Some travel to see new places, some to meet new people and some travel to find themselves. For me, it’s been about stories. Everyone has a story, and from my very first excursion, I have always looked for new stories. These stories are what make my travels memorable, a habit that helps me learn new things every time.
When the nature club to which I belong planned a trip to Spiti Valley [Himachal Pradesh], I signed up immediately. As the bus picked our group from Kalka Junction, I found myself embarking on a journey towards serenity. Though hundreds of thoughts crossed my mind, I allowed them to pass, choosing not to focus on any. The breathtaking scenes of green mountains along the long, empty roads were enough to keep me anchored in the moment. That’s the beauty of travelling to a peaceful location like Spiti Valley—it helps you reconnect with your soul.
As we drove along the beautiful pathways in the Valley, I noticed diversity in the attire of the locals, their vividly hued caps, and the structure of their houses. There was one thing they were all wearing—an inviting and genuine smile.
At Tabo monastery
We reached Tabo Monastery at night and stayed in the monks’ guest house. The next morning the monks introduced us to Mahayana Buddhism inside this almost 1000-year-old monastery, which was visited by his holiness the Dalai Lama. The monks then told us about the ‘Festival of Masks’, which is hosted at this monastery and attracts many tourists. In the month of November, the lamas perform a dance wearing masks that represent their deities and evil spirits. After the dance is over, the masks are then burnt outside the monastery as a symbolic act of cleansing of the evil spirits, diseases and wrong deeds of the people of Tabo.
At the entrance of Dhankar village, home to the Dhankar Monastery, stand massive pillars of soil, made naturally due to the erosion of the mountains by the wind. Prayer flags hoisted all along the lanes, in the monastery and on houses somehow made me feel at home. I felt safe. Staring at the beauty of the mountains, I experienced oneness with nature. This place offered me complete silence, a fresh perspective and the joy of living in the moment.
The next day on our way to Kaza, we spotted a few Himalayan ibexes, red foxes, kites, vultures and Himalayan yaks. Kaza is situated at a beautiful location between a riverbed and a mountain. We spent the night roaming around Kaza’s marketplace. Here, you can get access to the internet, photo printer and the best chicken momos on the planet. Kaza is also popular for the world’s highest retail outlet, which is a fuel station.
Kaumik is the highest drivable village in the world and the monastery here is more than 500 years old. At the time we were there, the monks were celebrating the return of a lama who is considered second in importance after his holiness the Dalai Lama. The old monastery, which is very close to the new one, has a museum that exhibits the different expressions of Buddha. Maitreya, the Buddha to come, is the centre of attraction in this monastery.
Our walk to Hikkim village would have been a very difficult one was it not for Tenzing, a local guide. He danced, ran and narrated jokes to keep up our strength and hold the interest of our group. Hikkim has the highest post office in the world—it clears its mail twice a week. Deciding to test it out, I wrote letters to a few friends and teachers who made a mark on me. The letters reached them in about 15 days—I thought that was pretty impressive for a village so remote and isolated.
We saved the most important monastery of the valley for the last day. Kee Monastery is more than 1000 years old and high-ranked lamas often serve here for years. It has a great collection of archives and photos of the reincarnations of the founder lama of Kee Monastery. The monastery encloses a huge idol of Maitreya Buddha and also offers accommodation for guests.
On my last day, I wished to spend some time alone and the head of our group created the perfect opportunity for me. He walked us to the river bank, where we could sit by ourselves for some quiet contemplation. It had been less than a month since I had lost my dad and to take this trip had not been an easy decision for me. As the sun touched the hills, a tear filled my eye and I recalled my dad’s words: “Travel is the best teacher because it doesn’t answer your questions directly but makes you find the answers on your own.” I stared at the horizon and waited till the smile returned to my face; I had found my answer. I learned that we’re bound to do what we’re here for. Once the job is done, the rewards are eternal. I then worried about neither the past nor the future.
This was first published in the September 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.