Oh, how much we love the word ‘Epic’! Living up to it requires this concoction of hard work, wisdom and a severe thirst for adventure. And the better part of it is finding Epic people to do it with.
Anyway, for our one and eternal love, Spiti Valley, we pledged we will always go the extra-mile. So a Winter Expedition in Spiti was inevitable. And what happened?
It is too substantial to describe. But we’re still going to try and paint you a fuzzy picture of all the Epic madness on the trip!
A head’s up on the temperature : It starts at a minimum of -2ºC on Day One and Day Two, which then shoots down to a minimum of -15ºC in Nako and -25ºC when we reach Tabo. That is the minimum temperature in Spiti Valley, but it can go below that depending on weather conditions. We’ve experienced a minimum of -25ºC also during a Winter Spiti Expedition.
You have to be extremely well prepared. Snow-chains, anti-freeze, shovels, tools and spares are only the basics of the laaarge variety of equipment we will be carrying on this Expedition. And epic as it is, it is also extremely necessary. Vehicles, equipment, emergency rations and clothes should all be set-up in accordance with a preparation guide that Team TerraQuest will send-across beforehand. Our team will conduct a scrutiny of every vehicle on-board before the expedition kicks off, ensuring each vehicle is well equipped to take on the harshness of Spiti in the winters.
Unpredictable Weather Conditions
Another exciting aspect of this trip is the unpredictability of the weather. Spiti Valley is an unpredictable world altogether, regardless of seasons. During the Winter Expedition, you will keep hearing the phrase ‘If weather permits’. No matter how prepared we end up at this valley, especially in winter, days are full of improvisations and spontaneous action.
The views are breathtaking and snow-bashing is funnn! The landscape is buried deeper and deeper in snow as we progress from one day to the next. The roads get slippery, it gets quieter, colder and time slows down as we steadily move in a convoy from one village to the next. So music, munchies, chai and laughter are essentials!
Also, sometimes we will find ourselves sweeping a sheet of snow off of the road to drive further.
You name it, it’s frozen. And if it isn’t, it will be.
Don’t even get us started on the frozen waterfalls. We are driving on ice, not snow. Crossing these is quite a tricky affair but it is also one of the most thrilling feelings on the road. Malling Nallah, right after Nako, is one such frozen waterfall.
Lakes are frozen.
Most lakes we come across will be completely frozen, including Nako lake in Nako village. It is a magical sight.
In Kaza, where temperatures go below -15ºC, our very own Spiti river is frozen.
Water lines are frozen.
Some home-stays have compost toilets, while some have regular ones with buckets.
Our cars also try to freeze over so we keep our coolant-to-water ratio about three times higher than usual. So if you don’t want your bodies to freeze over, please carry warm clothes just as mentioned in our prep-guide!
The Elusive Snow Leopard
The snow leopard remains one of the most mysterious animals in the world.
They’re extremely rare, native to the mountains of Central and South Asia, their global population estimated to number less than 10,000.
In our country, snow leopards prefer steep, rugged terrains in the higher Himalayas, which makes the mountains of Spiti just the perfect home for them. They’re solitary animals, active mostly at dawn and dusk, camouflaged against the steep, rugged slopes of the mountains they inhabit.
The experience of spotting one can be compared to that of spotting a ghost – with the thrill and the incessant goosebumps. On a particular day at dusk, we head to this certain spot known for oft sightings of the leopard and park our cars. We turn-off ignition, turn-off all lights, and patiently wait in silence for the leopard to turn up. It gets cold and we’ve our binoculars game on, talking to each other in soft voices, hoping to spot the grey cat. And do we?
Well, that depends on the collective luck and determination of the group now, doesn’t it?
For those of you reading this and wondering what may be different about star-gazing in winter, except for staking our warm, cozy lives in bed to sit-out in way-below-freezing temperatures, read closely.
The nights are much longer in winter. Since the sun sets early and rises late, we have much more time with the visible night sky!
With more time, we can sense Earth’s rotation by watching stars change positions in the sky. In every few hours, the start-field in view is different! We can see this by noting the position of a particular star (except the north star) and comparing it with a landmark.
In summer, due to Earth’s position, we (in the northern hemisphere) are facing the centre of the Milky Way, with its billions of stars and galactic dust. In winter, we are facing our galaxy’s outskirts, the side where our sun belongs. Stars are relatively closer to us, relatively lesser in number, and some of them are gigantic! This makes winter evening skies much clearer and sharper with many bright stars, some of them even different in colour! In winter, we spot different constellations as well.
A white, snowy existence!
Two-three days into the Expedition and it can almost start feeling like a dream. Or a parallel universe. Maybe another planet.
Land all around you is white, brown and empty. Sometimes we are the only humans for miles in any direction, surrounded with immense beauty.
Most mornings we wake up and slay snow off our windscreens and help locals slay some off their roofs. Interacting with them and living in our rustic little home-stays, we learn in abundance about survival in such harsh winter, and the significance of warm smiles.
Witnessing a 1000-year old monastery in Tabo buried in pure white snow under a winter sky is an intense experience.
We’ve tried our best here to describe an other-worldly terrain and put words to a exceptionally surreal experience. Needless to say, you must witness it to believe it.
Discover yourself and your elated senses with our Spiti Winter Expedition this February.
Our Spiti Snow Leopard Drive is from 23rd February to 2nd March’18. For more details regarding the expedition, you can click here.