Ladakh is an enigmatic place. It’s a cold and white high-altitude desert. It’s a faraway place situated at the northern-most end of Indian subcontinent. It’s the farthest north you can travel in India. It’s barren and surreal beauty can’t be described in words.
Then, why am I attempting to write about Ladakh ?
Why does Ladakh beckons a traveller ? No obvious reasons but people visit Ladakh simply because it’s there… up above the sky……near clouds. So, if you have few days to live your life…visit Ladakh. There is no other reason…there can’t be.
Some people would say that in the year 2022, such high mountain passes as in Ladakh (it means land of high passes) have been photographed umpteen times and Instagram-like apps and travelling websites provide all photos you can ask for .
But, discovering a pristine landscape has it’s own charms. It’s like delicious food from a famous restaurant. People may say that food is delicious and heavenly.
But, how do you realize it ?
There is only one way…..go and eat it.
Ladakh is like that only…you may read that it’s beautiful…blah..blah…..but you need to see vistas of unreal beauty through your own large and bulbous 02 eyes to believe it.
Don’t worry , it’s equally good ..even if you have small eyes.
Since early 1970s, when tourists were allowed to explore Ladakh, many intrepid travellers have gone through this chillingly cold mountainous region where temperatures can plummet to a – 40 degree Celsius during extremely long winter months.
But, believe me…..mark my words …. your life is wasted till date if you haven’t visited Ladakh……it’s one of a kind in in the world.
Nowhere, can you find such a diverse variety of arid landscape. For people living in crowded cities…..it’s heaven, descended in the form of a beautiful painting.
For smartphone-wielding warriors or should I say youngsters born after the year 2K, every frame is delight for connoisseurs, you turn left, there is grey mountain…you turn right there is a pink and reddish colour mountain……your head can not even recognize the colours of the snow-capped peaks as these are dispersed with non-snow peaks of red , grey or white coloured-peaks….. your head goes up and there is an azure blue mountain of unbelievable clarity, full HD or 4K picture clarity of an OLED screen.
Don’t get flabbergasted….I am talking about sky in last sentence.
Yes, but the words are true, snow-capped mountains are so high in Ladakh that you forget that where the peaks of mountains end and skyline starts……in some cases colours are also similar.
Air is so pure in Ladakh that if you want pure oxygen in your lungs……there is no need to use oxygen canisters.
Just take a deep breath and it will revitalize you.
But, remember one tricky fact that amount of air is pretty less as compared to plain areas. So, your lungs may ask for more air if they are habitual of devouring black and dirty air of some modern cities.
Especially, if you are travelling by air , which most people do, the difference in quantity of air can make or ruin your plans for exploring Ladakh.
Keep in mind that roads are a better way to enter Ladakh region but it’s not meant for faint-hearted people.
NH – 01 reaches Leh from Srinagar and NH-03 winds it’s way from Manali. Both routes are spectacularly beautiful and will take your breath away. But, you need time and sturdy all terrain 04-wheeler or a mountain bike having 02 wheels but a big heart and extraordinary powerful torque to take you past the unfathomable passes.
But, road travel to Ladakh is a different story altogether and I will talk about it some other time.
Let’s talk about seasons to visit Leh.
All seasons are damn good in Ladakh but not meant for everyone. So, for a normal person, who loves his junk food round-the-year and has no major illness, June to September is the official summer season in Ladakh.
Ladakh gets it’s majority of tourist during this short window of 04 months.
You may visit during May. It’s equally good if not better in May.
Tonight, I will talk about the easiest way to reach Ladakh that is through air.
All leading airlines operate daily flights to Leh from Delhi and some other major cities of India.
It’s a short and sweet ride of around 45 minutes.
Windows of your metal tube (don’t get confused)……..I am talking about Boeing and Airbus aircraft, goes through varied emotions of despair as well as joy in this short ride.
From Delhi, you pass through verdant fields of Haryana and Punjab…then flora and fauna of Pir Panjal Range mesmerizes your glass windows….then comes bowl-shaped beautiful Kashmir Valley …….your metal tube may be thinking about landing at beautifully enticing Srinagar airport but your driver (I don’t know the logic behind calling Plane’s driver a Pilot, why give them a distinct identity. Are Truck’s driver made by lesser Gods ?) takes a slightly left turn and snow-capped mountains are visible to people sitting in left side of aisle and right side people curse their fate for choosing wrong side.
