I downed yet another Tsampa pancake with butter tea before heading towards Kaza. With the Spiti river on my left and the mighty Trans-Himalayan range overlooking my ride, the sun shone and intuitively hid behind the clouds, making it a dreamlike ride. By now, the Triumph Tiger 660 a.k.a. the Baby Tiger had become a reliable, almost protective travel companion. He covered up for my tiny fumbles as a rider and rode impeccably through loose gravel, water streams, and potholes. Even though his real merit lay over tarmac, not once did he betray me under his sports tourer demeanor. A futile hunt of off-road tyres across the country rendered me with a spare set of conventional road tyres, which was a huge respite amidst Spiti’s unforgiving tracks.
I had even installed crash guards, bearing in mind the dozen falls that I had anticipated between Bathal and Chhatru. I’d end each day’s ride mentally saying, ‘So far, no falls’, knowing that was bound to change soon. But I would soon discover the Baby Tiger’s sheer defiance of gravitational physics, the details of which I have saved for another part. Getting back to today’s ride, I was engulfed by the magic of crossing the Tabo bridge and gorged over Tabo’s scenic fields and the gigantic mountainous backdrops. The road broke up again, and as I rode past mounding ranges of piled-up loose gravel, admiring the Jenga skills at play, a few rocks crumbled down and across the road a few feet ahead of me.
I immediately braked to a halt and looked upwards, seeing a few more dusty crumbles hurl down. I used my feet to roll my bike backward, such that there was more safety buffer space between me and the rumbling tumble. A few seconds of silence prompted me to prepare and zip past this stretch. And in no time, it was all behind me. The accompanying Endeavour too made it through, and within a scenic hour, we had entered the less quiet town of Kaza. Without a second’s delay, we were making our way to our much-awaited dining destination, Hotel Deyzor. A personalised homestay run by riding and adventure veteran Karanbir Singh Bedi, Hotel Deyzor has a distinct authority in Spiti for its unmatched hospitality and lip-smacking food. Like an excited school girl, I led Karanbir to the Baby Tiger immediately after meeting him. After all, it was his recommendation that made me opt for this bike blindly, and he needed to see it! Karanbir’s approving nod mirrored what I had envisioned on my way to Kaza. Needless to add, the Baby Tiger was a sheer head turner and attracted many doting glances wherever it ventured.
My accompanying team’s stomachs were rumbling, and Milo had already ordered her favourite mango shake from the menu. I could well believe that it was Deyzor’s mango shake alone that inspired her to make this arduous journey, such was her dedication to that tall yellow glass of bliss that seemed to leave the mythical som ras behind. A mighty plate of Turkish eggs and a protein shake later, I blissfully mounted my steed to navigate to what would serve as our home for the next three days. Roughly forty minutes from Kaza past Key and Kibber, Cheecham was a rustic hamlet best known for the iconic Cheecham bridge and breathtaking vantage points. A Navy veteran turned adventurer, Mohit Gulia had set up a little piece of heaven at the tail end of Cheecham village, known to all as Tethys Himalayan Den. The latest talk of Spiti, Tethys set a new level of hospitality standards in Spiti, with its eclectic style and massive bay windows. Delicate whites against pastel pinks and bright teals, Tethys breathed the boutique into Spiti’s remoteness in the dreamiest way that one can imagine.
At this stage, I was slightly concerned about my mother, for we had escalated from Tabo, amongst Spiti’s lowest altitudes to Cheecham, one of its highest, in the matter of a few hours. Her saturation levels in Tabo had dipped slightly, but the sense of alarm voiced by our doctors back home is what worried us. Both Karanbir and Mohit reassured us of the normalcy of it, and cautious as I had promised my father to be, I ensured that my mother was inhaling frequent doses of oxygen from her cylinder. Being over-prepared in these matters is always a good idea, which is why I had sent Manoj ji to scout for a medical cylinder earlier in Kullu. An ex-pharmacist, I thought Manojji would be the best contender to make this preparation. He had laboriously trailed the tall silver repository of air all around Kullu, Rampur, Sangla, and Tabo, only to find out at the Kaza hospital that we weren’t odd in failing to fit in the modulator. The cylinder had been empty all along! But thanks to my Zen mother and the surplus tinier cylinders that we had carried, she had cruised through her first night in Cheecham, going light-headed solely because of how stunning the views had been. mental healthcare into action. Moreover, it is a small step towards decolonizing mental health practise by creating spaces that are accessible, collaborative, and cognizant of social realities, “she elaborates.
