Before I write anything, it is a good time to establish that I’m a mountain goat, or was one in past life, or unintentionally act like one in this life. While I love the sea and live next to it, I miss being able to escape to the Himalayas at every possible chance as I used to during my years of yore in Delhi.
Having established that, maybe I should also let you know about my 7 year itch- 7 years back when I saw Dil Se (phenomenal movie, I would never know why it flopped), I got introduced to Leh. While Shahrukh lost his heart to Manisha in their journey from Kashmir to Leh, I lost mine to Leh.
Hence proved: Bollywood movies are a good investment for tourism boards.
Beautiful ink blue sky, strewn by sparse ever changing clouds, a landscape so beautiful in its naked abandon making it nearly intimidating, the sun burnt rosgulla cheeked children, the Buddhist chants and the infinitely ancient wisdom locked in monasteries perched on mountains, the people far removed from the madness and impurity of the cities, the mind numbingly beautiful snow covered Himadri range as a backdrop to everything, the Pangong and TsoMoriri and thrill of reaching Leh by burning rubber on 5 mountain passes.
So well, in the last 7 years I’ve jumped at every possible opportunity to go to Leh and this time I came *this* close to actually getting rid of my itch.
Bless this year and the way the national holidays are placed, I managed to get a week off from 15-19th and Mister Leh seemed like a possibility for me. After a status update on Facebook and the last birthday call it became a possibility for two other friends. Three weeks of permutations and combinations, multiple arguments with a very concerned mother and a befuddled husband, finally arm twisting them into agreement- Leh was ON baby!!
Then began three arduous weeks of planning, coaxing, fire fighting, pre-empting any possible work and home crisis and creating back up plans for back ups. That’s when I realized that I never realized when my life became so complicated! The hope of existing in Leh for a week gleaming at the end was the only thing seeing me through.
Aaaaand came 12th August with its 5:40 AM flight, a day that was pretty much a haze- I finally boarded my bus to Manali but never could make it to Leh. The reasons being:
1) The bus started from Karol Bagh at 8 PM and got stuck in a 4 hours long taffic jam at Delhi by-pass. Net net, departure from Manali to Leh got postponed by a day
2) I could publish another Lemony Snicket’s-Series of Unfortunate Events by the end of 13th August. No really!
- 150 kms from Manali in a town called Sundar Nagar and the bridge over Beas between Sundar Nagar and Neher Chowk had semi-collapsed
- Buses, cars etc. couldn’t cross the bridge due to its delicate condition. The only way to cross the bridge was by foot. So after trekking with my 27.4 kgs luggage (yep I weighed it) on my back for about 4 kms, we reached the broken bridge and man oh man, was Beas river angry or what! Nonetheless we crossed the angry, muddy and flooded river to walk another 2 kms to reach Neher Chowk
- After reaching Neher Chowk we needed a ride to Mandi (14 kms) and our ride turned out to be a goods transport auto. Just that the auto was used in figs transportation as attested by all the muck, seeds, mosquitos and bees in the auto. Plus we were 10 people with at least 15 bags. With no ass cushioning and a bumpy ride the day couldn’t get any better
- Oh but it did! 7 kms before Mandi there was a MASSIVE landslide and the auto couldn’t go ahead as the road wasn’t clear. Again the only way to the reach the other side was to walk. So we walked, in that semi-quick sandy landslidey sludge bordering precariously close to the above mentioned angry Beas. After the edgy wading through knee deep sludge (while I was dreaming about a pedicure) with the aforementioned 27.4 kgs on my back- we hopped on an already full state transport bus to cover the remaining 7 kms to Mandi
- We did reach Mandi to actively hunt for transport to reach Manali, but oh wait- the angry Beas decided to happily submerge the Mandi-Manali route with no plans of abating for two days. This equaled to an overnight halt in Mandi
If everything had gone as per plan, on 13th night we were supposed to sleep on an altitude of 3500 mts, we ended up sleeping on an altitude of 750 mts.
- Remember Hotel Descent (Ratlam) of Jab We Met fame? The guest house we found accommodation in Mandi could make Hotel Descent look like some royal suite in some palace!
- After a shower and some food, it was time for me to make some hard calls. In the current weather conditions, the smartest thing to do was not to progress any further. The tough part was to convince my friends who had come along. The tougher part was to deal with the ‘I told you so’ from folks back home. The toughest part was to deal with my own angst and disappointment of not making it to Leh, yet again.
Amidst all wrongs, the trip that never was turned out to be full of rights:
- Changing the damn hotel in Mandi! After all that we went through during the day, we deserved being passed out for 12 hours on a comfortable bed in a clean room.
- Waking up to an army band playing ‘Saare Jahaan Se Accha’ and ‘Jana Gana Mana’. I’m a loud and proud Indian. Patriotic songs make my heart beat faster.
- Getting to know Aditi better. We’ve stayed 3 rooms apart from each other for one whole year. I probably talked to her more in these 3 days than I ever spoke with her in that one year.
- Chandigarh- Those tandoori paranthas with that white butter and that paneer lababdaar and daal makhni.
- Taking the fig auto, trekking in rains, taking the state transport bus from Sundar Nagar to Chandigarh- what was initially planned to be Zindagi Na Milegi Dubara turned out to be Swades. Even though all of this wasn’t the most comfortable commute, but that’s what my India is and that’s what most of the Indians are all about.
- It was good to know that my instinct about mountains and the weather there has not dulled out despite such infrequent trips to the Himalayas. As I had feared, within one day Keylong and Rohtang had temporarily shut due to untimely snowfall. Within two days of our return, another cloudburst happened in Manali. The rule of thumb is simple- When nature talks, you just sit in a corner and listen. As I’m realizing, hindsight is a comforting power.
- I’m currently enjoying unplanned, unexpected time off at home with my family and friends. I’m realizing its value now.
- Above all, I have such an awesome story for my future generations. My grandchildren won’t bat an eyelid before declaring me the coolest old lady when I become one.
As for Leh, I had planned the following photographs (I had promised my camera some beautiful fresh blood) that I’ll now click the next time I road trip to Leh:
- Me, milestone and my bagwati
- Hugging and kissing all mountain passes milestones
- Me driving through More Plains
- Pangong Tso in HDR (while fervently hoping for a rainbow to appear!)
- The sakura tree in Alchi monastery
- The Ladakhi kids
- Me in my Shiksha tee with the Shiksha school kids
- A loaded Royal Enfield to inspire Ru