As the winter welcomed spring, and the snow started melting during the daytime, I woke up in a small guest room at Komic monastery, 4500m above sea level. My wrist watch kept on the side table displayed -6˚C and the blue water bottle, kept right next to it was full of ice. I reached for my boots, then struggled to put them on and after 15 minutes of trying to sqeeze my feet in the shoe, I gave up. They were frozen solid as I forgot to clean the accumulated slush from yesterdays hike. Even the 9 O’ clock sun failed to melt the snow on it. The outside temperature was -17˚C that morning. With half of my feet in my boots, I somehow managed to reach the monastery kitchen and a loud ‘Julley!’ by the monks greeted me. They suggested me to use fireplace to melt the ice and it worked.
Last year, I moved to Spiti for an indefinite period and ended up staying there for six months, during the coldest seasons from November till April. This was a once in a lifetime experience that will surely be repeated again.
The idea of spending a winter in Spiti came in the summers as we spent a month hiking in the region. The project was conceptualised outside the community health centre of Kaza with the help of my friend Sangram, Dr. Tenzin Norbu (Dr. Bittu) and Tsering Bodh. We named it ‘Life in Spiti’ and soon after a month the website was launched. Tsering Bodh motivated me further and offered to arrange a comfortable stay during my winters. I went back to Chandigarh and started preparing for the winters. A lot of adventure gear and gadgets were ordered online from America, Canada and China.
So, on 1st November of 2014, I reached Spiti after a 500km solo drive from Chandigarh with car full of equipment. This was going to be my best winter.
Here are some pictures. I also answered few frequently asked questions about my stay at the end of this post.
Here are some frequently asked questions from my stay in Spiti.
Why you wanted to spend a winter in Spiti?
I wanted to experience what its like to live in -30˚C and see how the people survive such harsh conditions.
What was the biggest challenge during this whole experience?
Getting out of the bed was the biggest challenge for me. -2˚C was the average temperature when I woke up and -4˚C was the coldest it went in my room. So getting out in sub zero environment was the most difficult part. Specially during our skiing season when we got up at 5 in the morning, the coldest time of the day.
What surprised you the most?
People living happily without what we call basic facilities. There was no electricity for 45 days and everything was normal.
What was the most difficult part of spending a winter in Spiti.
Any Spitian will agree with me that clearing the snow off the rooftops was the most difficult part. You have to get up early in the morning to start cleaning. Even if its snowing. The fragile mud rooftops can’t take the load of the snow.
What all did you learn there?
I learn’t to walk on different types of snow and basics of alpine skiing and a little bit of Spitian.
What did you eat ?
Surprisingly, everyday was a nothing less than a feast for me. Every single day we used to start planning our dinner right after the lunch.
How cold did it get?
The lowest outdoor temperature recorded on my pocket weather station (kept on the roof of old Kaza) was -29˚C.
The lowest indoor temperature went down to -4˚C and the average would be -2˚C. I could increase it to around 10˚C with the personal fireplace.
How did you stay warm?
In ever Spiti home, there is one room that is kept warm with a fireplace throughout the day. Mostly it is the kitchen. My room also had a fireplace, that was only used to warm up the camera batteries and laptop. My 15 inch Macbook Pro is made of aluminium and it gets really cold during -2˚C and it won’t charge in that temperature.
I don’t like wearing too many clothes, as it limits the moment and is really uncomfortable; so I wore layers of clothes. One thin thermal layer. One fleece. One thin dawn feather jacket and if its really cold, one waterproof and windproof jacket.
How did you charge your cameras?
When there was no electricity for more than a month, we used generators and solar panels to charge the gadgets.
How effective is the postal service in the winters. Did you use it?
I had Kaju Barfi shipped from Shimla via Speed Post in four days in December. So basically the post reaches on the HRTC bus and just as an experiment, I also ordered a book and badminton shuttlecocks on Amazon when the roads were closed in January. To my surprise, it reached successfully after a month. It was the first online shopping order that reached Spiti.
Any advice for the travellers reaching there in winters?
Yes! Don’t bargain. Be generous. Winter is not an off-season. People are kind enough to let you stay because they are certain that you will die outside. Locals use their limited resources to host people and keep them comfortable and that costs a lot. There is no running water and electricity in the region during winters. They are not earning from your winter stay. They are just using that amount of resources on you. Hospitality is their culture. Don’t use this for your benefit.
I saw tourists who wanted an accommodation with food for Rs. 500 in the month of January. That is what a burger costs in the cities. Don’t be such people.
To learn more about my stay, please follow ‘Life in Spiti’ and check out its ‘Behind the Scenes’ section. Everything updates frequently. You can also follow our Instagram Page
Behind the Scenes