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Ladakh - Motorcycle Diaries

Indus river and wind swept mountains on its banks

In your eagerness to reach your destination it is easy to forget why you are here in the first place, it is 

easy to be swept up by the pull of your mundane life back home

easy to overlook the serene, mighty flow of the Indus

easy to ignore the windswept barren beauty of the mountains

easy to forget why you are here in the first place.

As you land in Leh, you only get a glimpse of mighty barren heights amid which the aircraft lands. Soon you are in the midst of cramped, dingy airport, beset by greedy cabbies eager to take their toll on your wallet. If you can manage to keep these material details abstract or simply look past them soon enough, good for you, but don't count me in. I need time to ruminate and forgive the greedy trappings of this material world. I guess I'm too naïve to let go the strings soon enough.

What appears to be a creative design for lamp shade turns out to be a native design for a backpack. You get carried away with what you see and realize where it actually came from much later, till that time just keep it zipped lest others will see your foolishness.

Acclimatize to high altitude by obsessively snapping away at a gompa which is at a higher altitude still, anyone?  

Lamp shades
lamp shades
lamp shades

Spituk Gompa overlooks the airport and has a personality of its own. POP statues painted in candy colors (no, they are not edible), monks who are hooked on Coke, loads of white (and a lone yellow) scarves piled high to the ceiling, it's special love for exotic brass and copper lamps and very old prayer wheels...don't take this place for granted just because it is in an urban setting. Spituk's soul is firmly rooted in its past. Oh! the canteen sells Ladakhi breads and beverages.

To the south of Spituk the barren, wind swept expanses are both imposing and intimidating, perhaps not for the C-17 Globemasters hovering above. Venture down south, up into the villages in those hills and you fill find some villagers serving Ladakhi fare to discerning gastronomes. They are stingy about the home brewed rice wine though. It is called Chaang (like Chang brand beer in Thailand). It's hard to come by, too much demand too little production.

Nubra river is a mighty artist, carving its way out of the great mountains, it nurtured many towns along its way to join the Shyok. It's an oasis in the high desert.

The wander bug doesn't let you rest till you hit the road again. This time I went out all alone - I don't need others deciding what to eat, where to stay. I especially despise it when one person in the group tells what he wants to do, expecting others to fall in line. No buddy, not for me, it is time to say goodbye!

The road that takes you to Agham (a turn to the left from the road leading up to Khardung La from Nubra - also called Siachen-Turtuk Mod) is an alternate when Khardung La is not accessible. It is not just an alternative, not any alternative, it is not just any road either. Banking eerily away from the hills, towards some 1km deep gorge etched by Shyok river, liberally dusted with fine white sands, your belly knotting itself up, you hang on to dear life, hoping you never slip and fall. There's just one lane and there will be zero traffic. It's spooky as hell, you will be lonely as hell, it is one hell of a ride, all by yourself. You wish there were more traffic. More scary something is, more vividly you remember the experience, as if it happened just now. My urge to live was stronger than my urge to stop and take photos by balancing the bike on one leg in the slippery dry sand. I just moved ahead till I hit the bottom of the valley and an endless flat road leading up to Agham.

The best photo are the ones I'm yet to take...well that sounds like a good excuse but I regret not taking enough photos of Agham, a lunar landscape of an exotic, lonely town. White sand hills on one side and the village on the other. A very atmospheric village with an unforgettable and secluded vibe. 

I wanted to reach Hemis take a break and then go to Tso Moriri. From Agham, the way towards Wari La is unique unlike anything I have ever seen before. Hills on on side and villages on the other and no one, not a single person to be seen. The roads were smooth, the views were breath taking and the mountains never ending. I kept going higher and higher. We want people around yet we want to be alone. We don't want traffic but we are not comfortable being the only one of the road for several kilometers on end. I pondered about these paradoxes, this irrational inclination and convinced myself repeatedly to be present, enjoy the views for I'm not going to be here every day and soon this will be in the past - looked at only in the rare view mirror of memories. My thoughts kept flooding my mind, the Eagle kept chugging along the roads, cold wind buffeting my body, not a person in sight, I kept going on ahead.