PROLOGUE And so it was, a rainy October day causing a traffic snarl that left the heart and mind craving for some solitude. This time, of the real kind. What better a way, I thought, than to introduce to near and dear ones the ‘Real Thing’. Thus, stranded on the Gurgaon-Delhi Expressway, I formed a Whatsapp Group – ‘Prospective Spitians’ and promptly added about 13 adults. Since our last trip with the same group was also to the hills (Binsar – Munsiyari – Ranikhet) in 2016, I wasn’t sure whether this proposal would be viewed as a good idea or more of an opportunistic imposition since no one else had proposed a vacation for 2 years. Most of the people in the Group claim to be beach lovers, and the implications of the excited rush with which I constituted the Whatsapp Group and proposed a vacation to Spiti suddenly dawned upon me. All the usual pessimistic questions – what if they propose some other destination for a holiday? ‘Itna Uncha’? What if I am told that they have had enough and it is time for us to unwind at some ‘beachy’ destination? What if they simply do not respond? – were swirling around in my head when I was suddenly jolted by the blaring horns and the rising pollution caused by ‘racing’ cars. EXCITOMETER REVS UP I was therefore more than pleasantly surprised, when I reached home, to see that almost everyone had instantly agreed and showed keenness to go on this sojourn. Of course, the usual reservations – that the next trip ought to be to the beach etc., – were also expressed in no uncertain terms. I broke out into a smile with almost an air of arrogance that said: “Go on this trip, and you will forget about beaches altogether”. The reason I say this is because, having been to Spiti 3 times in the past, I knew the captivation of the magnificent mountains, the vast expanse of brown/green fields around idyllic hamlets, snow-capped peaks and the history and culture that the place has to offer is sufficient to stir up a romance, riveting enough to last a lifetime, in first time travelers. For most part thereafter, I could not contain my excitement – so much so that I shared (more than) a few itinerary options with the Group within next couple of days or so. A couple of (group) lunches and innumerable whatsapp messages later, I think we finalized on an itinerary premised on the ‘conventional’ route for the Tribal Circuit. FIRST TIME SPITIANS – NO PRESSURE Although I would like to believe that I was readily available to address queries, the travellers were prepared to follow me blindly which, of course, brought along its own pulls and pressures. Nothing should go wrong then, should it!? To be doubly sure, I outlined the contours of each place through different emails to give as many details as possible regarding what to expect in terms of temperature, road conditions, topography, heck, even quality of bedrooms and bathrooms if I remember correctly! However, as they say, a picture paints a thousand words and it is best that to let the following pictures paint whatever I ought to have said and whatever I did: THE USUAL (UN)EXPECTED TWISTS When you plan such trips so much in advance, the odd twist in the tale is always par for the course. Instead of covering Spiti the conventional way via Simla-Rampur-Kinnaur, since Joy was not able to accompany us on the entire trip, we inverted the plan and decided to approach Spiti via Manali-Rohtang-Kunzum in order to maximize time with Joy in the early part of the trip, after which he would disperse with his family to cover other (comparatively lower) regions of Himachal. Bookings had to be realigned and I must thank all the property owners/managers where we intended to stay – they were extremely cooperative and understanding. Of course, we had the ‘early mover’ advantage but it is no mean feat to rejig dates and arrangements for a relatively large group at ‘destinations’ that are fast becoming popular and ‘touristy’. The final itinerary looked like this: Itenerary.pdf Even though this position was settled by early March, surprisingly, the momentum in terms of emails and whatsapp messages exchanged sustained right up to the end of July, and here we are….ready to roll….TOURING PARTY FOLLOWS: Michelle Angela Jeypaul (we call her Angel) Agastya Sud (we call him Flag Bearer) Avyukt Sud (we call him Samurai) Joshua Joseph Jeypaul (we call him Trailblazer) Joy Mukherjee (we call him Mountain Man / Family Man) Rishabh Dua (we call him Lawful Spitian) Tanuj Sud (yours truly, popularly known as Old Monk) Vishal Raj Sharma (he's called the Bottomless Glass) Vivaan Mukherjee (the Trendsetter) Mrs. Anamika Jeypaul (Grace is what she is) Arpita Sud (Priestess) Devahuti (Globetrotter) Mukti Mukherjee (Mythical Spitian) Saakshi (fondly called, Sister Spitian) This is of course, only a prologue, will try and share an update of two ‘live’ but, realistically, it is best perhaps to expect a detailed account only post our return on 19th August.