What are men compared to rocks and mountains? – Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice
Our last minute trip to Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, India, found us snuggled in the lap of the Himalayas, with nothing but rock, glaciers, and the rawness of Mother Nature as our companions.
With no expectations going into this trip that was planned two days prior, every minute managed to amaze me. Each day we would ascend higher and higher, leaving civilization, along with plentiful oxygen, behind. Hiking along the border of India and Tibet, dipping our feet into roaring rivers of ice cold glacier water, riding shaggy yaks, visiting the highest village and highest post office in the world, driving along the most treacherous road in the world, and getting our fill of delicious momos was just the tip of the mountain top.
Our guide, familiar with the entire region, and friendly with the monks, took us to heights reaching beyond altitude. His trained eye helped us spot the rare “blue sheep”. Living high in the Himalayan crests and seldom coming down, they are almost impossible to find. Legend says that upon seeing one, your kismet will be great and luck will be yours.
We visited 8 monasteries, each in its own style and size. While some were tucked away on the tip of a cliff, others were in the valleys – simple structures that had been there for thousands of years. The monastery in Komic was eye-opening and amazing. Set up in the passes, with the snow-capped Hindu Kush as the backdrop, the monks here shared a brotherhood that lasted from when they all arrived at the monastery at 10 years of age. Completely in contrast by their flowing red robes topped with ski jackets and sunglasses, these monks were the ultimate in cool. Joking around with us, offering orange pekoe tea and asking about life in Bombay, the peace that surrounded their behaviour was so alluring. Kaza Monastery was new, colourful, and captivating. Arriving just after the sun rose for the first Morning Prayer, we witnessed the tiniest monks, aged 5 and up running to the balconies of the temple, blowing into a conch shell, signaling prayer time. The prayer itself was unlike anything we’d ever heard before, talkative chants, with the lama leading the verses. We were given Tibetan butter tea, rich and salty to help keep us warm. At Pin Valley Monastery, we were warmed with tea, prayers, and the smiles of female monks, blending into the room with their shaved heads and crimson robes.
With the landscape changing from green foliage, to brown rock, we truly felt like we were on another planet. Trees were non-existent, and instead we found small shrubs and fish fossils from the days the mountains slept under the sea. With absolutely no network, and often no electricity or hot water, we were totally removed from the world. Save for the comforting presence of our driver, the three of us were immersed in a beautiful cadence of rock, river and self-reflection. And while on this road to reflection, I thought about so many things. How personal traveling is, especially to indigenous areas, and at home, how distant we are from reality. No cell phone service and we were cut off from the “real world?” No. This was the real world. Raw and unforgiving. Alone, we wouldn’t stand a chance. While I continue to partly feel guilt at commodifying culture, I recognize that photography is visual storytelling, and these photographs are just a recount of my experience.
If being a product of your environment is true, then peace surrounded my soul. Stars, mountains, and meditation – ten days in the Himalayas was barely enough.
(For tour information, visit Incredible Spiti)