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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 8
Dispatch #41 – The real world
Besides losing interest in everything around on our return from Phuktal, we also faced a very “real world” problem. We were running out of cash and the closest ATM was in Kargil. We asked our hosts if they would accept a cheque. He said if that was the absolute last resort. It takes an eternity for a cheque to clear. We didn’t want to put the family in a spot.
It had now been well over two months on the road. Most of this time, we had spent in the mountains. Suddenly, we felt an urge for something flat!
We chalked out our plans. Get back to Kargil. Go to Leh, spend a day there and return via Manali. We were only going to Leh to return back. We would explore Leh and those regions in some other trip.
We were sort of mountain fatigued.
A jeep was leaving from Padum the next morning. We asked the guy to reserve two seats for us. The family made an elaborate dinner for us that night. And resisted the temptation of carrying back a bottle of arhak with us, which the granddad was insisting.
A journey that had taken several days on the way down took just eight hours on the way back. We passed through the valley, saying our goodbyes to the Drang Drung glacier, to Penzi la, to the mountains which were still overpowering.
We stopped for lunch at Rangdum where we met some more crazy people. They were cycling to Padum, to volunteer in a school they had helped build!
We devoured every single detail passing by, trying to store it all in memory.
Dispatch #42 – We are dying!
We booked our tickets from Kargil to Leh for the next morning. We would be in Leh by evening. Spend just a day in Leh and return down via the Leh Manali highway. The plan was set.
That night, we treated ourselves to tandoori chicken. The next morning we walked to the bus stand in the dark at 4 AM and put our bags up the bus. It was already full. Chetan and I had to sit separately. While waiting for the bus to leave, as always we filled our bottles with water from the hand-cranked pump.
A glorious sunrise greeted us just as we got out of Kargil. We had heard so much about Leh and now finally we were going to be there.
I was thinking merrily about what Leh might offer when I felt a slight cramp in the stomach. I brushed it away but there was another and some more. I signalled to Chetan that something was wrong. We had to stop the bus because the cramps became relentless.
Anyways, the journey resumed. The bus stopped for breakfast at Mulbekh. Everybody went behind the bushes to relieve themselves. So did I. Chetan was feeling fine until then but when I emerged onto the road from the bushes I saw Chetan emerge out as well from the other side, with a mug in hand. He complained of stomach cramps as well.
From now on, the pain became excruciating. I felt I was going to pass out. I only have vague memories of people saying Fotu la. I know what it looks like only because somehow despite the pain, Chetan managed to take some pictures.
We didn’t know where we were reaching after Fotu la. But the pain was unbearable for both of us. No chance we could carry ahead. We looked at each other across the bus. The looks said let’s get off at the next village.
A village meant houses and a house meant a toilet and at that moment, that was paramount.
Dispatch #43 – Golden landscapes, golden hearts
As soon as the bus stopped after crossing Fotu la we jumped out. I couldn’t even carry my bag, just threw it on the ground and ran. A little boy, seeing the bus, had come to look for customers for their homestay.
“Where’s the toilet?”, we shouted. He knew something was wrong. He pointed us in the direction of his home.
It was only after an hour that we emerged out. We were feeling weak and drained. Stomachs were still hurting.
After an hour of being inside a room in a stranger’s home, without having said a word to them, we stepped out to meet them.
“Is everything okay? I saw you running to the bathroom.”
“We probably have a stomach infection. Don’t think we can move ahead to Leh. We’ll stay here tonight. Hope you have a room.”
“Oh, you didn’t intend to stop here? That must be a bad infection. He will take you to the doctor”, he said, pointing to his son, a little boy with red cheeks, the cutest smile and big round eyes.
“Did you have a very tasty dinner? They don’t use the right salt in those tasty meals.”
From then on, he and his wife became our mom.
“Don’t drink cold water. I will boil the water for you.”
Listening to our story, his wife had already kept the yoghurt to set.
We drank the boiled water and took the medicines that the doctor prescribed and slept.
We were woken up by a knock on the door, the homestay owner himself had got our lunch and had come to check on us.
“Eat well and rest.”
We still felt miserable but loved and cared for. Who does this for random strangers who walk into your homes without permission?
We knew the answer very well. The kindest, friendliest people of the Himalayas.
Dispatch #44 – Another plan…derailed (happily, this time)
By evening, we were well-rested and felt much better. We knew Lamayuru was famous for moonlike landscapes, so every other hotel/homestay/guesthouse having “moon” in its name didn’t come as a surprise.
We climbed up what was a “meditation hill”. The wind made us feel we would fly off. Instinctively, we sat down. The stupas and the monasteries had a soothing golden cast over them. The colourful stones reflected the colours of the mountains of Ladakh.
We crossed over to the other side of this hill and landed on the moon! A weird never seen before landscape stretched before us. Bulging curves and folds – is not how we had ever described mountains! This was the Moonland of Ladakh!
The next morning we had an incident-free journey to Leh. At the Leh bus stand, we were looking for information about the buses for Manali when we saw these three guys also looking at the time table. The time table had entries like – leaving every 10th, 20th and 30th of the month! The surprising thing is, it all seemed logical.
We got talking to the three guys.
“We have been in the mountains for a while now. We will leave for Manali tomorrow.”
“Do you want to come with us to Tso Moriri? We are looking for two people to fill the car. If we don’t get any, we’ll also leave tomorrow.”
“Okay, let’s go.”
Deep in our hearts, we probably were not yet ready to say goodbye to the mountains!
Dispatch #45 – This was magic
Plans to leave shelved, we left with the three guys for Tso Moriri. After a long time, we were travelling with “people like us” (urban Indians). We discussed our travel in Kashmir, Zanskar and now, here. We told them we had recently quit our jobs to pursue our dream to travel. We would see where life takes us from there.
This is the first time on this trip that we were telling all of this to someone. And as we said all this, we realised that some questions had already been answered.
“Do we want THIS to be our life?”
The answer had come to us magically, without us even seeking it.
What’s to be said about the journey to Tso Moriri? What can we say of travelling in Ladakh that hasn’t been said already?
We knew we couldn’t NOT come back to Ladakh. Nobody can.
The first sight of Tso Moriri is an image etched in my mind forever. I remember my heart beating hard with excitement as we walked towards it from Korzok. I remember the wind howling. I remember the sparkling blue of the lake, the swaying green of the fields, the washed white of the houses and the golden of the sunset.
It’s been almost five years and I remember this as I have just returned from the lake.
That was the magic of Ladakh. Not only did we fall in love with Ladakh and with the Himalayas.
We fell in love with the road. We knew then, that that was the way to live ahead.
To be continued…