The road got a little better after Batal but every nerve in my body was still raw from the day before. I was ready to face more rivers but the way to Kaza was easier than I thought. Don’t misunderstand, it was still bad, but better. I relaxed a little into the new day enough to take a proper look at the changing landscape. On all sides were the majestic Himalayas and I was now entering the drier parts where no threat of rain hung over me. Everywhere Tibetan prayer-flags colored the sky and the mountains were pale, without any green, very unlike lush Manali.
I reached Kaza by late afternoon and immediately had to apply for an inner-line permit (foreigners need a permit to travel through this part of the valley). The power was out in the town of Kaza and so the permit office couldn’t issue my permit until the next morning when they opened, at 10h00. If the power’s back on that is.
Spiti Valley is known as the Buddhist circuit of Northern India so I used the time to visit the impressive monasteries and temples. I met another lovely Swiss couple who where lecturers in Tibetan religion/culture. We soon started talking and I invited them to have lunch with me at the only dhaba in Kaza. The conversation, in truth, was not that interesting (their tone of voice made my eye-lids droop in the way only boring teachers when talking too much can) and I was much more mesmerized by the Thukpa (Chinese noodle soup) I had for lunch.
For the first time I noticed the differences between this valley and the India I’ve seen so far. I've seen a lot of the Hindu culture and now it was Buddhist. Lemon and chili (used for good luck) and tied to every door in Delhi was replaced by Tibetan prayer-flags. Pictures of Shiva, Ganesh and Krishna were replaced by pictures of Buddha (or the Dalai Lama). Food was more Tibetan than Indian as were the faces and manner of the people. And then there was the silence. It was so quiet here and I knew it had as much to do with the fact that there were infinitely less people here as it was their way of life. Unlike the loud and expressive Indian Hindus these Buddhist folks were quiet and meditative. The silence in this valley was like the noise in Delhi. It was everywhere and you lived side by side with it.
I was determined to pitch my tent somewhere breathtaking and found a flat but hard patch just outside the town, next to the river. When I applied for my permit I asked the local policeman where I could pitch my tent and he smiled and said 'anywhere, Madame'. There were still a few hours of sunlight and I decided to use it to learn a little Hindi. I love this peculiar language and it was exciting to learn a new language that you get to use every day. Every new word or phrase opened another part of India and the people up to me and I loved it. Pronouncing these new words also required that I twisted my tongue in new and unfamiliar ways and I loved that too.
My bike was parked about 500m away from the tent in a random parking lot next to the field I was camping in. I felt uneasy for the Yamaha to be so far away but I didn’t want to ruin any of the plants that I would have destroyed if I rode over them with a motorbike. I could just make out the black handle bars when I peeked out of the tent and did so every hour or so but then I fell asleep and I woke up the next morning to the breathtaking sunrise I was hoping for. Casually I looked over to where the bike was parked but it wasn’t there. I went numb and started praying before I was out of the tent ‘no no no, please, no’ but the closer I got to the parking lot the more real it got. My bike was gone. Ok, I thought, it’s not the end of the world, you can always catch a bus out of here (who knows when though) but the bike-adventure was over. I sat down on the spot where I’d left my travel companion and waited for the tears to come. How could someone do this to an innocent traveler like me? I could imagine my brother laughing, sympathetically, when I told him. Just another freak accident, sister. And then I looked up and saw those familiar handle bars sticking out of a bush just 10m away. What the..?.
Someone had picked up the Yamaha and with obvious effort concealed it with leaves and sticks. It wasn’t hidden very well and looked kind of silly sticking out of a bush like that. My mind couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing as relief flooded into my body. Then the penny dropped, I’d been the victim of a practical joke.
Someone in Kaza had played a trick on me. There was no doubt in my mind that is exactly what happened. I looked around frantically (it’s no fun if you can’t see how your trick plays out, the practical joker in me knew) but I couldn’t see anyone. I walked back to the tent and thought I heard laughing somewhere far off but it could have been my own laughter echoing off the mountains. All the tension of the past few days melted away and I wish I knew how to say ‘Good one!’ in Hindi.