Part 1. Little Miss Adventures in the Himalayas


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…

Part 2. Little Miss Adventures in the Himalayas

continued from Part 1….

As we drove uphill, the sun started rising on the barren pale brown slopes. The image clarity and the intensity of colours was unbelievable. It seemed as if someone had edited the images on Photoshop and increased the Saturation of everything. The mountain tips turned a shade of amber orange, like that of molten lava. Gentle, silken streams of water that seemed to have been spread out at the base of the valley glistened as they caught the sun.

Eleven am: We were still entranced by the scale of the geographical features. I was mentally revising all the lessons I had learnt in geography in school. We were asking the driver to stop ever so often, to click pictures. As it is, architects prefer pictures without humans in them and here, there was no one but us, for as far as we could see! There were just two colours- dusty brown and bright blue. Then mountains opened out and there were no hairpin turns to take. We had reached a huge horse shoe shaped plateau that stretched on for kilometres on either side and we were right in the centre, on the very top of it. No picture could do justice to the scale of the space. It was one of those WOW! Moments when the mind did not seem confined to the body anymore.

After that, we had to cross ten kilometres of extremely flat land. We were in the setting in which advertisements are shot for luxury cars. We got back on the ‘road’, where ever that was! The dust had covered it all. The car was stinking of kerosene but we couldn’t open the windows, it was too dusty, dry and cold outside. It was two o clock in the afternoon and hunger had started to set in. We hadn’t crossed any human settlement as yet. There was no signal in the phone, no electric lines to be seen and only rarely we would cross another car. We did see a lot of trucks of the armed forces moving in packs of twenty five or so. I almost got a feeling that we were supposed to be thankful that there was a road to drive on. We were carrying all our cooking paraphernalia with us, down to the kerosene stove. We stopped by a lake in the middle of a splendid valley to cook our own lunch. It was extremely windy and the stove had already turned erratic (due to the pressure difference). It took all the drivers experience just to turn it on. It took us three hours just to get basic ‘khichdi’ done. Lunch became early dinner, but it was delicious, being the first meal of the day. Beautiful dusk descended on our dinner. Consequently, it was too late for us to get to the next township. It got very dark and we had no option but to stop at the nearest ‘hotel’. This hotel was a mere roadside tent, frequented only by truck drivers. The mere thought of it was scarily disturbing but I knew I would be safe. (My friends were decent and protective about me.)Our host/owner of the hotel was a local who wouldn’t let us drink anything but boiled water. We had some half boiled Maggi for dinner. We snuggled in the hotel with one and only room.. Luckily, no one else was staying there for the night. While I fell asleep really quickly, my friends played cards till the kerosene lamp flickered dead.

We set up early next day to see the sun rise again on orange mountains and streams of gold. Who knows, maybe those wind carved mounds hid ancient ruins submerged centuries ago. Awestruck, we were silent along the way.. but we did go berserk clicking pictures and I marvelled at the grandness of it all. The best thing about travelling by road was that it took a certain time to transcend that grand space. It was not about getting the perfect instant shot, it was a complete experience that required time to transcend through the space. It was a lingering state of elation. My mind had already been set to a state of permanent high. That’s when it hit me… I was really there! I was living my dream! As a child, I wanted to work for Discovery Channel, to be a marine biologist or a cave explorer. I wanted to go for sky diving and bungee jumping. I wanted to explore the Alps and maybe the Himalayas. I wanted to be a globe trotter .

Tanglangla Pass(5328mt above sea level)  bore news of serious trouble. It was the highest area and anyone who has sickness due to lack of Oxygen usually had the attack there. We were not carrying any Oxygen tanks. The air was so very thin that all of us were on the verge of losing consciousness. Our conversations had died out completely and we all fell into a deep sleep that bordered on passing out. Water supplies were low and the roads were extremely bad. We only ‘woke up’ after crossing the Pass. We only realized what had happened to us only after it had happened. Thank god the driver sustained. It wa afternoon and we were in no condition to cook. We stopped at the only roadside tent for miles that ,of course, was labelled as a hotel. All the four boys had developed a mild fever and fell asleep in the tent while we waited for half an hour for half cooked Maggi Soup. But it was good to see other human faces. We saw a biker couple. But because, it was a downhill drive to Leh, our condition improved as we descended. The valley had turned reddish, showed signs of Iron deposits. Wild horses ran free, along lush green moss dotted streams.

By early evening, we found ourselves in Leh, at last!

to be continued….

Part 3 – Little Miss Adventures in the Himalayas

We spent the evening in a Government office in Leh getting permissions to visit thePangong Lake that is right at the Indo-China Border. With our ID’s in their record, they know who all are headed to the unsafe areas- that are not really mant for tourists at all.

Next morning, we set out on our journey to the most serene clearwater lake in the Asian region, which was located, ironically, at the Border of two not so friendly, countries. The unsafe border is where,we planned to stay the night. The six hour journey provided the most unique pictures, to everyones delight. The barren mountain to our right contrasted with the lush green valley down below. A view so vast and multi-leveled that it was not so easily clicked. Which is allright. For some sights memories and expereinces are best not clicked or captured. Once imprinted upon the minds eye- they don’t just remain there, they linger, change whimsically and evolve like living beings- ready to be beckoned by the time at anytime.

The sun started losing warmth, we crossed little streams while driving on the base of the broad valley .. streams- which originated from ice melting at the peaks and trickling down the slopes. Around four kms before our destination, the road had been cut off by a seasonal downstream that no car could cross. everyone was turning back. Our driver was upfront, ‘ There is no way the car can cross this. I am turning back to stay at the nearest camp, 15km behind us.’ We had the option that we could either turn back or we cross the stream manually and walk down the rest of the 4kms.It would take us one hour to get to the Hotel at the Lake.
We didn’t feel like we had a choice, turning back to the camp would mean missing out on the whole Lake experience. We picked up our basic luggage- one backpack each and decided to cross the stream and reach the Hotel on foot. The driver would come for us early in the morning, when the stream will be at its weakest. ‘When you come to the fork in the road, take the road that goes up!’ Said the driver as he sped away for the night.

