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Fri, 11 Jul 2008:

I'm back.

Had an awesome time in Ladakh - rented bullets to drive around, went white water rafting, camped out near Tso Moriri, rode 100-odd km in a car without brakes, night vigils on a bridge over the roaring Indus and last but not least bicycling down at 55 kmph from the highest paved road on the planet.

But now, I'm back in b'lore and in process of getting myself back into the same 'ol rut. Already got side swiped on the road by an idiot (or whatever the female equivalent is) and now limping along with a toenail torn off.

Trust me on this, Bangalore roads are more dangerous than anything the himalayas could throw up. More on this later.

It is the business of the future to be dangerous.
                -- Hawkwind

posted at: 17:10 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: , ,

Mon, 09 Jul 2007:

Been a while since I got back, but somehow it feels like a let-down to be back home. Add to that four interminably long hops, after which I've travelled from the northern most state of India, to nearly the southern most tip (tinymap). That doesn't make for a good mood. But still, as I sit here, most of what happened seems like a distant blurry day dream.

So, in short, I did a bunch of things, took a lot of interesting pictures (more to come) and had a lot of fun.

Still haven't gotten rid of the "your work is worthless" back-of-the-mind "why bother" voice (yes, the one which keeps saying "you'll get paid anyway" and "they don't pay you nearly enough for that") - eventually I'll have to shake off that coders' block & make work fun again.

Except for that extra bit, the rest of me is back, as expected :)

Removing the straw that broke the camel's back does not necessarily allow the camel to walk again.

posted at: 02:14 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: , ,

Mon, 25 Sep 2006:

'Tis time I ended journalling this trip.

The trip to Nubra Valley had taken a day less than we had expected, so the previous night had been mostly wasted in bed. So we were up early on 28th morning and were ready before 8:15. And Janina, who'd taken the same jeep with us from Manali, joined us on this trip, along with another girl. She turned out to be scottish and was doing a thesis on attitude differences across the generations in ladakh. We headed towards likir, only pausing to visit Pathar Sahib and a couple of stops where the Zanskar meets Indus.

Likir proved to be a tiny village on the Indus valley, all green and gold with fields of Alfa-Alfa. The gonpa is on a hilltop, with a golden buddha statue. The statue is known as Buddha Coming or something like that, because the statue's feet touch the ground instead of being the usual cross-legged position.

Post Likir, we headed along the Indus river bank to Thingmosgang, passing through but not stopping at Bazgo. Thingmosgang is a small picturesque village, nestled in a valley protected by the elements and fed by meltwater from the glaciers above. The gonpa was deserted, but the view from the top was beyond words. You are struck speechless by beauty of the green fields and terraces, from the vantage point of the monastery.

After we passed out of Thingmosgang, passing through Saspol, we stopped over at Khalstse, which is where our driver was from. Except for the three kids running around, the lunch was completely uneventful. We reached Lamayuru, in the late evening. The monastery is very visibly alive, with kids playing cricket in their saffron robes of monkhood.

We all climbed to the top of the hill on which Lamayuru stands and decided to watch the sunset from the summit. A couple of officers on an evening walk approached us, while we were up there. The officer, of the Sikhla (?) regiment advised us to go back through the Kashmir valley instead of back via Leh. The sunsets so far have been hardly anything to write home about and this one was no different.

We headed back to our rooms before it got too dark and tried to find us some grub. But after a bit of wandering, we decided that the best option we had was to eat at the guesthouse we were in.

I woke up early, though not early enough to attend the morning puja. Since we had plans to visit Bazgo and Alchi on the way back, we hurried out of Lamayuru. But we were stopped mid-way by some blasting work that was going on. After nearly an hour of dilly-dallying, we were finally let through and we proceeded to Alchi gonpa.

Alchi is probably one of the oldest gonpas we visited, so far. Photography was generally discouraged, which was perfectly OK with me there. The road to Alchi, however was quite interesting, it was almost absolute ruler straight, with a nice fork in the road to the monastery. And there was green barley all around the place. We found a nice restaurant with a view and sat down to eat a late lunch.

