It was the third day running without electricity. Word of a cloudburst in Leh had come in, and the road back to civilization, via Manali, had been blocked. I was cut off, even virtually. But for once, sitting at the Sol Café, sipping on sea buckthorn tea and breaking pita with an Israeli couple fresh out of military commission, I couldn’t care less about Instagram likes. Or checking in on Facebook. Or an exit strategy.
We’d arrived in the sleepy town of Kaza, the capital of Himachal Pradesh’s Lahaul-Spiti district, after four arduous days of driving from Delhi. Turning into the Spiti valley – the middle land between India and Tibet, where the terrain gets harsher and drier and the colours are naturally saturated – brought an unfamiliar calm.
There was a monastery a stone’s throw distance everywhere in the valley. We turned prayer wheels in the village of Tabo, and marvelled at the monastery-in-a-mud-hut that’s been standing since 995 CE, a cold, glacial wind snapping at our ears. At Kungri, we closed our eyes to the reverb of 200 monks chanting in unison.
At Kye, the fortress-like monastery an hour’s drive from Kaza, the Israelis gleefully related stories of war to an inquisitive monk in impossibly-flimsy-for-4ºC-weather red robes as he brewed us tea; in return, he explained the large, intricate murals depicting the cycle of life according to Mahayana Buddhism. Later, we drove higher up the hills into Kibber, a village home to people who’d fit right in on a brochure about happiness indices.
Greater altitudes were hit, of course, as we trekked along the perimeter of the Chandra Tal – courtesy of some wonderfully fresh Malana hash. But transcendence in Spiti cannot (just) be substance-induced; the high we experienced was from successfully unplugging.