You can even touch the Zero Point of Zojila Pass (no one lives there) if you stretch your limbs a little longer but freezing weather outside your tube made of metal alloys prevents your wish for any misadventure.
Airline crew may also take steps to stop you from going out for a stroll in mid-air. It’s not advisable….I don’t know about feasibility as haven’t tried yet.
Approach to Leh airport is as tricky as curves on mountain roads in Ladakh. Your driver does many unpredictable manoeuvres in the air that sometimes you feel that he has lost his marbles.
You can’t see airport for a long time …mountains are just wide enough to let your aircraft pass through and you are watching a large mound of mud-type structure on both flanks.
You wonder how will this incompetent driver land on slope of such high mountains ?
Can your plane go up on a slope on mountain like an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) ?
You hear whispering sounds of air as if a ghost -like creature waits for you on the ground. People get religious during these tense moments when Plane shakes like a leaf in the air and start giving you mild jerks. You feel that road journey would have been a better option.
Finally, you land on the smallest strip of an airfield , just long enough for runway of your aircraft.
You heave a sigh of relief on seeing other aircrafts sleeping on the tarmac.
Your metal tube gives a high five to fellow airplanes and ask for any traces of bad weather on the ground.
Keep in mind that aircraft land and take-off only till afternoon as tricky wind movements and large clouds (sleeping in air) makes it difficult to fly a Plane.
Why only Plane, even birds of Ladakh don’t prefer to fly in afternoon. They love their siestas in caves of barren mountains.
But, the real fun begins when you come out on the mystic land.
Your head feels little lighter and your senses are overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of landscape. But, you notice one thing…. where are trees ?
It’s like God has used a marble polishing machine to denude this beautiful land of all trees.
Why on earth Leh is deprived of large trees ? People say that due to less amount of rainfall , large trees don’t prosper in this land. But, why do trees need rain if large swathes of snow-capped mountains are providing perennially-flowing rivers in this land of scarce resources ?
It’s good that science has strange ways of explaining things.
It’s an irony that Ladakh doesn’t have large trees. You can find artificial kind of trees in other parts of city but nothing grows on rude and moody mountains near airport.
At the cost of comparing apple with oranges, I must say that Kashmir valley situated few hundreds of kilometres away has many 700 to 1000-years old Chinar trees.
I don’t know about geography but this is illogical ?
Why deprive such a beautiful land of such beautiful trees ?
Something is missing or may be messy . Gods are not fair but that’s a different story.
Coming back to Leh….
You can experience the cataclysmic difference in mean sea level from around 700 feet in Delhi to around 11500 feet in Leh.
It is empowering. It is spiritual. It is an out of this world feeling. You are attacked by the gutsy and powerful winds which tries to blow away your senses, or may be your soul.
You are awed by the magical beauty of fresh air, uncharacteristically arid and dry but bone-chilling weather.
Wise people say that do not hurry in mountains. Small steps on an uphill track can help you in exploring many unconquered peaks. The moment you hurry up and take long steps, you will become out of breath and mountain gods will make sure that you won’t be able to go far.
So, once yo reach Leh, forget that you are a tourist. Take a deep breath, drink lots of warm ginger-flavoured water, eat hot and spicy food, sleep well for long hours.
Your body isn’t a machine and imposing landscape of Leh teaches you to live life in a slow lane. It’s an important life lesson which you can carry even after departing from land of high passes.
Government regulations say that you must spend 48-hours acclimatization in Leh before moving to high mountain passes. It’s not an advisory. It’s a life-saving tip which helps in making your stay a memorable one in high mountains. Medical facilities are rudimentary in this part of world, so, ignore this advisory at a considerable risk to health of a loved ones, especially if you are travelling with kids or elderly persons.
It’s getting late in night and I haven’t even arrived at arrival lounge of Leh airport.
So, let’s call it a day.
Will write about Leh some other time.
