We woke up to a cloudy sky and chilling winds that were sifting in through a window we had left open over the night. It felt as if Kinnaur district was expressing its sadness at us going to its northern border to carry on into Spiti district. The room was quite cozy nonetheless as the floor and ceiling were covered with wood and a short wooden skirting also ran along the walls. As the weather was much colder compared to the previous few days, and there was a slight drizzle, all of us wore jackets and caps.
While having breakfast we came to know that a few foreign tourists traveling in a Tata Sumo had to stop at our hotel the night before. This layover was attributed to the “Malling Nallah”, a stream which flowed across the road a few kilometres from Nako. Malling Nallah has been infamous ever since this road has been in existence. The water flows onto the road and across into the gorge below but the flow is so much that vehicles can’t pass through easily, especially during the rainy season. The previous evening, a lot of water was pouring onto the road at Malling Nallah, which made it impossible for the Tata Sumo to cross through. It was also dark so the driver took the right decision to stay back and move forward the next day. Well, this news created the right amount of excitement for our journey ahead and we were eagerly looking forward to witness the notoriety of Malling Nallah.
After finishing breakfast, we went off towards the huge bell on the ridge that lay across on the other end of the village. As we started the ascent towards the ridge, we passed a few fields of potatoes and peas, whose boundaries were made by placing flattish rocks on each other. The ascent was gradual and as we progressed forward, the view of village Nako got more and more clearer with a prominent view of the lake at one end. The rain had subsided but clouds were still hovering in the sky above. None of the mountain tops were visible but the weather had a charm of its own with the hypnotic mist spread all around. We reached the bell after walking for 20 odd minutes. An anemometer attached to the upper and lower end of the mounting pole helped rotate the bell as the mountain winds blew across.
From this place, we could also see the old monastery with its many stupas, all of which are said to have been built in 1025 A.D. I also saw a roof that was not there during my earlier visit to Nako in 2013. The monastery lay further uphill and we decided to visit it. But suddenly, it started raining and we abandoned our plan. We decided to go back to our hotel and start the road journey towards Spiti valley. On reaching the hotel, our driver informed us that the Tata Sumo with its foreign tourists would leave with us. This was good as traveling in a group would make a big difference in case we got stuck on the road under various factors. We had a quick cup of tea and got into our cab. Nako was at the highest altitude we had been so far on the journey and as it was located higher up the mountain, the road was pretty scary. There were vertical drops of hundreds of metres on one side while the other side posed the danger of shooting rocks. With this constant reminder to be extremely cautious, we moved along the precarious road.
On reaching Malling Nallah, our driver and Abhishek informed us that earlier the road towards Tabo didn’t pass through Nako. The old road passed below Nako and went straight to Dhar Chara Thang. Remnants of the old road were still visible, most of it buried under sand and rock from landslides. The new road that we were on was built later as it crossed Malling Nallah higher up the mountain side and hence was comparatively easier to negotiate. The water flow was not alarmingly high as we crossed Malling Nallah but just the reputation was good enough for us to quickly move ahead rather than stop and admire its ferocity.
The mountains from here on were again composed of loose rock and sandy soil. There were no trees to hold the soil together and the gravel was in constant motion. This was evident from marks on the mountain sides, showing the path that the small rocks had taken on their way down before ending up on the road. We descended down the mountain side to reach the village Dhar Chara Thang on the left bank of the river Spiti. We saw a few apple orchards on either side of the highway. The apples in these parts are very juicy and delicious as they get the appropriate chilling period required to grow apples. I knew this because I had had a few apples in the past that came from Chango, which was the next village on our way. Potatoes and peas are also grown here too. The day time temperature was pleasant so far and the constant change in our surroundings as we moved along the road kept us glued to the window of the cab.
We next reached Shialkhar, a small village after Chango, across on the right bank of the river Spiti. We saw a few caves on the mountain side a little distance above the road. We stopped immediately and went up to the caves to find out what they were all about. The caves were dark and small, and we saw that they were used for storing grass and other items for the coming winters. This activity was necessary as nothing grows in the winters and much of the land is covered in snow. As we saw a few people come in to store more grass in the caves, I was curious to know that from where they even getting the grass in the first place.
We passed the confluence of Parchu and Spiti rivers and then crossed a bridge over the Spiti river to reach Sumdo – the northern border of Kinnaur district. All this while, we had been in the Pooh tehsil of Kinnaur district, which was a very huge tehsil in context of the area but consisted of a very few inhabitants. Sumdo village itself lay further uphill and there was a security check-post on the road. Considering that the road to Kaurik on the India – China border diverts from Sumdo, Inner Line Permits for foreign travellers are checked here.
I could see that the way ahead was through a narrow ravine, with the dark grey waters of the river Spiti banging furiously against the rocks which came in its path. I fondly looked back towards Kinnaur valley, reminiscing the great time and experiences I had enjoyed in the past few days. And then as I looked ahead, the entire gorge echoed of the sound made by the river hurling down the valley – Spiti district was waiting for me with its own mystique.