Rakcham: The end of the road

We drove towards the Sangla valley, through dry hill country filled with gum trees and burning-off, making it smell just like an Australian summer. We found eucalypts in almost every country we visited and while the locals don’t always appreciate their water-guzzling ways, the trees seem to thrive, growing tall very quickly. In this valley there was a lot of terrace farming underway. As we travelled on, the sky clouded over and we started driving along a waterway that would turn into the Spiti River. The land around here is much rockier and there was evidence of huge chunks of rock splitting away from the mountain and into the river below. It thundered along in the canyon below us, all roiling and turbid as it brought soil down from the high Spiti valley.

It was starting to get late and somewhat concerning that our driver Chandashekar (spelling uncertain) had to ask directions to our hotel. Soon enough night collapsed around us and we were still driving on up an incredibly narrow mountain road with a cliff on one side and what we presumed was a steep drop on the other. From our current position it just looked like a black void. Unbeknownst to us at the time, Chandashekar had been driving since about 5am that morning as he had a distance to travel before picking us up. In light of that he did wonders to get us there safely. I think it helped that there was something wrong with his chassis that made him drive slower than the tiny hatchbacks who kept overtaking us on the rough dirt roads.  We didn’t mind the slow pace. –  Better slow than rolling into a valley.

We made it to the hotel which had been organised for us by the eco-tour company we’d planned the week of travel with. The unheated room and dirty dining room didn’t endear us to the place but when we woke in the morning and pulled back the curtain the view literally made me say “Wow!”

From there we wandered up to the road for about two hours to the little village of Chitkul which has one of the most picturesque settings in the world. Apart from a few passing 4WDs crammed full of Indian families visiting from more southern, hotter climes, there was only the sound of goat bells, locals washing laundry in the alpine river, and wind. Sarah wandered away through the village, intrigued by the presence of deeply traditional ways married with some modern touches (like the pay TV satellite dish). I waited where it wasn’t too busy near their little wooden temple where the fringe of wooden chimes clanked in the wind and nursed the blister coming up on my heel which by the end of the day looked like a puffy naan bread. On the walk back to Rakccham we met a Japanese backpacker looking to hitch a ride. He had no chance in the domestic tourist jeeps, filled to the brim with mum, dad, aunties, uncles, grandparents, children and cousins but passed us later, waving from the back of a farmer’s truck.

Back at the car Chandashekar discovered a slow leak in one of the tyres and despite this being a Sunday afternoon in a tiny village we found a mechanic sitting and waiting who changed the tyre and patched up the spare, all for a few dollars. On we went to a different hotel in Kalpa with an even better view than the first, surrounded by peaks and apple orchards, with the sounds of Buddhist chanting from nearby temples echoing in the valley. After overnighting here it was on towards Spiti proper.

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