Nako – the gateway to Spiti

24 Jun

Nako has Tibet as its next door neighbour, only eight km away. With snow-capped peaks shooting up all around, the handful of mud houses with branches stacked on the roofs seem however nothing but far, far away from everything and everyone.

The feeling of remoteness begins as you leave the highway between Rekong Peo and Kaza. High on a hillside, at 3660 metres, Nako is reached via eight hairpin bends that lifts you up 750 metres in just four kilometres.

When you arrive, turn in any direction for Himalayan mountains of more than 6000 metres; each enough to make you wonder how on earth the Dalai Lama and other Tibetans ever managed to escape from Chinese occupied Tibet over the Himalayas.

Once part of the Tibetan kingdom, Nako is still overwhelmingly Buddhist and still has a Tibetan feel. The few restaurants in town, clustered around the main bus stop and the small artificial lake, will happily serve up seabuck thorn tea, Tibetan bread (yum!) and yak cheese sandwiches (less yum) in rooms decorated with photos of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan landscapes.

The afternoon we arrived, we trailed up the barren mountain behind the village for an hour, pausing only to catch our breath and to photograph the mani walls that came into sight as we gained height. In addition to mouthing mantras, Buddhists in Kinnaur and Spiti have for generations carved their prayers onto stone slabs, believing that their prayers would then echo eternally and for ever bless them.

The trek led us past thorny bushes and slowly up to rows of two metre high stupas. A few hundred metres above the village, Nako was a surreal view: a stubborn village sitting in a semi-circle of bright, green fields hugged in by an otherwise barren and dusty landscape. As elsewhere in the area, the villagers have perfected the art of irrigation in the cold desert. Small channels plough through the fields, carrying water from the mountains.

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