Humm, what to write about...we're sitting in the corner of a restaurant, at the only two computers in the town of Rekong Peo. I just finished a chai, which in India is a delicious mix of milk, tea, and about a pound of sugar, so my head is spinning a bit. Steve and I have been milling about town all day, drinking chai (or, in Steve's case, Coke), reading our books, writing in the journal, checking out the strip of shops on the main street, and now finally on the internet. We had meant to leave today for Nako, a small gompa in the Spiti Valley, but we couldn't get our Inner Line Permits processed before the last bus left. The permit process should be simple - show your passport, fill out a form, and then get it stamped and signed by a government official, but, alas, nothing is simple in India. We, along with about 8 other gringos, were at the office at 10 AM sharp when it opened, and were herded from one building to the next over three hours, before finally being presented with our official papers. Happily, with the exception of a few impatient Isrealis, we were with a good crowd, and it was quite enjoyable to chat and swap stories for a few hours. But, the end result was a missed bus, so here we are.
The last few posts have been a bit negative about India, and, well, I can't lie and say my first impressions of this country were overly positive. But, that has all (or nearly all) changed in the past couple weeks. Northern India and the Himalayas are incredible, more incredible than I had expected. We did a three day trek a couple days ago, from the Spiti Valley south to the Kinnaur Valley. The Spiti Valley is dry (in the rain shadow) and is overwhelmingly Buddhist, populated by Tibetan refugees. The Kinnaur Valley is wetter, more lush, and inhabited by Hindus. Tall mountains soar throughout the entire area, and our trek allowed us constant views of glacier-ridden peaks, glacially-carved valleys, and, of course, sheep, cows, goats, and shepherds. After our hike, we spent two nights in a small village up in the mountains (ok, so everything here is "up in the mountains"), day-hiking and relaxing. We found a place with a kitchen, so were able to cook our own meals, which was quite the luxury. Indian food is amazing, but nothing beats being able to buy vegetables at the local market and cook them exactly the way you want. It was great!
I'm really looking forward to our continuation north toward Ladakh. We've had a taste of Buddhist and Tibetan culture in Spiti, and I'm very intrigued by it. The prayer flags draped on every bridge, restaurant, home, and stupa are beautiful, and convey a sort of peace and calmness to the region that I really enjoy. The people are beautiful, with their hardened faces and big eyes, and they seem more accepting and less abrasive in their interactions with us and others. I've been looking ahead in the LP, and it looks like there are many trekking routes crisscrossing the area, many of them 10+ days long. Sign me up!