After heading out of Alchi, we retraced our steps to Bazgo. Bazgo looks like a mud fort in ruins, but when you look closer you can see the solid blocks of stone over which centuries of plastering has created the appearance of soft mud. It is being restored and most of it was closed for us. But the structure did leave a sense of awe about people who'd build such a structure in such an inaccessible place.

After all our adventures in Kargil district, we headed back to Leh to civilization, warm beds and honey lemon ginger tea. But the trip back was no less enchanting in the fading evening light.

After some butter tea, darpu and a bit of shopping, headed back to the hotel for dinner. I'd had bought some Yak cheese to bring back to Bangalore, dried apricots and a jar of apricot jam. Our dinner was hot maggi noodles, with a lot of vegetables. We bid adieu to our fellow travellers and hit the sacks early.

And then we took the flight to Delhi. End of journey.

What makes the universe so hard to comprehend is that there's nothing to compare it with.

posted at: 12:19 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: , ,

We started off late with me waking up first, at 9 AM. But by ten O'clock we'd had breakfast and were ready to roll. The cab came to us after picking up everybody else. After leaving Leh at around 10:30, we spent the next two hours steadily climbing uphill to 18,380 feetto the highest motorable road in the world - Khardung La. Unfortunately, it has been converted into a touristy place with families and grandmothers climbing up melting snow or sliding down pulling down two sons, one holding each hand.

I did climb up to the top of the peak, nearby. The snow was slippery and I walked up by digging my heel in with each step into the snow. The way up was the easy part, as I would discover later. The view from the top wasn't that different, but I'm easy to please when mountains are concerned. I was feeling euphoric and was slowly making my way down when I realized that there was a faster path down than walking. I went down that hill sitting on my left foot and steering with my right heel. After all that excitement and a cup of cinnamon tea later, we headed downhill into Nubra valley.

The word Nubra means green and the valley was only slowly turning green under the bright summer sun. The glimpses of green in the valley was amazing after the dry desolation on the other side of the mountain range. We kept moving till we got to the village of Khalsar, which was our designated lunch spot.

In the village of Khalsar, I had the most amazing momos I have ever had. They were soya momos and with a simple chutney. I don't know if it was just because we were hungry, but we gobbled up as many momos as the lady could bake. After lunch, we headed out to the Shyok and Nubra confluence, which we would cross to reach Diskit. The bridge across the river is small, yet controlled by army personell.

Finally, we ended up in Diskit and dumped out bags and stuff at a slightly upmarket place called Olthang. While Vinayak & Co were visiting the gonpa nearby, I went walking along the streams which passed near our hotel. Rishi , on the other hand, was watching kids throw water at passing vehicles. One german lady who got wet, also got indignant. Probably needed a camera for the moment when she asked Rishi - are you a monk ?. After all this fun, we headed out for the dunes of Hundar before it became too dark.

Hundar is a stretch of sand dunes, with a stream (or river) flowing through the middle. After the standard shoes off operations, we had a few chases up the sheer slope of a dune. The sand was hard rock sand, quite unlike the beach sand I'm familiar with. Walking barefoot was probably a bad idea as I ended up hobbling across the thorny bushes on the way back. But more than compensated for that by just letting myself go into the warm (not cold) water. After a bit of splashing around, we headed back to the warm beds of the hotel.

27th June: At around 7 AM, I was woken up by the driver. He wasn't upto date with our plans and I was too sleepy to explain. Two hours later, all of us slowly started waking up. After a slush bowl of corn flakes with hot milk, we all pulled ourselves together and moved onto to the other side of the valley. We had to go halfway till Khalsar before we'd take the other fork in the road which would take us to Sumur and Pangmik.

After going down the Khalsar loops down to the valley floor, we passed through Sumur towards Panamik. Panamik is probably the northernmost point in Indian soil that I can put foot without a military permit and escort. The hot springs of Panamik, though were a disappointment. The springs were literally trickles down the hill with the smell of ammonia and algae covering the entire stream bed. But the top of the hill gave us an excellent view of the valley below.

