Friday, September 25, 2020

Unchartered trails & star hugs – A solo female traveller’s guide to the Spitian Galaxy

One of the most delightful persons I came across in Spiti was Takpa, a trusted team member at Ecosphere who can always find a reason to smile. We would often share banter about the village he hailed from, Chicham.

‘Jannat’ is the word he would choose to describe it, and I would often express disappointment at how I never got a chance to visit Chicham. To this he would say, “You have to wait for the more remarkable things in your life”. I would like to believe that. It is also tough to not let your patience waver.


Four years ago, my father - an ardent reader of unusual and in-between-the-lines stuff - handed me an article about a young woman spearheading a beautiful initiative by the name of Ecosphere in Spiti.

Three years, plenty of reading, and INTENSE discussions with my family later, I found myself boarding a bus to Rekong Peo. I had packed only for one. Solo travel was unchartered territory for me, much like Spiti - the Middle Land.

So, naturally, there were many reservations floating around safety, health, stay, travel, expenses, and of course network issues, which demanded and deserved our attention. Heads up! Your love for the mountains might not count as a rebuttal to your family right away. In hindsight, that was actually a good thing. In trying to persuade my family, I felt pressured to find more information, read more, look up people and stories that could provide valuable lessons and help prepare a little better.

Watching travel vlogs on YouTube and intentional scrolling through articles on reliable websites (eg Tripoto, Devil on Wheels and other local webpages) proved to be an insightful exercise. I also contacted a bunch of women travellers on social media and asked countless questions. Quick tip: Never shy away from asking for help and keep up a workout routine for better acclimatization.

Finding a place to stay

I decided to stay with Ecosphere and volunteered to help run their Sol Café. My association with Ecosphere was a relief to the many safety and stay concerns. Regardless of whether you’re working with them or not, the Ecosphere-run Osel Rooms is a popular and trusted option for visitors. And overall, Kaza is a generous host with a number of hostels, guest houses, homestays, and hotels suited to every budget. You’ll find plenty of accommodation within walking distance of the main market. Female dorms in hostels are a favored and safe option for many women travelers who might be keeping an eye on the budget. You can easily look them up online and even pre-book them.

“How will you get there?”

That was the next big question and took the longest time to decide! Taxis turned out to be slightly disruptive to my budget. Initially, overnight journeys in public transport were a straight up no for my folks. But after being reassured of its effectiveness, my brother, who has always been with me at various turning points in my life, helped me book my bus ticket from Chandigarh to Rekong Peo. That was the first time I knew that this was happening- for real!

Feel free to take your own vehicle with someone trusted and with mountain-road experience behind the wheel. The views are charming, but the terrain, testing. Keep an eye out for the petrol pumps. In fact, map their locations well in advance and refuel whenever you get a chance. Although slightly pricey, private taxis are perfect for those who like their space and want to take their sweet time to reach the destination. You can easily find shared taxis from Rampur, Kalpa, and Peo as well.

It was a comfortable overnight ride from Chandigarh to Peo which lasted for close to 13 hours. After staying in Rekong for one night, the following morning I got my bus ticket for Kaza. The journey from Peo to Kaza was close to 11 hours long - a tad tiring, yet immensely memorable. I was lucky to connect with a couple of passengers at the outset who would often cross paths with me in the days to come. My anxiety seemed to ease a little with every steep bend we passed. My excitement received a push with the changing landscape which was at one point very Martian-like. We got off at Kaza Bus Station and I strapped on my backpack while it rained and started to walk towards Osel Rooms- my home for the next fortnight.

Osel Rooms – My Mountain Home

Since it was pouring, I didn’t pay close attention to the surroundings, but the vibe the place gave off was great! I reached Taste of Spiti (TOS), an Ecosphere-run restaurant which houses Osel Rooms over it. Neema, a reliable team member greeted me with a ‘Julley’. The tea that he offered was all that I needed in that moment. Neema dutifully encouraged me to take it easy for the rest of the evening and take time to acclimatize. He said that Buddha Purnima was due in a few days. and that I would want to be fit to join the celebrations.

