Travelling along the Spiti in Upper Kinnaur, it is unlikely that one would miss a village – the landscape is so sparse and barren that any significantly large patch of greenery is quite likely to be a village.
When we were driving towards the Hangrang Valley in July 2016, the first patch of green we saw was this sliver of vegetation that looked like it had tumbled out of an artist’s can of dark green paint and slid down the starkly barren mountainside we were travelling through. It turned out to be the village Ka. I couldn’t see any houses at that distance, no structures, but I learnt soon that such an extent of vegetation in such a high-altitude land has to be the result of cultivation and therefore, means human settlement. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how the villagers of Ka found water for the cultivation. They surely couldn’t be carrying the water all the way up from the Spiti down below! The state of vegetation in the vicinity and the lack of water-tracks led me to think there were no snow-fed streams or brooks. So where are they getting the water for cultivation? Hmm? Well, that’s one reason why I will be going back to Ka – to find out how and also what it is that they grow.
Further ahead, we came to a fork in the road, and there we found a lone information board from the Public Works Department. The road to the left would take us to the villages of Leo, Chulling, and Hango; the road to the right (the one we were on by default I suppose) would take us to Yangthang, Nako, Tabo and finally to Kaza. By nature – and by that I mean if I had been travelling alone – I would have taken the road to Leo since Nako, Tabo, Kaza were relatively well-known.
A bit further along, we were held up for an hour by much-needed roadworks. And as I walked the road during that halt, and sat around the edges of that mountain road, looking at the Spiti winding its way along the village of Leo, I found myself ruing the fact that I hadn’t taken that road.
The Hangrang Valley is bound to become the subject of one The Mountain Walker’s exploratory trips one of these days, and then we will find out more about the eight villages that lie ensconced within the valley (Hango, Chango, Yangthang, Nako, Sumra, Shalkar, Leo, and Malling).
I forget his name, but he was so fair that we called him Anglo. When we, the two of us, reached his Village Gawas in Himachal Pradesh, it was almost evening and ladies were hanging lamps on the hooks on the veranda. Their faces glowed in the light. Their all-white streaks of hair made them look like apparitions. Later, they asked me to visit the next Shanti, the big fair that takes place every 30 years. This was going to be their third one! And they have been waiting for it for years now. They did not believe it when Anglo said that I came from a place where there were no mountains. They shook their heads. No. There cannot be a place without mountains. They have been travelling in all directions all these years but never saw a place without mountains. “If there’s no mountain, then there cannot be any water. Water comes from the mountains,” the wise, old ladies said.
Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
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