Dastan-e-Ladakh29 mins 486 29 mins 486
It seemed like yet another uncertain night at the Amarnath yatra base camp in Sonmarg, where people were getting ready to retire after the langar dinner at around 9:00pm. Just then a news broke that they can proceed towards Srinagar that very night and before one could comprehend the situation much, a convoy of about 500 cars was on the road escorted by heavily armed army trucks and jeeps en-route to Srinagar. Rishi was on the front seat with the driver, followed by Neeti and Tapas on the second and then Veena and Srini on the third row. Their hand bags were stashed against the windows as a safety gear against the possible stone pelting on the way. It was one of the most dreaded journey any of them had ever taken in their life as the body temperatures rose in nervousness on that cold night of about 3 hours of drive. What would be one of the most picturesque drives in the world, was ridden with broken poles, hundreds of stones and left overs like shoes all through the inhabited areas on the way. They all twice had lump in their throats during this journey, first when a group of boys stopped the car but let them go after taking some money and next when an army jeep intercepted to scold the driver, Manoj for his driving behavior.
After about 3 hours of tense drive, they checked into a hotel in Srinagar at around 1 am. The hotel manager advised them to leave for the airport before dawn to be safe. Rishi and Tapas got into a discussion with him to evaluate the manager’s suggestion as the atmosphere in Srinagar seemed very tense. Manager was quite blunt about his advice. He told them that the mob temper is high after the killing of a teenage boy by the ‘Indian’ army. “they will not do anything to you, as you are tourists. But, they will burn the car and assault the driver” was his description of the alternate scenario of taking chances after sunrise. This was enough to make our tourists decide on the 4 am departure plan. The next half hour was spent on thought provoking questions from the manager about the situation in Kashmir. “if it is our army, why do they kill our young children? even if they are protesting and pelting stones, why doesn’t army follow the protocol of firing below the waist”? These questions were enough to steal any possibility of Rishi’s sleep before departure to the airport.
As per the plan, at about 4am in the morning they checked out of the hotel but not before hearing a ripping bomb blast noise in the background. Every one remembered their god resembling school kids just before the final exam. Streets of Srinagar bore resemblance to the Sonmarg-Srinagar highway seen earlier in the night. The airport, considered the safest place in the city due to heavy security cover, opens only at 9am. This means that anyone reaching earlier has to wait outside on the road until the gates open. Manoj was given a farewell hug with best wishes to get out of Srinagar safely in his car, while everyone sat on the footpath still trying to come up to speed with the events as they unfolded in last few hours.
Rishi too sat down lethargically after taking the last picture of the trip on his camera. The thoughts raced past his mind about this extra ordinary trip. Srinagar was not even in the itinerary and yet they are here on the road outside the airport content with the fact that they made it alive and for more reasons than one. As he recollected the entire trip and its events, he couldn’t help but think of omens and their possible significance. The quote from Paulo Coelho in Alchemist knocked his mind:
“Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.”
It all started about 4 months back when one evening Srini and his wife Veena were at Rishi and Neeti’s home in Bangalore and they decided to go on a holiday together. Tapas who was member of this gang and at that time based in Calcutta was also included in the plan. This was before Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was released but after 3 Idiots and hence the sight of Pangong Lake in the movie made Ladakh an exciting option. Tapas was entrusted with the project management of the trip, Neeti was a default accountant and Rishi made research about the must do and eat places.
The trip began in the last week of July from Delhi where the five of them met the driver Manoj at the Delhi Airport, with his Chevrolet Tavera car. They were to take a land route to Leh via Chandigarh, Manali and Keylong and be back on the same route to Delhi. Excitement was high as the dream trip finally hit the road. The first stop as per the research was lunch at Haveli restaurant in Karnal. Everyone enjoyed the sumptuous meal of Kadi Chawal and just when everyone was smiling and posing for the pictures, Tapas broke the first news of the trip. He had lost his watch at the restaurant washroom when he freshened up on arrival. Srini consoled him with the sagely advice, ‘who needs a watch on a holiday, anyways?’
