The road up in the Kinnaur valley along the Sutlej river may once have been very scenic. Now, with a gigantic hydroelectric power plant being constructed there, we were driving through 50 klicks of construction area, or only comfort being the mud - had the roads been dry, the dust would have suffocated us (we had to endure this rather unpleasant experience a few days later...). The climactic moment was when we reached the point where the water, collected from little mountain streams, is poured into the Sutlej through a huge pipe.
Reckong Peo is the administrative center of Kinnaur, nothing much to write about, and we contnued straight up to Kalpa. On the way, an old Kinnauri was kind enough to point out the mountain where Lord Krishna retires during winter.
Kalpa itself is a peaceful little village in the way Manali and other tourist traps could have been long ago, surrounded by apple orchards. It's already more or less Buddhaland, where Buddhism, Hinduism and local beliefs meet. After the killing masses of Delhi and Shimla it was sheer pleasure to walk down the shadowy trails into the village and meet people of surprising openness and kindness. I immediately fell in love with Kalpa. The biggest difference between Kalpa and the rest of India is that they respect each other and have a warm and friendly relation, unlike the indifferent brutality by which people behave elsewhere - especially Delhi. They had time for each other of course, and for cricket too. Wouldn't be in India if they weren't...
So, all was peace & happiness until a woman came up - enter Usha. I always carry a Fuji Instax to break the ice and "pay my models" with an instant photograph and this trick always works. For many of them, it is the only photograph of themselves they ever see in their life. Usually they demand more than I can give, as the cartridges are quite expensive and never ever enough, and when I say "no more", it's usually understood. Not so for Usha. She considered herself the most beautiful girl of the village and got obsessed with my polariods. Once she even opened my camera bag and tried to get the Instax out. Incredible misbehaviour. I ended up running away from beautiful Usha, and next day tried to sneak past her house undetected. She felt the smell of polaroid though, and came running after me. This time I didn't give her anything but tried to take a decent shot of her at last, because earlier photos were less than perfect. I only hoped she would just stand still for 1/250 of a moment instead of reaching for my camera bag. She did, and even though this photo sucks - here comes Miss Kalpa. Age 29, two children, proud owner of 11 polaroids.
The annual apple auction was held during these two days. Locals sell their apple harvest to the temple, the temple sells the fruits and the income goes (allegedly) into the village funds. This year they made about 500 thousand rupees, if I got it right. There is an open-air auction with all people gathering. The funny thing is, only the men are bidding but when a bid is low or a final price below reasonable, the women start yelling and bitching at their husbands and mock the hapless bidders. All this in a funny and friendly mood, since in the end nobody makes a bad deal and the village seems to be far better off than we foreigners would think. Especially when I found out that the (for Kinnaur standards) utterly luxurous Kinner Villa also belongs to the village itself. Anyway, the strong feeling of community, where everyone respects the other, is hardly forgettable. I only wsh Kalpa would stay as it is, even if I suspect there's more than meets the eye - but then, no place and no one is perfect. (Except Usha of course, in her opinion.)
Anyway, we rested there for two days, constantly trying to avoid Usha's charming company, and waiting for those incredibly beautiful mountain sunsets. This time the sky didn't let us down...
...and next morning I realised not for the first time how beautiful haze can be when the first sunbeams slowly climb over the peaks and turn the valley into a playing-ground of shadows and lights.