Shepherd with million dolor smile – Kashmir Singh Rana

I have been visiting Chandrataal lake in Spiti for quite a few years now, and every time I visit this place, it throws more and more pleasant surprises on me. No doubt nature is always at its best in this region.

But what keeps me equally happy and amazed at chandrataal is my friend for last 3 years, a Shepherd by profession, caring and tending 450 sheep and goats, leading the pack and always smiling.

I met him in 2015, introduced by another friend Jamaica who runs camps there. First time when I met Rana ji, he invited us to his shack, typical known as “thatch”, but with walls made of stone and a plastic sheet on top. A wood stove inside, which kept that small hut really warm and cosy.

Tea made from fresh goat milk, endless discussion and stories of wild animals, leopard and crossing the high passes went on till late night.

Since then, I am meeting him every year, and he hasn’t changed a bit. What was most inspiring for me was that his two sons are very well settled with government jobs, he always had the option of staying at home and living a relaxed life. But he choose to continue his shepherd life.

I asked him

“Rana ji, why are you coming here every year, walking all the way, risking your life? You have grand sons, well settled home, you can live a relaxed life”

He said:

“Sir mae ghar bethta hoon to bimar ho jata hoon, mountains are my medicine” [ “I get sick when I stay at home too long, mountains are my medicines”]

If you are every visiting chandrataal, do say hello to him, a tea will always be complimentary 😀 . And his stories of crossing hampta pass so many times while coming up from mandi side and then going back will amaze you.

 

Chitkul – The last inhabited village

Situated in the beautiful Kinnaur region of Himachal Pradesh is this last inhabited village, before the indo-China border.

Accessible through road from Shimla side, via Rampur, Karcham and Sangla, it takes around 6-8 hours of drive from Shimla, in good weather.

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Chitkul in winter

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Looking at the village from Satluj

 

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As the sun sets over old temple

 

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As the sun sets

 

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Getting ready for winter

 

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Another day for the villagers

 

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Old house in the village, still used, they are best in winters

 

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Temple at Chitkul village

 

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Temple at Chitkul village

 

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From the village, watching towards border

 

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Old temple

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A night at Chitkul, the pic explains how beautiful a night view can be

 

 

 

 

 

Phone Connectivity in Spiti Valley

Updated : July 2017

 

If staying connected with the outer world is important for you while you are travelling to Spiti valley, following table will help you prepare better. I always carry a BSNL/MTNL Postpaid with me along with Airtel Postpaid.

 

In Spiti valley, only BSNL (both prepaid and postpaid) works in roaming.

 

Table below is based on my usage and experience and it keep changing frequently in terms of new areas added or no signals because of no power or any landslide breaking the cables.

 

So plan your connectivity needs in advance, complete or delay any urgent communication before or after the trip.Data speed is 2G right now, but work is progress of the 3G cabling.

 

Note : I have no association with Airtel, BSNL or Reliance Jio, this is my experience based on what I am using right now.

Chadar Trek – Layer of White in Zanskar valley

Lets start with a bit of history on Chadar trek without getting too deep into it. Chadar trek is an old trade trek used by Zanskaris to travel from Zanskar regions to other part of Ladakh in winter. Perhaps its the only way to connect to the world, and that’s when the part of Zanskar river freezes and makes a surface to walk on. At an altitude of around 11K feet and winter temperature of around -25 degree Celsius, this trek offers a sense of challenge to many of the trekkers and photographers.

Inception

During so many of my winter trips to Ladakh, I see hundreds of excited souls, busy in preparing for Chadar trek, in hotels, Leh market, Except me just roaming around with 10 Kg of camera and lenses. May I am just too lazy for all that mess or and I have gone into a comfort zone.

 

But winter in Ladakh is not a comfort zone itself, so where is the gap. May be I never cared about marrying trekking and photography seriously. And then I searched all pics and videos on Chadar trek to kill the curiosity, which only ended up in much more stronger curiosity.

 

The only way to calm down that urge and curiosity, was to do it myself. Considering I am not a trekking guy, to the extent that I never did serious trekking ever in my life, except some day walks, this was a serious challenge for a first timer.

