A women’s clothes shop in Chennai wanted me to model for their latest campaign and it was to be shot in the Himalayas — that’s how my trip happened. With a week’s notice, as is often the case in the modelling industry, we rushed to scramble and got winter clothes and mountain gear for the expedition. The trip was 10 days long and towards the end, none of us wanted to leave!
Mesmerising Spiti Valley
Everyone should visit Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, at least once in their lifetime — especially during winter. The majesty of the mountains, the snow sparkling like crushed diamonds and the starkness of the landscape are both awe inspiring and humbling. Knowing that you are at the mercy of nature, along with the kindness of the mountain, people, and how they share what little they have, makes you rethink your life decisions and goals.
Spiti is a two-day drive from Chandigarh and you have the meandering river for company. Roads are so narrowly carved out of the mountain side that you will even wonder if your SUV will even fit. To add to it, there are shooting stones to wake you up if you dare to fall asleep — this is a trip that is meant for the books! The scenic beauty is unparalleled with mountains covered in snow coupled with villages so far away that they look like specks on the mountain side.
Goosebumps all round!
It’s hard to choose just one memory from a trip that was so eventful. I fondly remember the time we stood frozen during mid shoot as we spotted a leopard barely 12-feet away and the thought that crossed my mind was that I hope it realises I’m too skinny to make a good meal! That apart, the time when our quick-thinking driver saved us from a landslide and the time when I posed on a bridge and a particularly strong gust of wind turned my saree pallu into a sail, causing me to almost fall, were unforgettable experiences.
The moments I cherish the most however would be my conversation with the mountain women. Entering the crumbling ancient Dhankar monastery, made me feel like I have crossed a portal and entered another time!
Bringing a new perspective to life
When you are going to the Himalayas, one tends to be aware of everything that the place has in store for you. What the place truly brings to our life is perspective. I understand that there is low oxygen, I get there and I find out how hard it is to even climb stairs or take a turn. I look around and I’m reminded that this is normal for the small population that lives there. This gives my life more meaning.
The locals were helpful in welcoming us into their homestays as there are no resorts nearby. We ate our meals family style. Some of them were our guides, others helped us fix our car when it broke down. The women lit fires by the roadside to keep us warm during th shoots as we started to turn blue in the -20 degree weather and we cajoled others into letting us dress them up in sarees and model with us! They gifted us local organic rajma and we left behind some lipstick for an adorable little girl called Sonam, whose house we lived in. We are now planning to send books and medical supplies, as well.
Spitian culture has major Tibetan influences. On your way to Spiti, you will pass by this little village called Nako, with just one shack that served some of the yummiest food I have ever eaten (maybe it was the hunger talking)! If you ever go there, ask for thukpa, a noodle soup and some momos. The fresh mountain air will make you ravenous and this will seem like a meal fit for the gods.
The simple, stress-free mountain life with no phone signal had a certain allure that we found hard to resist. Our gang of five consisted of Bhagath Kumar of Makka photography, Nara, a landscape photographer who made this trip happen, Anusha Swamy, my fellow model who is also the makeup and hairstylist and Archana, who was the stylist for the shoot.
Be more prepared than you think you need to be, pack some energy bars and chocolates for when you get stuck and take lots of warm clothes — trust me it will come handy. If you have the time, work on your fitness levels as it will help you cope with the conditions there better.
I would recommend going there once in autumn to witness the beautiful colours and towards the end of winter you get to see the snow-covered peaks and the frozen landscape. Next on my checklist is to train and hopefully get to the Everest base camp in the next few years.
(As told to Balajee C R)