Travel story contributor: Jitaditya Narzary
After a short but pulse-quickening hike, I reached the top of the hillock. Although the rest of Himachal was already reeling under pre-monsoon showers, the sun was shining brightly in Nako, which is placed firmly inside the rain shadow zone at the border of Kinnaur and Spiti districts. I looked around and saw nothing but barren, reddish-brown mountains looming large over the valley on three sides. The fourth side was where the village of Nako was located, around its famed lake, a rare water body in this parched region. The serpentine Hindustan Tibet Highway and the Spiti River by the side of it could also be spotted from the hillock.
I had arrived at Nako in the afternoon after slow and tiresome bus ride from Reckong Peo. I had the monastery and the lake in mind but I climbed the little hillock first because I saw a gigantic prayer wheel installed atop and also I expected to have a good aerial view of the village from that point. While the emerald green lake was photogenic, my attention gradually shifted to the thousands of prayer stones scattered across the hillock. All of them had the same mantra “Om mani padme hum” inscribed on them but yet all of them looked different to me. I climbed further and reached the giant prayer while, which seemed to be a new installation rather than a historical one. Nevertheless, as the icy wind from the mountain made it rotate, some ancient sounds emerged from it and spread all over the Valley, sprinkling celestial blessings.
After the giant wheel, I decided to quickly visit the lake before it is too dark but lost my way inside the village. All the houses looked similar and there were prayer stones and flags at every turn. After a few futile rounds, I got the drift and emerged in front of the lake through a narrow alley. There was hardly anyone out there apart from a couple of youngsters fishing patiently under a tree. I took a walk around the lake and soaked in all the serenity that my lungs could carry. The moon was already out and view of the snow-capped mountains on the horizons was gradually reaching surreal proportions. However, the setting sun also brought down the temperature drastically. I had not packed any warm clothing because I did not feel like touching them in the harsh summer of Delhi. So I returned quickly to my hotel to resume my explorations in the morning. I was doubtful about the food options beyond thukpas and momos in this village bordering Tibet, but I stumbled upon a trendy restaurant offering things as exotic as hummus and eggplant parmesan!
The return bus was expected at 12 noon. Yes, there are hardly one or two buses in these routes and if you miss those you have to wait another day. So, I woke up early and decided to trek. I crossed the hillock that I climbed the previous afternoon and started hiking up the mountain beyond it. To my surprise, I saw a local villager doing the same with his cows, not exactly the kind of animal I even expected to survive in these conditions. Anyways, they stopped at one point where there was a small plateau with enough grass. I climbed further through the rocky trail as the same villager promised me that I can see another village on the other side from the top.
The entire route was lined with even more prayer stones and of course colorful prayer flags. I even saw the sacred mantra etched on one of the peaks and wondered how someone even got there to do that. The trek was tiresome but the views were magnificent. The clear sky was as picture perfect as the clouds hanging precariously over the mountain peaks. However, the other village mentioned by the local man was nowhere to be seen. Probably I needed to go further or was I literally myopic?! Anyways, I was running out of time, so I started to climb down. To my surprise, the descent took more time because it was pretty steep and there was always a risk of slipping.
Back in the village, I paid a visit to the monastery complex but realized that it was not exactly a live structure full of monks. It houses the remains of a historic, thousand year old gompa which is no longer in use but is maintained by the village committee.
I was feeling tempted to trek further to hidden villages beyond the mountains but it was time to return. However, this is a place where I would like to be back and spend an idyllic week someday, if I am ever in a position to not worry about my livelihood!