An Indian Homestay and High Energy Trek in Himachal, India
By Mridula Dwivedi
Three of us, my nephew Dilip, my husband Sesha and I ventured out to do a homestay trek in the Spiti region (Himachal Pradesh, India) this summer.
I was sold on this trek after looking at a few photos on the way to Demul to the homestay at Himachal Pradesh on Indiamike’s website
We pre-booked the trek with Ecosphere, an NGO in Spiti.
Delhi to Manali
We took the Delhi-Manali-Kaza road to reach Spiti. As we were using public transport, we headed to Inter-State Bus Terminus (known locally as ISBT) at Kashmiri Gate, New Delhi to catch a bus to Manali. We prefer to take government-run buses as the private operators often take us for a ride.
However, this time Sesha and Dilip managed to get me into a private bus and the journey was horrible. We reached Manali after 20 hours when it should not have taken more than 14.
We quickly found a hotel and after stuffing some late lunch we just crashed. In the evening we booked the tickets to Kaza, the headquarters of Spiti.
The government bus stand is located in the middle of the mall road at Manali and the bus for Kaza leaves quite early in the morning, as it takes 12 hours to reach Kaza from Manali. The bus ticket cost us around Rupees 140 ($ 3.5). A seat in a private jeep is supposed to cost Rupees 1000 ($25). The next morning we boarded the Kaza bus at 5.00 am.
At Kaza (12,500 feet, 3810m)
The route from Manali to Kaza is beautiful and we arrived at Kaza at 4.00 in the evening. We always promise ourselves that we will really explore a few hotels before we check into one but after 12 hours of bus journey we were rattled and tired.
So, we checked into a hotel right next to the bus stand and it cost us Rupees 400 ($10) per day. Later, we found out that this is at the higher end of the hotels available at Spiti as of 2007.
We were too tired the day we arrived at Kaza; we were just interested in eating and getting some rest. We still took a walk in the evening and it was a bit difficult because of Kaza being at an altitude of 12,500 ft (3810m). We called it a day early and woke up fresh the next day.
Our first task on day 2 was to locate the Ecosphere office. We wanted to say hello to them and ask about the start time of the trek the next day. Finding the office was an easy task, as Kaza is a small place. The market has an internet shop (expensive satellite connection) but no ATMs as of now.
Our start time for the trek, the next day was 11.00 am and we hired a jeep to visit the famous Kee Monastery later that afternoon.
On our visit to Kee, we met two people from Israel and France and they persuaded us to visit the village of Kibber the same day too. We came back in the evening and the next day we would get a jeep transfer to Langza, the starting point of our trek.
Langza (14435 feet, 4400m)
The biggest question of the day was whether to take Avomine (anti-nausea medicine for our motion sickness) or not? Dilip and I decided to take it and Sesha did not. All of us reached safely to Langza after a 45-minute drive.
Langza has around 20 houses in all and such places instantly appeal to us, because deep at heart we believe we are small-town people.
500 Meters Downhill
We were dropped at the local monastery and our homestay was at a distance of 500m downhill. This was our first experience of staying at home with local people and I have to say, it was really nice.
Langza is framed by the mountain range Chocho Khang Nilda and the village is beautiful. Because of the altitude of 14435 feet, my head started feeling funny after an hour or so.
Sesha actually took ill in the evening (after our visit to see the fossils found here) due to the altitude and not paying enough attention to it. After a very anxious night, he thankfully recovered in the morning and we could start our trek to Komik as planned.
Komik (14806 feet, 4513m)
Komik was about a five-hour walk for us and it is also the highest place where we stayed on this trek. The route crosses via the village of Hikkim, which is supposed to have the highest post office in the world at 15,500 feet. We were five people, three of us and Amar Singh, our guide, and Anjan, our porter. Dilip and Anjan would run ahead throughout the trek and Sesha, Amar and I would make up the rear.