With that, I settled into my cozy room upstairs which I was sharing with two wonderful female solo travelers, who also happened to be my co-volunteers. Although it took me a while (and an extra pair of socks) to get warm under the blankets, I slept with the moonlight falling on my face. Quick tip: Layer your clothes at all times!

At around half past 6, I woke up to the sounds of birds chirping. The air I was breathing was chilly, but I was snug in my bed. It is indeed a beautiful start to the day when a magnificent snow-capped mountain wishes you a good morning.   City habits caused me to check my phone first thing - No WhatsApp notifications! Just an SMS from my family.

Mobile network in Spiti can be a concern for a lot of people. Get a BSNL or a Jio sim card. Internet is still a bit tricky throughout Spiti, but you’ll find some connectivity in Kaza. It would really help you to keep some local numbers handy and share them with your family too. Contact them whenever there’s network. If your folks at home are anything like mine, try and send them a text at regular intervals.

Acclimatization and Self-Care

In a few days - assuming I had acclimatized well- I began bothering less about hydrating myself or keeping my neck warm. Rookie mistake! And, enduring the start of a dust storm on return from a hike made the inevitable happen next morning. I was throwing up and showed signs of mild AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness) + a really bad throat. 

But thankfully, Norbu whipped up medicine which was magic and Neema kept the kettle going. Sharmishtha and Akhila, my amazing roommates made sure I was tucked up well. I was up and about the next day, just with extra caution. So, I shall trust you to take care, pack sunscreen, and wear that extra layer of clothing.

Volunteering at Sol Café

Sol Café was my work station for the next two weeks. It is a bright, warm and inviting space with enough tables to host a crowd without ever making it feel overcrowded.

Most days in Kaza were spent at Sol alongside Lobstar and Singhey, who took me under their wing. My co-volunteer, Akhila, and I would often have tea with them while sitting outdoors during quieter hours and discuss post-dinner plans. An impromptu dance evening with locals, guests, volunteer friends, and Singhey is one of the great memories I have of Sol!

When you’re here, make sure to write and flip through the travellers book that is placed near the window. You’ll also get used to ending your evenings with a steaming cup of ginger honey or seabuckthorn tea, and sometimes. something slightly stronger ;)

The food choices in cafes, restaurants, and local stalls are a myriad of flavors which go beyond regional tastes. Do not miss the tingmo or Neema’s Garden Keu or local bread w/ seabuckthorn jam at the neighbouring Taste of Spiti restaurant. Also, local stores and shops line the area with something for everyone.

In its peak season, Kaza can very well be called a global village. One morning at Sol, I took 4 different orders of people from El Salvador, France, England and Israel, only to see them all sitting together around a table when I returned with their food.

I’ll be eternally grateful for meeting some incredible people quite early on in my trips. We often went for long walks after dinner. We would find a spot decent enough to lie down in silence and let the stars put on a show for us. Every now and then, we’d check up on each other and ask if they’re okay. That actually translated into, “Could we stay here for just a little while longer?” And we would stay until the cold defeated our jackets or even our blankets on some nights!

Three suggestions: 1. Meet and greet. 2. Download Sky Maps 3. If you have the luxury while planning your visit, consider the phase of the moon for a good night sky.

Travelling in Spiti

The distances here between locations are great and petrol pumps, scarce. So, if you’re travelling in your own vehicle, mind that fuel gauge and always take a local’s opinion before heading off somewhere.

State-run buses cover the area rather well and with a decent frequency. Enquire about the timings well in advance since some routes aren’t functional on a daily basis. Renting a bike or booking a local taxi-shared or private-is a popular option.

The last resort (first for some)-is hitchhiking. You might not have to wait at all or stay put for an hour or more, but you’ll find a ride-a bike, car, tractor or truck. I urge you to try it if you get the chance. But, remember to trust your gut and always thank the people for letting you tag along.

Thankfully, I found the time and people to explore the area without slacking off at the café. Once, we went on an impromptu afternoon visit to Rangrik and a neighboring nunnery (which by the way, was not abandoned as informed!). 

Shout out to Akhila, who rode the two-wheeler like she owned the road. Overnight stays at Dhankar and Mudh with a few friends that I made early on were insanely beautiful for more reasons than one.