 

Side Note : After doing the last Chadar trek, I think I am addicted to this one, so you can expect more pics and videos coming up in 2017 😀

Preparation

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For me there were three major categories of preparation for the trip:

  1. Preparing myself – getting into the required fitness level.
  2. Preparing for myself – all the gears, cloths etc, the most easy one, as I had all I needed except few things
  3. Myself – Photography, planning cameras, batteries, shooting plan etc, the critical one for me.

 

Fitness was my most weakest point in the whole chain, since I started thinking about Chadar trek and few other treks. It was more so important for me as I was planning to carry heavy photography gears on my back, and I did carried almost 13-14 kg on back for the trek.

My schedule for the exercise was pretty simple,

  • 3.5 km in 30 minutes (walk, run, sprint), 4 days in a week,
  • Stretching exercise for back, shoulder and neck.
  • Yoga, this was new for me, I regularly did Kapal Bharti, Anulom Vilom and Surya Namaskar for last 60 days before the trek.

The other thing I did daily was an hour walk (in evening as it gets dark, to avoid the embarrassment 😀  ) on my roof lawn with 14 Kg of backpack on my back. I know by now my neighbors have started considering me crazy, but it helped me in the trek.

 

Gears was the most easiest problem I had to solve. Considering that I had been to Ladakh in winter for multiple times, I had to buy only very few things, very specific to the trek. I will try to post the full list of things in another post, but you can see few scrolls down of what all I carried

 

Photography preparation was another tough task, what to pack and what to leave. Eventually I carried my widest best lens and my best tele lens with two bodies. And then many other photography stuff you can see in the video. Practically if given the task of carrying just one body and lens, I would go with any of my bodies and my widest lens.

https://youtu.be/sThIxfMRYzo

Route

Leh –> Chilling –> Tilak Sumdo –> Shigra Koma –> Chumo –> Tibb –> Nyerak Pullu –> Lingshed –> Pishu –> Zangla –> Padum

There are many version of the trek, the shorter version is upto Nyerak and back which takes around 7-8 days. The full chadar trek all the way to Padum and back takes around 22-24 days.

Note : I haven’t done the full trek yet, did it till Chumo only as the river was not frozen enough for us to walk over it.

 

Photography on Chadar

In Chadar trek and I guess most of the other serious treks, the one thing that gets compromised the most, is the camera and gears and which is fair. If you are on a trek, you do not want to drag yourself with heavy backpack and then getting yourself hurt, clicking no good pics. So rather people carry simplest gears to just click memories.

 

The problem for me is, I am not a trekker. I don’t do treks because I want to tick a trek in my list. Photography is the top most priority for me in a drive trip or treks and that is the major reason I explore places.

 

With that clear in my mind, it was obvious that I was carrying more than the recommended gears, and I did a lot of practice for the same.

 

Because I was carrying almost 7 Kgs of photography gears, bag and case itself for 2 kg, water for 1 Kg, other misc stuff of 2-3 Kg, I offloaded some of my extra cloths, tripod, bigger medicine pouch, and some other things to the porter in a separate bag (on paid basis).

 

In terms of photography opportunities, its just plenty at every 20 meters. I carried one one of my camera out all the time with my 14-24 lens, and one camera with 70-200 mm lens in the bag. Its only when I had to climb mountains where Chadar is not frozen, I packed all the cameras inside my bag to focus more on the safe crossing of the mountain.

 

Night photography was super fun, with temperature not dipping down much during night. Though it was not the best time to shoot Milk-way but I could still shoot the tail of it. Stars were visible in plenty anyways.

 

Do’s and Don’t

5 Do’s:

  • Do carry best of your warm cloths, but ensure you are comfortable in it.
  • Acclimatize for a day or so at Leh, before heading out for the trek.
  • Carry the best of your photography gears, every day on chadar trek is a different and unique day.
  • Exercise and Yoga, at-least couple of months before the trek.
  • Just enjoy and expose yourself to cold a bit.

5 Dont’s

  • Over exert on first few days in Ladakh. As they say, “Don’t try to be a Gama in the land of Lama”
  • Stop eating even if you start loosing appetite.
  • Venture out on your own, without following the guide, Chadar can be lethal if you do not hear to your guide.
  • Consume alcohol or smoke for first few days (avoid completely if possible)
  • Destroy the beauty of nature or pollute the place. Bring back your garbage where you can dispose it properly.

