Saturday, July 7, 2012

Of journeys and destinations...

The road is a person. She has many different personalities. She starts out from Manali being very gentle and embracing, very inviting yet promising nothing. She defends her territory and tests the traveler physically and mentally. She must have been particularly cross the day I tried to go over, she put 6 tonnes of rock and gravel between me and my path.

It was probably a good thing because I woke up to the best view ever. Looking at the snow capped mountain ranges through the foggy window first thing in the morning was quite an experience. Human resilience soon prevailed and I was on my way again. Throughout the day she rewarded me with fantastic views of the pass, a stream accompanying the road all the time. Later on during the day , she began to take away my air.

Altitude sickness can affect anyone, and it affects different people differently. How differently did it affect me? Well let me tell you, being sick on a night when the temperature is just touching minus 9 degrees with just a canvas tent and a few rugs to keep the cold out on a day that you haven't eaten much, other than an omelet and few chocolate bars is not the most pleasant experience in the world.

Next morning arrived and suddenly she was as cruel as ever snowing at us and forcing us to slow the descent from the second highest pass on the way. I barely managed to survive Tanglang La and was ever so grateful when the plains were back.

The final hundred kilometers into Leh is the best stretch, where she is a playful dainty lass, partly tamed by the BRO. Signs on the highway read like “be slow on my curves” and “not so fast darling” probably issued by an officer who shares a love-hate relationship with this highway. They toil day in and day out to keep her tantrums at bay and not to put people at risk. She has taken many lives over the years, a sad way to go. The border security force, the Trishul regiment also has a major presence on this stretch. One of their signboards read “when you get home, tell them of us. For their tomorrow we gave our today”. Indeed I will tell anyone who cares, they are doing the most selfless daring and outstanding service and we simply can’t thank them enough.

Finally after testing you and pushing your boundaries to the limit, she gives up her treasure. Leh is one of the last few places on Earth where you can have a relaxing time. Where the air is unpolluted and where attitudes are that of a welcoming open culture. The landscape of this place cannot be described in words and has only to be experienced. I will go so far as to say it is unlike anything else in the world.

These three days I spent on the road has left me rattled and shaken. The time I spent in Pang was the first time I ever wondered if I would make it through the night. But then I find that little memories of the people closest to me all over the world and their daily battles and the way they face it always picked me up and the faith always remained.

They say it’s more about the journey than the destination, but I’ve always felt that the destination must justify the perils and knocking of the journey. That night I wondered to myself if it was worth putting me through this torture, and if it was worth being like this on the very first time that I left home for work. Once I reached here I realized that the journey has changed me. I appreciate better the value of human life and how helpless we are in the face of mommy nature’s will. I have begun to infinitely respect the armed forces and the other people who strive to make this place a better destination. I thank a million times silently the complete stranger who listened to my feelings and gave me some medications to ease the pain. I miss the pampering only-son treatment I got back home, but I have also learnt to establish well in a new place and get to know the attitudes of the people.

I traveled almost 4000 km in getting here. I experienced the terrible nonsense of an attitude from the information counter at Indira Gandhi International Airport and also the legendary Ladakhi hospitality from Ammo and Dawa my adopted parents here in Leh. It has been a very taxing journey and the landscapes have been as different and varied as one can comprehend.

Yet as I sit here on the banks of the river that gives this glorious country its name, I feel a single tear leave my left eye and I cant help but think, my India…India Incredible...


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