Birthday in that Himalayan village on the Border

There are certain places you dream of visiting once in your lifetime and then there are these other places you accidentally come across and want to visit again and again your entire life.
Chitkul is one of those places.
It was two weeks before my 22nd birthday  I decided that  I do not want to spend a fourth consecutive birthday in a city I dont even like that much. I wanted to spend my 22nd some place like home, some place that felt just quite right.
In April 2016 a friend visited chitkul and after seeing the photos and knowing that it is the last inhabited place in India, I was already sold.
So I started my journey on the 30th of August 2016 and left for Chandigarh from Delhi carrying a backpack, a best friend and loads of expectation. And both Sangla and Chitkul lived up to my expectations, rather beyond my expectations.
I reached Chandigarh at around 1 in the morning (31st August) and started inquiring about buses to Chitkul.  Good lord! Nobody knew of the existence of such a place, which gave me immense pleasure and I responded with little smirks everytime someone gave me a “Where on Earth  is this place” look.
Finally , I met some sane inquiry officer who told us that bus to Chitkul has already left, Excuse me! What?
After an hour the other officer told us the bus will arrive at 5am.
So,  a bit confused we accidentally boarded a bus with destination Sangla, which is 20 kms away from Chitkul.
I left Chandigarh bus station at 5:30am on 31st and reached Sangla at 7pm.
The bus ride started getting exciting and picturesque one we entered Kinnaur. This highway has been declared as the “Most Dangerous Road in the world” by History Channel.

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I was a bit disappointed when I reached Sangla and saw just this small.town with nothing exciting. But, I was wrong, wrong about Sangla just like folks these days are wrong about Nationalism being same as Patriotism.
So I wok up at 6 the next morning  and decided to wander about this “not so happening” place called Sangla valley,  the heart of Kinnaur .

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I walked till the last hotel or guest house on the the main road and took this little road downhill from where I could see a temple kind of a structure. I went inside and it was a pretty interesting place of worship with Nag temple on one side and a monastery on the other,  in the same premises.  It was the time for.morning prayers and the sound of “Nagarah” was  in the the air. . I sat there and spoke to few old ladies who came to seek blessing of the nag god.
The structure of the temple was quite peculiar, one found nn pahadi or himachali region.

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There was this small shop outside the temple and I asked for tea but the shopkeeper instead asked his wife to take us upstairs to their house for teas and a warm conversation. She gave me a tour of their ancestral house which  They were planning to renovate. This disappointed me and I asked them not to, I dont know if they were even convinced by my not-so-convincing puppy face.
She then showed me the album of her brother in laws wedding and how the Nag god was  brought outside the temple to shower blessings upon the newly wed.

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I left the place and trespassed someone’s apple orchard to get  near to the baspa river. Spent an hour there and decided to go back to the guest house, with of course few flcked apples.   While paying the rent I had a little chat with the manager and when he came to know that I was from Jammu and Kashmir he told.me about the small settlement called Azad Kashmir, half an hour away from main sangla.  I got so excited and decided to ditch the 12 PM bus to Chitkul.
My imagination and expectations  went wild and I thought of numerous things about this place called Azad Kashmir.
OK, so this was literally crossing rivers to reach your beloved.
2 river streams, quite a few apple orchards, one village and a wild forest to be specific.

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stream #1

 

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Stream #2

When I finally reached there I could see just handful of houses there. And the on thing I saw was the board of MNREGA.

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I peeped through the wall of the nearest house and started calling out for the man loitering around in the house.
He cam out  and saw me suspiciously as if I was there to rob him off the apples he had kept for drying on the floor. Although his suspicion was quite legit if we consider my shady peep throughs.

I told him the whole story of how I was from Jammu and Kashmir and how I got rather way too excited knowing of this place
He invited me in and asked his wife to prepare a cup of tea.  He then told me something that ym rainbow scented mind didnt want to hear, the place did not have people from either of the Kashmirs. It was just them, pahadi/Himachali people.
He then told me the origin of the name. The first settlers there were the Army personnel and they named it so because the place was as calm and peaceful as real Kashmir.

*coughIRONIEScough*

I then bid them good bye and asked if I could take a picture of the dry apples there.  They were making scotch out of it and not for sale but for personal family use.
While going back to main Sangla  met a woman who started a conversation with me and when i left after 15 minutes , she called me back and gave me 4 out of 6 pears she had just bought. I kinda melted right there,yeah!

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We were  waiting on the bus stand from 4:3o for the 5pm bus to Chitkul. It was 5 but no bus. That day the Chief Minister of Himachal had to deliver a lecture in Sangla, hence the place was a bit crowded. So, we had loads of people to talk to, amongst whom we met these two primary school teachers.
5:30, no bus.
6, the bus came and very enthusiastically  I boarded it just to see that the whole bus was occupied with ITBP personnel and only a few locals who too left in Rakcham.
While on the way to Chitkul, the bus was driving through the river stream.