Returning to the opening paragraph of this feature, Saumya makes a very interesting point that largely challenges and expands the scope of the argument. She states, “Research evidence overwhelmingly suggests that poverty, stigma, and social marginalisation are all serious risk factors for mental health issues – indicating that, contrary to popular beliefs as well as Maslow’s theory, mental health issues are not first world problems/issues that only come to the surface once material and physiological needs are met. Mental health problems are consistently found to disproportionately impact the less affluent in society”.
Thus, Saumya’s two-pronged approach to broadening counselling access across India’s diverse population is indeed a trailblazer in its own right. Her story is also indicative of a wider contingent of educated youngsters broadening the scope of mental healthcare in India. Despite securing her pedagogical seat in distant lands, Saumya deliberately chooses to serve her remaining time in India as a counsellor to those in need. And for this reason amongst others, she is an inspiration to many other young aspirants across disciplines. Rajputana’s freshest advocate of accessible, culturally competent healthcare poignantly concludes, “Over time, I also became cognizant of some of the reasons for the mental health treatment gap in India, including significant social stigma, inadequate or inaccessible services, and low levels of public investment. I strongly believe that these challenges are reflective of the traditionally individualistic lens of psychology that has often neglected to take into account structural, social, and cultural factors in understanding and treating mental health issues, and has thus alienated many people in the developing world. Such learnings now motivate me to continue in this line of work and to do my bit to address the limitations I see within the field.
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MOTORCYCLE DIARIES: PIN VALLEY
Every morning from 8 onwards, the monks at Key gompa congregate at the main sanctum to chant their morning prayers while ingesting a frugal breakfast of sattu and butter tea. The vibrations and visual spectacle are highly recommended experiences that I was first initiated towards by Karanbir.
Eager to see the prayer meeting for herself, my mother was ready well before time in the morning. Even though we had reached half an hour before time, we were surprised to see the gompa flooded with monks and visitors alike. Confused and scratching my head at my miscalculation, I inquired with a smiling-faced monk standing next to me. Because today was Guru Purnima, several monks from around the region had arrived to convene this special prayer, which commenced an hour before the usual timing.
Struggling to find our spot on the monastery stairs, we sat near the railings and peeked inside for a while. Then, we headed up to see the gompa’s older sections and also to the iconic vantage point for many photographs with the tripod and self-timer.
Slightly peckish and desperate for our morning cup of coffee, we made our way to our one and only food destination yet again, Deyzor. Karanbir had been raving about how beautiful the Pin Valley was at this time of year, and given that it was one place that none of us had visited before, we raised collective excitement for the day’s expedition.
Backtracking a dozen kilometres back on the Kaza-Tabo road, we crossed over an unsuspecting bridge and entered a different valley altogether. Driving past the Pin river, we saw fluorescent specs of mustard flowers and velvety meadows dotted by indulgent cows and asses. Pink and purple flowers too sprouted through the foliage, and tiny rivulets trickled in their jovial celebration of mild monsoons. Several locals worked intensively in their lush green fields, which speckled the stark Pin Valley like glowing pieces of emerald. I opted to take over the steering wheel today so that Manojji could get a break and enjoy the views. Mesmerised by the unusual geological shapes of Pin Valley. We didn’t know how our three-hour excursion passed, and we were back in Deyzor for lunch. A dove into a plate of shakshouka and a coffee to shake off my afternoon laziness, and we all concurred that a nap would be a good idea. Back in Cheecham, we lazed around and then played a few rounds of Cluedo. I was beginning to develop a dry and nagging cough, but I dismissed it as an aftereffect of the dusty roads. Mylo also developed a cough shortly after, and we just went to bed after an early dinner. Afraid of passing on the bug to my already susceptible mother, I decided to stay the night in Mylo’s room, and in hindsight, that was a necessary precaution. Breathlessness, fever-stricken, and reverberating with an elevated pulse, the night was a mean one indeed. Both Mylo and I battled with heightened fevers that we hoped would be brought down with a tablet of paracetamol. To our dismay, the following morning was a struggle, and there was absolutely no way that we were proceeding with our plan to Losar.
