I don’t remember much of the walk to Dhankar, I just know it involved a lot of pain and with no McDonald’s within hundreds of miles to provide an appropriate hangover cure, doom was imminent, at least for my liver and at least one of my kidneys. We were joined for the first part of the walk by the granddad of the house who didn’t really speak much English. He walked with us along the road and pointed out Demul over yonder, then joined his road-working colleagues who were tarmacking the road and waved us goodbye. Nice chap. Nice road too, although boulders had crashed down from the mountains in parts and embedded themselves in the new, black surface. You kinda get the feeling they’re fighting a losing battle.
Much like all of my internal organs. Maybe the others were right, maybe I was actually genuinely sick. God this was fucking awful. Jess and Ron stopped and waited for me a lot which was good of them, I could imagine their frustration, if they thought I was slow before I was probably being over taken by stoned, crippled snails right now. We made it to Dhankar eventually and I slumped against a wall, guarded the bags and harassed a puppy as the other two looked for somewhere to stay. We were unsure whether to stay in one of the places up here near the fort, or to head down to another place. It was a big decision because that hill down was a very fucking steep one and none of us wanted to have to walk back up it again if there was nothing down there. We decided to chance it and it paid off, and we stayed at a place called Dhankar Homestay, appropriately named on account of it being a homestay in Dhankar. They had a sign outside and everything which was a first, so far it really had felt like we were in someones home and not a commercial property. I went straight to bed. Jess and Ron gave my apologies to our hosts, but I was feeling very, very sorry for myself and needed to be unconscious for a while.
When I woke up I wasn’t feeling too much better but at least I could eat a little bit and take photos of stuff and chat with quite an interesting foreigner who had been staying in the region for what seemed like forever, just to learn about the local culture and how they do things. Village leadership is rotated and done by election. Crops are planted in April; peas, then wheat, then barley. They’re harvested in July; peas, then barley, then wheat. Then in November they plough the fields and cover them in the shit from the toilets. I do not envy whoever gets that job. They dry grass for the livestock, that’s not for burning, they buy wood from the government for cheap as fuck all grows up here, there’s nowhere to collect firewood yourself.
I still wasn’t 100% the next day which, as Jess pointed out, meant it wasn’t a hangover at all. That was good, I hadn’t held the others up on account of my inability to handle my booze. So there are two gompas, Buddhist monasteries, here; the new one where the lamas live, and the ancient one built into the cliffs which is the one we wanted to visit. It’s tiny and so well preserved, it’s around 1000 years old, I don’t know if it’s been restored or if it just survived on account of the lack of natural light in there. You let yourself in with a key hanging by the door, take photos without the flash, then leave respectfully and quietly, locking the door behind you. I loved it. It’s incredible. Dhankar is pretty cool anyway, with the epic rock formation dominating the village.
Anyways, it was time to leave and we’d heard there was a local bus that drove through the village from Lalung to Tabo. That would have been perfect if it had actually happened. We loitered at the edge of the village by the new gompa, none of the lamas had any idea about it so eventually we decided to just walk it. There’s a road which consists predominantly of hairpin turns you could follow if you had all the time and patience in the world, or you can cut straight down the middle, so we opted for a combination of the two on account of the fact some of the short cuts were pretty fucking precarious and none of us wanted to stack it and faceplant the gravel because that would have been pretty embarrassing given that there was a perfectly good (no, really, it’s actually pretty good) road to utilise. It seemed to take half our fucking lives though as not particularly pretty walks are wont to do when the journey is only necessary for the destination and not an enjoyable part of the experience, and you can see the end point but it doesn’t seem to be getting any. Bastard. Closer. Ugh. Eventually we got down to the road.
Now what? Walk all the way to Tabo? It was miles, literally miles. There seemed to be a smaller settlement just up the way though so we headed there to see if we could glean any information of anyone and ended up chatting to an Indian woman from Bangalore who’d hired a car with a driver and offered to take us to Tabo. Absolute lifesaver. And she stopped to pick up anyone who would fit in the vehicle too, lots of locals seem to get around by hitchhiking in this region and if you can’t get a ride you’ve probably got a loooong way to walk.
Dhankar, Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India
Altitude: 3894 metres
Stayed at: Dhankar Homestay