If you have read earlier edition of this story , you may have some idea about which stranger I am referring to. If not then you may go through it @ https://justcasualthought.com/2020/11/22/a-chance-encounter-with-a-stranger/
So, lady was happy and went back home peacefully in the month of November, 2020. Shopkeeper also slept peacefully at his home and even dreamt about getting his money back the next day. But, alas, things didn’t pan out as per his wish. Next day was one of the longest ever day of his life. He waited and waited more…..some more….
Coming back to circa April, 2022.
Nothing was amiss during this long gap of more than 16 months. Shopkeeper was going about his job religiously in the same colony and lady was also happy in her life. But, he never forgot her. Not a single day went without thinking about her.
No one talked about money during this long period. It was strange as lady had promised to pay back very next day. But, she didn’t and shopkeeper also didn’t took steps to recover his amount. Though, amount of money the lady owed to him wasn’t very large but still small shops runs on small profits. He wasn’t operating a charity organization and lady wasn’t a poor soul.
His shop was also located in the middle of a small junction sort of neighbourhood in the middle of a tony colony. All kinds of people including poor people used to visit this prominent location and street hawkers were also in abundance at the spot. His shop was visible from all angles at this small junction so there was no chance that if that lady visited this spot, he wouldn’t have missed her for heaven.
He also seemed to have developed a strange sort of feelings for her. He was even unable to define it ? Some wounds are better left festering …… time is a great healer. But what to heal ,was unclear to this shopkeeper.
So, why he didn’t tried to find her ?
Yes, lady was beautiful and shopkeeper was also handsome , a young strapping lad.
Then, suddenly one day, a normal boring day in life of a shopkeeper during month of April when weather was getting a little hotter than usual and sun was nearer to this small town, he spotted lady walking alone on the road near his shop. Some street dogs were also barking in immediate vicinity and were trying to find respite from increasing temperature and looking for some unknown objects may be food for dog soul.
He jumped from his chair and wanted to say something. But lady walked nonchalantly and didn’t notice him.
There was a glow on her face but it seemed to carry a tinge of sadness noticeable through her large eyes.
Shopkeeper hesitated to utter a word, as if he was afraid of something. His tongue-tied face was a treat to watch for passersby. Some people even laughed in the background without a rhyme or reason. Lady also stopped near his shop and saw him. She seemed to have not recognized him and there wasn’t even a trace of friendliness in her body language.
Now, the shopkeeper was crestfallen.
Oh god, she didn’t recognized me !!
She seemed to have forgotten her promise of paying back my debt !!
He decided to refresh her memory and took out the item lady had bought on that fateful cold night of November which was still dangling from his shop. He waved this item meaninglessly as if to attract her attention. But, no, nothing happened.
It seems that either this lady has a short-term memory or she is very shrewd and cunning lady who has a habit of cheating small shopkeepers.
Thousands of emotions floated inside the head of shopkeeper but still he was unable to utter a single word to that lady.
Then , suddenly a bright light sparkled in front of him and that lady smiled towards him.
Oh my goodness…she had an amazing smile . He felt at peace with himself. He felt like getting lighter and floating in air. A smile has the power to energize and save a soul. He felt like the most luckiest man on this small junction.
All kinds of suspicious thoughts evaporated from his mind and he also smiled, not at the lady but thinking about his own foolish and awkward behaviour.
Then, lightning stuck again and magic happened.
When he looked back on the other side of road, that lady was nowhere to be seen. He tried to trace her footprints in all possible directions and scanned whole area in few seconds. But, the lady wasn’t anywhere. She had vanished in thin air !
He tried to think coherently that if what he saw was real or was it a mirage in bright sun light ? He thought about asking passersby but restrained himself.
He thought about all possible scenarios but it looked like he had lost it.
He seemed to have forgotten difference between reality and fantasy .
Was he dreaming during the day ?
What was it ? How could the lady vanish in front of his eyes ? He was unable to forget her mysterious smile ? He was perplexed ?
This smile episode happened in bright daylight in front of whole neighbourhood. Even street dogs who were scouting for food saw her. Should he ask dogs about him ? But, he didn’t had the courage to ask from dogs.
But, the question was still puzzling him.
How could she vanish in a jiffy ?
What happened ?
