One last thing you absolutely have to do whilst you’re in Spiti Valley is check out Kee, or Ki, or Key, or Kye, take your pick and delete as appropriate, Gompa which has got to be the single most photogenic gompa I have ever put in my eyeholes. There are buses from Kaza but then you’re kinda forced to spend the night up in Kibber on account of the bus timings. You can get there but you probably wouldn’t be able to get back the same day. Most people hire a taxi to take them up there, wait and return. But we’re tight foreign backpackers and Ron had a motorbike that would fit three slightly terrified humans on the back. Okay, two slightly terrified humans and Ron who had utter faith in his riding ability. To be fair he’d muscled that Avenger through some pretty shit terrain just to get to Kaza, I had no doubt he knew how to handle the machine, but when we finally jumped off at Kibber and I had chance to assess my own mortality I did realise that agreeing to a three human motorcycle ride with no helmets along roads with suitably steep hills and drops to the side was probably one of my more idiotic decisions along with any decision made after more than two shots of Jägermeister. Y’know I literally just sat there for ten minutes and tried to think of more bad decisions I’ve made but apparently my brain only likes to recall them at 3am when I desperately need to sleep, right before it reminds me of all of my failures and every embarrassing thing I’ve ever said and done.
Anyway, we checked out Kibber and had a cup of tea before jumping back on the bike to climb higher for a better view of the gompa. This resulted in a lot of off-roading which could quite have easily resulted in a crash capable of depositing most of our flesh along the ground, and we didn’t even get that better view. So we headed down to the gompa to have a look around that. It’s pretty cool, at 4166 masl apparently but it didn’t feel like it, it felt very different to being above 4000 metres on the Everest Base Camp Trek, but then again I wasn’t freezing bastard cold and trying to walk up a massive fucking hill. It looks the way it does as it’s been attacked so many times throughout so many wars and has been patched up and added to as they went along. I can’t remember why I didn’t take any photos inside, I don’t recall if we were allowed to or not, but a lot of the rooms were locked. As we were leaving, we got chatting to a woman from Singapore who was staying there to study Buddhism as a Buddhist herself. She was so helpful and knew a lot of the monks. She lead us into a room and introduced us to a man who gave us tea then showed us around a few more rooms. The woman from Singapore explained a lot of stuff to us. There are a lot of ancient scrolls, paintings and artifacts in there too. She showed us a few simple rituals which involved touching your forehead to statues. I’ve very glad we met her or we wouldn’t have seen half as much as we did.
Jess and Ron were ready to leave at the point but I wanted to walk a little way past the gompa for the classic postcard photo and I didn’t know how long it was going to take so I told them to head off and I’d grab a lift along the way. It was a relatively well used stretch of road and lots of people travelled in cars between Kaza and Kee. It actually didn’t take long to get my shot at all in the end. I would have gotten a much better one if I’d scambled up the hill a bit, but that would involve, y’know, scrambling up the fucking hill. A whole world of no. So I started my walk back down. I’d only just gotten through the gates when a truck laden with tyres stopped and the passenger leaned out of the window?
“Kaja?” he shouted.
“Kaja?” echoed the driver.
“Kaza, haa,” I replied, y’know, breaking out the Hindi an’ all that. I was helped onto the tyre pile by two lads sat up there already and when we pulled over in the village at the bottom of the hill I was relocated into the cab so they could chuck more stuff onto the back. Turns out picking humans up along the way is a thing here. I’m gonna guess that it’s because public transport is sporadic and unreliable and people just want to help each other out. No money changes hands. They stopped twice more to let groups of people who could have been working in fields or on the roads and were heading home for the day to pile on and in. It was cosy to say the least. I was let out in Kaza and their little truck overloaded with tyres, junk and humans went on its way.
See, hitchhiking does seem like it could be a valid way to explore north India. I think it’d be relatively safe, especially if there were two of you and one of you was in possession of a Y chromosome. The problem being, hitchhiking is an unknown quantity, and I’m too much of a control freak for that level of unknown. You might get a lift all the way to your destination, or just part way which could leave you stranded, or you might not get a lift at all because no one stops or no one passes by. You could just end up stood in the dark, in the pissing rain, freezing your tits off, wishing you’d just bought a fucking bus ticket. But if there ain’t no buses and you can’t afford a taxi then yeah, hitchhiking is the way and the light. We’d been so, so lucky, with our woman from Bangalore who got us to Tabo, and these guys who got me to Kaza. There’s a time and a place for it, and the place is the beautiful, remote Spiti Valley.
Ki Gompa, Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India
Altitude: 4166 metres
Stayed at: Zanchuck Guesthouse, Kaza