Near Hikkim, Sesha and I were walking alone for a while and we were waiting for the others at a small hilltop. I saw a small figure coming our way and I said to Sesha, “He seems to be in worse shape than me!”
As the figure came nearer, we said hello. The gentleman was from Switzerland, 55 years of age and was coming all the way from Kaza and would go to Komik and back to Kaza the same day!
Later in the evening we were again at a home in Komik and were fed properly. All of us were more comfortable with the altitude now. We visited the Komik monastery in the evening and I took some pictures of the fabulous sunset.
Demul (14294 feet, 4357m)
The walk from Komik to Demul was the longest. It took us 6 hours, though I met a gentleman from Austria who said he did it in 3 hours. Hats off to him is all I can say. It was the day when I realized that when pushed a lot my back is capable of hurting like mad.
However, the route was so beautiful and the weather pleasant due to a clouded sky. At our lunch point, we were visited by Yaks, who came to drink from the same source as us! But at that time, I found it difficult to eat and was lying flat on my back waiting for others to finish the lunch.
Sesha, Amar and I reached Demul a good 45 minutes later than Dilip and Anjan. Our room at the homestay was really huge and the hosts made Maggi for us. They always fed us a lot of tea.
I also tasted the local beer called Chang for the first time. I must say I liked it a lot. Maggi and Chang became our staple evening snack at every place after this. At Demul, we skipped visiting the local monastery, we were so tired.
Lhalung (12329 feet, 4758m)
The walk to Lhalung was not tough but it went steeply downhill. Wearing sneakers was never a problem on this trek apart from a little on this day. Both Sesha and I are not too good at getting down. But once we were out of the slope, the rest of the walk was easy for us.
For quite some time we walked next to a tributary of the river Spiti and there were wild rose bushes in bloom throughout the route. As usual, we were greeted with tea followed by Maggi and Chang when we reached our homestay.
Lhalung has a monastery that is supposed to be a thousand years old and we visited it in the evening. It is here that we saw a Bollywood movie called Krish at Lhalung. All these villages have a road and electricity and yet they are so small and beautiful that you hardly feel you are anywhere near civilization.
Dhankar (12762 feet, 3890m)
It was a full moon night at Dhankar and this is the place we liked the best in our trek. The walk from Lhalung to Dhankar was not tough. Once again, our room at the homestay was beautiful. It was also right next to Dhankar fort (largely in ruins) and we would keep running from the fort to room and back.
At the back of the fort was river Spiti and in the front huge mountains. Dilip made the Maggi this day (we call him Maggi master) and Chang, as usual, was wonderful.
Our host, Asha could speak Hindi and I chatted with her a lot. She said life there was tough as it is women who tend to the fields which is not an easy task. She gave me tea so many times and that kept me really happy.
Sunset and Photo Time
Soon, it was sunset and photography time for me. Then the moon came up. We tried taking some pictures at night using a tripod but none of us are good enough with the SLR as of now.
The only thing that made us retire early was the plan to walk up to the Dhankar lake the next morning. Dilip refused to get up early so, Sesha, Anjan and I started for the lake. The one-hour walk was uphill and though the lake is not very big, the place is magical. There was not a soul around apart from the three of us.
We walked around the lake and as we were about to leave, we thought we saw two birds near the edge. My camera poised I started inching closer.
They were beer bottles, not birds. The three of us spent the next 20 minutes picking up the garbage left behind by others. Of course, only Anjan had the courage to wade into the water to get the beer bottles out.
It is so sad that some of us travelers leave litter behind. Anyway, we walked back in 45 minutes and breakfast waiting for us. From here, a jeep picked us up that would drop us back to Kaza.
We visited the Dhankar monastery before leaving and also spent some time at Tabo and the monastery there.
When Sesha became unwell at Langza I said, “You are not well now, I fell ill at Ladakh, it seems all our high altitude treks are jinxed.” But here we are, back to our old routines after this fabulous high altitude trek.