Wheels Back In Motion: Reflections on the way back home
I always feel uncomfortable and out of place in Delhi. I was anxious to be on our way back, and we caught the Jhelum Express the next day. The others from our group were flying back to Pune, while only George was with us on the train. Vidisha and I had a relaxed travel back. It was mostly time for reading and reflection.
The world up to Manali was the civilized world, as we knew it. Above that, once you crossed Rohtang Pass, it was as if you entered a different world. Indeed this distinction bears out even with the seasonal disconnection of the upper region. The Rohtang and other mountain passes are open only after summer, for a few months. For the most part of the year, the Spiti region is isolated from the rest of the world. The region has remained in isolation for centuries, and hence has an introversive culture and life focused around its monasteries.
What does ‘Spiti’ stand for? Si means Mani, Piti means place, Spiti means the place of Mani, the jewel. Rudyard Kipling writes about Spiti in these words: “At last they entered a world within a world — a valley of leagues where the high hills were fashioned of the mere rubble and refuse from off the knees of the mountains…Surely the gods live here. Beaten down by the silence and the appalling sweep of dispersal of the cloud shadows after rain, this place is no place for men.”
Our rare glimpses of tourists in Spiti were those of foreigners. We never saw any Indian tourists. I was saddened that apart from the local villagers and the military, Indians rarely ventured here. In contrast, I thought of Kedarnath and Manasarovar, where there was no dearth of Indians.
Reflecting on the purity of the people’s culture, lifestyle, and religion, I also wondered whether we were invading the region with our tourist paraphernalia. The civilization of the valley was significantly changing the lives of the people. There is now electricity, irrigation, and primary school education available in Spiti. Crime is still virtually unknown. The government has installed few antennas through which many people are able to watch Doordarshan. Telephones have reached Kaza. Overall, the changes in recent years are more than those that took place over several centuries.