Learning and Growth

It was not all peachy here. There were moments of uncertainty, waiting, sickness, longing, confusion or reluctance. Sometimes you struggle with a lack of faith. But, this is how we learn and grow.

For me, it was the people who made this a memorable visit. The visitors that I came across in different parts of the town became regular customers, who became Jenga frenemies, who then became stargazing partners and before you know it, they were friends who bid an overwhelmed adieu at the bus station. 

Spiti has a subtle alchemy. My experience was a perfect harmony of the most gorgeous landscape and the warmest people. Give the surroundings some time and respect to get acquainted. You feel alive with every breath. The colours of the prayer flags radiate a resounding feeling of warmth, hope, love and safety. It is like being engulfed in a massive hug! 

I did come here alone, however, I rarely ever felt lonely.  

Like most people, I rambled stories after stories once I came back home. My folks were excited and patient to hear what I had to say. But, I quickly realized there was so much they couldn’t relate to and, I felt terrible. However, that’s turned into my motivation for taking them there someday. I’ll never forget that if it weren’t for my parents and brother, I would never have been able to share these experiences in the first place. So, you can blame them for this lengthy article!

 You know the feeling when something within you has changed, but you can't really put a finger on it? Yet, you're happy and content. That's what I feel after this tiny visit to a land of magic. For the first time, in a long time, I walk with my head up. What Spiti also left me with is some faith and star-hugs, something I would otherwise doubt myself of ever having.

If I ever find myself feeling unlucky or ungrateful, a reflection on my time in Spiti always makes me feel otherwise.

With that, let me share one last anecdote.

It was one of my last days of volunteering at Sol Café. The sun was bright. The air, crisp and cold. The people, warm. My heart was filled with utter joy. We were chatting away when I mentioned, “Lobsang, I’ll try my best to make it back to Spiti again”. He replied with a smile, “A lot of people say that, but a lot of times, people get caught up with their life and seldom visit us again.” Ouch! But without missing another moment he added, “Don’t worry, come back here soon again and we would love to host you again” And, just like that, with a renewed sense of confidence and hope, I sipped on my ginger honey tea.

It’s been a little over a year since that conversation. And, to be honest, life does seem to have caught up in an uncertain way. But, I often find myself reminiscing moments from my time in Spiti with great fondness, and an even greater hope of going back.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Life as a Local

I wheezed my way to Butit’s place, which was going to be my home for the next 3 nights.
Man, two months of Yoga doesn’t prepare you for a hike at 4200 m!

The entrance to Butit’s house was a small green door that was grossly inadequate to accommodate an average built Indian man. All the winter layering only added to the woes. The door opened to a dimly-lit passage, which smelt of spices, dust, and cow-dung. Bending was the only way to avoid banging my head on the ceiling. A heavy backpack and bent back made me gasp for air. The passage seemed overcrowded with 3 adults and 4 backpacks.

‘Please don’t expect any luxuries in the homestays. Houses in Demul are basic. That’s how you live like a local in Spiti.’ Ishita Khanna, founder of Ecosphere had warned us before we left Kaza.

Cheap stays on my travels don’t bother me. On the contrary, whenever my accommodation crosses the 3-digit mark, ‘traveler-not-tourist’ inside me feels betrayed. Yet that unending passage, which though only a few meters long, rattled me. I was reminded of my Economics class, where I would check the watch every 15 minutes, only to find merely a minute had passed. Time never stood still before or after that course; that is till I had traversed this passage. Walls constricted, ceiling slipped lower and the floor edged upwards.


Screaming and running out of her house loomed large when Butit turned to climb the stairs and arrived in yet another passage – roomy and well-lit. Man! I was relieved.

In the front was Butit’s room.

It was not only her bedroom but also the kitchen, study, dining, and living room, all combined into one, as I would come to know later. Mattresses were spread across the length of the floor on three sides. At the center was a stove, which was also a room-heater. The ropes with an overload of clothes were tied along bright yellow walls, which were decorated by two Shahrukh Khan posters often found in road-side barbershops. The window served multiple purposes, primary of which was communication between people on the inside and those on the street.

To my right was a dry toilet.

Basic homestay, remember?