I could barely pack since the slowest of movements was making me breathless. It was time for Baby Tiger to be put onto his trailer, and as sad as that made me, I knew I was in no shape to drive. We headed to the government hospital in Kaza, where the health workers took our Covid test, which was thankfully negative. Manojji too suffered from the same symptoms as us, and we were then made aware of a nasty virus making its rounds in Kaza. Due to its higher prevalence among minors, Kaza’s government school had been closed for a fortnight, and many locals reported having suffered from identical symptoms as us.
Karanbir reassured us that it would get better, and arranged us the fanciest home stay that stood bang opposite the town’s Shakya monastery. Fa-Ma homestay was hosted by the gregarious hostess Uma, who nursed us back to health over two long days of endless gargles, steam inhalations, naps and countless food deliveries from Deyzor. I mostly slept through this time, and when Mylo felt better, we played Monodeal with my viral-free mother.
Even though one hadn’t fully recovered by the night of July 15th, I reckoned that we make our journey the following day. As per most weather forecasts, 16th was the only day that offered clear skies and sunshine, a much-needed advantage for those making the arduous journey towards Manali. And so, I excitedly asked Mohanji to unload Baby Tiger from his cage and kitted up the following morning to make the most iconic journey of our trip.
Dolo 650 sufficed through the entire adventure, and even if I was still flu-stricken, I was too elated by the Trans-Himalayan vistas to pay attention to any form of illness. The beautiful road meandered through Rangrik, Losar, and Kyato as the full moon hid behind the mountains, making way for a brilliant sun that reigned over clear azure skies. It was time for homecoming.
SATRANGI: RECOGNISING THE MANY COLOURS OF LIFE
‘Satrangi is our LGBTQI project that has close to 250 transgenders in vulnerable circumstances. They have been so far neglected by both society and the government’.
As the founder of Royal Fables, a writer, and a communicator, I have always reserved a place for social impact missions in my agenda. Empowerment through handcraft work is my life’s raison d’être. As well as creating an inclusive, tolerant society where each of us gets a share of the voice. Hence, I was beyond thrilled when the dynamic Maharani of Baroda, Radhika Raje Gaekwad, suggested that we present Satrangi on the ramp on the opening night of our show in Ahmadabad. A ramp walked by 15 wonderful transgender people from the 250-strong LGBTQI community that lives in Baroda and now is lovingly adopted by this caring young royal who, with her family’s trust, Maharani Chimnabai Stree Udyogalaya, is standing for all the important and relevant issues concerning the women of her city. While issues like women’s safety, employment, and confidence building have been at the core of her NGO, she also embraced this very endearing community who were in deep distress during Covid. She joined
Join hands with Lakshya Trust, which is a community-based organisation working on the health and human rights of LGBTQIA communities in Gujarat, Vadodara, Surat, and Rajkot. Founded by the globally acclaimed activist Prince Manvendra Gohil of Raj Pipla, the organisation also backs Garima Greh, which is a rescue and shelter home for transgender people managed by Lakshya Trust and supported by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which focuses on providing basic food, shelter, and livelihood opportunities through mainstreaming trans issues with different stakeholders. In striking a very active partnership with Maharani Chimnabai Stree Udhyogalaya (MCSU), which started with the distribution of food supplies during the pandemic, Lakshya collaborated actively with this Baroda-based NGO for the provision of skill-building training, admission to academic institutions, and assistance in job placements for the transgender communities, and also as one of the co-hosts of Vadodara Pride!
