I consider Dhankar to be one of the most stunning places in the entire Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. I went there first in 2007 when Seshadri, Dilip and I were trekking in the region. We started our trek from Langza and ended at Dhankar. I was extremely thrilled to go back to Dhankar in 2015. I was quite curious to see what might have changed in the intervening years. I was an Assistant Professor back then in 2007 and I was going back after quitting my job in 2015!
We did a homestay trek together. I remembered my host in Dhankar so well even now. Her name was Asha. She was the only woman who spoke such good Hindi among all my hosts! I remembered her home because it was right next to the fort. I wanted to meet her, if possible.
This time we were staying at the Monastery Guesthouse in Dhankar. It has six-seven rooms in all. It is run by a young man from Shimla now.
The monastery guesthouse was there in 2007 as well but I do not have much idea about it as I didn’t stay there. There is another small guest house in the village now. Otherwise homestay is still the dominant option in Dhankar.
Dhankar is a village perched high up in the mountains. The house are along a semi-circle. Spiti River flows next to it. It has an old monastery, a fort almost in ruins and a new monastery. Above the village are the earth pillars standing guard. It is a surreal place! And in that aspect it remains exactly the same.
Seshadri and I trekked to the Dhankar Lake in 2007, this time I could not do the trek so I missed out on revisiting the beautiful lake. For that I am quite willing to make another trip to the region!
In 2007 there were no shops in Dhankar that opened for the length of the day. There are two shops now one with the monastery and another in the village but none of them are open for the entire business day. I was told that I could go and ask the monks to open the shop if I needed something. Not much has changed in that respect.
There was no phone connection at Dhankar, landline or mobil,e and it remains the same in 2015. It is said that BSNL mobiles will come to the village the next year though. There was electricity and road way back in 2007 so it is there in 2005 as well.
We walked to the fort in the evening on my recent trip. I remembered it well as we would keep running to the fort every hour from Asha’s home. While I was standing on top of the fort I saw a lady come out on what I thought was my previous homestay. I asked her in Hindi, “Is this Asha ji’s home?” Surprised she turned back and said yes. I told her I stayed with her in 2007. She immediately invited all five of us for tea! I could make out she didn’t remember me. That is how people of Spiti are, they will ask you to tea if they don’t remember you!
We had a chat about my stay in 2007. I learned that she didn’t keep well last year and had to undergo an operation in Delhi. But she was recovering well. Her daughter studied in Kinnaur and she was now in 10th standard! I felt so happy to meet Asha again. I asked her if fetching water was still an issue in the village to which she said no in summers water was not a problem at all as there are pipelines now. I was happy to hear that because in 2007 one of her biggest complaint was about fetching the water!
I feel it in my bones that I will go back to Spiti soon and if I go back to Dhankar I am going to meet Asha again and give her the pictures we clicked this time.
So how much has Dhankar changed in the last eight years? While I leave the final judgement to you but if you will ask me, not much has changed. Whether it is a good thing or not, I don’t know.
Looking at your comments on my previous posts, a lot more people seem to be willing to travel to Spiti, Himachal Pradesh. To make your journey more comfortable here are ten things to know before you travel to Spiti. It might provide some food for thought as well!
Prepare for High Altitude
Kaza the district headquarter is at an altitude of 3650 meters (11,980 feet). Chandratal is at 4,300 meters (14,100 feet). As there is less oxygen than we are used to, it can lead to what is called AMS or acute mountain sickness. While I am no expert on it, I believe in acclimatization. If you take it easy initially and gain height slowly, your body will get used to the less oxygen.
There is a common medicine called Diamox for altitude sickness as well. All my guides carry it. But I never had any need to use it. The ultimate authority on the topic is your doctor and you. But I do not like what some trekking agencies seem to be doing these days, rush the trip, cut down on acclimatization and prescribe Diamox for everyone!
Drinking and High Altitude don’t Mix Well
I am not big on drinking. One glass of very watery rum is all I might have on the cold nights in the hills. And even that creates trouble for me at high altitude. In the picture above I look lost in thought! I was actually holding my head as I had a hangover from that watery glass of rum mixed with the altitude at Chandratal last year. This year as we reached Chandratal in one go by road, I anyway had a headache. For the first night I didn’t drink any alcohol and I hardly ate anything. By the next day, I was fine.
There are No Roads
The roads to Spiti are bad. There are hardly any roads in fact. There is more mud and stone than tar on the roads. It makes for a very tiring journey. A lot of ‘nalas’ flow on the road. The ‘nalas’ get formed due to snow melt. The water increases as the sun gets higher. So it is easier to cross the ‘nalas’ early during the day time. That is why drivers insist on an early start.
Also if you wish to stop at ever bend, and believe me you will want to, to take pictures it makes sense to start early. Your driver will not like it at all if you delay the arrival till late as he is the one who will have to drive on bad roads in failing light.
Private Vehicle is Expensive, Public Transport Sparse
Hiring a private vehicle to Spiti would be the single most expensive addition to the cost of the trip. It gives you a lot of flexibility about when to travel, what to see, where to go etc. There is hardly any public transport in Spiti. People hitchhike, use the rare buses that ply in season, ask for lift in canters, with Lamas and somehow get wherever they wish to. Keep this is mind when you plan your trip. If you are driving your own vehicle, that is another matter. As I have never done it, I have nothing much to say about it.
Homestay is an Option
People do offer a room in their homes at in most of the villages in Spiti. All the places that I stayed in 2007 were clean and beautiful. Back then not too many people spoke Hindi, but they do now. Homestays seem to be on the rise now.
Guesthouse are the Norm
Other than homestays there are guesthouses where you can stay. There are no star hotels in Spiti. At the time of Buddhist festivals all the guesthouses will get full. If His Holiness, the Dalai Lama is in the region, that particular village will be jam packed.
You Cannot Camp by the Edge of the Chandratal Lake
However much you may like, no one can pitch a tent next to the Chandratal Lake. The forest department has a restriction of 2 kilometers distance from the lake.
Spiti is Beautiful
Do I really need to elaborate on this? This is the view of Dhankar Village in the Spiti valley from the balcony of my guesthouse.
Go with an Open Mind
The two common traits of the cities do not work well in the hills. First is aggressiveness. Spiti is a quiet region, people are peaceful. You will do better with the gentle people if you leave home your ‘can do’ ‘go getter’ attitude. The other thing that is jarring is that ‘everyone is out there to make a fast buck at your expanse’. Believe me, it will be an insult to almost everyone in this region. The norms are different, the society is different and the pace is different. I am not saying that you trust people blindly, but go with an open mind and less of the city aggression.
Only BSNL Phones Work in the Region
All the phones become dumb boxes in the region unless you have BSNL. BSNL is the only network that works in the region. At Dhankar there is not even BSNL. In Kaza you can make a STD call like the good old days.
I will give you two bonus tips, there is no airport in the region! From Manali side there will be an ATM only at Kaza and no one can predict if it will have money or not. And you can forget credit cards for the duration of the trip.
There is a route from Shimla but unfortunately I have not done that till now. I will try hard to rectify this the next year. And in the end I guess I wrote this post just to show you more pictures from Spiti!
PS. My guide for this trip was Rama Kant Sharma.