We made a short trip to Reckong Peo to obtain the inner line permit which I needed to travel up north to Kaza - a little job-creating bureaucracy, justified by the proximity of the Tibetan border. I met a few fellow travellers there, among them a friendly Polish guy called Jacek, a Dutch guy whose name escapes me know but he reminded me to an elder version of Sam from Lost, and a maverick Israeli girl (any white-skinned girl travelling alone in India qualifies as a maverick :)), all of whom I was to see again soon; they put the bug in our ear by telling us that the road to Spiti is blocked. We asked around but didn't get any wiser and decided to keep to the northern route anyway. Our hope was that even if there's a landslide, it should be cleared by the time we get there. How naiv we were.
In Peo, they said the landslide should be cleared in 1-2 days; in Puh, some klicks northwards, it was 2-3 days; and eventually at Nako, 3-4 days. The closer we got to the Kinnaur-Spiti border, the more nervous we were. In any case, the drive from Kalpa to Nako was spectacular - free from Usha's dreadful "hello, photo hello, photo" battle cry, my spirits rose together with the altitude. The landscape got more and more barren, desert-like with an incredibly blue sky above.
There was a car park before Nako where other drivers told Soni that the road is blocked for good, and when I met again my friends from Peo, I couldn't shake off a feeling of being in some Indian version of Casablanca. Everybody stuck, looking for a way out. Anyway, the village was nice but far not as pleasant as Kalpa; not as if the place was ugly or the locals unfriendly, no way - but in Kalpa there was something in the air, in the way people looked at me that made me feel like home. In Nako, I felt there is a barrier between us even when exchanging smiles. It's probably because Nako is more isolated and life is tougher than amid those lush Kinnaur apple orchards. Or maybe they were just pissed because opposite to Kalpa, the village had no cricket ground.
I was fixing myself with my first shot of caffein when I heard the voice of an angel from the skies. Looking up, I saw Soni's head without any angel paraphernalia, wings and all, which reminded me that the evening before we agreed to scout the landslide situation.
We drove 5-6 klicks towards Kaza when cruel cruel reality dawned on us. Probably you can't see it in this photo but there is a road on the left, which was supposed to continue to the right. The problem was that there was no road at all. Bye-bye Spiti!
I wasn't too sad of the idea of driving back all the way to Rampur and from there to Kullu-Manali-Leh instead of the straightforward Spiti road. Somehow it seemed to mee that in India, it's perfectly normal to make a 1500 km detour because of 200 meters of missing asphalt. Soni tried to cheer my up by telling me, "now we can see Usha again". I was in very good mood but hearing this I wanted to cry. Anyway, I told Soni to drive back to Nako and walked back to the village alone - I like deserts and moutains, here I had both, and this walk was the most peaceful afternoon I had in a long time.
Back to Nako I met an incredible character:
... and later a girl called Sopna, which in Hungarian means something sexually extremely explicit so I promised her to keep it secret but since nobody is reading this blog anyway, I can tell it here. After some polaroid-magic she warmed up and I could take a few decent shots of her. Not this. This is just to show something different.
Anyway, in the evening the Casablanca Crew gathered in the local pub, where there was no Sam and piano and, given the absence of any French people, no Marseillaise either, but in exchange the place was full of local males slowly drinking themselves into delirium tremens. Must have been happy hour or something. We foreigners were pussies and didn't try the local spirit, four bottles of Kinnauri peach brandy was perfectly enough to keep us warm. (That's a lie. It wasn't enough.)
The good thing about travelling alone is independence; the bad thing is, when you meet someone and start to like each other and can have a decent conversation without the risk that 90% of what you say is not understood, and enjoy good company at last, it's usually over in the morning when everyone goes their own way again. At least I had Funny Soni, or so I thought when I climbed into the Scorpio, until he looked at me and with an ear-to-ear smile said, "Usha is waitinnnng!". I grabbed the cellphone to complain to Mr. Sinha Almighty but there was no signal. Life sucks. At least on the way back I could take some shots of the same places but from another angle, but I soon realised that all these landscapes look good in reality but in photos, it's quite boring. I was more interested in people anyway, and couldn't resist compassion when I saw the people maintaining and building those miserable roads for 3 dollars a day. At least that's what Soni said, adding that this is barely enough for food. I don't know.
Getting closer to Rampur, I discovered with delight all the places we missed in the rain and fog, like this little waterfall.
Back to Rampur, our favourite town that we missed so very much, we stopped at Sip'n'Drive to have some decent food after these days of dhal-n-rice diet, and besides, I got back my faithful metal cup that I left in the hotel a week ago. I ordered mutton, which immediately reincarnated into a frog and leapt from the plate into my lap, leaving a stain on the worst possible place. it is not a nice thing to be covered from groin to knees in greasy mutton curry masala. It was a comforting thought that the mutton was of the usual Indian gene-modified meat variety, by which I mean animals looking perfectly OK alive but consisting only of bones, skin and sinew on a plate, so I wouldn't eat it anyway. But the mutton didn't know this and was scared, his fear leading it to the kamikaze attack on my trousers. At least it had its revenge.
Going back to Shimla was out of question, so we took a shortcut to Kullu through the mountains. It was getting dark and we decided to stop in a village called Ani, which was a funny coincidence because of another Ani, far away in Turkey, which played a big role in another photoproject of mine. I was smoking and enjoying a Kingfisher beer on the balcony when a couple arrived on a bike; they were looking friendly enough. Enter Aya and Edod.