“Satrangi is our LGBTQIA project that has close to 250 transgenders in vulnerable circumstances.” They have been so far neglected by both society and the government. Through our trust, we intend to take care of their essential requirements, identify their core problems, groom and train them for particular vocations, and integrate them into society by helping them find employment in those chosen vocations, “shared Radhika. Taking care of their mental well-being through free and confidential virtual counseling. MSCU also provides free and confidential online counselling to all in need. On the Royal Fables’ ramp, Radhika dressed fifteen transgender persons in the L V Palace’s collection of cotton, printed saris titled Naqashi. While Jaipur-based jewelry designer Namrata Singh adorned them with her signature collection of hand-crafted jewels. Radhika herself walking the ramp in stunning cotton, dual-toned sari, and Namrata’s vintage coin-inspired, embellished choker in gold. Applauding her for this path-breaking effort, Nawab Kazim Ali Khan of Rampur complimenting the Maharani and said, “ This is the first time in modern India that a woman belonging to a royal family as respected as Baroda has taken such a bold step towards creating an inclusive society.” We salute her for her forward-thinking, courageous endeavours.
GLOBALLY ACCLAIMED ‘ROYAL FABLES’ RETURNS TO AHMEDABAD
On 6 August, the exposition opens with a showcase of the finest handmade textiles, crafts, and art to be inaugurated by H.H. Maharani Radhika Raje of Gaekwad of Baroda and Princess Krishna Kumari of Panna.
Royal Fables, a heritage platform that promotes royal India in all its glory, is all set to unveil its exposition in Ahmedabad in association with Digvijay Singh and BBG Royals and supported by luxury partners Sujhal, jewellery partner 7th Avenue, House of Marigold, and our associate sponsor BMW at Hyatt Vastrapur on 6 August 2022. The exposition will present art, fashion, textiles, and products made in leading palace studios across India. Besides, handpicked collections by leading designers and labels that keep the rich Indian hand-made tradition alive. Launching the exposition on August 5, 2022, with a welcome note from Anshu Khanna, Founder of Royal Fables, and an opening speech by Shri Uday Mahurkar Ji on the feisty Maratha women.
A panel discussion on the legacy of luxury will be moderated by Safir Anand, IPR Lawyer, and Ruchika Mehta, Editor, Hello! India, and among the guests will be H.H. Maharani Radhika Raje Gaekwad, Khushboo Bagga, Rani Saheb Uma Raje Jadhav, Digvijay Singh, Nidhi Sah, and Brijeshwari Gohil. Buransh, a fashion show presented by Royal Fables, Digvijay Singh, and BBG, and Satrangi by Maharani Chimnabai Stree Udyogalaya, will begin with a royal fashion walk with royal scions and jewels by the House of Marigold, followed by dinner.
“Gujarat, to us, has always been a land of the kings and nobles, home to palatial palaces and royals who cherish their inheritance with great humility and commitment to the nation. We are truly excited to bring the Royal Fables Exposition to the heritage city of Ahmedabad again. As they say, the fable with Gujarat has only just begun,” says Anshu Khanna, Founder, Royal Fables. As a firm believer in promoting heritage, culture, arts and crafts, I am elated and proud to welcome Royal Fables again to the heritage city of Ahmedabad. I look forward to witnessing an exclusive array of arts and crafts nurtured by royal families and distinct brands of India,” says Khushboo Bagga, Director, Petal Foundation.
On the 6th, the exposition opens with a showcase of the finest handmade textiles, crafts, and art to be inaugurated by H.H. Maharani Radhika Raje of Gaekwad of Baroda and Princess Krishna Kumari of Panna. There will be talks organized at various intervals on topics such as Heritage and tourism conservation in Gujrat by Professor Mickey Desai and Khayati Singh, Sonkatch, matrimonial alliance, and their impact on royal cuisine by Rani Saheb Uma Raje Jhadav of Deobagh. Safir Anand, IPR Lawyer, in conversation with Yaduveer Bera, Hemendra Singh Rathore, and Brijeshwari Gohil on tangible and intangible heritage. This will be followed by a fashion show by Palace Karkhanas featuring Jaykirti, Rosetree, Yaduveer Singh Bera, Fateh Couture, and Hemendra Singh Rathore.
