The Hindu: It’s never lonely at the top

The musings of our Himalayan trip in THE HINDU: It’s never lonely at the top 
The enchanting snaps by ADITYAVIKRAM MORE
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CHENNAI, May 16, 2014

It’s never lonely at the top

AREFA TEHSIN

 
  • Low-hung clouds, majestic lakes, magnetic stretches and vibrant flowers.
    Snap by Adityavikram More. Low-hung clouds, majestic lakes, magnetic stretches and vibrant flowers.
 
 
  • Low-hung clouds, majestic lakes, magnetic stretches and vibrant flowers.
    Snap by Adityavikram More. Low-hung clouds, majestic lakes, magnetic stretches and vibrant flowers.
 
  • Low-hung clouds, majestic lakes, magnetic stretches and vibrant flowers
    Snap by Adityavikram More. Low-hung clouds, majestic lakes, magnetic stretches and vibrant flowers
 
  • Low-hung clouds, majestic lakes, magnetic stretches and vibrant flowers.
    Snap by Adityavikram More. Low-hung clouds, majestic lakes, magnetic stretches and vibrant flowers.
 
 

The drive through the Himalayas is simply stunning. But there’s one problem. You might just have withdrawal symptoms after you return from the trip

“You often meet your fate on the road you try to avoid,” read a signboard in the Himalayas.

Perhaps it was meant for me.

A road trip to the Himalayas was not on my must-do list. I agreed reluctantly, succumbing to the enthusiasm of my husband and cousins. And now I’m back — stunned and speechless.

The fag end of August is a good time to drive to Kashmir. The small villages along the Sindh River remind one of the countryside of Austria. Apple-cheeked children eat apricots on the way. Dip your feet in the freezing Sindh waters flowing straight from the melting glaciers, to get your first feel of the Himalayas.

The landscape changes drastically as you cross from the lush Kashmir into the barren Ladakh region. At Zoji La, 11,000 ft and climbing, you realise why you need a supremely confident driver at the helm; or at least one who doesn’t jump at every army truck trying to cross you on the perilous climb. They say if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking too much space. And we took the least space possible, right on the edge through every turn.

The La (mountain pass) becomes a part of your everyday drive. One or more of you can be hit by AMS — altitude mountain sickness — in spite of taking an acetazolamide to deal with it. You may start by feeling drunk and then move on to a half-wakeful state. The passing signboard that reads — Three enemies of road: speed, liquor and overload — makes you think if there is a fourth one too: AMS.

You become a witness to the timeless confluence of Zanskar and Indus. You watch appalled as the vehicles start to go uphill on their own accord at the Magnetic Hills. It’s an eerie phenomenon that takes place on a bare stretch of mountains.

The world’s highest pass Khardung La, prone to washouts, landslides and accidents, takes you around the waist of the mountain to its very neck. The nip in the air turns to biting cold and you see snow settled on the peaks.

The herbal tea at the army stall is a great relief to the frozen insides. In case you’re wondering how you or the horse power in your vehicle is able to cope up with the extreme conditions, you can get some solace looking at the cyclists braving the mountains powered by will power alone.

You drive up and down the rough roads, with the mountain imploring you to be gentle on her curves. As you descend the treacherous Khardung La, something else descends on you — a sense of freedom. How can something be so mighty, so grand, so intimidating and yet so calming? The empty lands stretch till the horizon, there’s silence, and then there’s you — a tiny spec in eternity. We are in a cold desert, in the Nubra Valley, beyond the Khardung La.

There is no short cut to success or Pangong Tso, but the journey is worth it. Wari La, the most isolated pass of the Ladakh region, leaves you completely at the mercy of Nature as you drive from the cold desert to Pangong. Made famous by 3 Idiots, Pangong Lake is nestled in the Himalayas above the tree line with 70 per cent of the lake in China. Unfortunately we have to leave the lake behind… like a childhood dream.

Lachung La and Nakee La wind through rock-ribbed mountains with jagged bellies leading to the Sarchu Plains, one of the coldest points in the Ladakh region. A variety of mountain birds and yaks pass by during the journey, sometimes a wild goat, ibex or blue sheep even. And if you’re really fortunate, the Grey Ghost — the snow leopard.

Another signboard warns: Love thy neighbour but not while driving. But you have no time for that. You’re too busy holding your dropping jaw. You may feel disconnected with the real world — its problems, money matters, the jobs at hand, even the family back home. You live by the day — content with noodles and chai at a roadside eatery and a warm place to rest your back at night. Your final ascend into the last pass of the trip is not as easy as you might have thought. Rohtang La, meaning a pile of dead bodies, is not an exaggerated name.

It’s a task getting back to civilisation after this. But we have to return to our lives. As friends remind me that one needs money to go on such trips and money doesn’t grow on trees, I tell them what a Himalayan signboard told me: “Trees don’t grow on money either.”

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2 thoughts on “The Hindu: It’s never lonely at the top

  1. Awesome description – felt as if I was seeing it live at the same time thinking of giving it a try…

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