By Neetole Mitra
To be in Khibber is to be vulnerably close to nature. At 14,200 ft, this village is nestled amidst the folds of the Himalayas, on top of a limestone rock, in the surreally beautiful Spiti Valley. The local bus from Kaza purrs into motion at about 4 p.m. and then takes two hours to roll up the edgy and snaky road, first past Ki monastery then Chichum’s exciting ropeway and finally, to Khibber.
It gets really off road here.
|View from the roof of my homestay.|
Earlier in the evening, when the bus from Kaza pulled in at Khibber (the second highest motorable village in the world) the driver offered to help find me a place to stay for the night. But before he could proceed to tell me about his friend’s very comfortable homestay, I had jumped down the cluttered stairs with my backpack and shamelessly asked the woman with the egg crates if I could stay with her for the night. Sita, with her meticulously done braid and unforgettable freckles. The woman who pays up in case you run out of change. The one who needs help figuring out how to undo the silent mode on her phone; peering into the small screen through her pink glasses. For her the trust is built. I can stay. From the bus station (which is just at the entrance of the village) I follow my local host Sita on an earthen trail that borders someone’s pea field on the left; balancing a crate of eggs she has purchased from Kaza. In Khibber one doesn’t find these essential items of daily necessity. There are no grocery stores here. What comes, comes from the forest or the fields or off the animals. For the rest, go down to Kaza.
|The Potato Momos|
I never get used to the breath-taking view over the duration of my stay; neither the breathlessness. Altitude sickness is a bummer here. Someone like me can’t simply trot off for a trek at Khibber. In fact, life is rather unusual here and makes me feel like a real privileged spoilt brat and I’m almost put in my place. Like when I have to cram my neck at a correct angle to catch the elusive BSNL network near that nail by the window. I wait diligently trying again and again. Not angry, just praying. Then there are the frequent power cuts that punctuate Govinda’s films and give me a chance to chat with Norzom (Sita’s eldest unmarried daughter).For dinner, Padma (the third eldest girl), Tanzin (the eldest son) and Sita make momos. Atta was kneaded in the evening and kept aside. The aloo was boiled simultaneously and later mixed with onions, salt and local garlic. Fat round chapattis stuffed with boiled aloo and steamed. Along with the dumpling there’s spicy chutney made of tomatoes, chillies, onions and dhania, stored in a small plastic container, that was passed around from plate to plate.
|The living room of the home.|
There probably wasn’t a better way to spend my time at Khibber than with a family of five. The day is short lived here and one is limited indoors after sunset. A valley so exposed to nature can be isolating for a solo traveller, but with Sita’s family I experienced home. With a TV playing out in the corner, a toddler romping about on a plastic cycle, siblings running about, Sita chatting with Rinzin chachi and me over occasional sips of chhang – I almost didn’t notice the whooshing of wind and the impenetrable darkness outside.
Author Bio: Neetole Mitra is a travel storyteller at Living Unplanned. She roams the streets of India in search of humour and to celebrate trivial events no one else cares about. You can also find her on Instagram and Twitter
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