The list of participants is prolific and includes royal families from across the nation including H.H. Maharani Radhika Raje Gaekwad of Baroda, Rani Saheb Uma Raje Jhadav, Princess Diya Kumari foundation, Princess Krishna Kumari of Panna, Princess Nandini Singh of Jhabua, Nawab Kazim Ali Khan of Rampur, Katyaini Sinh Sanand, Rani Jaykirti Singh Baria, Kanwarani Kamini Singh, and Chandni Singh Seohara, Preeti Singh Rathore, Yuvrani Meenal Singh Deo of Dhenkanal, Madhulika Radiant, Nawabzadi Aaliya Babi Balasinore, Namrata Singh, Kunwar Yaduveer Singh Bera, Kunwar Hemendra Singh Rathore, Digvijay Singh, and Nidhi Sah.
MOTORCYCLE DIARIES: TABO MONASTERY
The quaint and ancient site of Tabo lies at 10,800 feet, which is amongst the lowest elevations in all of the Spiti Valley. Home to what is also known as the Himalayan Ajanta, the Tabo monastery was founded by Rinchen Zangpo in 996 CE on behalf of the King of Guge, a kingdom based in the Western Himalayan Region. Tabo is known for being the oldest continuously operating Buddhist monastery in India as well as the Himalayas. In other words, despite the vagaries and strifes of time, Tabo was never abandoned or isolated. Comprising nine temples and gompas, the monastery’s incredible sculptures, wall paintings, and thangkas exhibit an ancient aura. The town of Tabo itself takes one back to a forgotten era. Whilst photography remains prohibited in the main sanctum, torches are available to help visitors discern the magnificent artistry put into the enormous walls of the monastery. A whole range of Bodhisattvas horizontally span across the main sanctum, and the rear end of it is adorned with intricate artwork that left me awestruck even on my fourth visit. Due to its rare archaeological and historical value, Tabo Monastery is maintained by the Architectural Survey of India. The monasteries at Dankar and Key all fall within the Gelukpa order of Buddhism and are important venues where His Holiness the Dalai Lama held the Kalachakra initiations. The first Kalachakra initiation held by His Holiness in Tabo attracted around 10,000 participants. Mystic breezes and absolute serenity have accorded it a special place in my Spitian memories. The Spiti river flowing alongside it, the mysterious art caves overlooking the town from one side, and monks playing cricket on the town’s helipad, all make for unique sights to behold. The Shanti Stupa, a modern addition to the ancient monastic complex, makes for a blend as seamless as eternity itself. Strolling past the complex during my first visit back in 2017, I chanced upon a charming little cafe run by a local family. Thanks to them, I experienced the finest pancakes ever made, out of tsampa flour and drizzled with honey and mangoes. A perfect pairing with butter tea for the odd palate, this became a meal to savour and devour on every visit to Tabo in the coming years. And as memorable as this culinary delight is the little girl who dwells in the adjoining homestay. Tenzin Pamsom is now all of 10 years old, and Tenzin is a bright young girl full of beans and stories. The cafe owner’s niece, who stays with her uncle and grandmother to pursue her schooling in Tabo over her parental village of Mane, Pamsom, is another important highlight of my Tabo sojourn. During every subsequent visit, I am to reassure Pamsom that I met her on a previous visit by citing photographic proof, lest she dismisses my claims. After attesting to the photographs that I dish out from my camera archives, Pamsom looks a little more trusting of this stranger amidst the hundreds that stop by at this cafe year after year. This time around, Pamsom animatedly tells us a story that a recent visitor to their homestay told her—the legend of Yasho Masi. An epic tale that sounded much like the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ (minus Pamsom’s filmy songs that she had attached to it), I wasn’t the least bit surprised when the little storyteller made me search for Yasho Masi on Google. When it showed us results of some female actor look-alikes of the K Series, Pamsom bemusedly dismissed them and Google for not knowing enough. We rewarded her entertaining efforts with a hamper containing her favourite chocolates and snacks, the sight of which made her eyes light up.
The Tabo Monastery.
She promised us that she would share her treats with her older sister. Just then, her grandmother peeked out of her bedroom window and summoned Pamsom to run some errands. Pamsom ran along and bade us farewell until next time.
