I don’t know why the middle of the holidays always feels like that of a doughnut. Empty. It was one of those extremely dull summer days. I had been alternating between being bored on facebook for the n-th time and feeling saturated watching repeats on TV…. ranging from as intellectually stimulating as Megastructures on National Geographic to as mind numbing as MTV Splitsvilla. I had seen it all.
The elixir of artistic inspiration and motivation for life had probably evaporated in the summer heat. My paint brushes were crisp and dry from lack of use. My diary had not seen me in long time. Fiction was gathering some realistic dust. Going out of the house in the burning sun was just not an option. Life seemed to be in the middle of nowhere- meaningless. The concept of time had blurred out. Just when I had been thoroughly bored of being bored, the seriousness of the situation struck me….. I was wasting my last holidays as a college student.
This time next year, I would be a graduate, either looking for a job or worse still, already working!! Mild panic set in. I needed to make the most of what I had! Time was a currency that employers are never too happy paying you in.
Clearly, it was a now or never situation. I had been feeling extremely dejected sitting idle and I was in that state of extreme desperation to do something exciting with my life.
It had been looming in all the discussion my fellow classmates had been having for the last few months. When they would ask me, I’d just say, “Hmm! Let’s see..I’m not too sure”. I was never too keen, precisely because I felt I might not be able to take the harsh physical conditions. I used to feel suffocated in the winters in the plains, always had altitude sickness as a child,had developed a nagging case of bronchial asthma, a dry cough that apparently had no cure. I had never been on any trekking trips and I wasn’t physically in the best of states.
I had seen tremendous documentaries on TV about this, of how cold it got and how thin the air was, the lack of oxygen and how bright the sun was! It is just one of those places that I had had glimpses of on Discovery Channel and read about in the National Geographic Magazine. It is almost a pilgrimage for people in my profession- for architects, portrait photographers,for trekkers, motor cyclists. . It is the bling in the been-there-done-that of the adventurer’s list. It is one of those dreams, that in my mind, had a bleak chance of materializing. Those landscapes, the spirit of adventure, the possibility of camping and trekking seem to be too far off for me personally. But, desperate times were calling for desperate measures and I went as far as signing up for a trip to Leh Ladakh on the very last day!
There is something crazy about deciding to leave one’s inhibitions behind and go on a ten day trip to the highest and coldest desert in the world . People dream about this adventure for years before the plan finally materializes.
A lot of people, most girls changed their minds at the last moment. I was the only one left but it was too late for me to change my mind. Finally, we were to be a team of six. Four boys, myself, plus the driver of the Qualis that we had hired. We packed with us drinking water, a kerosene stove, utensils, a pressure cooker, lots of Maggi, rice, daal, onions and such. Our journey started around two at night and we woke up in Manali at seven am. What used to be the termination point of the family trip was now a mere starter. We did not feel the need to take pictures. Leh promised much more. We had a quick breakfast and carried on to cross the ugliest pass at Rohtang. It was full of taxis and tourists who were making the most of the snow. Even if it was just puddles of muddy ice. Was it reason enough for those hundreds of clumsily woollen clad families? Or had they been over promised by touts? I could see baggy bodied over sized unwashed fur coats playing with the equally unappealing roadside snow. Couples emerging from the tourist cabs to get pictures clicked in heart shaped frame s that spoke nothing of the location. The picture could have been taken in a studio! The sights and sounds and population density were not to either of our tastes.At least the driver got his tea.
As some consolation, soon after, the landscape started changing. Almost immediately, the scale of the mountains began increasing and the air turned chilly. And well, the roads suddenly became extremely bumpy. As if the workers had just decided to turn back after Rohtang. But that was not the case. Maybe due to the rarity of the event, some roadside workers would wave at us. For the others, we were a mere distraction.
By six in the evening, we reached Keylong which was to be our stop for the night.It had gotten dark. The air had certainly gotten thinner. My heart would race uncontrollably upon climbing the stairs. I could not really carry my luggage more than five steps. Of course, we were there for acclimatisation. I noticed that most of the women were wearing almost similar overcoats. It amused me much but they were all too busy or shy to stop on the street to answer my queries. I wanted to know if they were from a religious or social sect or they were all teachers in the same school or something. Or maybe, one day a truckfull of overcoats had decided to pull up into the small town, and news must have spread and they all bought the similar overcoats.At east something would be better than nothing.
I drew many a curious glances from cute red cheeked, golden haired teenage boys hanging around playing cricket with custom made rules that called for much arguments. Rules that emerge when you play cricket on a steep road on the hills wher retrieving a ball is not an option.Where the boundary for a four, or a six as close as possible. “Where were all the young girls?” I wondered and (so did all of my classmates ;)), as we could not spot a single one on the road at dusk. However, little children roamed the streets fearlessly making eye contact and smiling. One of them curiously tugged at my hair while we waited for the dinner at a roadside cafe’. It was cooked from scratch upon ordering. The lady took one hour, and well we found out that it was no cafe’, but their living room that they had opened onto the road and they decided to make some money out of that.
Next morning, we woke up feeling marginally better while breathing in the thin air. We packed our entire luggage and checked out. Surprisingly, the car had started to reek of kerosene. The difference in air pressure had affected the valve of the stove because of which, it was leaking. We cleaned up the leakage as much as we could. But what cannot be cured had to be endured. Seven am, after a cup of salty tea, we leave for LEH!
to be continued…