 

5 Best things

  • The views are just amazing of-course.
  • It challenges your mental fitness more than the physical fitness.
  • You make some great friends, under the toughest weather conditions.
  • Its a heaven for photographers.
  • Best hospitality by Ladakhis

 

5 Bad things

  • Global warming is impacting the Chadar, its not freezing properly.
  • Trek is becoming too common, specifically few fancy short version of the trek.
  • Many people visiting for the trek have no respect for the place and they litter everywhere.
  • If you are going for photography, joining a big 2o people group will be a bad experience.
  • Trek operators are not prepared for rescue and medical emergencies.

 

Myths and Realities

Myth : Zanskar river freezes completely and you can walk over it anywhere

Reality : no way, during the most of the trek only the edges of the river freezes, in the center its always gushing water,at places it doesn’t even freeze at all, and at places where Zanskar is narrow, it freezes completely on the top

 

Myth : Temperature gets down to -40 degree Celsius

Reality : Not anymore, I haven’t seen temperature going down lower than -20 degree Celsius

 

Myth : Trek is simple, you just have to walk over the frozen river

Reality : Na da, you wade through bone chilling water, you climb through “death guaranteed if slip” mountains, I think only 50% of the trek in simple walk, 50% is just unpredictable.

 

NOTE : I am not a Chadar Trek expert or any trek expert, these are my views based on my recent trek to Chadar.

Enjoy few Pictures

 

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Colors unlimited

 

 

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Amazing patterns of Frozen Zanskar river

 

 

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Some hidden caves

 

 

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Yours truly, taking a short breather

 

 

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Home for the porters and local during the trek

 

 

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Marching on

 

 

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Isn’t it a dream couch

 

 

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The warriors of the trek – Porters

 

 

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Frozen water falls on the way

 

 

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This is how your tents, sleeping bags, and food are carried all the way

 

 

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Home sweet home

 

 

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Spend some time with porters, you will get to hear amazing stories 🙂

 

 

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And the amazing sunset views

 

 

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Billion star hotel

 

 

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Water is a luxury, even if you are walking on frozen form of it

 

 

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And the gang, I made some great friends during the trek

 

 

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First step on Chadar

 

 

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Chadar can make you fall in love with mountains

 

 

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I can just watch it, words fall short to appreciate and explain this place

 

 

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And don’t be too serious, you need to have some fun

 

 

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yellowpeaks.com mug on the frozen zanskar river

 

 

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The mast gang

 

 

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Chadar dance, Bruce Lee style

 

 

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Glass Walk

 

Copyright © 2016 Yellow Peaks. All Rights Reserved. All images are copyright of Rajiv Kumar and Yellow Peaks, and can not be reproduced in any form

 

Ladakh in Winter – Planning and Preparing

While travelling to Ladakh in winter is an amazing experience, which is next to none, it needs lots of planning and preparation, specially for those travelling to such cold places for the first time. Its always good to have few tips handy when you are planning this trip. I have penned down some of experiences from my winter trips to Ladakh.

 

Cloths

Keeping yourself warm is the most important thing while travelling to Ladakh or any other mountain region in winter, rest everything else comes next.

 

Warm inner is absolute must, but not the cotton one, get a pair of synthetic warm inner, 2nd layer of thick fleece, out layer of warm waterproof jacket, I personally prefer a down jacket.

 

For legs, I use a warm inner, with a thick foam filled pant over it. Just in case if it gets really cold I wear a middle layer of fleece pant, though it becomes very uncomfortable with three layers on, makes the movement of limbs really tough.

 

A balaclava as first layer to cover your head, ear and part of face. Remember that ugly cap that your Mom used to force on you when you were kid and how much you disliked it?, that’s exactly what you need now :D.  I use a second layer of normal woolen cap

 

Gloves: I use a double layer of gloves, inner layer of fleece gloves and outer layer or water proof thick skiing gloves. Every time I need to click a picture, I just remove the out thick layer and can manage photography with fleece layer on. That way its little less painful during photography.

 

Shoes and socks: no matter what you wear, your feet will always be cold. It’s a matter of adjusting to it.

 

But as basics, I recommend a good quality shoes, ankle high is better. And double layer of socks, with inner nylon and outer thick woolen.

 

Just in case if you miss buying gloves, caps or socks, you can get some good stuff in Leh market. You can even get it cheaper there, worth giving it a shot.