The dry toilet was a tiny room with a door, no windows, and a hole on the floor. You were expected to have a good aim to ensure your business passed through that hole. The skylight let the warm gases exit the toilet.

To my left was my room.

The only indulgence I yearned for was a place to straighten my back. I had surrendered all hopes of a comfortable stay. But when I opened the door, what stared back at me was heaven!

The room was several notches above my expectations: two beds with thick blankets and real mattresses, colonizing more than half the room; neatly tucked floral bedsheet and matching pillow-covers; two chairs and a table – with a jug and a flower pot; pink walls and blue ceiling; half the walls covered with bamboo mats; the only window opening to the view of fields.

Gazing at my room, I would have beaten Buddha in experiencing gratitude. For a person, who constantly grapples with thankfulness, this emotion was an epiphany. I never appreciated my fully-furnished 2000 sq. ft. flat in Gurgaon. Forget appreciation, I never even noticed it.  But at Demul, something novel happened, and I wasn’t sure why!

Was it because I was tired?

Or was it because I was far from home – traveling – and expecting a transformation that comes with it?

Or was I not grateful – simply relived looking at a clean room after a long day?
Answers to those questions eluded me. Probably, the answer wasn’t what I looked for. I was in an inebriated space: slightly overwhelmed and happy high. Before that feeling ebbed and was replaced by something mundane, I wanted to cherish it. In an all-knowing world, I wanted a few mysteries to stay: mysteries, which were pleasant! Mysteries, which were entirely mine.

I dumped my backpack on the floor and crashed on my bed. My tired limbs were rested but my mind was hyperactive, absorbing the Spiti I had come to acquaint myself with. Butit brought Maggi and tea, which I wolfed down in minutes.

Before I could lay and contemplate about the shift of my axis, Takpa barged in.

Takpa Tenzin was our tour guide. Around 6 feet in height, he had broad shoulders and healthy physique, quite like the folks of mountains. Like how magenta robes become the part of monks’ body, the green-blue chequered jacket had become Takpa’s extended skin. The disheveled hair and light mustache suited his triangular weather-beaten face.

He usually had a joke for every situation – though lame, it managed to crack everyone.

‘Don’t be a Gama. In the land of Lama’, he warned those, who tried to be over-ambitious while hiking.

He apparently knew 75% of Spiti, which was around 7500 people and was 56 years of age.
‘WHAT? 56? You don’t look that old’, I remarked, aghast.

‘Maybe it’s the mountain effect – preservation of age’, someone else acted wisely.

Only under the influence of a few beers did he reveal that he was 37. But till then, we had stopped believing him.

On one of the days, when we went for high-altitude trekking, and we all struggled, including the avid American trekker, Takpa came to our rescue:

‘This is not a rally. Enjoy the valley’.

So, we enjoyed the valley.

His evening visits had become a ritual. He would come, crack a weighty remark here, a witty remark there, eat a little, drink something, and share the plan for the next day.
Life as a Local' lets you stay with the local people, observe their routine, help solve their problems. Tomorrow, we are going to dig ditches in the fields.’

Dig ditches? How will that help? I wondered.

‘Spiti is a cold desert. We barely get any rainfall here but ample snowfall. So, the trenches you work on, get filled with snow in winters. The snow melts in summers and increases the water-table.’

Geared with picks, shovels, and fervor, we marched towards the fields. The prospect of making a difference to someone’s life thrilled me. I never tried that near my home, but while traveling, it was different.

‘Experiential travel’, they say. You can write about it.

‘Take rest whenever you are tired’, Takpa instructed.

We took his instruction to heart. We rested after every 8th strike to the ground – strikes that made absolutely no impact on the depth of the ditches.

The zest stayed high, with the girls taking the charge. Though it was not so long-lived. The stark contrast between efforts and results sneered at us: the gusto went downhill, starting from the masculine side.

The girls tried to motivate us to get up, pick the shovels, and remove the dirt.

That didn’t work.

So, they resorted to insults.

That worked.

By the evening, when the job was done to our satisfaction and to Takpa’s dissatisfaction, we left the field, fantasizing about a hot shower and a warm bed.