To be continued………………
Hills are a natural feature which is located at a higher pedestal than surrounding ground. It rises above the surrounding area and provides a bird’s eye view. Don’t get confused between hills and mountains. Both are same land features having varying heights. In fact , mountains are even more charming than hills but they are hard to conquer.
But, why I am talking about hills ?
Reason is that hills are intriguing feature for people living in plains of big rivers who loves to climb it and enjoy the view from top.
As someone has rightly said that it is easier to go down a hill than up but the view is much better at the top.
So, climbing hills is tough but once you reach the top , you realize that effort was worth every penny. Soaking the fresh air of hills is especially beneficial for people living in fast-paced life of metros.
Few days back , I saw the viral video of long and serpentine queues of big and burly 04-wheelers on a hilly road trying to enter a north Indian mountainous state. Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand provides the perfect getaway locations for people living in nearby States of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. Everyone wishes to get away from scorching heat of plains and soak into pleasant climes of hill states.
A new term, revenge tourism , was coined for the people speeding towards scenic and cool locations of these hilly state.
So, why are affluent people heading in towards Himalayas ?
One reason I can fathom is the forest cover enjoyed by these states.
Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand boasts of a forest cover of more than 66 % and 71 % respectively.
Now, compare it with nearly 06 % forest cover for Punjab as well as Haryana.
The purpose of above-mentioned data is not to bamboozle you with statistics but get a reality check about our priorities in life.
Once you get your basic needs fulfilled by any means. You need to live life. How will you live ?
Long time back , when I drank water from a packaged drinking water bottle , I laughed about the irony of situation that how will humans survive if free water (available abundantly in nature to our predecessors ) has become a precious commodity.
I have not read in any history books about the need of packaged drinking water for any ancient civilization.
So, how come we reach at this destination about packaged water system ?
Same way , I got a deja vu about Oxygen during the ongoing pandemic.
Is oxygen also going the same way as water ?
If water isn’t available, air isn’t available , then how will 07 billion people survive on planet earth ?
We need to search another Planet desperately now, if our civilization wishes to survive for foreseeable future.
I am not talking about distant future. I am talking about a time span of 30-50 years from now.
So, people going uphill for getting oxygen is a phenomenon which must remind us about our vulnerable civilization.
Anyway , hills are literally abode of gods for us. Every hill boasts of a mandatory installation of some deity. If hills are so pristine and pure, it means that gods must be living amidst sylvan green cover. Sometimes, I feel that hills get scary during night time and that’s why people remember gods fervently and construct religious places at tough spots to remind them of protective umbrella of almighty.
Since earlier times, kings and rich people used to have long vacations in Himalayas. Entourage of kings used to visit hills for several months whiling away time amidst godly forests.
So, the concept of revenge tourism is not a recent phenomenon.
English people formally established the tradition of going to hills for ruling class in India as they got tired of sultry and irritating summer in plains of India. Lord Curzon (viceroy of India from 1898 to 1905) even named his youngest daughter after Naldhera, a charming hill town in Himachal Pradesh.
So, the hills have always been a fascinating site for powerful people.
I remember an interesting story about people in large private automobiles wishing to use scarce resources of government of the day to get away from a hilly state in times of war during the tumultuous years of 19th Century. People wanted planes for their Cars to get away from hills.
What they were doing in the hills in times of war ?
May be, it was an earlier version of revenge tourism !
But, hills have an intrinsic quality of making you fit.
Walking on hills is a task in itself and people tend to get fit just by living among hills. It is a fact that native hilly people are stronger and hardy people. They live in harmony with their surroundings and are normally happy as compared to city people. That’s why many well-off people after spending their youth in mundane tasks in city tend to go towards hills to get near to god in their sunset years.
Now think about living in hills in your prime youth ?
Not as nomads ? Though, nomadic life is not a bad choice but how will you get Internet to read this blog in distant hills ?
So, live in a habitable area in harmony with nature and take life easy.
Nothing happens without a reason. Slow down your pace of life and go towards hills.
Nothing matters more than your happiness.
But, remember prophetic words of Nelson Madela :
“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
It’s not the name of a book. It’s just about a boy who arrived in a town.
But, how do you arrive in a town ?
Majority of people shift to a new town in search of livelihood. Some people do it for fun or living life in a better place.
