I was ahead and dying inside out as I pedalled uphill slowly, and I heard voices shouting towards me. It was the construction workers asking me where I was heading to. Panting but still smiling I said Drass for that was our destination. Immediately they invited me for some chai, take a break and even though I wanted to keep going and not stop, how could I refuse?
And so I did, standing with the friendly Kashmiri construction workers as they handed me one of the most delicious chais with biscuits. They were in awe that we were doing this, primarily being a woman and that too their own kind doing it not foreigners. As I sipped my chai I asked them, how was it for them during covid. And here were the realities, the construction didn’t stop, they couldn’t afford to. But as a safety step they were not allowed to go to their villages during those months of lockdown. Instead a make shift hut was built so they could live there. This was to make sure they didn’t infect others nor they could contract it from anyone. And they did this for a year and half.
And they said it so nonchalant it amazed me. How much we complain in our lives, about a bad coffee or a bad Wi-Fi or just one change in the routine of our lives? Even during covid the people who were comfortable seethed at being restricted at home and blamed the government for trying and doing its job. For what? For eating delivery food, watching Netflix and fattening their arses??!
I was blown away by their hospitality, insisting on giving me second round of chai and taking out small packets of biscuits from their bag and giving me. After some time Vikram came and they gave him chai again. Archana followed soon after and even though she initially refused, she gave in and when she had the chai it was like elixir! Their openness, warmth and affection was an antidote to our weariness. ❤️
And here is the thing about passes, we were ascending up and above and again descending towards the pass. The kind of extreme altitude differences we cycled in a matter of hours, I never faced that during trekking. We were so lucky, none of us were hit by AMS( Altitude Mountain sickness) and am talking about ascending 2000 feet in an hour’s time to descending to 1500 feet the next and repeating that cycle again and again.
They assured us that we were approaching zero point of Zoijilla pass, there would be no more ascents after a few kilometres and after that would be only descent past the pass. The way they encouraged and motivated us overwhelmed me. Here were so called conservative men not used to seeing women like this and all we got was respect and appreciation for what we were doing.
And what looked like forever, for those few kilometres I saw the point! Before that we had to pass a construction area that was blocked and as usual the workers helped us totally. Picked up our bicycle to go to the other side. We were actually cycling towards the pass in sight! With chai points and snack points on either side of the route, it seemed so vague like a blur now. Although the body was screaming with aches and pains, there was a relief knowing we were here and it was descent mostly from here.
I remember parking the cycle to where Karma gestured to stop and shouting in joy at Archana as she was approaching, ‘ Archana we have done it! We have done it!’ I could see a huge relief in her, a big smile that half of the route was over. And so was Vikram who cycled in with a big smile. The other two were quite far away.
How was the feeling? There was no sense of achievement, only relief that we made it this far. That we could do it somehow. We ordered something at the dhaba and went to zero point and took pics, the three of us with relief writ large on our faces. The first pass was done and we had three more passes to go through this journey. As we looked at the vista of mountains with no tourists in sight thanks to road maintenance there was a beautiful silence around us. The other passes would be filled with obnoxious, fat and gaudy dressed tourists from Delhi, Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana( the usual suspects) with no respect for the place nor environment but that would come later.
Right now Zoijilla pass it was. To be continued 🚴♀️🚴♀️