5 July 2003
TRAVELS WITH MY CAMERA /ANU MALHOTRA
LAHAUL – SPITI: IMAGES OF A DREAM REALITY
“OKAY, ROLL, I tell Bharat, my camera man revving the mobike.” “Hold On!” I shout to Mikey, my Assistant Director, who sits behind me, and take off with a jerk. Mickey screeches, “You are driving off the cliff!” I have lost control and headed straight for the camera, placed on the edge of the road. Bharat yanks the camera and rushes to one side. I am now laughing at his horrified expression and veer the mobike toward the cliff. “Boom” we have crashed.
The filming trip so far from Manali across the Rohtang Pass, to the Lahauli village of Jispa has been fantastic. Exploring these mountains on a mobike is a first for me and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience and the surreal landscape. The emerald green Bhaga River follows us along the 35km drive to Keylong (11,022ft), an oasis of glistening fields and willow trees, is the largest settle settlement of the Lahaul and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh and a point for trade and communication. We stop filming at sunset and after a magical moonlit drive of 17km, we are at Khoksar (11,302ft), a tiny Lahauli town. We pull out our sleeping bags
and crash out at the local dhaba.
Early morning at Khoksar, I am washing my hair outdoors, with some warm water obligingly provided by the dhaba
lady. Soon the aroma of her famous mooli ka parantha
drags me back to the dhaba.
“Most travelers from Manali, Lahaul and Ladakh halt here. This region is sparsely populated and towns are few and far between. So eat as much as you can,” she laughs.
The 57km drive from Khoksar to Batal is dramatic with stark vistas, snowcapped mountains, dusty tracks and the icy Chandra River. This region is also called the Chandra-Bhaga Valley named after the two rivers, of this rugged land. There is no habitation at all expect for a few dhabas
and we stop at Chhatru for lunch on Maggie noodles. It is late evening when we arrive at our camp at Batal, where the Eco-Adventures crew is waiting for us, with hot soup and food. We are all exhausted and feeling the effect of the altitude (13,068ft).
I crawl out of my tent in the bright sunshine and allow it to melt my freezing bones. Gurudayal, an able mountaineer and our guide tells us, “The temperature at night was probably around – five or six degrees, but we must rush, for we have 14km to walk to the Chandratal Lake. ” We begin our trek with our porters walking ahead with all the camping gear.
We see a trekking group with horses coming toward us. Andy, an Australian, has been trekking in this area for 10 days. “I had heard about the Himalayas, but until you actually experience them, you don’t really know how exquisite they are.”
It is sunset and the mountains are on fire in every shade of yellow, orange, gold and crimson. It is breathtaking, but we must get hurry to get to our camp before dark. We are “totally finished” by now and draw on our final reserves of energy. Finally, Chandratal Lake (13,500ft), the mythical “daughter of the moon”, glister in the twilight. Chandratal Lake in the morning is an awesome sight. I forget the freezing, sleepless night. The cobalt-blue lake reflects the sky and the serrated brown mountains that surround it, perfectly. It is like a huge sapphire enlivening the starkness around it. The rare air, lack of pollution and human energies make everything stand out in crystalline perfection. Images of a dream reality.
TRAVEL TIPS YOU CAN’T DO WITHOUT
- Lahaul and Spiti are accessible by road from Manali during the summers –between mid-June and mid October –when state buses run regularly.
- This is also the best time trek, camp or enjoy jeep safaris here. It’s best to have a customarized trip organized by reliable travel agency.
- Allow enough time to acclimatize to the altitude. AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) calms victims here every season.
- Sun protection gear (sunscreen, sunglasses and hats), sufficient warm clothing, good walking shoes and mineral water are musts.
For further enquires contact:
Himachal Tourism, 36 Chandralok Building, Connaught Palace, New Delhi-110001. Tel 23717473, 23739031, 23325320. http://himachltourism.nic.in