I got on the bus, and then bumped my way through the night to wake up winding through the hills of Himarchal Pradesh, on the road to the most famous hill station in India. Shimla clings to the steep slopes in the coolness of the Himalayan foothills. Off the bus directly onto the next, I want to get into the mountains! Then an incredible ride up to Reckong Peo in Kinnaur valley.
The road winds along the spur of a mighty valley for hours, passing from crest to crest. Apple orchards and villages on the rolling foot hills, eventually the road drops down into the valley and you get the first glimpses of snow-capped mountains. The road becomes truly beautiful, winding up the fast flowing glacial river, past massive dam and hydro-electric constructions sites on a raw mica dust filled road.
On this trip I got reminded about what a truly different place India is. The road was blocked and we could see cars stacking up on the far side of the blockage and behind us. Frustration after 20 hours on buses, stopped dead, not knowing what is happening. The passengers all slowly slide out of the bus to stand around outside in the biting mountain sun. Then there is a rocketing explosion and 200m up the valley you see rock and dust flying across the valley, boulders disappearing in the strong current of the river. The workers are busy blasting the rock for the road while we stand there with our hands in our pockets! Then bulldozers move in and clear the road and 20 minutes later the cars start moving, and in perfect Indian logic, all cars go for it at once.
The road is narrow, cars come from both sides, and immediately gridlock, hooting. Ego’s flaring, little cars getting pushed to the edge by trucks and buses... eventually after what seems like eternity the buses edge past each other and we are moving again... an easy moment to throw your toys out the cot, they could have just waited, one side could go at a time and we would have been through there in 10 minutes (God Verdomme "@!&%)... but this is not how India works! You have to accept these infuriating occurrences in India, if you don’t you will be driven up the wall, and no matter what you do it will still happen... but that’s one of the interesting things about India, it works in such a different way to the West (at least in my world in the West). But then again, the road gets blasted and 20 minutes later you drive past the raw recently formed rock face... compare that to the drama that occurs in South Africa when a few rocks fall on the road on Chapmans Peak.
In these young mountains, landslides and deaths on the roads is a common occurrence and a local driver did not even blink an eye when he told me that in the 70 or so times that he has driven this road he has seen a rockslide 9 times, a rockslide that makes him have to stop, but does not actually hit him. That is high odds if you ask me, but of course it could just be a nice exaggeration by the driver!
Reckong Peo is an administrative centre of the region, but just above it on the slopes of the mountains lies the beautiful village of Kalpa. I walk up into the town in the dusk of a perfect day. With the light now fading on the extreme snow-capped beauty of the Little Kailash mountain massif that frames the horizon of this idyllic village, I feel exhausted, but emotions soaring being back in the mountains of India. Nothing can describe the feeling of seeing these sort of mountains, smelling the pine trees, feeling the mountain breeze against your face, hearing the local people playing traditional instruments in the distance... I have been to these sort of places before, but luckily, the mind forgets, and when you return its still as awe inspiring as the first time.
I get a lift on the back of a motor bike into Kalpa, get shown to a magnificent room in a hotel nestled in the forest. A panoramic view of mountain peaks, a crystal clear mountain stream tumbling down through the pine forest. Paradise...