There is something called push factor & pull factor which explains that why people migrate to any place. It literally means that people are pushed from their comfort zone and pulled by the mirage of a better life in an unknown place.
It’s not that shifting to a new town is a recent phenomenon , it is believed that few million years ago people from Africa moved to Europe , Asia and later on to Americas.
So, our history is replete with movement of new boys moving into new towns or whatever they used to call towns at that time (02 million years ago).
But, the process always involves uprooting some trees of friendship or bonding with the place (both living as well as non-living entities). Nevertheless, it hurts when you leave a well-established home and move out in a jiffy.
You may have tonnes of memories of the place but it just becomes a folder in your flash drive.
That’s why every religion talks about renunciation.
Leaving a town without a promise to come back again is truly the highest form of renunciation. When you are well-off and belong to moneyed class, you sometimes think that if you leave the town , the town will go to dogs.
But, life plays games and you realize that not even a dog is bothered about your departure.
People come and go……every town resembles a railway station which only houses travellers for a specific period of journey.
I vividly recall the words said by a wise man long time ago –
The cemeteries are full of people who thought the world couldn’t get along without them.
So, a new boy arrives in a big town and first thing he realizes that the town is polluted. All sorts of pollution, be it air, water, soil or may be human psyche.
Living in towns is not a cake walk. The days of drinking water from fresh river and plucking fruits from trees are not feasible in a town. Even vegetable and flowers are grown in labs in towns.
How do people eat vegetables grown in unhealthy soil ?
Does it taste any good ?
New boy noticed a giant guava weighing nearly 01 Kg. each in a shopping mall. He learned that these guavas are sourced from Thailand and salesman informed that guava is tropical tree. It can be eaten as a fruit or used as an ingredient in drinks, smoothies as well as desserts. He told that guava tree is a highly attractive tree. Leaves and flowers are both mildly fragrant and attractive. New boy became happy to learn so many new things about guava, felt like a novice about fruit trees. He realized that the day is not far when ubiquitous guava trees in our villages will become extinct and our youngsters won’t recognize it. May be some exotic garden in big towns will preserve it for prosperity.
Think about it. If our fruit trees vanish , what will we eat ?
If we keep expending our natural resources at such a fast pace, the day is not far when such situations will become the norm and food items will become scarce.
What will happen after that ?
Artificial intelligence can’t manufacture fruits. What will we do with all our modern gadgets if there are no fruits to eat for anyone ?
It is projected that population of India will stabilize around 1.70 billion by the year 2101 (AD).
So , now imagine the amount of guavas needed for feeding that many stomachs ? I am just talking about 01 fruit and 01 country. You can multiply it with thousands of eatable fruits and more than 200 countries on the planet.
Big guavas are okay , they even taste like a potato, but can we produce enough to feed everyone ?
So, new boy in the town thinks about just 01 issue and is worried what will he eat in the town as there are no farmlands in the town.
Town is like a jungle but not made of trees. It is made of concrete and metal in abundant quantities.
It is devoid of trees and fresh water bodies which sustain our life.
Rich people living in glittering towers of towns go to mountains to find trees and fresh air.
The irony can’t be starker ?
Why can’t they make a town in midst of trees and co-exist with them ?
They drive gasoline-guzzling big & ugly SUVs. They take immense pleasure in pollute serene environs of small hamlets in mountains.
Trees and animals have the first right on natural resources.
We have to give them their share. Or else , doomsday is not far away.
So, new boy just thinks about the difference between living near bank of a river where dolphins swim in crystal clear water and on the bank of a foul-smelling, black and chemically- polluted thick river water.
That’s is the difference between Ganga and Yamuna.
What will new boy think about other issues in the town ?
That’s hidden in the belly of future and you will have to wait for a new blog.
Till then, keep reading.
This story begins in a small (mofussil) town in India in the month of November, 2020. This is a predominantly rural area situated on the banks of river Ganga (mighty as well as perennial).
Land is fertile and a variety of crops are grown in abundance due to round-the-year availability of water. Soil is fertile and mango trees are dotting the landscape. Many cash crops, leafy as well as pleasant (to eyes and soul ) vegetables are also grown in large quantity. So, this area is rich in resources but irony is that people inhabiting this fertile soil are poor.