The car raced on the Chandigarh highway towards the first official stop at Manali. This journey was delayed by over 10 hours as unexpected rains led to massive traffic jams on the way. However, this did not spoil the mood inside the car as everyone were busy with random discussions. The most intriguing of them was the discussion on experiences of paranormal activities. Neeti was en enthusiast of this topic in those days and Srini had some interesting and funny experiences to share. The one in which a spirit hitched a ride on his scooter in Hyderabad still remains a legend with the group. Listening to their stories, Manoj couldn’t resist sharing his experience too. He narrated an incident when he dropped a lady home in Delhi, who he later came to know had died several years back. On reaching her home, she asked him to wait while she gets the money from the house but never returned and Manoj was shocked to know the reality when he inquired about her from the residents.
The group reached the hotel in Manali late that night after a slow drive owing to rain and traffic jams. Everyone was relieved to see the hotel room and the bed but, there smiles again lasted only a few minutes. No sooner the bags were opened, everyone except Tapas was shocked to discover that all their clothes were wet. Their bags were kept on the roof carrier but were not covered adequately for rains and no one through the 20 hour journey gave it a thought. Tapas being a bachelor was used to carrying his minimal belongings in a plastic bag and hence kept it the same way inside his suitcase for this trip too. So, indeed he was the only one smiling. Drying clothes suddenly became a more urgent priority than sleep and this activity continued till next morning making use of iron box and the sun in the garden. Manali gave the group their first glimpse of the beautiful Himalayas and this was a perfect balm on the frown acquired the night before. They enjoyed the day with a walk on the mall road, plucking apples in the orchard and visiting local temples.
The next stop of the trip was Keylong, via Rohtang Pass. While the route provides a splendidly beautiful views, the road during those days demanded an equal attention, playing beast to the beauty specially due to the rains. The high altitude Maggi at Rohtang Pass is a must have and the group much obliged to this activity. HP tourism’s Hotel Chandrabhaga at Keylong hosted them for an overnight stay. Here, Neeti became the first health victim of the trip with an upset stomach. However, not much was thought of it as she recovered quickly by next day. Everyone was very excited about the next and final destination – Leh!
The next morning was an early start as this was to be the longest day trip. The distance between Keylong to Leh is about 360 kms requiring around 10 hours of drive. As per the plan the group was supposed to reach Leh by early evening. The breakfast was egg and tea just outside of Keylong amidst the mesmerizing scenes of natural beauty. It was still raining that day and the river was swelling but lost in the captivating sights no one cared much about such indications.
Everyone was enthralled with the Himalayan views as the car drove past snow capped peaks on either side. Tapas kept every one’s brains warm with his some witty and some academic questions that included few difficult ones for Veena like sequential names of all Indian Prime Ministers. Few European cyclists were seen on the way enjoying their private date with the nature. At this time the high altitude started to make it presence felt on the body. Glucose packets were pressed into service and the first sign of uneasiness in the body was experienced by all six including Manoj, the driver.
The lunch stop was at a place called Pang, about 5 hours from Keylong. Pang has just a few tents by locals to serve the road trippers with food and stay if they wished too. The tents offer mattresses and blankets and can accommodate large groups. They had a decent lunch in one of the tents but smiles were fading away fast now as the weather started to take toll on the body. The events ahead meant that this was the place Rishi took the last picture of the day.
The scenic canvas started to change dramatically beyond Pang. The large earthy mountains with hardly any vegetation and occasional river streams flowing between them filled the scene for the most part. At one point the land mass on either side of the road was so wide and symmetrical that it was totally possible for one to get disoriented and loose the sense of direction if flipped around. Every one in the car was lost in this canvas never seen before.
