A sensible friend asked me, ‘why are you doing this?’ without any mistrust, only curiosity. My answer, ‘I just feel like it.’ That was a month before I left for Kaza from Bombay. I was not sure of very many things at that point, only that I was going to experience Himachal like never before.

I got in touch with Ishita Khanna in April this year and expressed my interest in volunteering with Ecosphere for the Inner Space Adventures. The idea was to travel around the villages of Spiti and possibly contribute to the place, in some way or the other. We finalised my dates from August 16 to 30, 2013. That seemed like too little time even then.

First signs of wonder.
First signs of wonder.

I met Sonali Gupta, my co-volunteer, the morning we left from Manali to Kaza. Once we reached Kaza, I did not know how my pre-planned route Langza-Komic-Demul-Dhankar-Tabo-Kaza would change me. In these places, we stayed in homestays, got a real taste (rather convenient one) of the local lives, walked the mountains, listened to strangers, laughed at desperation and embraced being overwhelmed.

If I were to put down everything that I went through at that time, it would probably become a thesis! I will not be sharing my itinerary here, because that will be easily available with Ecosphere. I’d rather share my ethereal experience as a traveller.

Even though I am avid traveller, this was my first solo backpacking trip. It was special to me at many levels. Most of us under the assumption that village life is simple, but are equally unaware of the fact that we take all our resources for granted in the city. I learnt to be grateful for space, sun, my legs, patience, humour, electricity, water, chai, great friends and family and the present. While mostly we were involved in the village activities (like plucking green peas, cutting grass for fodder, trying to herd cattle, learning pottery and helping in the kitchen), we did get a chance to walk around and explore the place. The trek from Langza to Komic is memorable, primarily because it was not a distance I had done before. It brought to me landscapes and capabilities of my body that I had never known of. We crossed the post office at Hikkim (from where I sent postcards back home) and sat by a small lake. This lake brought me some visual respite. At that point in time, I was quite anxious of my trek onwards and the break by this lake gave me the energy to keep going.

Kishen making lunch.
Kishen making lunch.

Another significant day was the say we left Demul for Tabo via Dhankar. The drive was gorgeous! It is unbelievable to see the terrain change from grey high reaches of Demul to brown historic Dhankar and finally, the fertile green Tabo. Dhankar is a photo-perfect place. I wish I had spent more time though. Once we approached Tabo, I saw plants of sea-buckthorn for the first time and people talking on their mobile phones! I must confess, I experienced a slight culture-shock in Tabo when I saw the television!

Once we were back in Kaza, I began thinking about my surreal past week and I realised that this life is highly under-rated. There are numerous stories we need to know and ultimately, it is the number of lives we touch and enrich that makes us worth our time. I’m glad that I took this chance with Ecosphere. Ishita and Sunil have given me a change of perspective and a de-cluttered mind!

Dorji and his grandson.
Dorji and his grandson.

P.S> It has been a month and a week since my return and I’m still stuck in the moment.

Amrita Das

I have been a travel and culture independent journalist. My bylines have appeared in many publications worldwide including National Geographic Traveller India, Lonely Planet Magazine India, The Indian Express and World Travel Magazine. A fellow of Media Ambassadors India-Germany 2019 program by Robert Bosch Stiftung and Centre for Media Competence, University of Tübingen. Currently, I am the photo editor for RoundGlass Sustain, a wildlife and conservation e-publication. I live in India.

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13 thoughts on “Volunteering with Ecosphere, Spiti”

  1. I am seriously thinking of signing up with ecosphere myself after reading your story…wondering why I havent done so already

  2. — it’s a Spiti —

    Truly a memorable n mad trip i’ve ever did..
    Went to Road trip from Guj for spiti with my
    Cam, bagpacks, tents and had so crazy trip
    While driving ford Ikon in all corner of this place..

    Place which r totally diff then Ladakh if one can differentiate and more rawness which gives more touch more local people n homsestays..

    Recently been to leh again for Chadartrek n find Leh so diff now !! Wish this plc stays alive d same way it belongs now !!

  3. Wow, that sounds like an amazing experience. I’ve never heard of Ecosphere before, will have to check them out!

    I really liked this line: “it is the number of lives we touch and enrich that makes us worth our time”. Beautiful words!

  4. I would like to know how to volunteer for it. If you can help, it’d be great.

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