"Surreal SPITI": It is'nt Flat on Top of the World

"Spiti is a photographers nightmare.......one just can’t stop clicking!" had remaked an ardent photographer. Today, while writing this post, I can understand his obsessive frustration to capture the haunting allure of the tough Spiti. No word nor a string of the choicest words can recreate the chemistry of Spiti. After a series of tries, I have decided to focus on the more tangible facts and leave you to discover the 'alluring charm' of this surreal place for yourself when you visit it.

'How did people first reach here? Why did they stay back?' Were the first questions I had asked in Spiti. Having traveled for hours up, down, on and around stark rock mountains I had realized how far up and away Spiti was. The tall, hard and barren mountains looked invincible. And the arid landscape gave an indication of how scarce natural vegetation was and tough living here must be. This was a world in itself....a world similar to the neighboring regions of Ladakh and Tibet. Lying on the Tibetan plateau in the rain-shadow zone, this is a high altitude desert.

Spiti is in India and not Tibet. The shared ethnicity, topography and geographical proximity has led many into mistaking it for Tibet.

Spiti is unique. Its rare assets make it so:
  • Monasteries that are over 1000 years old. The Tabo monastery was established in 996 A.D and not a day has gone by without prayers being offered there. It is the oldest continuously functioning Buddhist enclave in India.

  • Fossils and Shales that are half a billion year old. They are remnants of a period when the Himalayas were submerged under the Tethys Sea.

  • A 530 year old mummy of a Lama who passed away while in meditation. Inspite of no embalming, the mummy was so well preserved when it was accidentally found in 1975 that blood oozed out from where the spade had hit it. Even today no effort has been made to preserve it but the signs of the local's devotion are apparent in the darkening of the skin by the heat of the many lamps lit around it.
  • 450 species of medicinal and aromatic plants. Touched only by the clouds and rooted in the purest of soil, they are naturally a class apart.

  • Land of the endangered Snow Leopard and Himalayan Wolf (an ancient species), Spiti is also home to the Ibex, Blue Sheep, Red Fox, Marmots, Snow Cock & numerous migratory birds.
  • An ecology so fragile that even what we do living thousands of kilometers away has an impact on its glaciers. The Bara Shigri and Samudra Tapu is melting. In Spiti every action has a distinct reaction. For example, a change in crop changes livestock population, which in turn impacts the wildlife.

These are some of the easier ones to list!

Spiti is not for the weak hearted. The rare oxygen, tough climatic and living conditions need a strong physical constitution to survive here. With temperatures dipping down to -35 during peak winter, the region is snow bound and cut off from the rest of the world for most part of the year. The long winter allows for only one cropping season. In such conditions, Spitian's seem to have perfected the art of content subsistence living. Perhaps that is why uptil now there has been nominal outbound migration.

Spiti is slowly changing.....development has touched it. The popularity of roasted barley as a snack is being usurped by kurkure; barley and black pea crops are being replaced by green pea (the cash crop); modernization of irrigation process has reduced the community's workload in kul (water) management; cement and stone are the new building materials for constructing city like hotels and restaurants with international cuisines for tourists and; every summer season many traders, businessmen, contractors and workers from other parts of the country come in to work on government projects and sell their products and services to tourists and the locals; these summer seasons have evolved it into a cash based market economy. The local resources are no longer sufficient....because consumption patterns and the way of life is changing.

Nestled between the mountains are divine water bodies like the Chandratal (Moon Lake), which create an illusion of two worlds (one over and the other inverted under the water). Maybe that is why Spiti is referred to as the middle land.

Today Spiti is truly a middle land, suspended between its past (how it has been) and its future (what it will be).

Standing at this junction, I am reminded of Thomas Friedman's book 'The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century' and his observation that "the dawning 'flat world' is a jungle pitting 'lions' and 'gazelles,' where 'economic stability is not going to be a feature' and 'the weak will fall farther behind'."

I take your leave for now but leave behind something to ponder – If Mr.Friedman is right, then considering the geographical, environmental and resource characteristics of Spiti, what are the implications of the flattening world on it? And whether what happens in Spiti will have any impact on the flat world we live in?

Yang Jalin

Links to perceptions of some people who have been to Spiti:

Read More......

A Real Himalayan Challenge

Seeking Maverick Expert Believers to creatively apply their Expertise, Knowledge or Network in piecing a Himalayan puzzle together

Occasionally, one comes across a challenge which is like nothing else you have done before - more ambitious, definitely difficult and demands lots of passion. And if you get a project like this….it presents an opportunity to dream big, candidly reassess one’s professional caliber and discover dormant traits during months of re-alignment to surprising realities, wooing impassive partnerships……and a nail biting finish to an unpredictable end. Well, there is one such project. And it’s a Himalayan one!

This blog is about the project. More specifically, it is the nerve centre from where the course and strategies will evolve to acheive a very tall objective. Let me clarify that rather round about statement. We, by whom I mean myself and the existing team, realize that the task we have undertaken is unique in many ways and complex to the core. Other’s experiences in the past have shown that in such multi-dimensional projects, conventional approaches and established methods can at best get limited (and not always sustainable) success. Having set our eyes and heart on achieving ‘much much more’, we are smart enough to realize that it would be impossible to achieve it by ourselves. Comforting us in this rare moment of humility is the intuitive realization that we are not actually supposed to do it by ourselves!

The fundamental essence, or shall I say the ‘spirit’, of the project lies in connecting more and many more people to the cause – enough to spark a movement! Spicing up this already hot challenge are the limits that have been set for us:
1. Use the least financial resources. The seed capital to start of is two initial installments of Rs.25,000 (US$555).
2. Do it quickly. The D day is the 31st of December 2007. BUT the time frame given for crossing the specified milestones demand new speed records!

You must be wondering ‘How will a blog help?’. Probability of triumph hinges on our success in bringing together a group like no other – creatively intelligent mavericks from different fields with three traits in common (1. Excellent in what they do; 2. think out of the box; 3. Love a good challenge) and sharing one common goal (Collectively put the myriad pieces of this tricky puzzle together).

But the big dilemma was How?. How do we find these people and when we do find them how do we convince them to make time for us in their as it is strenuous life race and give us their best work for ….hmmm...primarily intangible personal gains in return!

We decided to put our bets on the
‘small world’ belief and workability of the six degrees of separation. Afterall it is ‘people who know other people’ and ‘people listen to people’. So who could be more effective in finding and persuading the right people – lots of other people. With the Columbia university "Small World" experiment verifying the six degree of separation connections on cyberspace and in light of our resource constraints, we chose to take the hunt online.

Now the ball is in your court. If you are reading this post, then either you are an important link in the chain to identify the right person/source or you are the right person itself. In either of the two scenarios we need your HELP.

I haven’t yet mentioned what the project is. Nor am I going to…..till the 4th post. Though as the blog title suggests, it is to do with Spiti. To fathom the unique dimensions of the project and your potential role in solving parts of the puzzle, it is important to first equip you with adequate background information - introduction to Spiti (a place probably only a micro minuscule fraction of the world population would know about) and us (unknown entities with promises of ambitious challenges!). Afterall, you need to know us better and believe in the merit of the project before you decide to get involved.

I take your leave (for now) but leave behind a question – Do you know Spiti?

Yang Jalin ("Till we meet again" ) on Spiti Junction.

Read More......