Just then Veena shouted “please stop the car guys”. No sooner the car stopped she rushed out and ran away from the car. Srini too followed her but running at that altitude meant breathlessness and that made things worse for them. Such stoppages repeated a few times here onward making the journey slower than expected. In meanwhile, Neeti noticed and alerted the group that Manoj seems to be drooping while driving. Engaging Manoj in a chat to ensure his alertness, Tapas and Rishi observed that there was no other car to be seen for miles together on either side of the road and the fact that at this time they were driving in a plateau. So while the chance of a severe accident was minimal, Manoj’s behavior did raise a silent alarm in the group.
They took a break at Sarchu on spotting some tent shops that had few tourist cars parked outside. Srini and Rishi made a friendly chat with other tourists who were part of a private car rally group from Delhi. It was decided that Manoj will trail this group till Leh. This offered much relief to the group as the confidence in Manoj was running low and health conditions of everyone seemed circumspect.
As the cars started leaving the location one after the other, it seemed that there would finally be sign of traffic on these isolated roads. However, to everyone’s disbelief, all the rally cars mysteriously vanished within minutes of leaving the place. With no option to stop, Manoj continued to drive on the dusty highway. As Tapas, Srini and Veena was discussing this strange event, Neeti again nudged Rishi to observe Manoj, who by now was achieving a rare feet of driving with his eyes almost closed. Tapas who was on the front seat with him, asked him to pullover and wash his face. Rishi offered to drive the car for some time so Manoj could take rest but he refused, citing rules that guests are not permitted to drive the car.
They were already running very late as it was around 5pm now, the time they were expected to touch base at Leh. The plateau was left behind and the ascend on the mountain road had begun. Everyone was getting concerned about Manoj’s condition and specially because it was expected to get dark soon. There was no life to be seen any where around and no one knew how far Leh was yet. Smart phones were expensive and prized possession in those days. Hence every one had kept theirs back home and carried only a basic phone on this trip.
There was a screeching halt at a sharp turn that brought every one’s heart to their mouth, as Manoj pressed hard on the break after what seemed like he just opened his eyes. Every one alighted and hurdled together. It became clear that Manoj can no more be allowed to continue. This time, it was more of an order to Manoj to get off the wheel with a promise that this will not be reported. Rishi took to the driver seat and instantly realized that this was no easy car to drive. With no power steering and a diesel engine this seemed like a truck. Driving in the high altitude region on a narrow and muddy roads requires practice and experience but, this was meant to be on the job real time learning for Rishi
Manoj was made to sit next to Rishi so that he could at least help navigate while Tapas moved with Neeti on the last row. However, within few minutes of the slow drive, Manoj passed out. Veena and Srini already had their heads down by this time after several rounds of vomits and breathing issues. So Rishi was left with any conversation with the last row only. The light was fast fading and the heartbeats were becoming louder. The road was very narrow, muddy and ascending all the time to higher altitude. It was dusk and Rishi had no option but to use the faint shadow of the mountain to estimate which side the cliff is. Luckily for him, there was no vehicle coming in from other side and the invisible mountains held his hand for most part.
After about an hour it was pitch dark and dead silence outside the car while on the inside the 3 awake people tried to make some broken conversation to keep the spirit alive. By about 7pm they were at around 17000 ft above sea level near the second highest road pass in the world, Tanglang La and the temperature easily falling below zero. Rishi noticed that they are approaching what seemed like an end of road ahead which meant a right angle turn on either side. Mist and muddy road made the visibility very poor and limited to a few feet. Thoughts played on his mind as he wondered which side is the road because the other side could mean a cliff. So which side should he turn the car, left or right?
He was inclined to take left but he consulted people behind. He discovered that by this time Tapas had tripped too and only Neeti was awake. She advised him to take right. Neither of them had any logic and were only going by their gut. After some dilemma and discussion Rishi took a cautious right turn. As the headlight turned along with the car, it fell on a lorry which had toppled over, but the good news was that there was a road which meant the call was correct. The immediate thought crossed Rishi’s mind on the possible outcome had he taken a left instead.