‘Can we get some hot water?’ I asked Butit.

She didn’t seem to comprehend. My request seemed so axiomatic that I hadn’t prepared for an explanation. So, I repeated:

‘Can we get some hot water for a bath? We are filled with dust.’

‘OK’, she replied, with a mixed expression of reluctance and displeasure, which only a person slogging over the weekend can show.

What the hell! Haven’t we paid enough to take a bath at least? I thought, feeling a little annoyed.

But ignoring the hiccup, I went and chatted with Norbu, Butit’s son, who was aware of Gmail and Facebook despite no internet connection in Spiti. One of his books read:

Every child is special. You are extra special because you are a child of Himalayas.

‘I want to go to Delhi,’ Norbu said.

‘Why? What a terrible place, full of smoke and dust and smog and filth,’ we retorted.

‘But it's big and I want to see a big city. Till now, I have only been to Kaza a few times.’

‘What will you do there?’

‘What do YOU do there?’


Our chain of the conversation was broken when from the window I saw, a tiny woman afar, walking with a large tank on her back. The tank was three quarters her height and was held by a rope. She wiggled her way uphill and skittered downhill. My adrenalin was high just by looking her stride, nervous that the tank will fall, and her water will go down the drain along with her effort.

‘Damn difficult life. These guys toil really hard’, I said, receiving a whole-hearted agreement from my room-mate.

‘That is mummy’, Norbu said.


Flashes of how I struggled to reach Butit’s house just the day before shimmered in my memory. And now, she walked the same distance with a barrel full of water so that we could take bath.

We were silent for a while, the quiet broken only by the clanking of the utensils Butit used to prepare our meal.

‘Water is ready.’

Bathing felt lucrative earlier but now I was reluctant and displeased. Water, such an inconspicuous item, never drew so much reverence or guilt. Every mug of water crashed against my skin and jolted something inside the ribs.

For the next two days, I washed my used utensils, helped peel potatoes, talked a little less, listened a little more.

I didn’t take a shower for the rest of the trip.

Yash travelled with Ecosphere on our Life as a Local program. Follow his adventures on Instagram @angryfatman

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

I Love Spiti

You know times are strange when people prefer bottled “Himalayan” water packaged in the plains and transported to the mountains, instead of drinking the real deal - filtered Himalayan water in Spiti! 

Many people continue to purchase bottled water with unquestioning faith - a perception that it is safer and of higher quality. Advertisements and visuals in popular media have us believe that bottled water originates from the purest springs high up in the mountains! However, this is extremely rare, and often untrue.

Most bottled water comes from sources similar to the municipal water supply which goes through additional filtering. Ultimately, what makes the water special (and expensive) are its branding and packaging!

Each time you drink out of a plastic bottle, you risk the possibility of ingesting the chemicals used to make the bottles. These chemicals can leach into the water over time - especially in old plastic bottles that people reuse and/or those that have been exposed to heat.

What does this mean for a region such as Spiti? Let’s dive in with some shocking facts about bottled water in the ecologically fragile Trans-Himalayas:

  • Tourists leave behind over 3,00,000 plastic bottles each year. These are just conservative estimates!

  • An average tourist consumes 2-3 bottles per day that accumulates in landfills, riverbeds, fields, or everywhere throughout Spiti

  • Bottled water comes into Spiti from the plains. During transportation and also while being displayed, these bottles are exposed to heat constantly. This often causes bottles to leach BPA (Bisphenol A) – a chemical known to cause cancer – into the bottled water.

  • Bottled water has less oxygen than groundwater. We need all the oxygen we can get in the high-altitude regions of Spiti!

  • Plastic bottles take a minimum of 500 years to decompose! We might think we’ve done our bit by discarding bottles in a dustbin, but they typically end up in a dumping ground next to the Spiti River

  • Reusing plastic bottles isn't an alternative either. Single-use bottles leach harmful chemicals into the liquids stores in the bottle. The nearest recycling center is about 500 km away in Punjab

  • If burnt or buried, the bottles release harmful chemicals into the air, groundwater, or soil, ultimately polluting local food or water. These chemicals cause cancer, heart disease, hormonal imbalance, and other serious ailments.

