Place: KIBBER, Himachal Pradesh, India.
Date: May, 2015.
Temperature: Max 11°C and Min -4°C
Sometimes, time smiles at you. Plucks out a significant ounce and gifts it to you.
Sometimes, nature smiles at you. Takes you to a place you would have never gone had you been sane/practical/normal/realistic.
Sometimes, everything falls in place.
Two insane guys (who happen to call themselves photographers) take a 4 wheel driven THAR out of a showroom and drive it through one of the most treacherous roads in India (also through beautiful valleys, mountains and sparsely populated villages) for roughly 900 Kms and reach one of the most remote villages in the country, Kibber. It is said that this village is the highest permanently inhabited village in the world. Yes, it has a little over 50 families living there.
It is also the place, from where one can watch (or gaze at) stars. This village is supposed to be the best place in the country for star gazing.
And that is exactly why two insane photographers decided to visit Kibber, stay there for almost two weeks and see if they could capture some images.
We were not even sure whether we would get a hotel/guest house there or would we have to take shelter at some villager’s house. We had no idea about the food arrangements. We knew that mobile phones would not work there and that electricity was a luxury in such a remote area. But, we were prepared for all the worst conditions.
An eventful 38 hour Journey and an over-night halt later we reached our destination.
The best way to reach Kibber is to drive down. Preferably a 4WD vehicle. If you can’t afford that luxury then Himachal Pradesh Transport buses will take you till Kaza which is the biggest town in this part of the world. Its 20 kms from Kibber at the base of the valley. You will get a taxi or a jeep which will take you to Kibber.
Yes there are a few home-stays and a couple of guest houses. The amenities will be very basic. Electricity is as fickle as a teenager’s ambition. The place is almost always windy. It is this wind which is as cold as it can possibly be. So carry layers. More than you can pack.
The houses have televisions and some innovative room heating solutions. IPL is the most watched and followed programme. The village also has a school. Apparently the number of teachers are more than the number of students.
We mostly had decided to shoot at nights (we have come to shoot the night sky, remember?). I had the day to myself.
A walk through the sleepy village, a random visit to the home of a villager, drive through the beautiful valley to visit another nearby remote village. That was mostly my itinerary during the day.
So how do the people in such a remote village go about their daily lives? What is their perspective and outlook about the whole wide world? Are they sad? Do they feel left out? Are they normal?
Apparently they are. In-fact they are much more affectionate and warm than most of the people we meet on a daily basis. You can walk into any house, and I mean literally any house (the doors are never locked) and be rest assured that you will be greeted with a wide smile and cup of hot tea. You can spend hours together talking to any person on the road, a man, woman, grand-mom, kid anyone at all. Everyone will talk to you as if he/she was just waiting to have a conversation. If I start writing about the instances some villagers went out of their way to help us, this post will go on for another ten pages.
I saw a couple of kids playing in the dirt. Wish I could spoil their lives by showing them the wonders of an IPAD. I wish they never find out and for them an apple remains only a delicious fruit.
The village has one special point from where you can attempt to make a mobile call. Provided you have a BSNL connection. That special point is at one corner of the village. Looking at our villager friend (Rinseng) wait for almost 15-20 minutes for a hint of network to appear on the phone and then attempt a call was grounding.
The beauty and the mystery of the place does not end with the village. We decided to go higher and discovered that there are a couple of villages higher up. A village named GHETE is at almost 400-500 metres above Kibber. The best part of GHETE is that this village has only 2 houses. Only two houses !! Both the houses have two brothers staying in them with their families.
The place was beautiful and perfect for us to camp and shoot through the night.
While we were insane enough to set camp near our vehicle and shoot through the night at GHETE (temperatures at -4°C), in the middle of the night the villagers not only came up to check on us, but went back, and got us a flask of warm tea. They also prepared one of their rooms for us to sleep. They never even asked us our names.
By the end of the week, the villagers started recognising us and our vehicle. They knew what we had come to do. So people grew friendlier.
They guided us to some of the most beautiful spots of the valley. Told us stories of the harsh winter and their loneliness (but all with a smile).
However, I must specify, that it is not easy to visit these high altitude spots. You have to push yourselves to walk and trek the terrain. Breathlessness is just one of the problems which you will encounter. The wind and the temperatures do not help you. However, the effort is always worth it.
There is a beautiful monastery which is frequented by tourists and it is at a much more accessible location. It is about 7-8 kms from Kibber, down the valley. It’s called the Key monastery.
I almost forgot.
We were pleasantly surprised to experience snowfall in the month of May in Kibber. On a couple of days. Once when we had just completed setting up our camp at night (had to pack up and leave immediately. Lost our way back. Somehow managed to reach our guest house). On the second instance we were safely tucked in our beds and when we woke up in the morning, it was snow all around.
The experience of visiting Kibber, cant be put in a small blog post. In fact I am not proficient enough to put it down in so many words. But, yes it was an experience which will stay with me. If I ever need to be grounded, this will help me. It has made me push myself and experience the mountains like
never before. It has shown me what it actually means to be ‘being human’. I have made a lot of traveller friends. Met some really interesting individuals.
Yes, we did manage to take some good shots and do some good photography work too. Though we would have loved the weather to be a little more supportive and show us some more of the clear night skies, but we will definitely go back to take some more shots
Take some time off from the high rises, only-weekend breaks, traffic jams, a shouting arnab goswami and visit such a place. It might just change your life. It’s not what you will experience on your mountain trips arranged by a tour operator. You will have to figure things out yourself. You will have to talk to people. That is what travelling means. Doesn’t it?
Watch this space for some of the night sky shots.