After visiting the Sumur gonpa, we bid adieu to Nubra valley and began our return to Khardung La. We stopped over at Khalsar yet again to have lunch, but the momos had run out. As evening set in, the air was shimmering with the fading light of the summer day. We climbed up into the upper reaches of the mountain, racing against the clock. Since our plans had included a third day in Nubra valley intially, we were sort of cutting it close by shrinking it to a two day trip.

We went up Khardung la, just minutes before 5 'O clock. The entire snow cap was bright with the late evening light. As we watched the mountain grow bigger and bigger, we could see the thin line the hand of man had scratched on this mighty mountain - the scar line of a surfaced road. And up we went.

K-Top was nearly deserted when we arrived. There wasn't any of the swarms of tourists we had seen on the way up. After the customary cup of chai, we took our trip downwards and onto the warm comfy beds in Leh. Our trip to Nubra valley was a couple of hours short of completion. Not here the red and orange glows of the sea shore, but the the golden sun was turning the mountainside into a veritable feast for the eyes.

A dinner that went wrong, though the food was ok when it eventually arrived, and the day ended as it began - with me in a bed.

If the grass is greener on the other side, there's obviously more shit there.

posted at: 12:14 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: , ,

Thu, 27 Jul 2006:

Words fail me. To explain the grandeur of this lake, I find my vocabulary lacking and my prose insufficent. To compare it with anything else I have seen would be in vain. But to do justice to this travelogue, I should at least make an attempt. The Pangong Tsu is one of the must-see sights in all of Ladakh.

All six of us, headed out of Leh towards Pangong Tsu sometime around nine. After a good hours's drive out, we passed Shey palace and through the familiar roads we had passed yesterday. We stopped at Karu to buy provisions and stock up on food. After leaving behind Karu, we speeded up and made good time on the valley floor while the going was good. We passed through some interesting country, past a few military camps (Chusul Warriors and Eagles), on our way up to the high passes. This region, being so close to China, is a highly militarized zone. The army presence however is hardly obstrusive and caused no hassles for us. We, of course, had an inner line permit for travel this close to the border.

Sometime near noon, we started climbing up to Chang La, which after Khardung La and Taglang la, is the third highest motorable road in the world. But this time around, we were properly acclimatized, properly clothed and the sun was shining bright. After a couple of half-hearted snow fights (yes, I had bought gloves for this trip) and a hot cup of cinnamon tea, we descended into the greener valleys beyond.

The valley was beautiful, green and had wild horses grazing all over. We even saw a small herd of domesticated yaks. After passing through a few streams and past muddy plains, we reached a valley unlike any other we'd seen so far. The valley floor was covered in sand, looking not quite unlike a beach, but without an ocean to match. We really wanted to go down and investigate, but we were eager to reach the lake and find accomodation.

But we soon found the missing ocean. The Pangong lake is salty, though not in a sea salt way. This lake tasted more of potassium salts than the usual sodium chloride. The lake has no drainage and has fresh glacial water flowing into it. There are hardly any fish in this lake and even fewer algae. All this results in a crystal clear, blue lake of picture perfection.

The place we had landed up was called Lukung and there was a guesthouse there with three rooms. And due to all our hurrying on the way (oh, I kid) we were the first ones to get there. Our guesthouse was hardly half a kilometre away from the lake, though you wouldn't feel the distance because there are no trees to give you a sense of scale. Basically it felt like you were next door to the lake.

To complete the illusion of the sea, there were sea gulls here, which feed on the crustaceans who seem to be thriving in the shallows. We wasted some time skimming stones on the flat surface of the lake. After sending enough stones skimming through the lake's flat surface, three of us took off our shoes and stepped into the water. There is a bay formation around the corner where we were and the water was shallow for as far as I could see. The first few minutes felt cold, then it was as if my body had adjusted to the fact that I was going to go ankle deep into cold water.

Having wet our feet and generally enjoying the water, we climed out and decided to get higher before the sunset. We climbed the nearby hillock and got to a higher view point to watch the entire curve of the bay from above. As we watched the sun set behind us, what we were seeing turned into a moonscape of sorts. The salt deposited by the lake on the flood plain turned the ground into this bright white surface while the dark blue of the lake made for contrast.

