It is the 23rd of January 2017. A new year, a new day, and here I am on top of the world… well, almost and sort of. I am sitting in the post-master’s house in Hikkim village, sipping hot chai, and looking out the quaint window, at the sun shining on the mountains and agricultural farms around the village.
It is winter, and since I walked here from the main road above the village, I can tell you that the shining sun is an illusion of warmth: there are very cold winds blowing outside, and it will take a brave heart to stand outside to enjoy the winter Himalayan air.
The post-master’s family was very kind to invite us into the house. Actually, people in Spiti are kind and hospitable without exception. Hikkim is located in the Lahaul & Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh state in India. The local population in this district is Buddhist, and life and living in these parts are governed by Buddhist principles.
The house has two rooms that are unbelievably warm. There are hand-made galichas (rugs) on the floors, and – like in every house in Spiti – there is a firewood Tandoor in the centre of the room. The galichas are arranged along three walls of the room. There are warm cushions on every galicha. And one wall is really a window with solid wooden frames, looking out into the sunny mountainside. Inside the house, one feels like fresh toast. And all this is achieved due to traditional architecture with natural material, natural insulation, the Tandoor, and clever, practical arrangement of household stuff. Every house has solar panels (provided by the government) and the regular power lighting and basic electrical amenities.
The post-master is out on official work to Kaza. But it isn’t every day that I get to visit the village with the World’s Highest Post Office (at 4,440 metres or 14,567 feet above sea-level), so after two cups of chai and very engaging conversation, I figured I would write postcards to my three little children, who are back home approximately 1900 kilometres away in the western part of India.
Hikkim is quite famous. Every year, hundreds of tourists from India and around the world come to Hikkim to send postcards to friends and family, click photographs, explore rural Himalayan village life, and mark a travel milestone.
Postcards done, we were about to leave when the postmaster’s son, Chhering Choppel, came in. He is a teacher in the local school and teaches Maths, English, Hindi and Environmental Studies to primary students. Chhering informed us that most people in Hikkim were engaged either in government employment or farming and cattle-rearing.
“In the summer season, many tourists come to Hikkim for the World’s Highest Post Office, and at that time we have a lot of traffic from the outside world. During winters, nobody comes here – it is very rare because roads are closed and it is very cold,” says Chhering.
While Hikkim may seem remote to outsiders, it has good company. During summertime, it is probably half an hour’s drive from Kaza, the headquarters of Lahaul & Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh, India. And neighbouring villages are a Himalayan hop, skip, and jump. “There are four villages at more or less similar altitude in this range – Demul, Hikkim, Komic and Langza. We are very integrated and 90% of people in all these villages know each other, family backgrounds, what they do, where they come from,” says Chhering.
We, of course, made the trip to Hikkim in the middle of winter. The drive from Kaza took us a little more than an hour, mainly because of the snow and ice on the road, but also because we took our time capturing the breath-taking views along the way, including views of Yak herds and Bharal (Himalayan Blue Sheep) grazing high-up in precariously situated meadows, and hill-tops.
If you have the inclination and the opportunity to visit Himachal Pradesh and Spiti in summers (June-August), a trip to Hikkim should be worth the while. If one needs further incentive: neighbouring village Komic is the village with the World’s Highest Motor-able Road, while Langza is in proximate vicinity of the famous Fossil Park.