We reached Chitkul at 7:30 and went straight to bobby bhaiya’s guest house but he was nowhere to be seen. A local guy about to leave for his home in Rakcham  called him and gave us company till bobby bhaiya arrived
A voice of reason and a lover of nature, Bobby Bhaiya originally from Nepal was born and brought up in Shimla.

It was 1st September and my birthday was 4 hours away. It was chilly so we tucked ourselves and slept like horses and of course, missed the 12 am birthday clock strike. Also, because my phone was completely out of network.
I woke up at 7, had a cup of tea which got cold in 2 minutes and sat on the terrace of the guest house looking at this small village of which hardly anyone knew about, one of the most remote areas in India.

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We then left to wander about chitkul village. A river stream runs across the whole settlement where the houses are of typical pahadi architecture, made up of Timber and Stone.

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after reaching the end of the village we trekked to the mountain, at 3500 meter. Sitting there overlooking Chitkul on one side and a mountain on the other,  beyond which lied Tibet. and I though to myself. One day, Tibet, One day.

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After 2 house we trekked back to the village and saw red carpets, microphone, canopies and people. “Who’s getting married, Alok Bhaiya.” “CM is coming to deliver a speech.” “DAMN!”
We saw Bobby Bhaiya hiding in his Attic room. “I hate crowd and people.” “What? are you like our BFF?”
we then headed towards the “Last Road” of India, no we didnt react Tibet because most of the road is under the watch of ITBP. so we just sat on the edge of the road and appreciated the beauty of this untouched placed, Chitkul, where people very  happily call themselves hindus and Buddhist both, where they are away from the regular urban life worries and where they are close to the most beautiful thing Nature!

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Chitkul is  a place where you would love to visit Solo, with parents, your beloved or BFF. because this time, its the places that matters and not the people you travel with. Its the place that makes all the difference. Chitkul is magic!

Snow Months: November to April.

Travel and Stay:

Delhi to Chandigrah Bus (ISBT Kashmere Gate): Rs. 250
Chandigarh to Sangla: Rs. 550
Sangla to Chitkul: Rs. 40

Baspa Guest house (Sangla): Rs. 500 per night
Kinner Heights or Bobby Bhaiya’s Guest House: Rs. 500 per night.

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My Days in the Queen of Hills’ Lap.

December 9th 2015:
1:00am-While I was packing my stuff listening to Mumford&Sons, I received a text from the Indian Railways that the train Mahananda Express from Delhi to New Jalpaiguri has been cancelled. My dear friend, the whole train was cancelled; what on earth were people supposed to do now? We don’t know. We were just supposed to be content by IRCTC’s ‘Sorry for the inconvenience’.

The whole night and the whole of the next day we were trying our best to make some way out. Well, all’s well that ends well. We managed to get a tatkal in Rajdhani for the 10th of December. So folks, when a Mahananda ditches you,Rajdhani comes to the rescue. And off I was at 9:15 am with three of my friends. (Ayu, Swaroop and Minzur). Rajdhani, offers you four meals a day, and its edible. Yeah! Edible, thats it.

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We reached Siliguri on 11th December at around 3 pm and hired a taxi till Darjeeling. The journey indeed became lengthy but I didn’t mind because once we left behind the mayhem of  city, further climb reminded me of home. The roads, the beautiful hills covered with yellow flowers and the adorable people, of course.

We reached Darjeeling town at around 7.The town to my surprise is too crowded for a hill station. So many cars and so much of chaos. But it had a beauty of its kind. After reaching Swaroop’s house, we freshened up, met his folks, his aunts and had a good Nepali meal while sitting in front of the bonfire. A little chat here and there, a little laugh on our faces, sharing of some more stories, we finally went to bed.

12th December:
Swaroop says he has a surprise for us; we hired a taxi and went along this road  called the Mungpoo Road, amidst the hills. At one point we stopped the car and walked, absorbing the smell of morning wind (which is much needed for someone coming from the not-so-great air of Delhi). We spent almost 15 minutes searching for some waterfall which according to Swaroop is a must see; turns out we had crossed that spot 2 times already.
We then we headed towards the ‘Breeding Center’ and saw Red Pandas, Sikkim’s state animal (I would have been happier if there were Giant Pandas as well).
Our next destination was one of the Yiga Chholing old Monastery Ghoom established in 1850. We had our lunch in a Tibetan food joint run by a family. We then loitered around the famous Darjeeling market and to Ayu’s surprise and disappointment (as we were told or maybe we assumed how cheap the market is) the clothes were a bit expensive.

