Himalayan High

What are men compared to rocks and mountains? – Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice

DSC_00034205 meters above sea level – where birds drift on wind currents, the air is charged with energy reverberating from surrounding monasteries, and the only sound you can hear is your own breathing…

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)

DSC_0023
Lama at Lalung Monastery
DSC_0026
Roadside veggies
DSC_0049
Phone Line
DSC_0075
Morning reflection
DSC_0080
Serene
Mini monks with the shell
Mini monks with the shell
Morning Prayer
Morning Prayer
Details
Details
Kaza Monastery
Kaza Monastery
Rock Walk
Rock Walk
Spiti River
Spiti River
River Read
River Read
Key Monastery
Key Monastery
Devoted
Devoted
To the monastery
To the monastery
Well wishes
Well wishes
The highest village in the world
The highest village in the world
Construction worker's carry on
Construction worker’s carry on
Of the mountains
Of the mountains
Proceed with caution
Proceed with caution
Breathtaking
Breathtaking
Revered blue sheep
Revered blue sheep
Upper crust
Upper crust
Sea shrubs
Sea shrubs
An offering
An offering
Sky high views
Sky high views
Solitude
Solitude
Post man's son
Post man’s son
The highest post office in the world
The highest post office in the world
Getting schooled on littering
Getting schooled on littering
Cliff bar wonders
Cliff Bar wonders
Mountain crew
Mountain crew
Langza Village
Langza Village
Nomads
Nomads
Nirvana - not yet
Nirvana – not yet
Break time
Break time
Shepard
Shepard
Mountain cricket
Mountain cricket
Evening game
Evening game
Night fall
Night fall
Golden peak
Golden peak
Female monks
Female monks
Tibetan butter tea
Tibetan butter tea
Full house
Full house
The yak I rode
The yak I rode
Unreal
Unreal
Proof
Proof
Life
Life
10km to China
10km to China
Tibetan Prayer Wheel
Tibetan Prayer Wheel
Rock
Rock
Road trip
Road trip
Thupka preparations
Thukpa preparations
DSC_2627
Monastery with a view
Intense
Intense
Farmer
Farmer
Himalayan flowers
Himalayan flowers
Beauty
Beauty and baby
Tabo Monastery established in 990
Tabo Monastery established in 990
Tabo Monks
Tabo Monks
Mirror me
Mirror me
Julley! (hello)
Julley! (hello)
Curious
Curious
Nako
Nako
DSC_2392
Border of Tibet and India

 

Granite
Granite
Trees
Chitkul
Last village before Tibet
Last village before Tibet
Road to Tibet
Road to Tibet
Vertical orchards
Vertical orchards
Goat town
Goat town
Shimla monkey
Shimla monkey
Pit stop in Jaipur on the way home
Pit stop in Jaipur on the way home
Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal
Keeping watch
Keeping watch
Screen printer
Screen printer
Spiti Valley
Spiti Valley

 

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