I was all set to leave, almost packed and ready to go and life happened. A dear loved one had to go through an invasive medical procedure. The last few days before my travel was filled with running from one department to another in hospitals and the day of my travel was the day of the procedure.
And this is the thing, even though I was told it’s ok and I should go ahead, my heart was not in it. How could I? Do I cancel? But that would not be fair to me or to Archana who had planned the whole thing. And the idea of cycling together, embarking on something new. It was exciting but would my heart be in it knowing a procedure was happening and not knowing the outcome while I was in Kashmir. The dilemma was killing me inside.
Then I decided I would go a day later. To hell with tickets and last minute ticket prices. This was a loved one. I first confirmed with Archana who understood the whole thing and told me not to worry and I could come a day later. Anyways the cycles would come on the day I landed. I had already updated Archana about the whole thing, my own turmoil and conflict. And I remember her saying, do what you feel is best, stay for the procedure but don’t be in a rush and cancel.
And I remember the whole day running around in the hospital, in a daze, procedure, in and out, to and fro departments only hoping for the best with Archana checking on me if all was going well.
Well it is what it is, because the same day Archana and the other two ladies- Dhanya and Swati landed, it was heavy and I mean heavy raining in Kashmir! It was so bad that Archana said it was pounding hard with zero visibility. Getting around in the town, with some sight seeing was impossible. And they were informed it was like that since the past 2 days.
Then the fear comes in. Shit, I hope it doesn’t rain throughout! Goddamn it we were cycling, on precarious rolling hills, slippery roads and of course chaotic traffic atleast from Srinagar. I was too preoccupied to think about the weather there and just focusing on getting through this day hour by hour.
When I reached home at 9.30 pm, I was exhausted with half of my backpack empty with things strewn around and with a sigh I started packing. I had a super early flight at 7 am with a 3 layover in Delhi and an additional 30 minutes stop in Jammu. The best option I could get at the last minute.
And as I was packing I felt a relief, no matter what here I was, going finally on a cycling trip for the first time. You have no idea how many times I have felt gratitude towards Archana throughout this journey. If not for her, I wouldn’t have done what I did.
In between sleep eyed flights and layovers I landed on a wet Srinagar day. The rains had stopped and the land was lush green everywhere. It was so different than the last time, the last year I was here. Mushtaq, Lateef were the people who took me around and took care of me and I was feeling bitter sweet. The trip was different, everything was different.
Archana was updating me on everything. There were totally five of us. Besides us was Vikram or Vikram ‘Uncle’ as that’s how Archana addressed him. She met him during the Manali – Leh cycling trip she did way back in 2011 or 2012. It was a long time ago and the routes, roads, facilities and everything else was no where close to what we had now. It was all camping. And yup Manali- Leh circuit is tougher than what we were doing now.
A 60+ young, handsome and charismatic gentleman, Vikram. His quiet positive energy pulled Archana and me through this journey. He was from Patiala and had roots in Kashmir with his wife being a Kashmiri. One would think with his demeanour, the way he carried himself, he was from the army. Incredibly fit and I mean really fit. Archana told me that on the first day of the Manali- Leh cycling she wondered if he could even cycle and keep up and what happened? He was always way ahead and waiting for the rest as they panted and heaved their way 😊
He was landing a little later in the evening. And then there was Dhanya, a Malayali from Pune, same as Archana’s town. Worked in an IT company, a mother of two and took up running inspired by Archana. And she practiced cycling for a month for this trip.
And then comes the red flag, Swati. Why do I say red flag? Well you will see as I go along how many red flags we had to wade through! I mentioned yesterday this blog is different, I would say things as it is and not sugarcoat it.
If during these blogs you feel I am writing about negative stuff, all I can say is, if that what it was, that’s what am writing. This is not a fairy tale. Am at a point when I cannot justify people’s nature and attitude thinking ‘it’s ok’. Nope the question here is not whether it’s ok or not, if it happened it means I write about it.
Swati was an obsessed runner, true blue cosmo liberals type from Pune, a Marwadi by birth married to a Punjabi and who had a mother in law from Nagaland, a fact she would reiterate many times telling us what a true Indian she was 😊
So by the time I was reaching the hotel I already was getting messages from a harassed tired Archana that Swati was complaining about the ‘dirty’ hotel rooms and it was not good blah blah blah. And that was just one of her list of grievances.When I walked in, I saw it was a nice boutique hotel. It was decent, neat and this was just for a night, we would be off tomorrow, what’s the big deal?
There she was waving at me, Archana after 4 years! It was so good meeting her and to think it felt like just yesterday we met at the trek! That’s how comfortable we were with each other. Archana immediately shifted her baggage to my room. It was anyways on a sharing basis and she couldn’t bear one more night with the red flag. We had 9 days to go so we would take each day as it happened and let go, no other option.
After some time came the two ladies and also Sonam who was organising the whole thing. He would be with us with his assistant Karma, an incredibly awesome kiddo in the support van throughout our journey. Then came Vikram at the right time as Sonam got the bikes according to our height to test run it.
And I must tell you this, as I held my mountain bike that would be mine for the next 8 days and took a short ride, the feeling was something else. Way lighter than what I had, a top notch geared branded MTB( Mountain Bike) from UK.
Archana took her cycle for a spin and so did I, getting onto the road, amidst the dust and chaos and going further until I realised I had no clue where I was! Better to head back!
Sonam ran the oldest bicycle tours company from Ladakh. A mature and nice gentleman, practical and caring too.
Were we excited? More like nervous. The day seemed clear but there were scattered clouds and we were hopingfor some dry weather. Sonam assured us Ladakh would have only clear weather and tomorrow would be the only day we might face cloudy weather. But yes tomorrow we would start our first day to Sonamarg.
Sonamarg is arguably one of the most picturesque places in Kashmir. It was one of the points where Amarnath Yatra would start.The route to it would be scenic and we had no idea then that it would take our breath away, literally!
To be continued tomorrow 🚴🌸