Plastic waste discarded near the Spiti river

Give us a mountain and we’ll climb it!

In 2017, Ecosphere and a group of passionate volunteers banded together to start the #ilovespiti campaign. It was a campaign born out of love for Spiti and collective dismay at the increasing amounts of plastic waste in the Valley.

Through the I Love Spiti campaign, Ecosphere aims to:

  • Educate the community, local businesses, and travelers about the impact of plastic on one’s health and the environment

  • Collect as much recyclable waste off the mountainsides of Spiti to send out of the valley for appropriate recycling 

  • Reduce the use of plastic bottled water by providing drinking water refill points across the valley

Interventions in Spiti

To Inform and Inspire

Confronted by a mammoth task but determined to move forward, we set out to engage key stakeholders for discussions on sustainable solutions to the plastic problem in Spiti.

Local community: We discovered that most locals in Spiti have been reusing plastic water or fizzy drink bottles to store milk, Arak (the local liquor), and water. We met with local women’s groups and Anganwadi workers to educate them on the harmful chemicals that leach from the bottles into the liquids over time. To illustrate the message clearly, we conducted a live demonstration of an empty bottle exposed briefly to the heat of a candle.

Over the years, pregnancy and heart problems, cancer, and other diseases have been on the rise in rural Spiti – exposure to toxic chemicals through plastic could well be a contributing reason. A viable alternative for locals is locally-available stainless steel containers to store liquids. Ecosphere continues to conduct awareness drives with locals. 

Travelers: At the same time, we also actively engaged with the buzzing traveler, backpacker, and biker communities in Spiti. Our volunteers put up posters at various sites to make travelers aware of the impact of plastic and improper garbage disposal. 

The World’s Highest InstaMeet

We took to social media to spread the word and garner more support from across the world. With the help of volunteers, we brought together a passionate group of locals and travelers for the highest InstaMeet in the world at 12000 ft! It was a wonderful and thought-provoking session on Responsible Travel and how to eliminate plastic waste from the Valley. 

Art for a Cause

The I Love Spiti Installation

In 2017, our amazing group of volunteers took their passion for the cause further – with an artistic declaration of enduring love for Spiti in the form of an art installation. While similar to public art installations on Love across the world, the I Love Spiti installation is special since it was made from discarded plastic bottles and led by volunteers. 2018 saw volunteers build more such installations.

When you’re traveling to Spiti next, stop by to view the installation at the Kaza gate on the way to Kee Monastery. Each time tourists pass by or take a picture with the installation we hope it inspires them to make a positive impact and leave Spiti pristine and plastic-free.

Collection drives and recycling 

We initiated collection drives of plastic bottles littered across the valley which were sent down to Manali for recycling. In 2019, we collected over 2000 water bottles with the help of volunteers. 

Watch this video for glimpses on what we were able to do and how you can Make a Difference on your travels to Spiti.

Water Refill points 

In 2019 we set up 5 water refill points at key tourist destinations in Spiti to provide safe, filtered drinking water for people traveling through Spiti.

Ecosphere Water refill points in Spiti:

  • Kaza: Taste of Spiti, Sol Cafe

  • Kee: Kee Monastery

  • Komic: Spiti Organic Kitchen

  • Dhankar: Dhankar Monastery

  • Most family-run homestays across Spiti are also equipped with water filters

Ecosphere provides all our travelers with lifestraw/reusable stainless-steel bottles on our trips, while we continue working towards setting up other water refill points across Spiti. We hope our travelers continue using these bottles for their journeys elsewhere too :)

Turning Trash to Treasure 

Where there’s a will, there’s a way! Apart from the I Love Spiti installation, we were able to get creative and repurpose trash in other Ecosphere projects too.

Did you know that the interiors of Ecosphere’s Taste of Spiti restaurant in Kaza are made from discarded waste? 

The ambient vibes at Sol Café are made possible by our travelers, but some credit for the warmth also goes to an insulated window made from plastic bottles. 

Likewise, we’ve been able to use trash as insulation material in several of our greenhouses across Spiti.

What you can do 

  • Carry a reusable bottle and refill your bottles as much as possible at every hotel/ homestay. This will help save you money and help the environment.