After the tedious task of crossing the ice-cold and rocky stream, our shoes were soaked with ice cold water. We started walking down the road at the bottom of the Broadest valley, with its peak ablaze with the setting rays of the sun. I brought out the very handy, instant energy source, easily digestible Chocolates and some dry fruits. Our shoes were not going to dry out, we had gotten used to the ‘squish’ sound on every step.. We kept walking for half an hour on the road,crossed a tiny stream, and right there, we lost the road. It just wasn’t there! All we had infront of us was a steep mountain. And as if an image has been photoshoped, the road had been deleted. Just for fun!
 By now, the sky had turned the deepest blue, with a zillion stars. It was going to be moonless night. Beautiful. But empty. The barren mountains were looking down upon us like silent killers. Suddenly our trip was over and the adventure had begun. But we didn’t know that just yet.

We were five people – lost in the dark- close to the Indo-China border – with one dying torch- no compass- no direction – no network coverage. ‘Is this the fork in the road the driver was talking about?’ We all felt that was not the case. All we could see was a steep mountain. NO road whatsoever. We wandered around- to search for the lost road. Frantically. We all split up in different directions and started to look around. Half an hour later- these were the findings. Nothing towards the top or the bottom. Right ahead, the mountain- which was turning at 90 degrees was a blind corner. There was no way that a car could have continued in either of the four directions. ‘Did we go on the wrong road?’ No. There was just one road, teh one we had been walking on. ‘Have we missed the fork and come to the dead end?’ ‘Should we trace our way back?’ What good would that do? It was getting dark and our torch was dying. What if we miss the fork again! We’ll be stuck there. Instead of here. Same Difference.

‘Does it mean that we will have to stay here the entire night? And wait for someone to fetch us in the morning?’ ‘We have no blankets’. Survival stories from Nat Geo and Discovery started coming to the mind.”will they find our frozen corpses in the morning? Come on ! its not THAT cold!’ ‘Maybe a case of hypothermia- frozen feet- they”ll cut off a black toe or two!’

The unlikelihood of being in the situation thrilled me to my bones (and still does). Maybe losing a toe or two is not that bad, atleast we will be alive… It took us a WHILE and a half (and my frantic prayer directed to the million stars) to find the road again. Apparently, it was around the blind corner. We had to walk on a three feet wide walkway and bend over backwards under a ledge to make it across to the other side of the mountain. And lo and Behold! We were on the road again, going downhill,  with all its hairpin turns in place.
How the car would traverse what we had just done, will remain a mystery to all of us.
It is safe to say that it is impossible.

While we walked in the dark silence, our torch had died and our eyes had become accustomed to the moonless darkness. Moreover, our driver had hinted that we should not be too conspicuous- it was a shoot at sight area. Afterall, what business did five youngsters have, walking down the Valley road with backpacks. You either bike it down or go by car. Why would anyone Walk? Fear was not only of the elements, it was of the manmade kind as well. One of those moments when nothing need be spoken..we all had to just follow the road.
An expedition.. where all of us were united by a common aim- To make it, alive. We were in a window of time where the trinkets of urbanization had been brushed out of the mind like litter being swept off to the side of the road and pulled up by a Vacuum Cleaner.

Moving along, we did come to a fork in the road. The valley had opened out and we were facing a range in front of us, probably 30 kms away. Right then, we all stopped in our tracks! For we could hear Dogs barking!! ‘Hooray! this means there is civilization somewhere close!’…’oh wait! They couldn’t be wild dogs!” .. But we followed our instincts and took the road that went downwards. For that was the direction the barks were coming from.And right then we saw a lightbulb! In the distance, we all had the instinct to run to it, but the air being so sparse on oxygen that it was physically impossible.
We came across what was an Army barrack. Through the windows we could see soldiers in their three teir beds, watching Cricket. India was playing! The guard at the entrance checked our Id’s, was super alert and quick to refuse entry. He asked us a million questions as to why we were where we were but softened a little when he saw a girl as a part of the entourage.
He asked us to take the road that goes up and assured us that a Hotel was indeed in place. Feeling reassured we started walking again. And yet another fork in the road! We took the one that went up! The valley was pitch dark. We could only sense that it had spread out and there was a vast expanse.
The Hotel- Was a one room structure with a timber and thatch roof. The owner/ housekeeper lived in his Yurt fifty steps away. He shook his head in amazement as he found out that we have walked down in the last four hours. He poured us the metallic hot water to drink. He put some Maggi to boil as our dinner.
Thirty and dehydrated to the core,our throat was so parched that we couldn’t even feel like eating. time to take out the shoes, we had cold feet- but no black toes! Life is good.
Half heartedly eating the Maggi noodles, we fell asleep easily.
The next morning, we woke up to realize the real expanse of the Valley.
Pangong Lake was breathtakingly beautiful. The clear waters reflected the clear blu sky. Synergy. The water saline, ice cold and crystal clear- you could count the pebbles at the base. Just the sheer scale of the setting was worth the hassle we had been through and more.

to be continued..

About The Author

Richa brings you only the most practical, to-the-point, no-nonsense information that helps turn your house into your dream home. She has a passion for simplifying design concepts that you can actually put to use. She has a degree in Architecture, over thirty published articles, a life blog and has co-authored the bestseller 'My First Home' with Shashank Shekhar.


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