A Portrait of Spiti: From Bangalore to Sarahan

Towards Sarahan

Fun Fact: Did you know how ‘Spiti’ got it’s name? Apparently ‘Sa-piti’ in local language means ‘very far’. When local people from the villages in the valley would go to nearby towns, people would ask them where they are from. They would reply “We come from sa-piti” (We come from very far away). Over time, people started calling the whole valley ‘Sa-piti’ which later evolved to ‘Spiti’  – the valley we know and love today. 😀

This is one of the numerous folk tales from our amazing guide. So don’t quote me on that! But it’s a fun story! Isn’t it?

Local kid watching the preparation of a full night religious celebration at the Kali Mandir of Sarahan!
Local kid watching the preparation of a full night religious celebration at the Kali Mandir of Sarahan!

Our trip was filled with many such fun little anecdotes and stories throughout the way. The trip started from Shimla, passing through Kinnaur before reaching Spiti, finally ending in Manali. This is one of the longer routes through Spiti. Another popular alternative is going from Manali to Kaza and back to Manali, with day trips to other villages around Kaza. We wanted to do the full circuit, have the full authentic experience and reduce travel time everyday so we could truly enjoy (and photograph) the places we were visiting. We were on a photography tour after all. Additionally, this made sure our ascent was more gradual, reducing the risk of mountain sickness.

Reaching Shimla

From bangalore, we took a flight to Chandigarh and then a taxi to Shimla, reaching a day before our starting day. It was a long journey in itself and turned out to be a good idea. We got a chance to rest up before embarking on the road trip. We also took advantage of the extra evening in Shimla to take a stroll on the Mall Road and checkout the famous spots!

A chowk (center of the crossroads) in town, with roads leading towards the Mall Road of Shimla, heritage walks and local town. Best views to be found from this spot, notice the traffic policeman in traditional garb, and tourists all around!
A chowk (center of the crossroads) in town, with roads leading towards the Mall Road of Shimla, heritage walks and local town. Best views to be found from this spot, notice the traffic policeman in traditional garb, and tourists all around!

One of our friends Shalini, was very helpful in helping us find the perfect place to stay – Hotel Combermere and we got a chance to taste the delicious chocolate eclair at the Trishool Bakery on the mall road. If you are ever in Shimla, it’s a must try place for a foodie! The mutton momos alone are mouth wateringly delicious!

I digress.

The mall road of Shimla felt a little too crowded and touristy for our taste. To get away from the crowds, we decided to take a longer walk towards the old part of the city. For a while we followed the trail called the Heritage Walk, starting from the post office and stretching on towards the hilly pathways. Slowly the crowds melted away giving way to the beauty of the surrounding hills, as we walked while watching the sun dip towards the horizon, birds chirping and a light breeze blowing.

Every once in a while we would run into an old building filled with stories of the days gone by. Some of the places are well maintained, but a lot of them are falling into ruins. If only they could talk, I could sit for hours listening to those stories. It’s a little sad but such is life. Old needs to make way for the new.

The house of the Himachal languages and culture society as witnessed from the heritage walk of Shimla, now fallen in ruins. I hope they found a new building to keep the culture alive.
The house of the Himachal languages and culture society as witnessed from the heritage walk of Shimla, now fallen in ruins. I hope they found a new building to keep the culture alive.

“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The colorful old style buildings leading towards the old town. The buildings are beautiful, old and in need of repair but majestic in their bearing!
The colourful old style buildings leading towards the old town. The buildings are beautiful, old and in need of repair but majestic in their bearing!

By the time we reached back to our hotel, sun was almost setting. We stayed upstairs in the lounge, to see a very beautiful sunset over the city of Shimla. It was the perfect end to a very hectic day and a good night’s rest was all we needed to be up bright and early for our adventure.

Sun setting over the town of Shimla, the queen of the hills. A beautiful first evening. The adventure had just started.
Sun setting over the town of Shimla, the queen of the hills. A beautiful first evening. The adventure had just started.