  • Before booking your travel, hotel, homestay, or guesthouse in Spiti, ask in what ways they contribute to environmental conservation in Spiti. The best way to make businesses care is to demand it as their potential customers. 

  • Volunteer with us in Spiti or virtually – to take this project to the next level 😊

  • Carry your non-biodegradable waste back from Spiti and dispose of it in a city which has some form of waste management or recycling

  • Try out the local cuisine, fruit, and snacks instead of pre-packaged goods that come wrapped in plastic. You could also carry compact reusable containers and fill them with snacks of your choice for the duration of your travel 

  • Take a photo with Ecosphere’s I Love Spiti installation and pledge to say NO to plastic bottled water in Spiti

  • Encourage your fellow travelers to do all of the above!

‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has’ - Margaret Mead

Increasing amounts of plastic waste is a gargantuan world crisis. The odds may seem stacked against us, but everything we do as individuals counts!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

My Mountain Cuppa - Journeys through Film

Picture credits: Janusa Sangma

Those who love the mountains always find a way to get to them. But the pandemic has put a halt to all travel plans. Now all you can do is indulge in reminiscence, ‘Last year. This day. The best mountain view.’ And slowly, even those memories are fading away.

But we don’t want you to forget the mountains or fall short of mountain dreams.  So get ready to be transported back to the hills with these captivating mountain movies. They are magical, they will take you where you have been or where you could be. They are the stories of passionate travellers and true mountain lovers.  

Are you ready with your cuppa?

Everest (2015) 

If you haven’t seen Everest then we highly recommend it. This film is based on Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book Into Thin Air, which captures the real events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster. Through beautiful story-telling and direction, Everest highlights the survival attempts of two commercial expedition groups led by Rob Hall and his rival Scott Fischer (played by Jason Clark and Jake Gyllenhaal). Krakauer was, in fact, a part of Hall’s expedition as a journalist for the Outside magazine. Sadly, the expedition turns into a tragedy due to sudden turn of events.

This film also reveals how amateur mountaineers join such dangerous expeditions and put their and other climber’s lives at risk. Also, did we forget to mention the recent Everest traffic?

Into the Wild (2007)

Christopher McCandless. Sounds familiar? Into the Wild is based on the true story of Christopher “Alexander Supertramp’ McCandless. Emile Hirsch, through a spectacular performance, portrays McCandless who set out on a journey without any money and hitchhiked across North America into the Alaskan wilderness. McCandless stayed in the famous Fairbanks city school bus for 114 days before dying. And just recently, on June 18, the Alaska National Guard airlifted the bus out of the wilderness via a helicopter, stating that the bus had turned into a dangerous attraction for adventure seekers. 

Into the Wild is a perfect example of a wanderlust losing its way. Watch. Learn. Unlearn. 

Poorna (2017)

Not many have heard of this Indian film, yet it is a must-watch solely for the inspiration that one draws from it. This film revolves around the story of the youngest girl, Poorna Malavath, belonging to a Telugu-speaking tribal family, who climbs Mt Everest. It is a simple and straightforward tale of an incredible journey. Watch it for woman power, for much-needed motivation and for the love of mountains.

 Picture credits: Janusa Sangma

Highway (2014)

Written and directed by Imtiaz Ali, this film showcases North India in its most raw and honest form. The journey of the actors, Alia Batt and Randeep Hooda, is beautiful and leaves you wanting more. Watch this film to get immersed in the majestic locations of Aru Valley in Kashmir, Spiti Valley in Himachal and also, Punjab and Rajasthan. Highway is a delight for travel and mountain lovers. Also, the music of this film is one to watch out for.

Mountain (2017)

The mountains we climb are not only made by rock and ice but also dreams and desire. Narrated by William Defoe, this movie is a perfect combination of mountains and poetry. Through breathtaking cinematography, director Jennifer Peedom takes us around the world and displays some of the tallest mountains in its full glory. There is certainly a relationship between humans and mountains, and Mountain displays it wonderfully well. Watch this documentary movie and see what really goes on behind the climb.

