The Exquisite Jispa Valley

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The beauty of Jispa Valley was a welcome sight after a harrowing day that started at Manali and escalated at Rothang Pass.  As I swung my legs off the bike, I wondered how we managed to reach this place in one piece. The route we took before we descended to the valley were interspersed with breathtaking sceneries and horrific road conditions where my death flashed before my eyes a thousand ways; hurled to the bottom of the cliff, crushed under a truck, dragged by a raging stream and all other horrors my mind could conjure.

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My nerves were soothed momentarily as I gaped at the splendour before me though when I closed my eyes to sleep all the horrors of the day came back to me scrambling on top of each other giving me a panic attack. My heart raced, and I felt the onset of altitude sickness, good that we packed all the recommended medicine. Sandeep gave me a pill, and I went into a dreamless slumber.

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I woke up to a beautiful morning in the valley, feeling refreshed and optimistic. The worst must be over. Or so I hoped.

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After tea and breakfast, Sandeep, Nadeem and I walked towards the stream at the foot of the majestic mountains barricading the vale. There it dawned on me how incredibly beautiful this world is, how exquisite these hidden gems were.

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Nadeen then told us it was time for our acclimatisation exercise, an activity essential to our survival once we drive higher later on towards Leh. So we scaled one of the pretty hills in the valley. I lagged behind as usual. Sandeep tried to motivate me as much as he could, but I often get distracted with the breathtaking view below us.

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It was a pity that we could not stay longer in Jispa; this beauty was just one of the pitstops to our final destination, so before the morning was over we continued our journey towards our next stopping place, Pang La. But I was glad that we also stopped for a while in a pretty village in Darcha though it was just 7 kilometres away from Jispa.

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I enjoyed the hot lemon tea in the dhaba where we took a break. It was a nice change from the usual Indian tea with milk. The locals, I noticed, seemed to look more like myself than my Indian companions.

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As we leave Jispa Valley behind, the feeling of terror mixed with amazement I felt on the way there was multiplied a thousand times on our way to Pang La.  Still unaware of the perils that lay before us, I felt ecstatic as I ride behind Sandeep, enjoying the crisp cold wind on my face, and the sight before me which was indescribable in its awesomeness and magnificence.

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Hiking With Babar

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This watercolour illustration is inspired by our hike in a small village in Sangla, Himachal Pradesh.

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pencil drawing

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Ink outlines

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first wash background

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painting the shadows

A Heavenly GetAway

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What was I thinking? Where did I get the nerve to plan a hillside trip in the monsoon season? I did check the weather forecast for the next four days, and like an ominous sign, the illustration above the forecast showed sinister-looking dark clouds and bolts of lightning. There will be thunderstorms for the entire week. Should I trust the forecast? I checked the weather situation on all the states we have to pass by, and it was the same all throughout, up to the hills and to our final destination. It was going to be a 12-hour drive, half of it on the hillsides.

On the morning of our departure, I awoke with uncertainty about our trip. I told my husband we don’t have to go, but he assured me it was going to be alright. I looked at Babar and thought how he must be missing the hills and the spacious space where he can run so I thought, what the hell, this trip would be an adventure. It did become a nail-biting adventure, for me at least. Hubby did not even break a sweat.

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We were already out of the city when the heavens opened up and poured out all its watery contents over our heads. The wiper of the car worked overtime, but still, it was not fast enough to clear the tons of water cascading on the windshield of the vehicle. We could not see anything in front of us but a thick wall of rain. We stopped when it was getting dangerous. This same narrative recurred during the entire trip until we reached the hillside. Over there another element added to this thrilling experience. Fog. We snaked up slowly and drove gingerly in zero visibility. Once in a while, the mist cleared up to give us a view of what lies for us up ahead. It showed us the tip of the mountain shrouded in thick clouds. After a few hours, we were literally driving through a thick blanket of clouds. I held my breath each time we turn on a curve which we could barely see if not for the light coming from the trucks driving toward us.

