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Longterm travel snapshot – Part 7

When people hear of our long term and slow travel stories, we are often asked questions – how do we plan, what do we plan and for how long do we plan. And when we say that we don’t really plan anything at all, more questions follow. We have always said that serendipity is a big part of our travel and we let the road lead the way.

We are starting this series from our first long term trip (well, it wasn’t THAT long but for us, it was, at the time) – our 3 months in the Himalayas. We won’t talk much about the place and our experience but about how did we decide the next destination, how we moved ahead and how the decision panned out. We will just “write out loud” what was going on in our minds. We hope this series throws light into the psyche of long term travel and acts as a guiding tool for future aspirants.

…Continued from Part 6

Dispatch #30 – Hitchhiking, and how! (Part 2)

The Spanish couple started to lose patience. They went back to the guesthouse, boiled some potatoes and stuff, came down and started to walk. “We’ll walk ahead, there’s supposed to be a police chowki 10 km from here. We’ll try to get there.”

The Italian couple went to sit on the grassland at the turn for Parkachik. “We’ll sit there and wait”

“Okay, we’ll be right here.”

And after a while, we heard an accelerating sound. It meant a bigger vehicle was approaching. A bus wasn’t supposed to be here, what could this be?

And there we saw, the Italian couple had nicely gotten themselves seats in an Indian Oil truck.

“They are going to Padum. Get into the one behind.”

Dispatch #31 – Hitchhiking, and how! (Part 3)

“Whoa whoa whoa…what? Are you nuts? This can’t be true! A truck…an Indian Oil truck, seriously? Who does this?”

Logically speaking, all of these thoughts should have crossed our minds. But when the road shows you the way, you take it. We had learnt that much so far.

The only thing we thought was, “Great, we will finally be moving ahead” – simple, practical and all that was needed. (The beginning of learning to keep our thoughts minimal!).

Getting onto the truck was surprisingly easy and comfortable. And the driver was surprisingly welcoming. 

Only after we picked up the Spanish couple (they split in the two trucks) and our party of three couples plus three staff moved ahead, did we realise what exactly was happening. It was our first ever ride in a truck let alone in a valley we knew nothing of. 

The landscape was turning into something we had never ever seen before.

Dispatch #32 – Hitchhiking and how! (Part 4)

Just an hour into the journey, we knew we wouldn’t reach Padum in daylight. The trucks moved at a snail’s pace, taking frequent stops. A wire would break, the engine overheats, something or the other would break down. But no problem was too much to handle for our feisty drivers.

“What’s there to see in these naked mountains (nange parbat-their exact words)? We come here because we don’t have a choice. Why are you coming here? Go to the green valleys of Kashmir.”

Our young, recently married driver scolded us.

The lunch halt at Rangdum was a long one. These guys carried their own supplies and stove and cooked their own meals. So there was enough time for us to finish our lunch and explore the hamlet of Rangdum. 

The nothingness of this landscape was now hitting us hard. It seemed like nature had designed life to be extremely difficult here. Hence, there wasn’t much life, human or otherwise. 

For us, it felt like it was a different planet. Nothing resembled “life on earth” as we had known before.

Until we met these kids. They were playing by the stupa at the outskirts of Rangdum. We wondered how life would be for them, living in such isolation. From what we saw, it sure seemed like a LOT of fun!

They had cracked the secret of being happy in the middle of absolutely nowhere!

Dispatch #33 – Hitchhiking and how! (Part 5)

Post the lunch break (which was also a time to break into civilisation) at Rangdum, we continued up this gravel path to Zanskar. Stark nothingness continued. The air started to grow chilly late afternoon.

The trucks trudged towards the Penzi la and soon on our right, the first “attraction” of the Zanskar valley – the Drang Drung glacier showed up. This glacier is nature’s equivalent of a “Welcome to Zanskar valley” board. We did a little jig in the trucks celebrating this moment.

But then, we started observing a strange phenomenon. Many cars and jeeps (some of which had driven past us in the morning) were returning. Which didn’t make any sense at all. It was obvious that they had turned back without even making it to Padum.

When we saw a battered Maruti Omni with a cracked windshield pretending to be an ambulance and rushing back to Kargil, we knew something was colossally wrong.

We weren’t too off the mark. Communal riots had broken out in Padum, there was police firing happening. Padum was under curfew.

Which was a strange, strange thing for us. We had spent six weeks in the valleys of Kashmir, a definite volatile region without an incident like this. Instead, in a remote valley s where we were first encountering these things. Life’s ironies!

“Let’s move ahead, we’ll understand the situation better.”

The temperatures dropped drastically as the sun started moving down. The returning vehicles didn’t stop. At one point, in pitch darkness, in the middle of nowhere next to the mountain, our drivers declared, “We are carrying diesel. It’s not safe to move ahead. And it’s dark. It’s unsafe to move ahead. Let’s stop here for the night.”

What? Where? How?

Dispatch #34 – Hitchhiking and how! (Part 6)

The Spanish and the Italian couple travelling with us were carrying tents and sleeping bags. They had come to India with the intention of trekking in the Himalayas. 

We, on the other hand, had had nothing planned since the moment we stepped out. Until then, the road had successfully guided us. Was this the moment we would regret our decision?

We snapped at the truck drivers for what we felt was deserting us. 

“How can you stop here? None of us knows where we are. Where will we sleep?”

But even at a young age, the drivers were hardened travellers. They were calm and composed. This was just another day at work for them.

Their cool composure gave us confidence.

First, they sorted the food.

“We cook our own food, where ever we stop. There’s enough for all of us.”

We were also carrying packets of noodles and oats. We put all of our resources together and made dinner on the stove the drivers carrying.

Everyone felt relaxed after dinner. We then thought practically what our options were.

“We can take an extra one in our tents and put our bags out”, both the couples offered. But we didn’t have enough sleeping bags.

“No problem, Sir. You sleep in one truck. The three of us will sleep in another. Close the door. You will be warm and safe.”

So, that night, next to the mountains, we slept in an Indian Oil truck, with 12,000 litres of diesel behind us – our most expensive accommodation ever! It was bliss!

Dispatch #35 – When simple becomes extraordinary

The morning light made us realise that a village was actually quite close. Padum was still under curfew but we could stay in the villages before.

Our trucks decided to take an outer route to reach the fuel station (the only one in the entire Zanskar valley!) at the outskirts of Padum.

As we parted ways, they refused to take any money from us saying, “Aap to apne hai (you are our own)”. Disturbing questions again came to mind, would we treat truck drivers so kindly back in Mumbai?

Anyhow, a local jeep took us to a village – named Sani. So Sani was not a mispronunciation of sunny after all! So much to learn each day!

The monastery was getting decked up for the Sani festival and every house was expecting relatives from other parts of the Zanskar valley to come to stay over. Which was a problem – where were we gonna stay?

“Ask the houses in the villages, somebody will take you in”, a monk suggested. Some refused, apologetically, “If the festival wasn’t today, we would’ve definitely let you stay”.

A shopkeeper, the owner of the only shop in Sani finally agreed to host us. “It will be 300 INR for stay, breakfast and dinner.” We asked a couple more times to confirm.

What we saw from then on were lessons in simplicity. Where life was ruled by nature and guided by religion. Where friendships flourished. 

Your home was my home. Weddings meant merriment for everyone, even strangers/outsiders like us (I got reprimanded by a group of older ladies for not drinking enough chang!).

We didn’t know whether to say they didn’t have much or they had it all. We only knew that this stay in Sani with the shepherd family was our privilege.

It was our chance to observe and learn.

To be continued…