A summer from a year of the recent past, found its way to the box in my brain labelled “Write about It” and as it is against standard norm to ignore the “Write about It” Box, I wrote. The summer in question was spent in the quiet valley of Ladakh, India accompanied by a Ladakhi host. Privileged to experience “Little Tibet” through the eyes of a local, my journey began in a dusty, desolate train station in Delhi. A rather eventful train journey brought us to Jammu. With the first phase of our travel plan ticked off, it was time to initiate phase two, the drive from Jammu to Leh, Ladakh.
Our departure from Jammu was scheduled around the early hours of the evening and through those twisted winding roads generally endowed to a mountainous terrain we began our ascent. At midnight our little travelling party had just about reached the territory, they call Kashmir when atop a strategically placed hill our driver decided to take a little break. In absolute darkness I groped helplessly for a torchlight but with the first strike of lightning I realised that the requirement for a source of light was short sighted. Dwarfed by the magnificence of the Kashmir Valley, I believe I hadn’t seen this coming. With every bolt of lightning that shot across the sky, the valley was illuminated for a tenth of a second baring all. Everything. In a split second the valley divulged to me all its secrets. Beauty, lay hidden.
A short nap in Srinagar seemed imperative to the restoration of our tired little bodies, as we tried to stretch our legs as far as we could. The next thing I remember was the shaky jolt of the engine that put us back on the road. In dumbfounded awe I observed my new bearings and I couldn’t do much but silently click a ton of photographs as my travelling party slumbered. My first tryst with snow. Ah! Our Ladakhi driver made it a point to pull my leg every once in a while for that.
The quiet road trip ensued as I pondered the dark history Kashmir had been a victim too. Riddled by violence, this beautiful valley has more blood in its dirt than it ever asked for. Soon after the Kargil war, Kashmir became militarily sensitive and men clad in green uniforms seemed to become menacingly popular. En route we managed to make atleast a dozen stops for convoy movements, and some of those stops didn’t really cater to a “Safe Ground”. Nonetheless, the risk involved in this trip was enthralling. The Steep roads, plunging drops and narrow roads got that adrenalin running for the final reward, an experience of a lifetime.
Memoirs of the war lay strewn throughout the way, and it became a challenge to visit every war memorial in sight. Prides inflamed with the sacrifice this country had to make, and stirred by the number of soldiers who believed it was their lives for ours. We drove throughout the day and realised we wouldn’t really arrive in Leh at a very godly hour. Unwilling to risk an entrance that would put me out of the favour of my host’s family, we agreed that we’d rather camp out then reach Leh post midnight.
Arrangements were made at a friend’s resort, and in a very dark and rather empty resort we spent a cramped night. As the sun awoke the next day, I stumbled out of our little room to ascertain our position. All night I heard this constant rushing sound and I was more than determined to find out what it was. A walk around the premises, led me to the source of that constant gush, and I was aghast as I beheld in front of me the mighty river, INDUS. A majestic river gushed right next to me as I slept, and I had not a clue. Unable to speak, I did what every other tourist would do, I took pictures.
A quick early breakfast put us back on the road, and in a few hours we were in Leh. I was welcomed into the traditional Ladakhi household with no qualms and was taken in as one of their own. Tips on being treated like a local, can be found here: http://www.selectiveasia.com/about/responsible-tourism-asia. After the customary tea, I got a chance to be by myself and absorb all that I had endured, and finally after an 800 kilometre road trip, I had arrived. Through military strongholds, picturesque mountains, life threatening road blocks, I was here.