 

Food
While struggling with cold and high altitude, the first thing that you start loosing is proper diet. And with altitude hitting the body, the overall food appetite goes down drastically, and limited options of food makes things more complicated. The quick solution is to have plenty of soup with garlic, and have some Ladakhi bread with it. I find it absolutely boring and tough eating rice and lentil in this situation. Thukpa somehow still goes in well, may be because of it soup form.

 

Chocolates or nutrition bars also works well in case of lost appetite.

 

For emergency, I keep some cup noodles handy, just pour in some boiling water and you have something to keep the stomach happy. This happened with us in January 2015, when we took a chance and got the access to Dumchok region by luck, but we found nothing for stay or food in Koyule or Fukche. Eventually we had to drive back to Chumathang, which we reached by 10 pm driving over the snow. We were without food since morning but luckily I had boiling water in thermos and few cup noodles in my bag. It saved the day for me and the pilot, can’t forget the day eating noodles over the frozen Nyoma section in dark.

 

Water

Another very important thing to maintain during this trip in winter is keeping yourself hydrated.  I keep two 1 ltr steel thermos with during any winter trip. Fill one with super boiling water and other with lukewarm drinking water. Those thermos from milton or few other brands are really good and keep water super warm up to 12 hours and sometime even more.

 

Besides these two bottles, I keep another 2-4 litter of water in stock, but keep it wrapped in some blanket or else it will freeze and will be useless.

 

Taxi

Taxi is not cheap during winter, rates remains the same throughout the year, but most of the taxi owners will provide some good discounts. I always prefer to hire my trusted ones even if they cost me more because of following:

 

1. They know every corner of Ladakh.

2. I don’t have to worry about stay, they arrange it for all places.

3. Their cars are in best shape, they love their cars like a family members.

4. They are always winter ready with things like shovel, snow chains etc.

5. They know the tricks of surviving in winter and keep the cars running in night as well.

 

Discuss your plan with your driver in advance as they can recommend if its possible or not. Make sure you check the car for the trip properly, it should have good tires (all five), should have shovel, tow rope and snow chains.

 

Flight

Flight is the only way to reach Leh in winter, all passes from Kashmir and Manali shuts down with heavy snow by the end of November or early December and opens only in May/June next year.

 

If you are lucky, you can get away with some cheap flight tickets during winter. I have got it as low as 5000 INR in past, last I got was for 7500 INR. There are chances of flight getting cancelled due to bad weather or snow on the runway, be mentally prepared for delays and flight cancellations.

 

Hotels/Guest Houses/Home Stay

Most of the hotel in Leh city close for winter but for few owned by locals. I had experience staying in hotels like Shanti Guest House, Oriental, Panorama (all on Changspa road). Majority of the hotels have centralized heating now with time controlled heating in morning and evening. few years back, the only way of room heating was gas heaters, which were painful oxygen suckers. Booking in advance is better considering the low supply of rooms in winter.

 

Beyond Leh, staying options are quite limited to guest houses and home stays. Like for Pangong Tso, you best option to stay is at Tangste, with few home stays remain open during winter. For Nubra, Hunder village have few guest houses which remain open. For Chumathang, the best is Padma Lodge with heating from sulphur spring. In Hanle I have always stayed with Sonam Dorjey (Padma Guest House) in Hanle village.

 

Your best source of information on where to stay is your taxi driver, just setup a friendly chord with him and you will be surprised at the kind of information and places he can share with you.

 

Permits/Permissions

All the rules and regulations remains the same in winter as in summer. Perhaps the authorities are little more liberal in terms of giving permits to the restricted areas during winter. You will still need to fill in the self declaration form at the defined check posts.

 

Photography

I am sure its a silly question to ask but, “What can I capture in Ladakh during winter?” And the list is long, very very long

To summarize few,

  • Frozen Landscape : That’s the reason you go to Ladakh in winter. A majestic mix of River, Snow, Sand, Mountains and Ice, all in one frame.
  • Ice Hockey : Not many people know that India have a world class Ice Hockey team from Ladakh, you can see live matches during winter.
  • Wildlife : In plenty, you just need that eye, people spend their life time in Ladakh to capture Snow Leopard.
  • Frozen Lakes and Rivers : Frozen Pangong Tso is one rare sight in itself, and add to that are frozen Indus, Hanle and Zanskar rivers.
  • Festivals : Spituk Festival, Hemis Festival, Dosmochey, Mathe Festival. You have to struggle to find a nice spot amongst the excited set of locals.
  • Monasteries : While you can click monasteries in Ladakh any time of the year, you get the best colors either in late summer or winter.
  • Culture : Its a bonus for street photographer, as life goes on in Ladakh even at -25 degree celcius.

