A month long walk from Spiti Valley to Shimla
Some of the greatest treasures are safely tucked away in distant corners of less traveled regions. And one of such places is Spiti valley, which literally means ‘middle earth’. It is every traveler’s dream to visit this pristine beauty. However, the rugged roads and long travel hours might be deterring factors and only a few seem blessed to reach the abode of Gods and Rishis. Most of the basic facilities have still not reached Spiti and the extreme results of this can be seen during winters. Connecting roads get engulfed under a thick sheet of snow and remain closed for 2-3 months for remote villages. An airlifting service is the only option in case of an emergency. Now imagine how Spiti would have been around 60-70 years back, difficult to imagine, isn’t it? Talking to ‘granny’ in my homestay at Langza village, I time travelled to that Spiti with her, as she reminisced about her childhood days.
Straightening my back after such long travel, I was relaxing on a charpoi, on the top of the mud house. I liked the warmth of sun on my face after spending many cloudy days in Spiti. To accompany me, granny was often around on the roof; doing her household things, drying the cheese for Thupka in preparation of winter and Himalayan flowers, which would be used as, spice. I was all in, for having some warm conversation while sipping my black tea to unload my travel experiences and learn more about Spiti life.
She was living at the same house, same village since her birth and one could see her love for the home. I couldn’t have found a better person than her to give me more insights about the place. She started to talk about Spiti now and then, how different it used to be when she was young. Her wrinkled face and beautiful smile kept me engaged all the while. I was most impressed with her clear speech in Hindi; it is rare indeed among the mountain dwellers. They usually have a mother tongue influence in their accent but Granny was different. And she proudly said that she used to be among the select few who could speak good Hindi in the village, but over the years, more and more people have started speaking it well. Earlier, most of the people didn’t venture out of Spiti most likely due to a lack of connectivity, and they had very less interaction with people of the outside world. Only people who could travel, had the opportunity to learn. There were no schools in village and later there were a few in Kaza district. But she never got a chance to go to school.
Being more curious about her, I asked her if she ever had a chance to go outside Spiti and this made her eyes sparkle. She said they used to walk to travel from Spiti to Shimla! My mouth gasped in surprise. She said politely “Yeah, we used to walk for a month or so to reach Shimla as there were no roads or transport for us. I was 13 years old when I first traveled to Shimla with my parents and spent winters there. There, I learnt the language and culture of Shimla and further. We used to pack everything we might need for travel and took some donkeys and horses along for loading the luggage. We used to find some food at times on the way or stop to cook on our own. There were times when we went without food for days. It used to be a difficult travel, but I liked crossing the mountains, rivers and spotting wild animals. But I am not that strong anymore”. And she continued about her adventure travel and I kept looking at her in surprise.
We think that we are being adventurous now by traveling far and while she has done much more some 70 years back. And this used to be just a part of her life. The mountain dwellers learn to live the hard ways of life since the beginning. For every simple thing, they have had to walk for miles, fetching water, vegetables, taking the sheep to jungles and so on. And it definitely brings health and happiness to their lives. Even at the age of 70, Granny seems to be capable of doing almost everything and she can give anyone among us a run for our money!