The Homestay at Drass was tiny and comfortable and four of us camped together in one room while Vikram had a room of his own. With 4 rooms and only one bathroom used for guests and staff it was a constant opening and closing and waiting for the bathroom to get empty 😊
Luckily besides us with Sonam and Karma there was no one yet. The cook was from Dehradun and he and his brother ran the Homestay. Very friendly just like how people from Uttarakhand are, we had really good home made food. The roti, dal, Sabzi( vegetables) and rice were heaven especially after such a long day.
It was getting cold and colder by the hour, just as Sonam had warned us. Archana and I took the beds that were lower and close to the window while Dhanya and Swati were opposite to us. So for the first time we were holed up together in a room and it meant listening to Swati starting her complaints all over again. Every tiny thing she had a problem, honestly we tried our best to placate her but the list kept getting longer and her aggressive and negative energy was wearing us down. Which one was worse? The cold or Swati’s constant nagging? Dhanya was bearing the brunt the last two days and she was hoping we would be holed up together like this as a respite but Archana and I had enough.
The dinner was amazing and there was a good day to look forward to, the ‘easy day’. You should know by now nothing is really easy in the Himalayas but after the previous day this was definitely better, in fact the most comfortable ride in our entire journey. We would be cycling to Kargil. If Drass was really cold, Kargil was the other extreme, as Sonam put it, the location of Kargil was a ‘hot bowl’, all the hot winds compressed and got caught in here like a bubbling pot and from that day onwards we would only experience unbearable scorching heat while cycling, there would be no respite.
The distance from Drass to Kargil was 53 kms, initial uphill then mostly a flowing route as now we would be descending towards Kargil. We had delicious alu parathas for breakfast. Vikram looked very tired and worn out, he had stomach upset plus the previous day’s dust and grime got to him. He was carrying oatmeal and stuck to eating that with a small banana. He was pretty much in his space, wanting to be left on his own. Archana guessed right and told us to not make a big fuss about it and to refrain from asking him if he was ok all the time. Sometimes it was good to just be. She knew him well so it was best to be normal with him. It was true, in the process of trying to help we could be patronising someone. Sometimes the best help was to refrain from doing anything.
As the ride went on, Swati’s voice was getting more high pitched, more loud, just screaming for attention. Now that we were looking out for Vikram, she didn’t like the fact that her ‘pains’ were being ignored. Dhanya would keep asking us if one of us could switch with her, me and Archana nodded a strong NO. And this was the thing, her agitation was no matter how fast she cycled, why the hell were Archana and me ahead of her always. I mean this was so petty and irritating, but no amount of telling her that didn’t matter, so many times we gave her way to go ahead but then her stamina would dip and we would continue at the same pace we started on, and we would be ahead again. Even Vikram had that same pace, slow and steady was our motto.
Why I had to mention this is because this is the other side of being in a team. The insecurity, the competitiveness and ego, and the need to be the centre of attention. Sometimes you hit solid gold with a group that is in sync and then sometimes you get that one person in a group who is out of sync. From complaining about some things, our mornings would be starting with her complaints and end in the evening with another list. Why couldn’t some people be thankful for what was given? How lucky and blessed we were, we had the privilege to do this incredible journey of our lives. To take time out for 10 days and embark on something that was unique to us. Human need for more never stops doesn’t it?
We were breezing through the route and we were absolutely in no hurry but the sun was punishing, scorching hot. This was the beginning of extreme heat till Leh. We are in this unforgivable terrain with sun, heat and dust through and through. What would happen tomorrow when we had another mountain pass and an excruciating climb again in this weather where temperatures would only soar?
We were breezing through smoothly and Archana and I decided to stop at this bridge where there was a cafe. What was the point in rushing to Kargil. So we stopped and we waved to Vikram and Karma also in, later the two ladies and Sonam joined us. We had a good hour and half break, it was super hot I tell you. Also it was not like there were no uphills at all, but it was way better than yesterday, with superb roads thanks to BRO.
Archana and I had been taking B complex tablets daily, a must have in your travel bag I tell you. It lowers body heat and it prevents cramps, she got a strip and we were out of it so the moment we reached town we told the others to go ahead and took the hotel name and noted gps location. After the Drass experience of missing out on each other, we all made it a point to ask Sonam the hotel/ home stay name and to check if it was in town or beyond it.
Archana found the hotel and we got there first before the others, even Sonam went way ahead of the hotel and the rest followed him and had to come back all the way. It was a lovely hotel, luxurious actually.
Kargil was literally like a hot steaming pot and it was impossible to get out before 5 pm, it was super bright so after a good lunch Archana and myself just relaxed in the room, this was also a chance to have a bath and wash our clothes 😊 Yup that’s exactly what we all did. Knowing how hot it was outside and our room having a balcony, we washed all our cycling clothes and t shirts the whole lot knowing fully well in an hours time it would be super dry. And yes the applications of creams, pain sprays and painkillers continued. Every night all would pop one and crash. That made us wake up fresh to start our day. Believe me this is required. If one got too tired with aches and pains, you would not get a good night’s rest.
Around 5 pm we set outside. Kargil is a very hot, very dusty town. We were still not in the Buddhist region of Ladakh. The aggressiveness of Kashmiris and their rash driving continued. Tomorrow we would enter into Buddhist culture going to Bodh Karbu via another pass – Namik La.
After having some local bread Archana and I went to the topmost floor of the hotel. It had a beautiful gazebo and it was still in construction but there was no one there and we wanted some silence looking at the mountains. Kargil was only noise and chaos.
I distinctly remember Archana playing such melodious beautiful Marathi songs in Hindustani classical genre. She was steeped into it since her childhood. Her ‘Aji’ grandmother was a classical singer and she grew up with so many classical singers coming to her house and rehearsing. It ran in the family as her mother sang well, so did Archana and now even her son Omkar had that gift. We stood looking around the magnificent mountains, the vista above all the chaos that only humans can cause with the beautiful ragas in the background. I am telling you, instead of New Age music or Bollywood songs no matter how soulful they are can never beat Indian classical when it comes to the Himalayas.
Just try listening to Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Bhimsen Joshi, Balamurali Krishna, Pandit Jasraj, Bal Gandharva, Kishori Amonkar there are so many of them, I am citing just a few of them . Just keep an open mind and heart and listen to them when you are in the Himalayas, the connection goes beyond the five senses, You know this music has come from hundreds of generations passed through with melodies, ragas that connects with the divine within. That evening with the ragas and Archana singing softly looking at the mountains is something I can’t express in words.
It was time to call it a night and move on to the next day. A tough day with the second pass to cross over all the way into Buddhist Land- a place called Bodh Karbu.
To be continued 🚴♀️🚴♀️