Not all but a vast majority of people can be classified as poor if you include provision of basic amenities and connectivity among the criteria of classifying poor. Yes, I missed the connectivity part. The area at the centre of this story is poorly connected to major cities of India.
You can pluck this town out from map of India and put it in any under-developed or poor countries of Asia/Africa/South America , you get the same picture of strange relationship between people and resources.
Mahatma Gandhi has said that –
“There is enough for everybody’s need and not for everybody’s greed”. So, he literally said that if resources are shared equally, no person would go hungry or thirsty. After all, how much a person need to survive ?
600 grams of Oxygen on daily basis which is provided free by nature & some food/water which is also free but we have become salesman and are selling it since last few centuries.
Does an animal need to purchase food or water in wild ?
There are around 20 Quintillion animals on the earth. In simple terms, 20 billion billion animals are sharing the planet earth with us. To put this number in perspective , now think that only 7.8 billion humans are walking on earth.
May be honestly, not all are walking , large number of people may be crawling , some because they are infants or some because they must not have developed spinal cord due to their submissive behaviour. What is the reason of unequal distribution of resources among people of a same geographical entity ?
Any way, coming back to my story –
02 middle-aged ladies were walking in their neighbourhood in the early evening hours. This was in a tony township colony in midst of rural landscape where few rich people lives.
Weather was pleasant and easterly wind was blowing slowly which had a magical charm to it. The midpoint between ending of autumn season and arrival of winter season brings pleasant weather. The fallen leaves on the black-topped roads were presenting a mesmerising vista. If your stomach is full, such weather can make you a poet.
However, ladies in this case were just enjoying an evening stroll on wind-swept roads and indulging in gossiping. Sometimes, gossiping can be fun and many people play this game round-the-clock.
They were walking in a colony which can virtually be termed as self-sufficient in respect of all basic and advance amenities. Even if, the world outside their colony gates vanished , the inhabitant won’t need to worry about anything for next few years.
Yes, such small townships can be found in large quantities in an unequal society.
It is a tradition in poor countries that rich people always enclose themselves behind big walls. This separation wall has 02 benefits, first one is to block the movement of poor and hostile neighbours towards their cosy space and second one is to block their own view of outside world so that they can live peacefully in their isolated fairyland.
While walking they(ladies) passed through the cluster of neighbourhood shops which sells everything from A to Z items i.e. all conceivable household/kitchen items. A single shop was open and one of the lady suddenly saw an item of her interest dangling from frontage of the shop.
She went to shop and asked for that item. Shopkeeper was a chubby middle-aged friendly man who gave the said item to the lady.
When it was time for paying cash, the lady realized that she was not carrying her money bag. She wanted the item desperately. However , she was reluctant to ask for favours as she wasn’t familiar with shopkeeper. Nevertheless, she told shopkeeper that she will pay for the item tomorrow and shopkeeper obliged by packing her things suitably.
She kept telling him repeatedly the she lives close by and will pay him tomorrow. By now , an undeclared bond had developed between them as shopkeeper told her not to worry about money.
During this short span of few minutes, both were acting as if they knew each other since ages and transaction had become immaterial for them. Lady kept talking about paying money repeatedly and man repeatedly asked her not to think of money.
It is incredible…….how do people form a relationship at the drop of a hat.
Are we humans wired to understand each other ? What compelled shopkeeper to behave in the way he did ?
Complex question …..without a definite answer ?
Both ladies walked off with happiness writ large on their faces.
Chubby shopkeeper was also happy.
Some bystanders who watched this episode also seemed happy by the trust shown by the good shopkeeper. It brought a smile on everyone’s lips.
There was no monetary transaction between individuals but all seemed happy .
Both were stranger before this episode but must have formed a lasting salesman -customer relationship in foreseeable future.
It was getting late and shopkeeper closed his shop and went back to his home ….still a mysterious smile dancing on his lips.
Weather had turned nippy this evening and darkness was about to engulf this small town. Both ladies went to their respective homes singing a folk song happily and got busy in their home and life.
Tomorrow will be a new day.
Sunrise can give rise to many possibilities.
What if they hadn’t met today ?
What if the shop wasn’t open or ladies had decided to stroll in another area of the township ?
What if………………. ?