Next day we woke up around 8 AM. After doing our daily chore in dry toilets, we had breakfast. Just a reminder - it is Winter Spiti. Everything you get will be basic. In breakfast, we had leftover sabji from last night, some local bread and tea. We were hungry and ate like an elephant! Also because we might not get lunch as we would be traveling and most certainly would not find any cafe or hotels open.
After getting ready, we went to the car. It had snowed a little and car was covered in a thin sheet of snow.
I cleared it first. Then I opened the trunk to see the condition of water-bottles. An important thing to note here is that never leave fully filled water bottles inside vehicle. At night, water will freeze and if bottle bursts, you will be left with a lot of mess to clear. We had emptied one-third of the bottles. However, water had not frozen that much. Next, I got on the task to start the car. Car's thermometer showed -8 degrees, that too at around 9 AM in the morning. Imagine what it would have been at night. I put the key to ignition and to my surprise engine was up and running in a single shot! And no, it did not die down after some time.
First, we went to near-by puncture shop to get our tyre fixed that had burst in Pin Valley. Unfortunately, it has suffered a sharp cut on one of its sides. So, there was no question it could be repaired. The only solution was to get a tube installed in it. That would ensure we had a spare tyre for the rest of the journey.
Our first destination was Langza. The weather had taken a turn and now it was all cloudy. So, unfortunately, like last time, we would not be able to see Langza's Buddha statue in clear weather. As we climbed up the altitude to Langza, snow cover increased significantly. At some places, it looked like a completely white world, with only a brown road running through it! The road, however, was clear and did not have any issues like black-ice.
We reached Langza after a short while. Not so surprisingly, we were the only ones out there. It was extremely cold and all villagers seem to be hiding in the warmth of their homes. All cafes were closed. Only sound you could hear was of wind. We got some photos clicked with the statue before we moved ahead.
Next, we headed to Key Monastery. We didn't want to go to Hikkim or Komic. We had already visited the highest-post office in Hikkim. Add to that the weather was extremely cold because there was no sunlight and we were in no mood to go that far just to see an empty village with nothing but flurrying flags. Road to Key Monastery was no less mesmerising. Entire river valley covered in snow was a sight to watch. Frankly though, the views were out of the world, a strange kind of depressing feeling had started settling in us. Lack of sunlight and nothing but white snow all around was the reason, I suppose. Living in those harsh conditions wasn't as happening as it seemed from our city lives watching photos and videos.
As soon as we reached Key Monastery, we found that some monks and some travellers were playing cricket. That put a smile on my face. We were so far away from our home, in a completely different world with a completely different culture. Yet, it showed that we were still in India and we were still united. These moments are why we all travel!
As we headed on, we saw a big obstacle - the stairs to the monastery were all covered in snow - which has now become all hard and slippery. And we had to climb that. It was really slippery but somehow me managed to climb it. From there too, there was black ice on the path and we had to walk really carefully to cross that. We managed to cross that and were greeted by the awesome view from Key Monastery. Monastery was closed and no one there anywhere. No one invited us to the kitchen like last time. Moreover, it started snowing soon. So, after spending 15-20 mins, we headed back to our homestay.
For rest of the day we chilled out, watching TV and talking to others staying there. A pretty interesting conversion broke out on how the NGOs from outside have exploited locals of Spiti. They procured Seabuckthorn, a popular berry growing in Spiti, from the locals for free and sold it's products in the market making a huge fortune. They however didn't pay locals anything. When locals came to know about this, they protested and stopped supplying NGOs the berry. Then, they stared organic-farming to help farmers in the valley. However, that was only an excuse. In reality, they were selling farming experience to tourists. They would let tourists stay in farmer's homes, use their farms, let them enjoy their food and sell that as an experience package at hefty sums of money. However, they did not pay a single penny to the locals. When locals realised what was happening they ousted the NGOs and never ever allowed any NGOs after that. Most of the NGOs now-a-days work only to fool people instead of helping them.By nightfall, it has started snowing significantly. Jio signals were now gone, probably tower malfunctioned under heavy snowfall. Next day's plans were all in doubt now. Anything could happen. We went to bed to spend a cold night ahead.
Day 5: Kaza to Jeori
As soon as I woke-up next day, I went outside to check the status. I was greeted by a jaw dropping view of entire valley covered in white blanket of snow. It was heavenly! I went to our parked car and saw it covered in a thick blanket of snow. It was still snowing and that got me little worried. If it didn't stop snowing, we would be stuck here for god knows how long. First of all, I went to the Kaza taxi stand and enquired if taxis were going and if it was safe to go. They said that a couple of taxis had gone and you can follow their tracks slowly. There should not by any problems. Little relieved, I came back. We both decided that we would attempt the return journey when it was still relatively safe, instead of risking the chances of getting stuck here for days.
I got back to car and started the tedious task of clearing all the snow from the car. With already numb hands, I got on to the task and almost an hour later I could say, It was good enough to go. Most difficult yet important task was to clear snow from roof of the car. It may not look that important to some, but one brake could bring that whole pile of snow onto your windshield completely blocking your view. So, always clear snow from roof. Anyway, next I attempted to start the car and fortunately it started in one go.
From there we began, by far the most dangerous journey of our lives. At each turn there were multiple dangers - car skidding, land slide, getting stuck in snow, and what not. We were driving at 10 km/hr on average. That too, only on gear power, without any race. Racing and braking is dangerous on snow. I was only using engine braking to slow down. Duster was on 4WD lock mode full time. Still, none of that scared us at much. Because the beauty of the valley in-front of us was out-worldly. Believe me, most gear-heads here would do anything to drive on that heavenly road. Do watch the video above to get a full feel of the trip!
After Sichiling road snow cover reduced significantly. So, driving now was pretty easy. It was mostly smooth sailing from there. Just to note, it took us 3 hours to reach Sichilling which is just 27 km from Kaza.
However, adventure was not over yet. Right after Tabo we encountered a place where shooting stones were falling right in front of us. We were far away from there, but did not know what to do now. From small pebbles to big stones, they were falling non-stop one after the other like an avalanche. Luckily, there was a traveller right behind us. The guy got out and became a spotter for us. He waited for a short window of opportunity and then called us to cross it qucikly! I put on the race in first gear and crossed it without a blink! Thankfully we were safe. Not sure what would we have done if he wasn't there.
We had been driving in risky terrains for almost 6 hours now. Still, fear we felt while crossing the infamous Malling Nallah was no way near it. That short 50 meter stretch was a nightmare. The narrow road crossing had become slippery because of snowfall and black-ice. There was deep trench on one side and the downward slope added to the woes. I had started sweating and my heart was pumping hard. At one point, car jumped up and down suddenly and I almost thought I lost it! But, in the end we crossed that safely.
Slowly, we crossed Nako, then Khaab bridge. Took a stop at Spello, were forced to take a long detour before Tapri and were welcomed by heavy rains in landslide prone area of Kullu valley. Looked like all our adventures had to be on that day. Nonetheless, we reached Jeori safely and next day to Gurgaon. And, that was the end to a trip that will never end in our memories.