 

Alot of people have asked me about any special care required for the photography gears during winter in Ladakh. the answer is nothing special, most of the professional gears and even amateur gears now a days are quite tough and weather proof. Just carry few extra batteries and keep them warm inside your jacket.

Most importantly keep yourself warm during all that enthusiasm of photography.


Sample Plan: You can try different combinations

Day 1 : Arrive at Leh, check-in to hotel, acclimatize and roam around in Leh city, without pushing too much today. May be you can arrange your permits today

Day 2 : Explore around Leh, Alchi, Lamayuru etc, night stay back at Leh

Day 3 : Leh – Chumathang, night stay at Chumathang

Day 4 : Chumathang – Tso Moriri – Nyoma – Hanle, with night stay at Hanle, this will be a long day and access to lake depends on the amount of snow on the road, worst case you can still go to Puga and visit ice cone at sulphur springs.

Day 5 : Hanle – Loma – Chagga – Chagga La – Chusul – Spangmik – Tangste. Again this route is purely dependent on snow. I had to turn back from chagga village due to heavy snow.

Day 6 : Tangste – Pangong Tso – Tangste – Chang La – Leh, night stay at Leh

Day 7 : Leh – Khardung La – Diskit – Hunder (night stay at either Diskit or Hunder)

Day 8 : Hunder – Leh

Day 9 : Fly out of Leh

 

Random Tips

  • Along with high SPF sun cream, keep a good amount of pure mustard oil handy, as your skin will get dry and rough and not cream will work at such harsh and dry weather. You can buy mustard oil from Leh market.
  • If you have a tendency of hands and feet getting cold, you can buy few chemical warmers available at trekking stores.
  • Use your spare cap or socks to store batteries and electronic items. Batteries will keep the charge much longer when warm.
  • Keep plenty of toilet paper rolls handy, you will only get dry toilets at many places, and using cold water will be painful 😀 .

 

Places in winter

Pangong Tso : If you seen this lake in summers, you are up for a wonderful surprise to see it frozen completely.

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Spangmik : My favorite place for stay overnight when I visit Pangong Tso lake

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Chusul/Tsaga La

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Hanle : The view gets better and better in winter, and you can see the frozen tributaries of Hanle rivers passing through the valley. Do visit Hanle monastery, as you get so see the vast Hanle valley from top of it.

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Chumathang : Its a beautiful halt point on the way to Hanle or Tso Moriri, famous for its hot sulphur springs and you do get boiling water out of the springs in winter.

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Leh : While its becoming another tourist city in India, it is still beautiful and amazing. Views from Shanti Stupa during sunset and sunrise are priceless.

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Lamayuru : A day drive to Lamayuru is fun, and watching the Indus-Zanskas confluence is different experience in winter.

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Winter Treks in Ladakh

The most famous one is Chadar Trek, where you walk over the frozen Zanskar river for days. Some other treks you can explore are Markha Valley trek, Stok Kangri and Snow Leopard trek in Hemis National Park. There are few more, but doing these treks in winters makes it much more difficult and treacherous.

 

You can read one of my travel story for winter in Ladakh here.[custom_button style=”btn_large btn_type10″ icon=”icon-location-arrow” target=”_self” href=”http://yellowpeaks.com/travelling-to-ladakh-in-winter”]Travelogues – Ladakh in winter[/custom_button] Checkout my article on Photography in Winter[custom_button style=”btn_large btn_type7″ icon=”icon-camera” target=”_self” href=”http://yellowpeaks.com/photography-in-extreme-winter”]Photography in Winter[/custom_button]

Night Sky at Spiti Valley

Heaven for Astro Photographers and star chasers, Spiti is the perfect place to keep you cameras out even at night. Every corner of Spiti is a perfect setup for the same.

 

Though I am not really an astro photographer, but I have captured milk-way from most of the places/villages of spiti and it always a delight. The best so far was from Mud village of Pin Valley, during September 2015.

 

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Spiti Night 1

 

Spiti Night 2

 

Spiti Night 3

 

Spiti Night 4

 

Spiti

 

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