This was it for him. His mind and hands both froze as he stopped the car. He had no clue where they were and the thought of the fact that life of his friends depended on him now made him numb. The car was standing still at about 17500ft, at the second highest pass in the world, with its lights falling on the toppled truck. 4 people inside the car had no clue of what was going on as there heads were down and it was about 7:30pm at night. There was literally pin drop silence and Rishi wondered whether these indeed were the last moments.
“What should we do now? shall we carry on?” Rishi asked Neeti breaking the deafening silence after some time. Neeti asked him to check if there are any signs of other vehicles coming so that they can ask for help. There was none. They decided to wait until another vehicle came by so that they can toe it. There wasn’t much small talk to make at this moment and the fact that Rishi and Neeti were sitting on first and last row respectively did not make it easy either. Occasional some of the others got up to know if they have reached the hotel in Leh but dropped their head back again in disappointment to know, not yet!
Finally after about an hour a headlight of a truck fell on the rear view mirrors and it was literally a life saving feeling. The truck roared past the car and Rishi by now had composed courage to restart the car and follow. The road was full of rubbles and downhill which indicated that they were descending the peak here onward. The truck was slow and was repeatedly indicating to Rishi to overtake and go ahead but he was determined to keep the truck in his sight specially after the Sarchu incident. So he firmly kept the car behind the truck until the it stopped at the base of the mountain. The Sikh driver of the truck jumped out and disappeared into what seemed like houses on a small hill. Rishi too stopped the car behind him and took a deep breath of relief.
He too got out the car in order to stretch himself and warm his frozen body and mind. Everyone inside seemed fast asleep including Neeti who relaxed after the sight of another life in the truck. Rishi noticed that it was a full moon night falling beautifully on the giant mountains around. There was no one else to be seen anywhere but he could notice some light from the place where the truck driver seemed to have gone. He decided to go there and check if it was a shop where he could possibly get a cup of tea.
He followed a muddy path and few footsteps to climb up and get nearer to the light. It turned out to be someone’s house but not closed to strangers. The Sikh truck driver was sitting inside there enjoying a quarter bottle of old monk neat while chatting with the house owner. They invited Rishi inside and offered him tea. The truck driver questioned Rishi for not overtaking him, when he came to know that it was him who was diligently behind his truck. Rishi was happy to enjoy a cup of tea in middle of nowhere and have some fun conversation. He took directions to Leh, thanked the truck driver for being god sent and bid them good bye.
Before starting for Leh, Rishi thought about the fuel level in the car as they hadn’t stopped for refueling the entire day. He woke up Manoj to check his guess but Manoj, instead of taking any chances with his estimates pointed to the extra fuel can that he was carrying in the car. In hindsight this most likely averted another possible event before Leh, as they fueled up the thirsty car and zoomed off on a wail laid tar road towards Leh. Full moon accompanied the car through the remaining three hour journey and lit the surroundings with its milky light that gave a veiled view of a beautiful vista. Car passed through the mountain arched gateways, overlooking the stream and what seemed like moon rocks at distant heights.
At around 12am in the night they reached Leh passing through the beautiful small and white Buddhist stupas. The city was as silent and deserted as the mountains. The big question now was how to locate the hotel. No GPS and no one to ask. After roaming around clueless on the streets for a few minutes Rishi noticed a biker duo and caught up with them. “Do you know where the Namgyal Palace hotel is?” he asked them. They just nodded and indicated him to follow them. He did but, with a dilemma ridden thoughts – are these guys trust worthy? what if this leads to another trouble? while these thoughts crossed his mind, he knew that there was little choice.
The biker led them to the hotel and moved on without even stopping to accept thanks. Suddenly everyone seemed to come back to life and one after the other popped out of the car. There was a huge relief to see the hotel and to know the fact that they will be sleeping on the bed that night. Rishi and Tapas went to the reception to do the check in formalities. The hotel reception was open but there was no one there. They knocked on the table and shouted for attention but with no response. They were then surprised to find that there was a man sleeping on a sofa. Soon rest of the gang joined in the reception too. It remains yet another mystery to this group on why this person sleeping on the sofa refused to get up that night despite being pushed around physically.
