On the Great Himalayan Road Journey to Baltistan, the final journey continuing from
: ँ :
As i sit to write this final chapter, many memories from my journey that I first took eleven years ago arrive. Vivid. Bringing a state of spiritual alertness. An all round high, more out of oxygen levels shelving by the night, at that height. Breathing deep. I wasn’t able to stop my popcorn like popping soul at the sight of the Himalayas. More so I felt young. Carrying freedom in my eyes as I was being taken care of for months and if I wanted to, for as long, to only teach.
Incidents, accidents; new kind of trees, new crops, thin air, cold wind, white walls, narrow streets, mountain dogs, brick lanes, chants, monasteries, Tibetan flags; the mountain life; that air of newness like teenage romance, lived shortly. As a week later reality was waiting to peel soft layers from my wandering sight. How world works! How humans survive! The time in Leh was over. We crossed over the Himalayas passing through the world’s highest motorable road meeting the rude Karakoram Ranges. It was so cold that the tips of my toes were burning out loud inside shoes. A grey day. A devastating day for a co-traveller. For he had to inhale some oxygen at the army camp. We only felt saved when we started descending from the La, moving towards the land of double hump camels in Hunder, world’s highest cold desert meeting the ancient Silk Route. That same road which Marco Polo took in 12th century, and then taken by one of my favourite travel writers, William Dalrymple in the late 80s. I had dreamt of doing it too, and earning that name of being the best, most robust travellers of all times but then for Indians it was better to find their own way. And I was already on one. On my way to the northern most, last possible village of India, bordering with Pakistan, a way up the Siachin glacier; driving along the fear mounting river Shyok, towards the valley of Death.
: ँ :
Present day, writing from my room in Leh
I cannot even measure this in words, how hard it has been for me, to reach Turtuk again, almost One thousand and sixteen hundred kilometers away from my room, I feel far, and I feel under prepared even after a decade later. I had already come close to call this final phase of our journey off.
I am tired. I don’t want it if it doesn’t want me.
The Tyres are old, the car is a box.
In 1971, while India and Pakistan were fighting their last full-bloodied war that lead to the creation of Bangladesh. Thousands of kilometers up north, deep in the gorges of ’Shyok valley in the freezing foothills of Siachin, Major Chewang Rinchin with his Regiment, Ladakhi Scouts started walking along the River Shyok, i.e ‘the river of death’ in Yarkandi Uyghur, but ceased fire after acquiring five villages. A total area of 804 sq. kilometers even before the Indo-Pakistan war was called off.
That night people of those five villages had gone to sleep in Pakistan, but they woke up in India the following morning. For forty years these villages, though in India could not be accessed by road.
Overnight families were cut forever from their relatives; Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, trees, home all were taken away!
It was a lost world for these five villages. Even today if you visit their kabristan- graveyard, you will find majority of the graves are smaller in size, of children. There were more reasons for a child to die earlier than anyone else. In these villages women out numbered men; many could never find any husband. Initially, while on a round to meet families of my children i felt uncomfortable while meeting sometimes three and most times four women talking as mothers, while the lone man stood behind. A family on an average had more than seven children, five to six of them girls. It were the old women of the village who helped young mothers’ conceive in the absence of medical facilities and many times unsuccessfully.
There was absolutely no one who had visited these villages from mainland India apart from the Army men. Khardung La was so huge and unconquerable that anyone crossing the La/pass was given a god like welcome, like it was given to us. More so when those men were teachers, taking huge risks to teach their unworthy children, or how they thought! The village opened and for the first time in the summer of 2011, we were asked to organize a building for a Senior Secondary School, situated by the river, to get it back to working condition and teach for the winter months to come. The news travels like wild fire in small places. And soon not only the village children, but children from far away villages registered. And even students from as far as Srinagar and Jammu started coming within weeks. Many more than village elders had ever thought.
Every thing was magic to my eyes. Swelled earth, purple mountains, the most perfect mineral rich water everyday from the Shyok, children and men alike talked of lores and black magic, of wild animals. Birds that I had never seen sat daily singing songs new to my ears. From the window where I stayed I could see the top of the mountain across the river, where locals pointed out an ancient fort for me. Yes there seemed like a room or two. Rocks placed in some order. But then few months later I saw an I-bex couple running, playing among selves. It was a sight. But here, in the village, that which completely owned my attention for an extended period, were the Donkeys. Ever since we landed our feet, day in and night out hundreds of donkeys used to run berserk from one end to the other non-stop braying like no one’s listening. When I asked about them from our local ‘godfather, Rehamatullah’, he first laughed, and in months to come I will learn that he would always laugh first and then speak, “there are around 600 donkeys here. All are male. We do not keep female donkeys. Why? ‘sound of laughter’, because they are like princess. They do no work at all, and if somehow you managed to load mud or bricks or anything on them, they will either lean on one side and drop everything in the middle of the road or will not move one step once they decide, what may ever you do. So its been some time that we only keep male donkeys. But why do they bray non-stop? Well they are calling to mate, they all now mate with each other. Some don’t want it and in order to save their Asses they run, and others run after them to push their middle hand on them.
On my morning walks in that first month once I reached at a point on a mountain where the stench became unbearable, looking around, a few hundred feet down the hill, i saw innumerable carcasses of donkeys that could be seen lying open. And these were suicides. Many children later told me that many donkeys start running, and they keep running and then just jump off the mountain. Just like that. Some donkeys were even seen banging their heads in the rocks, mountains till they give their breath away.
: ँ :
Present day Scribbling
As a memory collector every word that i could write in those times and each photograph that i took still makes me feel wealthy; today when I am driving this car, reaching to the place I had dreamt of for so long, placing my students and their ambitions on most winter nights before sleeping; more than a decade later pushing my luck, while driving from my home brought memories of unbelievable fortune and happiness that my parents do not count even today.
I get to recall back something’s like magic, vanishing and appearing in an instant, in front of my eyes. Even though nothing feels real of what was achieved, what we started and what all was done. This journey, which feel never happened, never taken and then taken after labor of determined action, feels like dust or a fable to mind. But is there everything in it that i see!
In each word that i have ever spoken after it after that time, i represent it. Even the love of my children, their parents who placed their trust in me, I carry it or may be thereafter those children carried me.
: ँ :
When I had first come to Leh, in 2009 on my motorbike, I had heard from the locals that it was not Leh which all wanted to come to; like life it was the journey to it. Leh was called ‘Life Ends Here’ by the travellers. A high altitude city located at over 12,000 ft. And if one decides to cross Khardung La, to reach to the other side into Nubra Valley- its going to welcome you like any ancient city that will make you feel like time travelling. Isolated but strangely connected, every turn one after the other opens such horizons that you will grow many years in one day just by sitting, drinking them all that day long. Because this day or two is going push your body even harder, your mind to those edges, to never before seen colors, heights, light, and the wind which in all probability you have avoided. The snake like, most treacherous, and probably the most alluring, fascinating, dazzling, life filling time with the wisest and most giving of them all; the Himalayas. They give way. Himalayas themselves giving way to the mighty, empty, robust, bossy, omnipotent, vigorous, brown, purple, dark, rustic the Karakorams. But I took to Baltistan, and it took me not as a merchant but as a storyteller who was asked to teach those uncanny children, those ones who only wanted to hunt foxes.
: ँ :
To be continued
: ँ :
If you have something to share, or feel like saying a hello, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
: ँ :
If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcome ~ Namaste
And i would take this opportunity to introduce you About me and importantly;
before we take our own Road to Nara.
: ँ :