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13th December

For the love of God! I  hate waking up early in the morning but it surprises my entire being  how, while I am travelling, I instantly turn into a ninja from a lazy panda. So we woke up at 4:30 am to witness the sunrise and view of the Kanchenjunga and the Mount Everest from the Tiger hill. We had to trek upwards to the hill because car parking was way down; again to my surprise Tiger hill which I thought would be a small cosy spot, was FILLED with tourists, some taking selfies while other drinking tea from the local women tea sellers who climb up to this place at around 3 in the morning.
The mighty Kanchenjunga finally ose through the fog and clouds; but the Everest still hiding behind winters’ cloak. We were not lucky enough to see its glimpse.
After catching up up with Swaroop’s school friends we walked Darjeeling’s dainty, foggy and mystical roads and had our Breakfast at the famous Keventers.

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The Sunrise

Content with these mainstream touristy things, I decided to loiter around the town by myself. I had three hours. So I started going upwards the Chowrasta and asked a man for directions to some nearby monasteries. Well, that man was very welcoming and heart-warming and offered to take me around. Mingma Bhutia, an ancestor of Tibet but born and in India, took me firstly to a Tibetan monastery where a ceremony was going on and I was offered with a cup of Tibetan Tea (almost same as the Kashmiri noon chai)  and some snack. We then started walking towards the Bhutia Basti, and while on the road Mingma Uncle and I shared our life stories.
He is a 48 years old bachelor living alone and he hasn’t married yet because he doesn’t have a settled job (well story of every Indian son,isn’t it?).. Also he doesnt know his mother language and sometimes feels ashamed of this fact
.On reaching the Bhutia Basti, he made me meet some of his friend and then we went to the Sikkimese Monastery where on knowing that I am from Kashmir, the caretakers got a little uncomfortable and scared. Not offended, I found it pretty funny but Mingma uncle thinking otherwise started to make me feel comfortable by sharing stories of secular nature of Darjeeling.
On our way back to Chowrasta he treated me with Wai Wai and Aloo Dum, something you might find in every local shop. We had an early lunch of Thukpa and Beef Momos before this kind stranger who knew nothing about me but shared his time and stories, said his goodbye.

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Mingma Uncle
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inside the Tibetan Monastery
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Sikkimese Monastery

Again on the streets of Darjeeling, walking and  wandering without any destination I came across a Kashmiri handicrafts shop and decided to have a little chat with my fellow state man. Zahoor Ahmed, the owner of the shop told me when and how he came to Darjeeling, which is the peak season when most of his products are sold and how every year in February he goes back to Kashmir for a month. He invited me to have a lunch of  paalak maaz (Mutton and Spinach) at his house two streets away.

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Finally, I was reunited with my travel companions and we roamed around the same streets again until evening, had food and drinks, before we set off to home.

Oh well, before coming to Darjeeling Swaroop had made a full itinerary for us, and NOT to my surprise we didn’t follow it, rather We did much interesting stuff… how I like it to be.. totally spontaneous and missing out on the mainstream tourist attractions.

The next day we needed a car to drive to Mirik, Swaroop managed to find one whose owner he didn’t know of, we didnot have the car papers and the car looked as if it was breathing its last days.
The drive to Mirik through the Sukhia forest was, as Maulana Rumi has said, there was light and wine and sweethearts all around the beautiful pine trees. This was my encounter with ‘its the journey not the end’ in reality. Really, the Mirik lake is just like any other lake you’ll find in Kashmir, or Nainital, but the road to Mirik; Pine Trees and Tea Estates conversing, the fresh winds of India and Nepal making love, the sun rays spreading their positive vibe; all made me think of the beautiful time and beautiful people in my life.

While on our way we stopped at the Gopaldhara Tea Estate and had a conversation with the women there who get Rs. 120 per month as their wage.
During this time my phone did a funny thing and went on international roaming because Nepal was just a  few steps away from there.

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Lets get back to the shady car, shall we? (the car in the above picture)The princess stopped thrice on our way back and started making some very uncomfortable noise. But to the grace of the almighty, and skills of Swaroop and his friends, we reached home.

On 15th, after having our usual bed tea and biscuits served to us by Swaroop everyday, we continued to explore the left out places in the town. Our first destination was St. Joseph’s school after which we walked around the “Lovers’ Road” and finally stopped at Sonam’s Kitchen for the Breakfast (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOOD JOINT).

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Our next plan was to trek downhill to Swaroop’s ancestral place Pulbazar. Everyone, literally everybody told us that we (Ayu and I) are too delicate to do this, well we accepted the challenge. Filled our backpacks with enough supply of food and chocolates we started our journey through the hills covered with tea gardens and villages filled with love and happiness.
We reached Pulbazar in 3 hours and had an early delicious dinner , sat a little under the fresh starry sky and went off to sleep.

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The Trek

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The  next day we hit the road for Sikkim………. (continued)