• Urvashi Singh

Motorcycle Diaries (Part VI) Key, Pin Valley & the Flu


Monks descending down from the Key Gompa after the morning prayers

If there is once place that single-handedly trumps Spiti's pictorial representations, it's the Key gompa. Perched atop a mountain in Spiti's Key village, the disorderly picturesque hybrid of white blocks can be seen from a distance when one is driving past Rangrik. One of the three Gelugpa order monasteries in the region, the Key Gompa was founded in the 11th century. Ever since its inception, the iconic monastery that stands as a haven of peace and worship has witnessed history fold with some brutal turns. The Mongols attempted its invasion in the 17th century, and then again during several territorial conquests in the 19th century that involved the armies of Ladakh, Kullu, the Sikh Empire and the mighty Dogras. Around this time, a deadly fire ravaged its confines and towards the last quarter of the 20th century, Key Gompa was wrecked by an earthquake.


Later on, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) conducted some extensive restoration works to bring it back to its present glory. At present, the towering gompa of Key houses nearly 250 monks and is flocked with tourists from around the world.


Every morning from 8 onwards, the monks at Key gompa congregate at the main sanctum to chant their morning prayers while ingesting a frugal breakfast of sattu and butter tea. The vibrations and visual spectacle are highly recommended experiences that I was first initiated towards by Karanbir. Eager to see the prayer meeting for herself, my mother was ready well before time in the morning. Even though we had reached half an hour before time, we were surprised to see the gompa flooded with monks and visitors alike. Confused and scratching my head at my miscalculation, I inquired with a smiling-faced monk standing next to me. Because today was Guru Purnima, several monks from around the region had arrived to convene this special prayer, which commenced an hour before the usual timing.


Struggling to find our spot on the monastery stairs, we sat near the railings and peeked inside for a while. Then, we headed up to see the gompa’s older sections, and also to the iconic vantage point for many photographs with the tripod and self-timer.


Slightly peckish and desperate for our morning cup of coffee, we made our way to our one and only food destination yet again, Deyzor. Karanbir had been raving about how beautiful the Pin Valley was at this time of the year, and given that that was one place that none of us had visited before, we raised collective excitement for the day’s expedition.


Backtracking a dozen kilometers back on the Kaza-Tabo road, we crossed over an unsuspecting bridge and entered a different valley altogether! Driving past the Pin river, we saw fluorescent specs of mustard flowers and velvety meadows dotted by indulgent cows and asses. Pink and purple flowers too sprouted through the foliage and tiny rivulets trickled in their jovial celebration of mild monsoons. Several locals worked intensively in their lush green fields, which speckled the stark Pin Valley like glowing pieces of emerald.

Pin Valley

I opted to take over the steering wheel today such that Manojji could get a break and enjoy the views. Mesmerised by the unusual geological shapes of Pin valley, we didn’t know how our three-hour excursion passed, and we were back in Deyzor for lunch. I dove into a plate of shakshuka and a coffee to shake off my afternoon laziness, and we all concurred that a nap would be a good idea.


Back in Cheecham, we lazed around and then played a few rounds of Cluedo. I was beginning to develop a dry and nagging cough, but I dismissed it as an aftereffect of the dusty roads. Mylo too developed a cough shortly after, and we just went to bed after an early dinner. Afraid of passing on the bug to my already susceptible mother, I decided to stay the night in Mylo’s room, and in hindsight, that was a necessary precaution.


Breathlessness, fever-stricken, and reverberating with an elevated pulse, the night was a mean one indeed. Both Mylo and I battled with heightened fevers that we hoped would be brought down with a tablet of paracetamol. To our dismay, the following morning was a struggle, and there was absolutely no way that we were proceeding with our plan to Losar. I could barely pack since the slowest of movements were making me breathless. It was time for Baby Tiger to be put onto his trailer, and as sad as that made me, I knew I was in no shape to drive.


We headed to the government hospital in Kaza, where the health workers took our COVID test, which was thankfully negative. Manojji too suffered the same symptoms as us, and we were then made aware of a nasty virus making its rounds in Kaza. Due to its higher prevalence among minors, Kaza’s government school had been closed for a fortnight, and many locals reported having suffered from identical symptoms as us.


Karanbir reassured us that it would get better, and arranged us the fanciest home stay that stood bang opposite the town’s Shakya monastery. Fa-Ma homestay was hosted by the gregarious hostess Uma, who nursed us back to health over two long days of endless gargles, steam inhalations, naps and countless food deliveries from Deyzor. I mostly slept through this time, and when Mylo felt better, we played Monodeal with my viral-free mother.


Even though one hadn’t fully recovered by the night of July 15th, I reckoned that we make our journey the following day. As per most weather forecasts, 16th was the only day that offered clear skies and sunshine, a much-needed advantage for those making the arduous journey towards Manali. And so, I excitedly asked Mohanji to unload Baby Tiger from his cage and kitted up the following morning to make the most iconic journey of our trip.


Dolo 650 sufficed through the entire adventure, and even if I was still flu-stricken, I was too elated by the Trans-Himalayan vistas to pay attention to any form of illness. The beautiful road meandered through Rangrik, Losar and Kyato as the full moon hid behind the mountains, making way for a brilliant sun that reigned over clear azure skies.


It was time for homecoming!

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