I was about to embark on a long arduous road trip for 5 days bringing in something new, something unknown and change the way I look at life and the choices I make henceforth.
This was going to be one road trip after the other every single day. And every single day would be lessons learned and unlearned.
This time the three of us would join two older couples, our tour guide – a man who believed in going by the book very stringently and our soft patient awesome driver Sonam.
The entire group travelling together were from Bombay except myself. A mix of mostly Gujaratis and one Maharashtrian couple and by the end of this 5 day trip I would be able to understand the languages, their accents quite a bit. I also had the chance to eat Gujarati snacks, know Maharastrian recipes and see a mix of everything in the group.
I realized that it’s not easy to be with a group, any group for 5 whole days going through rough terrain, small remote pit stops and each one with their own point of view.After the usual niceties and putting up a front which lasts only for a day or two, you begin to see how people really are and that includes yourself too because you react to it too 🙂
We started off quite early with our tour guide pushing us, nagging us to get in and get going.We were going pretty far now. At least a 10 hour drive towards Nubra Valley -more specifically we would reach Turtuk and that would be our first stop for the night.
But first en route was the famous Kardungla Pass – Yes, known as the highest motorable road in the world. And it was brutal. Really rough roads of 30 kms to reach there. Narrow,stones everywhere and one slide of a stone from the mountains can finish everything. I saw vans, cars, bikes struggling tottering as every inch of our body was shaking going up. It took a good 1.5 hours to reach there.
Suddenly the air went thin,bone chillingly cold, like a whiplash. We were shivering inside the van as we hurried up to wear our jackets, caps, gloves. How could something suddenly become so cold, so different, so massive 30+ kms from Leh?
Once we reached, we saw the temperature was tipping towards -1 degree. We were at 18,000+ feet altitude. The highest ever so far.
It was so cold and when I looked around taking it all in there was the massiveness of the Himalayan Ranges.
A Big Board sign from the army clearly stating TO NOT STAY THERE FOR MORE THAN 20-25 MINUTES, It can have dangerous side effects and damage your health. As me, my friend started walking around, we moved away from the crowd, the army camp and canteen, there we saw the Mountains in its fullest glory.
Nothing can compare to this with what I saw in all my travels. That moment is when I realized No, I can never ever say only the Sea can make me feel that way. This was something bigger, something divine, something that makes you believe in the universe.
The feeling that evoked inside me was THIS IS IT. If I had to die right now, this very second I would gladly knowing I have experienced this. I was complete. I was content. No family,friends, loves or attachments mattered anymore. Everything seemed so insignificant of it all. THIS IS IT. I am ready, so ready to go.
That feeling was overwhelming,a rush of emotions, I wanted to cry out loud with happiness, sheer joy, ecstatic, so ecstatic that my heart would burst.
And as I walked to the army canteen where our Jawans, our military were there having a small chai space for people like us visiting here, it was too much for me to take.
I started talking to them knowing that each one of them has been posted here for 10 months, 1.5 years and there was the SIGN BOARD warning people not to stay for more than 25 minutes.
I cried shamelessly and I told them, Sirji, muje faqr hai ki aap sab hamare desh ki hifazat kar rahe ho (Sir, I am proud of you all,you are protecting our country) and Saluted them with Jai Hind. They were surprised, so surprised seeing a civilian, a woman say it out in the open.They saluted back, smiled warmly and said Jai Hind Madam! Then and there I knew I had to write about the army, their presence wherever they traveled and what they go through.
I can’t even begin to think now when I see the Social Media, the journalists, even people berating them, forget appreciating them and even saying They take salaries and they have to do their job! Would we go to the border and fight and protect if given a bigger salary?? Every army person I met and spoke to said, It’s not about having a choice, It is my duty to protect my country when that call comes. We want to do it, we are not forced to do it. We believe in our country. That for me is sacrifice.Most of us don’t have that.
We went further up, crossed an army check post where I became friends and played with some of the mountain dogs there. We crossed the Sheya lake and when I started feeling the noise from the group, you sometimes do, you want time out alone, I noticed the last row of seats where no one sits.
I went to the back row, lied down amidst the smaller bags, pulled my cap down and started playing Pink Floyd’s Hey You, America’s You can do Magic and get lost in my own world. As I looked up I saw the beautiful sky and clouds. It was a different world out there. Your own little world.
The ride backseat was rough and my friend was concerned I would throw up and the roads were pretty bad because 2-3 times my whole body flew up and off the seat and landed back with a thud 🙂 But It didn’t matter anymore I felt freer than ever before.
The din, the noise of the group went off into oblivion. As I saw some of them going trigger happy with their cameras shuffling moving here and there to capture this and that, I was lost in those clouds.
We crossed Khalsar, Karakoram Wildlife Sanctuary and there we saw, a road, right side of it and it clearly said this road leads to SIACHEN. Later I would meet someone who came from there.
We were now in Nubra Valley and I knew I was away from it all, away from everyone, even Leh seemed too noisy as I peeked into this ethereal Valley.The Landscape was totally different than what I saw all these days.
Just a day before I saw Tso moriri lake and felt it was out of this world and when I saw the valley, I thought Ladakh, what a stunner you are! You jolt me out of my senses like a passionate lover and show me various ways to love you. You tease me, attract me, pull me, push me and I am getting sucked in, am deep into you..
We stopped at Diskit for lunch and the tour guide who was a Maharashtrian told the caretaker at this hotel to prepare a nice maharashtrian lunch. It was delicious, fresh, home made as we sat outdoors and ate and I looked up and saw what looked like a monastery. It seemed enigmatic, way up there. I remembered Antara my friend telling me that I must not miss visiting Diskit Monastery and this was the same one. Noted.
As we continued what was another 3 more hours to Turtuk, we crossed the beautiful Hundar Monastery that’s near to the Seyok river. We were also crossing the Last Border Airport in India. You could sense the gravity, the remoteness, the severity of the location. No pictures should be taken. Warning signs were everywhere.
By now I was slowly getting used to answering Nature’s calls open air! This is important because your inhibitions goes away, especially as a woman once you get on the road and start traveling to remote places. It is natural. One hip, skip and a jump away 🙂 There is nothing more cleaner than this one.
En route we stopped and saw orange berries. These were Leh Berries and currently in season, growing wild everywhere so before anyone checked if it was edible or not, me and my friend just started picking and eating them and it was Yum! Tangy, really tiny, sweet and sour and just the right taste.
Here is where the landscape became more and more breathtaking. I mean truly breathtaking because for once the guide said something right. He said please be quiet and just watch your surroundings and enjoy it. OH MY GOD…. It was undescribable …
The landscape, the lush green valley, the rocks, the waters, the people, oh the people as we slowly started moving ahead. This was a different world. So different away from it all.
Bright porcelain translucent faces with the most striking eyes you will ever see, an innocence, a shyness, so away from everything that is happening in the world today.
The people were as stunning as the landscape and somehow I didn’t want to take the camera out and start clicking away. I wanted to breathe in, drink into the present, to believe this was happening.Now.
We passed from one village to the other, Changmar, Bogdang Village, Garadi village and here we were at the northern most point of India..
The other side, just the other side not far away was Ketu – Pakistan.
We were in TURTUK, an another world, a totally different world from the world you were born, grown and conditioned into..