There are no power lines in Lukung. We couldn't charge our cameras, nor could we transfer the photos out of our cameras. The dinner consisted of maggi instant noodles, cooked watery and omlettes. We at that in the dim candle light and decided to call it a day. But one step outside and we were stunned by what we saw in the sky.

Whole sky was lit and in the clear air of the high altitude, I could see more stars than I have ever done before. As we tried to identify the stars, we were unable to find the Orion in the night sky. There were too many stars to actually spot the characteristic three star belt of orion. But as we were hunting for Orion, we saw something move very quickly across the sky. The reddish spot moving from South east to North west was probably a sattelite. And in a few minutes, we spotted a couple more of the sattelites moving in polar orbits. As we were scanning the skies for more, a shooting star passed by in the N.W sky. We spent the good part of the next thirty minutes watching the meteors expend themselves in the atmosphere. It was a star gazer's dream and I shall not forget that sky for a while.

The guesthouse was sheltered behind a hillock and safely out of the cold wind. Without any heating of any sort, by midnight all of us were feeling hot inside our blankets. But generally I had a good night's sleep. We had planned to wake up really early to see the sunrise and I had my alarms set for quarter past five.

I woke up sometime past five and discovered that the sky was too cloudy for a good sunrise. Vinayak and Rishi were already out on the bay, scaring birds (*heh*) and trying to photograph the rising sun. After a few more minutes of procrastination, I walked up to the bay and watched the light reflect off the lake surface. It was brilliant - to watch a lake turn into pure silver and slowly darken into a brilliant azure.

I took a walk along the length of the bay. It was a really windy day and the lake ripples were becoming nearly full-fledged waves. I took an hour long walk towards Pangmik, though turned back because I had no idea of when we would be leaving camp. My only lasting regret is that I didn't climb the zig zag trail up on the mountain nearby.

After a bit more time of non-commital wandering, I had breakfast and finished catching up on my journal. We headed back to Tang-Tse and passed by those sand drifts. But this time around, we went down and I even took a small bag back for Premshree. At Tang-Tse, we ran into an archery competition. After watching the archers for a while and having had lunch, we headed back up Chang La. Except for running into a Himalayan Marmot sunning itself on a rock, the rest of the journey was uneventful.

On the way to Leh, we had an amazing idea. Why not stop at Thiksey and enjoy the hospitality of the Chamba restaurant. I had honey pancakes and they were just awesome. After all that, we finally got back to the guesthouse. And we had a few laughs on the way thanks to the B.R.O's sense of humour.

We had gotten to the hotel a bit early and were not quite ready to turn in yet. So we sat out there in the courtyard talking to the other guests. There was a french dude and a british dude playing the guitar and an irish couple. There were some quite interesting conversations about a lot of things. Then something weird happened. The irish couple were smoking something and quite out of nowhere, started passing around the cigarrete. The blonde girl sitting next me offered me a drag and I said NO. The french guy shrugged, the brit said good for you ! and *then* the girl said "When I saw your hair, I thought you smoked pot". And somebody said that right now I looked like a pot plant. Anyway, the dinner had arrived, which I promptly bolted and called it a day (because a day it had been).

You can't judge a book by the way it wears its hair.

posted at: 18:14 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: , ,

Wed, 19 Jul 2006:

By the 22nd, we had our plans straightened out and fully booked for. Our local monastery (gonpa) tour started out an hour late, by about 9 in the morning. After picking up Amol and Vinod, we headed out of Leh. The sightseeing circuit in Leh is heavily controlled by a sort of guild which operates on a fixed rate and is completely protectionist. So all operators basically charge the same rate and there are unofficial checkposts to prevent other taxis from doing tours. Anyway, we had got a pretty decent Toyota Qualis to travel in, but the driver only spoke broken hindi.