We walked some more through Tabo town, and from a previous visit, I remembered stumbling upon an entire batch of young monks outside the monastic academy near Shanti Stupa late in the evening. They seemed to have been revising some verses under the supervision of a teacher. Their combined chanting made me and my friends just close our eyes and listen. After a moment of doing so, when we planned on making a move, we spotted a naughtier young monk switch off all the lights, sprinting from switchboard to switchboard while his teacher chased him amongst giggles from the others. A maroon-robed frenzy of such pure innocence warmed our hearts, and we smiled our way back to our hotel rooms.
A PATISSERIE AND CAFE IN JAIPUR OFFERING INDIAN AND EUROPEAN DISHES
Chef Tejasvi Chandela shares her culinary journey and how her cooking is closely linked to her Rajput roots.
It is the hippest space in Jaipur, the patisserie and café that “everyone goes to” and “hangs out at”. Dzurt Patisserie is not just known for its divine sweets and savouries, but also for its stunning interiors. The brainchild of a young, beautiful and accomplished Rajput girl, Tejasvi Chandela, Dzurt is delightfully European. Despite being tucked away in Rajasthan’s heritage city, known for its obsession with flourescent colours, pronounced stripes and vibrant prints, Dzurt instead
The Dzurt Patisserie and Cafe.Bakery items on display.Tejasvi cooking with Chef Garry Mehigan.Chef Tejasvi Chandela.
The café is set in a pleasing tone of mint green, interspersed with wall papers reminsicent of the Raj. The café’s atmosphere is like Tejasvi’s creative playground. Where she draws inspiration from her culinary legacy, turning it into turtle to relive the memsaab era of cakes and scones. A chef whose ancestral roots go back to Bilaspur in Himachal and Bagseu close to Bikaner, Tejasvi is able to combine the richness of her legacy with the authentic French, Italian, and English recipes of pastries and savouries. “No one knows their breads better than the French and their pastas better than the Italians,” she smiles. Reliving the era of Manchester florals and colonial raj, when delicately hand painted images of hydrangeas, roses, lilies, marigolds, and dahlias personified elegance and beauty in every format, she also recently launched a line of tableware, porcelain, linen, and home accessories that she calls Wisteria. Each piece, “rekindles the refinement of families like ours who were equally exposed to the finest in Indian and European art influences.” “Each of these pieces are like timeless buds for patrons of craft to pluck.Educated and trained by some of the best schools in the world, Tejasvi runs Dzurt Patisserie & Cafe and All Things. She learnt the art from baking schools in Paris and Barcelona and also worked in KL, Malaysia for a year to explore the local food and learn more about it. As her way of giving back, she each year travels to offer baking classes around the world. “It is my way of going on a discovery of local foods and flavours.” Tejasvi has her own YouTube channel as well as a studio kitchen to teach the art of baking and has been on Masters of Taste season 2 with legendary chef Mehigan.
Young, Tejasvi shares her journey with food and how her cooking is closely linked to her Rajput roots. “I suppose the reason why I chose this career is because I’ve grown up listening to stories of my ancestors and the various things they would cook. I come from a Rajput family.
My ancestral roots are from Bilaspur Himachal Pradesh and my maternal family is from Bagseu which is close to Bikaner. As a child I was always mesmerised by my nana and watching his passion towards outdoor cooking made me want to do the same. I used to hear my nana tell us stories as kids about his grandparents.
Their hunting stories would always catch my interest. I would love to know about the way they would make khad khargosh by digging a pit. Or how junglee maas was made more often on hunting trips because they had to carry ingredients with a higher shelf life and low water content such as garlic pods, ghee, dry red chillies, salt and ofcourse the game meat they would hunt.
I love outdoor cooking now and I did make khad murg for chef Gary Mehigan (master chef Australia judge) when I aired on an episode with him on his show masters of taste season 2, it’s a great one pot meal that brings the family together on the dining table to share a piece of history together. My winter time is best spent making lal maas and junglee maas on a chulha in my garden for my family.
“The reason why I chose this career is because I’ve grown up listening to stories of my ancestors and the various things they would cook. I come from a Rajput family. My ancestral roots are from Bilaspur Himachal Pradesh and my maternal family is from Bagseu which is close to Bikaner”.