Seven Years in Tibet (1997)

This film has the hills, war-drama, the beautiful Brad Pitt and the spiritual life of the 14th Dalai Lama, who is still a boy. The biopic is based on the life of an Austrian climber, Heinrich Harrer (Pitt) and Peter Aufschnaiter (Thewlis) who start their journey in British India (now the area of Gilgit-Baltistan administered by Pakistan), end up in a Dehradun prison and escape to Tibet, Lhasa where Harrer becomes a close friend to the young spiritual leader. Wonder what that would be like?

Wild (2014)

There must have been times when you felt like just packing your bags and heading into the wild? Well, this is a story of someone who did just that. Wild is based on the real-life story of Cheryl Strayed who sets off on a 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail after her mom passes away.

Reese Witherspoon plays her character to perfection sporting ill-fitted hiking boots and a huge backpack. Something that speaks the story of most first-time hikers. But Wild is just not that. This movie takes us deep into so many emotions that Cheryl experiences on the road to self-discovery and acceptance. Watch it, if you haven’t already.

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

What began as a fun journey with a friend, later turned into a revolution. Yes, we are talking about the famous Ernesto "Che" Guevara (Gael García Bernal), who goes on road trip across Latin America with his dear friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) and learns about the political injustice.

The Motorcycle Diaries is a biopic of the written memoir of 23-year old Ernesto Guevara, who would years later become the famous Marxist guerrilla leader and revolutionary Che Guevara. Director Walter Salles not just captures the becoming of Che but also, takes us through the Andes mountain range, Machu Picchu and even the leper colony in Sao Paolo. What’s not to love about this movie!

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

In the mood for a dramedy that's also a travel film? Then The Darjeeling Limited is excellent viewing! Directed by Wes Andreson, this film will take you on a road trip across India. Mostly shot in a train, it’s a story of 3 brothers who decide to go on a spiritual journey to rediscover their lost bond. The tight space of the train is beautifully matched against the open Indian terrains. This film has the quirk, the bustle, the magical Rajasthan and of course, beautiful landscapes.

 Picture credits: Janusa Sangma

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Walter Mitty is a visual delight for all the wanderers out there. It’s a movie that speaks to those stuck in the rut of corporate jobs, wanting to break free from the mundane. We can’t imagine anyone better than Ben Stiller playing the part of Walter Mitty.

This movie is real and unreal at the same time. Going from daydreaming to actually living the life one sees on movie posters! The wanderlust in you will love this movie. After all, who doesn’t love to chase that perfect picture and while on the journey, witness the beauty of Greenland, Iceland, and even the Himalayas!

Avatar (2009)

Avatar is an epic science fiction film that takes you on the journey of self-discovery, revolving around imperialism and ecology. Even though this film is not about travel, it is set against the beautiful backdrop of the Hallelujah Mountains and holds a very important message. Writer, director, producer, and co-editor James Cameron gives us a glimpse of a harsh future where humans have depleted all the natural resources, leading to severe energy crisis (something, that is already happening). 

The peaceful blue-skinned humanoids fighting it out to protect their home to the selfish reality of mining expansion, this film throws light on mechanized warfare. Given the times we live in these days, it’s important to sit back and think, ‘How can we really protect our future?’

Gringo Trails (2013)

In the end, we want to leave you with Gringo Trails. This documentary film traverses Bolivia’s Salt Flats, Deserts of Mali, Thailand’s party islands, and the mountains of Bhutan. It illustrates the effects of travel and tourism, both negative and positive, on the environment, communities, and culture as a whole. 

Touching upon different points of view, it shows how due to the growing travel scenes across the globe, even the most remote areas have now become home to millions of travelers. This film also shares interesting examples of sustainable traveling, ecotourism initiatives, and travel policies by different countries. Something that will inspire all us to become thoughtful travelers.

About the Author:

Priyanka Thakkar is a wander woman at heart, loves deep conversations, and believes in the power of goodness. Her love for writing made her take up copywriting as a profession and today, she leads a creative team in an ad agency based in Gurugram, India. 

She loves to travel and every year, like a ritual, goes on a long vacation to nurture her soul. So far, she has covered 12 amazing countries and counting. She believes that travel can expand one's life and transform any heart. Follow her journey @travelpritara