Shey Palace: Our first stop was Shey palace which sits on a hill facing a green valley. The green of the valley contrasted heavily against the barren hills that surround them. Where there is water and shelter from the north winds, mankind has made its niche in ladakh. The palace had a buddha statue, but I was more interested in the view outside.

Thiksey Gonpa: Next up, we went to visit the gonpa at Thiksey. An amazing monastery and school, bang on the leeward side of a hill almost covering the entire hill. We stopped for breakfast (a second one) at the foot of the hill, in the Chamba restaurant, owned and operated by the monastery itself. The food was good and the ambience was calming. Thanks to a customer endorsement for metrogyl, we were all in good spirits before we went up to the monastery.

We went uphill by the road. The monastery was a relatively big one, with an entire wall full of murals. The view from the monastery was amazing and so was the monastery itself. The central courtyard walls were covered in murals and so were the inner walls. I was quite surprised to see a candy bowl near the deities, full of chocolates and biscuits. We hung around there for a while, looking at the various message scrolls hung up there. After nearly a good hour spent there, we headed out.

Hemis Gonpa: After Thiksey, we headed towards the hidden monastery of Hemis. The monastery is completely hidden away amidst the hills and is not visible till you take the last turn. The monastery was relatively inactive and cold like a fridge. You can literally sense the past being preserved in this half-frozen temple.

Matho: We moved on from Hemis on to the village of Matho and into the monastery. The monastery stands as before, on top of a hill overlooking the village. The gonpa is famous for its oracles, who are possessed by the spirits of good and demonstrate their other sight by running on the walls blind folded. But by the time we arrived, we were possessed by the spirits of photography and all of us were more interested in clicking away than actually seeing the sights.

Stok Palace: The last stop was Stok palace, which is still inhabited by the royal family. Only five rooms were open for visitors in the palace and photography is prohibited inside the palace. The display cases are full of preserved jewelery, especially turquoise and jade. The one thing that caught my attention was a Damascus steel sword, tied into a neat knot. Legend has it that some king grew so strong and powerful that he had no regard for the holy men of the land, so one of them put the king in his place by performing the simple task of tying the king's sharp steel sword into the knot. But other than that curio, I found the palace quite boring.

Nevertheless, it was a pleasant day's outing. The roads were good, flat and generally straight, the sky clear and we passed through some very interesting countryside. And I learned my first word of ladakhi - Julley !.

Everyone has a photographic memory. Some don't have film.

posted at: 00:47 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: , ,

Wed, 12 Jul 2006:

June 20th: The day long journey to Leh was really tiring and I had planned to sleep till it was late afternoon to compensate. But 'twas not to be, Vinayak's cellphone woke me up around ten. None of our phones were working in Leh. Only BSNL and Airtel have a presence in the valley, but even Airtel allows only post-paid phones to roam inside Jammu & Kashmir. So I asked the hotel guy for directions and headed out towards the town to make some calls.

Our guesthouse was called Tse-Mo View and somehow seemed stuck between a pun for See More and Same 'Ol. It was stuck on the westward side of the palace, in between the Tse-Mo monastery and the Santhi Gonpa. The market was hardly a kilometre away, but the getting used to the alitude is more of a gradual thing.

But it was a bright day, with blue skies like I've never seen before. We spent most of the day just sitting around in the hotel. There is an SBI ATM in Leh which is a boon to travellers and I headed there to withdraw some much needed cash. After an attempted lunch at the La Terrase, we stuck around in the guesthouse, waiting for Amol and planning the trip ahead.

After meeting up with Amol, sometime around 7:45, we went to a pizzeria where a TV set was attracting football fans. After a pleasant half-hour of discussions, we got back to the guesthouse. My dinner consisted of a flattened noodle like preparation called the Thupka.

June 21st: We had plans to do some sightseeing today, to visit some nearby monasteries and local sights. But the obvious communication gap caused by the lack of cellphones prevented us from co-ordinating this with the other group. But we woke up early, nonetheless. Eventually we decided to take it as another day off to acclimatise.

