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The Road to Kunzum La

A hike through the Spiti valley reveals stark beauty - and human courage.

There is no public transport from Keylong, the headquarters of Lahaul and Spiti district, into the Spiti valley. I take a bus to Gramphoo and then hitch a lift in a truck. My destination is not the Spiti valley, but Chandratal, a lake at an altitude of about 4,300 m, located near Kunzum La, the pass that allows entry into the Spiti valley from Lahaul. We drive on a rough untarred road that follows the Chandra river upstream; downstream, flowing through the Punjab, this is the Chenab.

A Border Roads Organisation (BRO) work gang clearing rocks from the road stops us and asks for beedis. They are from eastern India, poorly shod and clothed for the extreme weather of Lahaul, working with shovels and bare hands. Travelling on border roads in this part of India, I have observed this to be the case, invariably.

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