Will they get the bed or won’t they? was the thought that crossed everyone’s mind as the smiles shrunk yet again to make way for frown muscles. Tapas contacted the travel agency but there was little anyone could do at that time of the night and it seemed very strange to everyone that there wasn’t anyone at the hotel at all to attend. Rishi did not have capacity to take anymore that night and after a verbal altercation with the travel agency, he suggested that they deal with this the next morning. “But what now?” asked Veena. Rishi went behind the reception counter and took 3 room keys hanging on the board there and said “Let’s sleep well for now”. They took their bags to the rooms matching the keys and initiated the unique check in process of using the room first and register later.
The real issue about everyone’s sickness during that day’s jouney is very common high altitude sickness. Hence, all tourists are advised to take Diamox tablets for at least 5 days before and also during the stay in the high altitude region to prevent from such sickness. It was discovered later during their stay in Leh that only Rishi and Neeti were regular in taking this tablet and others only took it occasionally while Manoj did not have it all.
The next morning was as fresh as a dew. Everyone met at the breakfast table as excited as they should have been on their first day in Leh. That day was planned for visit the Leh Palace and the Thiksey monastery though Veena and Srini took the day off. Neeti, Tapas and Rishi had a wonderful lunch at the monastery and observed young kids reciting their texts. The view from the monastery overlooking the Leh city was most mesmerizing. The serpentine road dividing the barren land with not even a fig of leaf on one side from the lush green fields on the other side could be seen for hours. Rishi and Neeti took some beautiful pictures of the place as a timeless memory while they wondered looking at this town on top of the world, as how the life would be to live in such a place.
Later that evening everyone sat together at the hotel terrace under the moonlight and were enjoying the holiday chatter. In the middle of what seemed like a relaxed evening chat, Rishi noticed that his platinum ring was missing. He rushed to the room to search for it as it was just a fortnight old and an expensive investment. He did not find the ring in the room so he rushed to search in the car but ring was not to be found anywhere.
He then checked the camera for the pics and realized that the ring was missing in the morning pics at the monastery too. As he sat with the camera it was clear that the ring never made it to Leh with him. It was last seen in the pics in Pang. Years later he happened to share this incident during a chat with a Nepali shopkeeper in Kodaikanal and that person reasoned to him that he was very lucky. The shopkeeper informed that in the Himalayan region their is a belief that if one looses an expensive possession during an important occasion it usually indicates an aversion of a bad event. Shopkeeper told him very confidently that the ring definitely saved his life that day and he should be grateful for it.
The next couple of days were spent visiting the most beautiful nearby places of Nubra Valley and Pangong lake in a luxurious Toyota Innova car and the local driver as per the rules. To reach nubra valley one has to go through the Khardung Pass which is claimed to be the highest motorable road in the world at 18380 feet. Visiting a small souvenir shop, playing in the snow and taking a picture with the Khardungla Top board are the regular rituals with the tourists passing by. Nubra valley is a fascinating place right on the ancient silk route. On its north is the Siachen and on the east is border with Aksai Chin. It is an high altitude cold desert and apart from offering some magnificent views there is also an added attraction to ride on the double hump Bactrian camels to get a feel of the silk route traders. The group stayed overnight at the hotel Lharimo North which had beautiful apricot orchards and egg breakfast to offer.
On return to Leh the next day they decided to take a day off and experience local life in Leh. Exploring the market and shopping local handicrafts, artifacts, woolens and nuts were the main attractions. The food research had informed about a small eatery called Neha’s Snacks in the main market for must have samosa and gulab jamun and the group ensured that this was not missed. Veena and Srini indulged well in shopping and also obliged a shopkeeper who convincingly sold them an ‘original’ Pashmina shawl. Talking to few locals revealed clearly that they were really proud of their history and culture and also about India. However, some of them did express displeasure about being part of the state of Jammu & Kashmir (at that time) that robs them of their own identity which is very different from Kashmiri people.