But we managed to meet up with the rest of the gang by lunch and planned to trek up to the Tse Mo monastery and the Namgyal palace. The palace and the monastery sit up on a crumbling gravel sided hill. There is a motorable road which goes up to the palace, but you could see a shorter foot trail on the north face of the hill. We decided to get our body into gear with a climb up. Rishi however was experiencing a full download, if you know what I mean, and did not accompany us.

So, equipped with a water bottle full of honey lemon water and morale high, we ended up behind the masjid trying to find our way out of the twisting lanes. The lanes finally gave way to steps up to the palace.

The palace overlooks the entire town and is under restoration. It has the smell of fresh varnish and drying soft-woods. Considering the traditional architecture, the palace does indeed look like it is fit for a king. But to the naive traveller, it looks like a dive suitable for somebody with an aversion for windows. The central courtyard on the roof was quite interesting, as was the wood carvings on the pillars. But we still had the foot trail up to climb and did not waste too much time inside the palace.

The trail up was really scary. Until I got some confidence and my second wind, I was really not sure I'd get to the top. Our shoes weren't made for the terrain and neither was our minds. Every slight slip you made, every time you looked downwards on what awaits on a fall, the message was hammered in by your brain. We took about forty full minutes to climb the three kilometres of the gravel trail.

We got to the bottom of the monastery and then the next challenge awaited. The monastery was on top of a few more rocks which seemed like a bad idea to try. But given the success we'd so far had, we went for it and climbed to the very top. And the view was definitely worth the effort.

After spending twenty odd minutes on the top, we started to walk down by the road. Soon we realized that the road would take us far out of Leh, before it took us home. Despite my objections on climbing down in the dark, we took the first downhill path we found. The path got a little tricky further down, but we literally crawled on all limbs to get across to the safe path down. The it was all downhill and we literally ran down the slope.

Took a long look backwards and ended up at the hotel. But instead of heading to the town for dinner, Vinayak decided to eat at the guesthouse. I headed out to the Ibex restaurant for a completely horrible dinner. Thanks to a crowd of american tourists, our orders got pushed back for nearly an hour and eventually we got something we didn't order. Anyway, after a few complaints to the manager and a 20% discount, we headed back unsatisfied with the food.

I was extremely tired, but still slightly excited from the trip up. I slept like a log.

Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall.
               -- Sir Walter Raleigh

posted at: 21:09 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: , ,

Sat, 08 Jul 2006:

We had hired a Sumo to travel from Manil to Leh. The travels guy had said that the journey would get us to Leh by late evening on the same day (16 hours). But when we were woken up by the driver at 2 AM, we realized that the journey according to him would take 22-odd hours instead of the barely bearable sixteen. After just two hours sleep, three of us packed ourselves into the back of the Sumo.

The initial two hours of the journey was in nearly complete darkness to reach Rohtang La by day break. During the descent from the pass, we could see the east skies slowly brighten up. After stopping in Khoksar for tea and snacks, we headed towards the chenab valley.

Past Keylong, the roads got really bad. This can hardly be called a highway. After passing keylong, we ended up at Darcha, near a bridge across some river. We stopped there for breakfast and had an excellent stuffed paranthas. I'd been eating the cheese slices with anything I get and this was no exception.

At Baralacha la, we all got out and had our first contact with snow. It was probably a mistake to pick up snow without wearing gloves, but I didn't have any gloves at all. But I did pick up some snow and ended up with my hands looking rather blue.

The whole journey was made even rougher because of the climbs and the descents. The various passes we went up and the further climb down was playing havoc with my breathing. To climb, six thousand feet in less than two hours and to climb down immediately is not my idea of fun. Somewhere in the descent to Keylong, I had thrown up.

Sometime near two, we passed on from Himachal into Jammu, into what passes for plains in this country of hills. The Sarchu plains would be more approriately called a plateau and is one of the first high alitude camps we ran into. We stopped there for lunch and as usual had the parathas, dal & rice. While we were in Sarchu, the wind picked up speed and it started to snow. As much as I'd have loved to see the snow flakes float down, I was more afraid of the road ahead.

