Since we’ve spent much of our time in Spiti in Lari and Tabo, we decided we should use the last day or two here to see at least one more place, so our first choice was Dhangkar, the old capital of the Spiti valley. There are no buses to Dhangkar but a share taxi runs there from Kaza every evening.
But we were in Lari, which is in the opposite direction, and as things happen, all our carefully timed plans of meeting the share taxi on its way up to Dhangkar failed miserably and we found ourselves at around five in the evening at Sichling, from which Dhangkar is a steep 4 km uphill hike, with quite a bit of baggage and no ride.
So of course we had no choice but to start walking. A guy at the post office in Sichling assured us that the short cut walking route (which is the 4 km one) would take us no more than 45 minutes. And by now we know that that translates to about 2 hours minimum for us.
Half hour in to the walk – I doubt we’d done even a third of the distance – we were completely exhausted, when we saw three cars coming up the road to Dhangkar. Since we were on the short cut, we were off the road, so we did a quick uphill scramble to get to the road and wait for the cars. The first two turned out to be government vehicles that totally ignored us. Just as our spirits were failing the third slowed down to a halt and the driver, a PWD engineer from a nearby village, gave us a ride. I don’t drive a car, but if I ever do and especially up a hill road, I will never-never ignore lift –seekers.
Our entry into Dhangkar was most dramatic.
Dhangkar is like a fortress city protected by forbidding spiky cliffs from above and a steep climb below. It was around six thirty as we drove in, and cows, yak and donkeys suddenly erupted from every direction and came racing down the cliffs towards the village. All the hundreds of cattle of the entire village were all being herded home together.
Suddenly one of the cattle-herders called out to Iswar and we looked up to see that it was Chering, Tashe’s nephew who also worked at Zion Cafe. We knew that Chering had come home to Dhangkar but we had no clue how to find him.
The houses in Dhangkar are in clusters and each cluster is at the end of a long climb so we had just been wondering which climb to attempt when Chering appeared. That’s chering with his daughter.
Chering’s house turned out to be one of the topmost in the village and as we did the fifteen minute walk up to his house, the cattle kept streaming down the mountain sides. One of the most surreal sights we have ever seen. Around a hundred houses in dhangkar, each house having their own cows for milk and meat, yaks for milk and meat and other load bearing work, horses for riding, donkeys for carrying things, sheep and goat for milk and meat. So all in all some 20 animals per household minimum. So that’s almost 2000 animals that just take over the entire space at 6 in the evening when they return from grazing. They are all made to stay in the basement for winter. We stayed the night at cherings place and walked around a bit the next day, mainly to the monastery and to buy some munchies at the local store. All in all just waiting for 6pm when we would be able to film =)
Here are some images from dhangkar in no particular order
Everyhousehold is given one of these
and one of these. Standard issue from the government.
Come 5 pm both of us head out to a nice vantage point to be able to get some long shots. We split up when we see the cattle moving on top of the mountain. Anushka stays perched up near the monastry as the camera she handles has only an 18-55 lens and I try and get as armed with a 55-200 lens. That’s me, that little dot in the middle.
The wind is sharp and it very soon it starts to get bloody cold. The animals come and surround me fully and I am busy shooting away. Looking back at the footage now I realise how much of it is waste because I was so over enthu about capturing everything that I never focused long enough on one thing. Which meant we were left with very few usable shots. Enough to make a story but not even close to do justice to the space. I don’t see anushka anywhere. I come back some hour and a half later to find that it got too cold and she wanted to use the bathroom. So she went back to the room. Grr. But its ok, she went up on the terrace and shot from there =)
Here go a few more random images. As you can tell space wise this place was a clear favourite. =) felt very sad to be leaving early morning the next day. Barely spent 36 hours here. But had to rush back to kaza in the only available share taxi in the morning as we wanted to go see kei and kibber for a few hours before we caught the bus and began a four day journey back to chennai.