The road trip starts: Shimla -> Sarahan

We met up with the rest of our group and boarded the tempo traveller that was to be our ride for the next 8 days. It was a small group, 5 of us, our guide – Mr. Kunga Jordan and our driver – Rajeev. After quick introductions and breakfast, we were on our way.

Our small group of travellers and photographers. In search of the perfect light, the perfect moment, the perfect shot. As you can probably guess, this one itself took about 3 tries!
Our small group of travellers and photographers. In search of the perfect light, the perfect moment, the perfect shot. As you can probably guess, this one itself took about 3 tries!

Our destination was a little town called Sarahan about 170 kms away. The road was beautiful with lush green mountains all around covered with apple and pear orchards. Pretty soon we were joined by the Satluj river which was to be our companion throughout the trip. We would follow satluj from its roaring impressive self in the bottom hills to the beginning of its life, through all the small streams, rivers and waterfalls which would band together to make the mighty satluj of the plains.

The starting of the Satluj, meeting its tributaries in Kinnaur valley before heading on and leading our way. Satluj keeps you company almost all the way and you see it grow from the small stream here to the mighty river that we know!
The starting of the Satluj, meeting its tributaries in Kinnaur valley before heading on and leading our way. Satluj keeps you company almost all the way and you see it grow from the small stream here to the mighty river that we know!

On the way, we saw entire orchards of apple trees covered with huge nets (to prevent them from the hailstorms). It was a pure learning moment for us. Also, since the area is highly populated with bees, honey farming is a major occupation. Farmers leave special wooden boxes along the side of the road. These serve has homes for bees, where they come and make honey.

The apple orchards, netted and nestled on the foothills of the Kinnaur valley. They become more and more rare as you move along towards Spiti and it takes a lot more work to cultivate in the desert mountains. But here they enjoy the lush greenery and remain protected by hailstorms.
The apple orchards, netted and nestled on the foothills of the Kinnaur valley. They become more and more rare as you move along towards Spiti and it takes a lot more work to cultivate in the desert mountains. But here they enjoy the lush greenery and remain protected by hailstorms.
The honeybee farms on the side of the road!
The honeybee farms on the side of the road!

The day went by in watching the views, snoozing and eating aloo paranthas and drinking lots of ginger lemon tea along the way. It is the perfect thing to keep you hydrated and a great prevention to cold and digestion problems. Rampur is a small village along the way, which is a great alternative to Sarahan, especially if you are relying on public transport. It is better connected, and it’s easy to find food and accommodation. Buses run from Rampur to all the major points in Spiti. For people looking to self drive a car or ride your bike across Spiti, this is also the place to get your nuts and oil checked. Markets and garages become rare after Rampur.

The village of Rampur!
The village of Rampur!

Sarahan

Sarahan, nestled in the hills, greenery all around.
Sarahan, nestled in the hills, greenery all around.

We reached Sarahan sometime in the early evening and checked into our hotel. Here, we had a small photography intro session by Saurabh. Couple of things really stuck with me;

Photography is all about capturing the light

The best camera is the one with you

Off we went to try out our newly learnt skills. We spent the evening checking out the local temple, hiking a small trail to find better vantage points and getting to know one another.

On the local hiking trail in Sarahan. Air is fresher, birds are louder and sky is bluer than you have ever seen before!
On the local hiking trail in Sarahan. Air is fresher, birds are louder and sky is bluer than you have ever seen before!

At night we tried to have an astro photography session, but the local temple had other plans. They had an all night jagrata (awakening) planned with halogen lights, preventing the sky from being dark enough to see the stars (forget about the milky way). We tried for a few hours and then called it a night. The nights would only get darker from now on, the lights fewer. The trip had just begun and I was giddy with joy!

It became much too dark, very fast and we could not reach the end of our hiking trail. Clouds prevented us from witnessing the sunset but the dramatic patterns of lights they create were enchanting in their own right...
It became much too dark, very fast and we could not reach the end of our hiking trail. Clouds prevented us from witnessing the sunset but the dramatic patterns of lights they create were enchanting in their own right…