It had taken 30 hours by bus to get from Rishikesh in Uttarakhand to Manali in Himachal Pradesh. Manali is the starting point in the foothills of the Himalayas, which for many mountain tourists is the hub for a further journey to the Ladakh region in the federal state of Jammu & Kashmir. But Manali is also one of those typical places mentioned in the Lonely Planet, where mainly backpack tourists who follow this travel guide make their pilgrimage – accordingly it resembles a little bit Kathmandu – so it is a “little Kathmandu”. That means, there is an endless row of restaurants, souvenir-, cheap clothes-, bakery- and coffee shops, in which you can find mainly young hippies on their Royal Enfield motorcycles and old-68s with a distinctive tendency to smoke pot.
My plan was to go directly from Manali over the Pin Paravati Pass into the Spiti-Valley and from there to march on to Leh in Ladakh. A tour that should take between 20 and 25 days together – provided you can do it.
The crossing of the Pin Paravati Pass is considered the only trek here in the mountains that cannot be passed by horses, i.e. you have to use porters. On the ridge of the pass a glacier has to be crossed, which cannot be crossed alone, because of the many crevasses one should walk on a rope.
Finding porters on your own without local connections is a hopeless undertaking – fortunately I was able to fall back on the support of weltweitwandern and entrust its local representatives with this task. Already in the first conversation I was told that it would be difficult to find a person to go with me. After 5 days and the discussions with about 20 potential companions it was clear that nothing would come of it. Two main reasons were given: firstly, because this year nobody had crossed the pass yet and a lot of snow was to be expected and secondly – the porters are not used to go alone with one person and are afraid to take on this responsibility. I probably would have got a whole troop of 6 or 7 porters who would have gone empty or at least only carried their own things. But the effort did not stand for it.
So again change of plan:
By car to the Spiti-Valley and there alone on foot to Leh. The journey by jeep to Kaza, the district capital in Spiti, took 10 hours, went over 2 passes and was relatively easy despite the bad road.
For the walk to Ladakh you need a permit as you pass relatively close to the Tibetan border – which was surprisingly easy to obtain this time. So I was able to use the time of my stay in Kaza to rent a motorbike for 24 hours and to do a cultural sightseeing tour – actually I thought I could do without a motorbike on this trip, but it seems that I can’t do without one after all…
Like Ladakh itself, the Spiti Valley is a very dry region, largely shielded from the monsoon, with a strong Buddhist tradition. A number of gompas along the Spiti River bear witness to the spirituality of this area and invite you to take a closer look. The landscape is barren and life is concentrated in the few fertile places along the river or in the side valleys.
In the Spiti Valley, a Tibetan dialect is spoken that is so different from the original language in Tibet that people do not understand each other. The people are calm, serene, friendly and always invite you to be photographed. The Dalai Lama has emphasized several times that he is so impressed by this valley, the people and the spirituality that he wants to spend his retirement here.
When visiting the monasteries there are actually no restrictions – except for the one that applies to all gompas: it is not allowed to take pictures in the prayer rooms. For a small donation, monks are willing to give a guided tour of the rooms – whereby access is basically granted everywhere. At the end of the tour there is a salted butter tea in the monastery kitchen.
After 3 days in Spiti we continue on foot over the ParangLa pass, through the Chamtang region past Tso Moriri (Lake Moriri) and through the Stok mountains to Leh. A lonely, long and exciting hike.