THE SANGLA VALLEY MOTORCYCLE DIARIES
Well-rested and eager to inch closer to my special place, I rode out of the Padam Palace gates towards the district of Kinnaur. For most of the way, I had the mighty Sutlej lend me her company. Deep mountainous arches engulfed the highway, a sight and experience that didn’t get old despite the four-hour-long journey. The gorgeous apple orchards of Kinnaur carpeted the valley with different hues of green, and there was a drizzle in the air. Looking towards the blue skies over Sangla, I rode with the hope of escaping a heavy downpour and mostly managed. Taking over from the Sutlej was the power-packed Baspa river and Jindal Steel Works’ various hydroelectric enterprises. A momentous adrenaline rush of smooth, broad roads ended at Karrcham, which is where one makes an inward turn towards Sangla.
A hoarding outside Chitkul village.A bird’s eye view of the Sangla Valley.
A narrow road with several hairpin bends opens up to increasingly gorgeous vistas of the valley in between. In some parts where the road caved in deeply, there were tiny shrines of Mahadev and Hanuman. On other cliff sides, I found bright prayer flags fluttering about, further dramatising the ascent. A prominent feature of the Kinnaur valley, apart from its apple orchards, is the stunning Rampuri cap, donned by its women. Unlike their Kullu counterparts, who’d rather wear a scarf tied tautly around their heads, Kinnauri women carry out the Rampuri cap look with greater finesse than their menfolk, and most frequently call for a second glance. Children roamed about the streets, waving and cheering for the lone motorcyclist. Others shouted out for chocolates, and the uneven roads called for my undivided attention. With a stupa there and a homestay there, Sangla still felt remotely placed for the amount of popularity it garnered amongst tourists. Possibly because of its remoteness?
Another 10 odd kilometres ahead of Sangla, on the same road, was where the village of Batseri stood. Known for the Banjara Lodge and Camps, Batseri also has a more recent hotel development, titled Hotel Batseri. Surrounded by apple orchards and offering a stellar view of the Baspa river and the mighty Himalayas, this was the dwelling of my choice in the Sangla valley. Neat, clean, and functional rooms, good food, and an evening bonfire are all that one needs en route to a circuit with more basic accommodation lying ahead. After freshening up, my trio decided to take a drive up to Chitkul, India’s last village before the Tibet (now China) border. On another surreal drive through a village called Rakkcham, the road to Chitkul opened up to some exceptional mountainous formations, pine groves, and small streams running in between. One could easily be mistaken for this part of Himachal to be somewhere in Kashmir; that’s how dreamlike it is. The rain gently sprayed across our windscreen, and I was glad to have chosen against riding my bike up here. Crossing the sleepier town of Chitkul, with a few tea stalls and home stays mushroomed on either side of the road, we drove right up to the army check post and made a U-turn from there. Some jawans curiously looked up to see the intent of this RJ21 Endeavour, and I wondered if we had made them unzip their binoculars. But on a second thought, they are prone to being habituated to enthusiastic tourists who do the same thing multiple times a day, and they were probably just discerning the car model, especially since its previous owner had accessorised it to gather the demeanour of a Hummer! After a few enthu photographs near the ‘India’s Last Village’ hoardings, we drove back to Batseri and admired the dramatic evening skies. That night, we sat around the bonfire in Sangla’s crisp air, ate a sumptuous dinner, and drifted into a deep sleep. I left my gimbal on a tripod on the time lapse setting, and woke up to the most gorgeous 1.30-minute-long video, with the clouds doing a special ballet across overcast skies. And just like that, we geared up to leave for our first pit stop in Spiti-Tabo. The oncoming ride would be one of nearly 200 kilometres and span 6.5 hours. In between, I rode on stellar roads at first, but then rugged dirt tracks later, which even required me to make my first water stream crossing at Malling Nala With just one boot wet and the bike upright, I was rather pleased with myself for pulling off this impromptu stunt. All along, I could not help but repeatedly switch on my GoPro to record the breathtaking vistas of Nako and Sumdo. The Spiti river proved to be an equally gorgeous sequel to the Sutlej and Baspa, and by tea time, we had arrived at the sparrow-chirping monastic town of Tabo.
This is the last and concluding part of the story.
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