The next highlight was the visit to Pangong Tso lake. Looking at the place one can easily say that God must be in really good mood while creating this heaven on earth. No words or pictures can do real justice to capturing the beauty of this place. This was the place visual from the 3 Idiots movie that got Rishi and friends the idea of visiting Ladakh and here they were standing in front of this pristine lake. Rishi went crazy for a few minutes with the shutter of his camera only too realize moments later that it is all futile. Though the icing on the cake was that unlike other days, on this day the blue skies could be seen through the windows provided by the clouds adding more colors to his pictures. Everyone took their own time off for a while. Sitting on the beach or taking a walk and still trying to steal the sight and store it carefully in the most secure corner of their memory.
Pangong Tso lake stretches from India to Tibet and has a larger stretch of its presence on the order side of the border. Interestingly, on the Indian side it is a saline water lake with absolutely no aquatic life, while the same lake has a fresh water on the Chinese side. Tourist can only go up to the start of the bank on the Indian side but not beyond that as the road ahead leads to the border with China. In those days the lake bank had still not been over commercialized with the photo props from 3 Idiots film and the only commercial activity on the bank was a small make shift restaurant offering Maggi and tea, which is a must have.
Back in Leh a breaking news was waiting for this lot who were oblivious to the world, soaking in the beauty of Ladakh. The Leh-Keylong highway, which was suppose to take them back, was now blocked due to heavy rains causing landslides. Hence, going back to Delhi via Keylong and Manali route was ruled out. The same return route was specifically planned in the itinerary to keep away from the Kashmir valley due to ongoing political tensions there. However, the destiny demand them to go back via Srinagar. As they discussed the options and Tapas co-ordinated with the tour operator to chart out the new plans, the memories of the fateful night of Keylong to Leh drive flashed on Rishi’s mind. He wondered whether the unusually high rains and rising levels of the streams in Sarchu, as mentioned by the locals was any indication of times to come. “Lets take a flight from Srinagar and get out of here. I don’t think any one now has a mental stamina to ride up to Delhi on this route” Srini suggested. There was no opposition at all and the search for the flight tickets began at the local internet cafe. Throwing the trip budget out of the window , tickets from Srinagar to Delhi were booked at whatever cost they were available. The tour operator booked the hotel at Kargil for a stop over on way to Srinagar.
As they began their journey to Kargil, there was a consolatory excitement in the group for getting the opportunity to see Kashmir, which was unplanned.They reached Kargil by evening and checked into the hotel. Everyone noticed that the people in Kargil seemed less cheerful as compared to those in Leh. They were mostly poker faced and spoke only as much needed. The group decided to take a walk around the main road and the local market but something felt amiss and mentally uncomfortable about this place. There were big gated army buildings and some very local market of eateries and groceries. One sign on the road pointed at a peak right on the opposite side mentioning that it was the one occupied by the terrorists during 1999.
The next day they proceeded to Srinagar getting prepared for the end of this trip. They were now entering the Kashmir region from Ladakh. The scenery of Kashmir is completely different from that of Ladkakh. The muddy and life less mountains of Ladakh change to lush green vistas of Kashmir keeping everyone’s eyes gazed. There was another new dimension to the scenery on this route. The traffic was dominated by heavily guarded army ration trucks for most part. There were also big army establishment all through the highway. The area is just about 6kms from the border with Pakistan and one passes through the places popular during the Kargil War such as Drass, Zoji La and Tiger Hill. The signs on the road such as “Caution, you are under enemy observation” keeps reminding about the proximity to the line of control.
At one stretch, the group suddenly noticed large set of very colorful tents in the valley down and also few helicopters in yellow, blue and red colors flying around. It made for a fantastic sight and everyone was curious to know what this place was. Manoj guessed that it must be a tourist activity place in Sonmarg. They kept admiring the view as the car made its way down the hill. Little did they guess that the serpentine road down would actually take them to that very place with the tents as they hit the army barricade. The officers ordered the driver to get inside the parking area as they cannot go any further on that road.