We had to make it to Pang before five or we'd be forced to stay out of Taglang La till the next morning. The pace picked up and the driver literally drove through the road and the potholes at break neck speed. We eventually made it to the TCP at Pang minutes before five and were let through ahead. And we finally entered Ladakh district.

At this point, I was so high on adrenaline that I could hardly sit still inside the jeep. But Vinayak was looking very sick and tired. While we passed near all the eroded mountains of Pang, which looked very much like somebody had carved out a temple on the hills and up into the plateau (yet again plains) of Moray. Since I couldn't open a window without Vinayak complaining, there are no photos of that brilliant thousand foot (or more) canyon cutting through the edges of the plateau.

We went off-road from this point to cut across the plains directly instead of the taking the winding road that goes around the highest points. The experience was like something completely out of a hummer ad. That stretch of around forty kilometres was the most exhilirating drive of the trip, driven with the pedal to the metal.

Then we slowly descended to a much milder pasture country and joined back into the road. All those chocolates were working their magic and I was still in the best of my moods, though filtering out water through my body like a sieve. But we were faced with the final climb of the trip, the heights of Taglang La.

Taglang la is the world's third highest pass in the world. More accurately it is the 3rd highest motorable road at 17,582 feet up. We reached the top of the pass sometime nearer to 7 P.M with the sun setting in the background. I ran through the snow which turned out to be quite thick and soft. I broke through the top and ended up ankle deep in freezing slush. My other companions preferred to sit around in the shelter of the jeep, a wise choice as I was soon to find out.

While on the descent, I kept drinking water out of Vinayak's water bottle. But the constant stream of cold water into my body core, finally made me throw up (again). So here's a lesson for you - carry insulated water bottles. Anyway, I remember asking Rishi chocolates !!, to which he replied that it is in his bag. Drowsy as I was, I thought he was holding his bag when he was only sitting there with his hands in the jacket pocket. After stopping at Upshi for dinner, where I just had as much hot tea as I could, we headed on to Leh.

Closer to midnight and much closer to Leh, I had started having day dreams. I mean it was totally weird, I had my eyes open and I was seeing what was happening, but my interpretations were radically different from what was. I mistook the starry sky for some skyscraper and even tried to find a remote to change the channel (no, that's not a TV ... that's the windscreen of the jeep). Calorie deprivation, sleep deprivation and oxygen deprivation - is a very bad combination.

But by midnight, we were at Leh and driver dumped us at a guesthouse (previously arranged, I suppose). We pulled all our junk into the room, got an extra bed and were asleep before our heads touched the pillow. We wouldn't wake up till the next day for lunch and that plan, we stuck to.

Thus ends our journey uphill to Leh and what a journey !

The longest part of the journey is said to be the passing of the gate.
               -- Marcus Terentius Varro

posted at: 21:09 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: , ,

Wed, 05 Jul 2006:

Whenever you run into a pessimist claiming "It can't get any worse", you'll find three optimisits correcting - "Oh, yes it can. The journey to Delhi and further up to Manali belonged to the optimists. After reaching Delhi really early, we managed to find the travel agent and camp there for most of the day. Despite the rise in temperature and the associated philosophical discussions (of the psuedointellectual variety), we managed to pass time very easily.

The bus ride wasn't very comfortable. I find it difficult to find proper leg room in a good bus and this was beyond awful with the couple in front (quote un-quote) making it a little harder than normal. Eventually, I was sleeping on the aisle of the bus (does somebody remember the return from calicut ?). But the first views of Himachal Pradesh was of a peaceful, green and unpleasantly hilly (opinions of non-bus travellers differ). The weather was amazing, with a bright blue cloudless sky and bright sunshine.

After reaching manali, we were able to get in touch with the others (who were already in Leh). And finally in the evening, in an attempt to get used to the altitude, we took a long walk to the river Beas and then up till the Hidimba temple. The weather had turned a bit chilly, but we didn't mind it so much.

Finally, nearly at midnight, we all turned in to sleep. The car to Leh would pick us up sometime around two in the night.

It gets better, but only after getting a lot worse.

posted at: 19:14 | path: /travels | permalink | Tags: , ,