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DSCF6427.JPGIt was six in the evening when we reached Narkanda, as instructed by the manager of Agyaat Vaas resort, where we would be staying, we drove to Baghi road. Darkness was fast approaching when we saw the fork in the road. We had to take the middle one leading to Hatu peak. It was just a cycle track, really. Only wide enough for one car to pass. And we had to climb 5 kilometres of it to reach 3400 meters where our destination lies. 15 minutes had never seemed longer. My heart stopped beating for a few seconds when a huge white SUV came nose to nose with our car on a curve. What to do. We had to go back down with one of the rear wheel hanging for dear life until we found a space wide enough for the other car to pass by. The driver of the other vehicle told us they had to turn back for it was much too dangerous to climb any further. My heartbeat went into overdrive.
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When I alighted from the car, upon reaching our hotel, my legs were shaking. Babar jumped from the vehicle in wild excitement and dipped his nose in the first puddle he saw. He ran and ran. Ahead of us and then towards us, wagging his tail gratefully. I laughed. We made it in one piece. Thanks to the steely nerves of my husband.

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20130816-121241.jpgAs we walked down towards our cottage nestled in the misty woods, I felt like I was walking inside a fairy tale. The place was romantic and mysterious.

Different seasons in the hills have different challenges but different rewards too. The jungle has never been more beautiful. Everything was so lush, fresh and green. The weather was incredible. It was delightful, with just a little bit of chill.

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As the forecast predicted, it did rain for the whole week. So we sipped chai as we watched the rain and, munched on tasty pakoras. I read an entire novel in 5 hours straight. A slim volume by Haruki Murakami, The West Of The Border East of The Sun. Hubby got all the rest he needed. Babar ran as much as he wanted, rain, mud and all.

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On the few hours it stopped raining we were able to trek towards a vast lovely meadow called Jau Bagh where numerous wild horses were grazing peacefully undisturbed even by our presence, even by Babar’s excitement.

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The most extraordinary thing about the trip was how awesome it was to walk in the clouds. To see a wisp of it rising up from the ground like thick smoke from a fire. How it touches my shoulder. I almost wondered I had died and gone to heaven.

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-JMKhapra copyright 2013

Lullabies In The Valley Of Dreams

 

A quaint little village in Sangla

Summer arrived, blazing and crackling. The air sizzled frying at forty-five degrees (Celsius). Fed up with living in air-conditioned existence, we decided it was time to leave the city.

So Hubby, Babar and I with our suitcases packed for a seven-day adventure, drove up and up the mountain chasing some chilly wind.

Narkanda highway
Wall of pine trees in Kufri
Heart-stopping roads in Kinnaur District

The roads tapered off as we were nearing the top, sending some nervous flutter in my heart.

Descending from Rampur, a pleasant drive along the river.
Babar enjoying the breeze. Ears flapping about.
If I have ears that long it will be flapping too.
Climbing extremely narrow roads on the way to Sangla.

 Then it soared when my eyes behold the snowy peaks in the horizons.

The lethal beauty of Sangla Valley at the height of 2800 meters.
Babar passed out after a whole day of driving.

As the sun was setting, finally we reached the camp. The signboard was on the road but darned it the campsite was way down below.

Kinner Camp

Holding my breath while Hubby turned the car around, tires rolling by a hair’s breadth on the edge of the cliff, I was left thinking the camp owners may have some sadistic streak. After enduring the torment of that snaky ascent, they make sure the thrill continues with the roller coaster descent.

Very comfortable accommodation with an attached bathroom ( western toilet and shower) unlike real camping at all.
The valley morning after.
Babar sleeping soundly in the fresh air.
Sharing a cup of chai with hubby.

Waking up the next morning after a very sound sleep, sipping tea in front of the tent with the mighty snowy mountain right in front of me, I was filled with a deep-seated feeling of well being.

Not a soul was stirring from the nearby tents. The silence was pure and sweet. A commune with nature in the truest sense.

The Mighty Baspa River

When Hubby and Babar finally roused, off, we went hiking towards the mighty stream. Furious cascading water thundering down from the melting snow of the northern Himalayan peaks.

The roaring stream.
Babar testing the waters.

The energetic canine run to and pro, going mad with the freedom to leap and bound. Once or twice, Babar braved the icy water and dipped his toes. Oh, how he loved the water! He would swim if not for the turbulent flow.

The water dog.

Lovely Chitkul Valley
Pashmina heaven.
Passing by surrealistic looking roads on our way to Kalpa

Snowy peaks in Kalpa

Days in the camp passed by like a dream. We were lulled into calmness and serenity. All our silly worldly cares momentarily forgotten.

Babar made a lot of new friends in the camp.
Little girls who were very fond of Babar.

I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.
-John Burroughs

©JMKhapra