Confusion prevailed on what exactly was going on as no one gave the exact information except for the stern message to get inside the parking lot. Manoj parked the car and the group alighted to see their new home. On talking to others in the area it was revealed that due to the high social tension in Srinagar, army had blocked the road and no traffic was allowed to enter the city. They also got to know that this was Baltar Amarnath Yatra base camp and the tents were for the pilgrims going to Amarnath. However, the majority of the people camping there at that time were due to the road blockade. People advised them to hire a tent and pitch themselves as it was not known, how many days it will take to open the route again. “What rubbish! what did he say? how many days??” yelled Veena echoing aloud everyone’s mental reaction to that disclosure. They discovered that people were stuck there for up to 3 days with no clear information from army authorities. However, the sight of the cars coming from Srinagar side, with broken windows and shocked drivers, kept people away from pestering the army authorities about the opening of the road.
Reluctantly, the group hired a tent and later quite enjoyed the langar meal being served to the Amarnath yatris. Mobile networks were jammed and the only way to talk to anyone outside the area was through landline phone booth at one of the tents. “One of my cousin serving in army is posted in Srinagar. Let me call up dad to connect with him and see if he can get us out of here” Neeti thought out aloud as everyone was trying hard to reconcile staying in this camp for an unknown future. Neeti and Rishi waited in the long queue to get to the phone and Neeti conveyed the message to her dad. They were to call back again and give more details about the location so that her cousin could have his men reach them and escort but, Neeti could never get to the phone again that day due to heavy rush at the booth. Later in the evening just when they were all ready to crash inside their tent to fight yet another day that would come with the morning, the luck struck them with the announcement by army loudspeakers to prepare to leave for Srinagar.
It was now broad daylight at the Srinagar airport and the rush of passengers and supply vehicles was building up on the road in wait for the gates to open. A Kashmiri man who had parked his van with some airport supplies, close to where Rishi was sitting got talking to him. He asked about their trip and stay in Kashmir and Rishi asked him about his work and family. During the conversation he said few thoughts like “Khuda bahut salon se hum logon se naraj hai. Isliye hamari mushkilen khatam nahi ho rahi hain” and “hum logon ne ’47 mein Indian army se madad mangi thee. woh madad ke liye aaye toh par wapas nahi gaye”. There was a clear and honest sadness in his voice while sharing these thoughts. It also brought out the contrast image of army in the Kashmir valley as villains against the hero image up there in the ladakh region, owing to decades of presence and dealing with civilians. There was also clear discriminatory treatment by the staff at the Srinagar airport to these ‘Indian’ tourists. These 2 nights in Kashmir valley and Kargil made every member of this group quite sensitive to the news items on Kashmir long after they returned. They figured that the experience of being on the ground zero is so different from reading about it in the newspapers or watching on TV. The feeling of being addressed to as ‘Indians’ as if in a foreign land was a maiden experience for everyone and something that occupied their thoughts as they took off to the skies to return back home.
Going through the pictures of the trip over a cup of tea in his balcony, this is what Rishi wrote in his diary describing the experience
“the picture of Leh taken from the top of Thiksey Monastery is quite symbolic. It was indeed an unbelievable sight – of a desert and lush green land together. It also resembles yin-yang in Chinese philosophy depicting two aspects of life giving us both good times and bad times. Our trip was exactly that – some awesome moments and some terrifying ones, making it not only the most adventurous but also the most memorable holiday.
Seldom are the words fun, enjoyment, adventure used in same breath as courage, patience and faith, to describe a holiday trip. We would need all of them to describe this one experience. Yes it was a holiday from routine, but in some ways it taught us a lesson on how to live that routine life; embrace all moments that life throws at you with a smile so that you have memories like these to cherish for lifetime”