flicking competition along the banks of the Spiti river. We Ride up to Dhankar to find out, “Maning homestay” our chosen destination was full and Anil it’s owner looking helplessly at our predicament. Our bookings had all been turned topsy turvey considering the completely changed schedule. I was frustratingly contemplating the ride to Kaza, not wanting to stay in what I considered an eye sore in the Spiti region, Sonu appears along the cliff to the end of the road with someone riding pillion. This appears to be a stroke of luck as the pillion knows another home stay and Tanu and him quickly run to check for availability.

We park our bikes and trek up a rather precarious slope and enter “Asha homestay”. Everyone is apprehensive at first, considering the absolutely rustic surrounding. Its possibly the most organic architecture in the world, where houses are built not on but within the mountain slope, using materials that have been used for centuries, using methods unchanged, this little community of families have remained within a blissful time warp- Happy to escape occasionally but always coming back to a place nearing perfection.

takes a little time but the group settles, and begins to take in the surroundings. Jocy proceeds to the bathroom but beating a hasty retrea,t narrates a whole sermon on how unimaginable the bathroom is and how it shall be imperative to “hold on”. Nothing I had said had prepared him for what he actually saw. The homestay use dry mud pits as bath rooms, which essentially means that it’s a small enclosure with a hole in the floor. There is a

bucket of mud and one with water, which are to be used alternatingly for washing and then covering your droppings. The resulting mix at the bottom was occasionally turned with straw, creating a bio-compost which was subsequently used in their terraced fields.

Luckily Anurag had not heard Jocy’s sermon, and answering the call of nature he proceeded towards the bathroom and 10 minutes later returned, looking a lot lighter and no other expression betraying his bathroom encounter. I followed and as the evening progressed everyone had his turn, each one returned, noting something new about the novel disposal system. Not one comment was negative and most claimed it as one of the most novel experiences of the trip. Jocy was the last to go and he returned, but this time with a sheepish grin on his face.

The bright sun and the ever present tufts of cloud cover create shadows that play hide and seek in the valley floor. The Spiti river flows below and the town of Dhankar rises along the slopes of terraced rice and vegetable fields, and the necessary animal pen, the shadows giving a very surreal feeling of a town that’s suspended in air and one that’s constantly swinging. It may also be the altitude Dhankar being 4000 mtr + but everything about Dhankar is spectacular. Our guest house is located on the top ridge and thereby in close proximity to the crumbling monastery, one of the most visually spectacular monasteries in the region.

Evening comes fast, bringing darkness and then its light all over again, lit by the blanket of stars, shining bright on a moon less night. We exercise our limited astronomic knowledge easily spotting the common constellations and discerning the Milky Way. Lying under a sky illuminated by a laser show of shooting stars, we fell into a comfortable sleep mumbling an argument on the North Star.