Bright-eyed and bushy tailed we had a ‘slowly slowly’ 4 hour journey through long winding roads, valleys and along the River Sutlej and Spiti. Approximately 100km away near the Indo-China border in Trans-Himalayan region of Kinnaur lies the peaceful little village of Nako at 11,900ft.
The landscape on this leg of the journey was totally the opposite of previous days travelling through luscious green hills covered with forests. Here it was like the desert! The sun was so hot all day and the sky was bright blue. All around us was stone, rocks, slate and dust for miles and miles. We spent alot of the journey travelling along the rivers at the bottom of the valleys to driving round loads of winding and switchback roads up to the tops of these valleys. Occasionally you would be treated to the uplifting sights of green patches or apple orchards on the mountainsides and dotted around small villages with populations between 30-400. Other than these small green patches, it was dry, dry, dry! We thought JD was joking when his parting gift to us from Shimla was a cucumber… “for the desert, my friend”.
Many of the roads here had steep drops and are quite famous for landslides. Along the route we saw many after effects of the landslides to the roads as well as roads that have been forced to close due to the landslides. There are many newly built bridges to take you to the opposite side of the river so that you can continue around the valleys. These roads also have areas of shooting stones aswell as controlled scheduled dynamite blowing of the rocks above you…Safe to say, we were terrified when we heard a loud explosion and saw rocks/boulders tumbling down the hill. The ground shook, we thought it was a landslide and our short lives flashed before our eyes!
Arriving at Nako was like reaching an oasis. What a truly beautiful and tranquil place! With the backdrop of the highest mountain in Himachal Pradesh Reo Purgyal standing at 22,300ft and prayer flags blowing in the wind from huts and houses, it is a scene to be personally witnessed.
On arrival you will find so much land used for agriculture and animals before reaching this lovely village full of tiny narrow streets. Many peas are grown fresh and organic along with apples and sun-dried apricots being famous produce of the area. I would highly recommend eating fresh fruit and veg produce whilst in Nako.
A famous feature of the village is the holy Nako Lake. A natural turquoise lake central to the village and home to many forms of wildlife as well as being an attraction for the little tourists that visit. Along with many fish, we also noticed many donkeys, sheep, cows and goats all living freely or in pens around the lake area. You can walk around in lake in 10 minutes easily… Well, actually you can walk around the entire village in 30 minutes!
The village is so quaint and charming. It consists of traditional architecture, wooden huts and very narrow street roads. All through the village are long stone walls with the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra carved into them. A sign of good luck and longevity through the village. You may also find many more carved stone walls with Om Mani Padme Hum along the roads, it is important to always go clockwise in direction or to the right of these important inscriptions so to respect the Buddhist culture. I will talk a bit more about what I have so far learnt about the culture in another blog post I think, there is so much to learn and know that I have only scratched the surface of this topic. It is extremely interesting and has so much depth.
With being so close to the border with China (Tibet) you notice a shift in lifestyle, culture and people. Besides from the areas being beautifully serene and picturesque, life seemed so much simpler, slower and richer. I still remember now (and probably always will) of looking at Nako over the vegetable patches, colourful prayer flags blowing in the wind and I just felt an overwhelming sense of peace. It was as if all the stress and tension I had been carrying in my body just lifted away from me.
Local residents are very discreet, polite and quiet. Rather than greeting people with “Namaste”, here you tend to greet/be greeted with “Julle”. The Buddhist culture has a massive influence on the area and is reflected in its people too. Everything is more conservative. Both the food and clothing are very similar to that of Tibet as far as I have learnt and experienced. Many men and women wear long sleeves in all weather, aswell as occasionally wearing hats with colourful fringing. Apparently during winter many of the older villages migrate and leave the village in the hands of the younger generations. Seasonal change and winter is difficult here, that’s clear to see. The lake becomes frozen and then used as an ice rink, the roads to the village are closed, water pipes frozen and there is a big lack of resources for somewhere so secluded. When you look up at the near mountains you are able to see paths where villagers of Nako and near by follow to lead to other villages… Usually taking days at a time.
Typically, the type of foods you will find at restaurants and dhabas are dal and rice, maggi, chow mein, thupka and momos. Mmmm momos! A personal favourite of mine and Zak’s for the week in Spiti was to share a bowl of maggi and a bread omlette. You can’t beat that combination! Bread omlette is basically what I would describe as ‘eggy bread’ at home in the UK. Maggi is a famous cooking brand that can be found in many households around the world… I think even my Mom has some Maggi cooking sauces in the kitchen cupboard of mysteries. If you order Maggi here expect to find a bowl of something similar to 9p instant noodles – curry flavour, of course! A simple delight.
There are very limited guesthouses in Nako, however there is a big campsite where apparently a MASSIVE Tibetan Mastiff puppy lives. Our guesthouse was arguably in the best location in all the village. You can read my accommodation review for Lake View, Nako here. We had a huge room and a shard balcony with a few other guests. The balcony was the perfect place to sit and relax. The lake was directly in front of you, the campsite above in the distance, a big prayer wheel in the other direction and you also watch everyone going about their days through the small streets. For both me and Zak it is a place not to be missed. Pure tranquillity and charm.
I was super sleepy this day (don’t know why) and passed out for a couple of hours as soon as we got to the guesthouse. What I didn’t realise was Sanjay had been waiting for us in the evening so that we could go for a walk… I felt so bad! But… after a deserved night’s sleep and some good breakfast we headed out the next morning to explore.
We took a short stroll up to a big prayer wheel sat just above the village… A great view from up there of the entire village with the mountainous backdrop. All along the path up to the prayer wheel was the long stone wall to our right carved with Om Mani Padme Hum and lots of stacked stones and balancing rocks. We turned the prayer wheel, sat down and just admired the moment of being there… The bell dinging with every turn of the prayer wheel… The wind blowing and rattling the prayer flags…The bright colours flapping about and catching the sunrays. It was just beautiful. A great place for chilling out, meditating and just being at peace. You know when you remember something so vividly that it feels like you are watching a film… Yeah THAT! That’s stuck with me for life.
We continued to wander until our path led us around the lake and soon enough I was having a lesson in skimming stones. I should say learning to skim stones properly really, and not like me who has no hand-eye co-ordination and a poor aim/throw. As mentioned previously, you are able to walk around the entire village in a short amount of time, so we wandered down all the streets that led us back to the jeep. By mid-day we were about to set off on towards our next destination just 60km away, Tabo.