How does one begin to even describe what it is like to go to Ladakh? One of the long-pending on my list of items on the bottomless bucket list I have. How does one begin to describe a journey with five others who are all different people and you end up with all plans getting undone? It was phenomenal and life-changing in more ways than one for all of us. I will speak for myself though.
Our plan was to leave in two vehicles from Delhi, a Scorpio 2×4 (not my choice of a vehicle for Ladakh, I prefer my Thar 4×4) that I was driving, and an Audi Q3 that was such a slick performer on the road.
So, we did leave after an excited round of introductions with each other. Let me introduce you to the characters in this narrative, as they are going to be all over this series. Meenu and Venki (the only male member in our team) who are married to each other were gracious enough to host us the night before our departure from Delhi. Pavitra, a teacher and researcher who is soon to get her doctorate in the field of textile and Neha who is distantly related to her by way of marrying a cousin of Pavi’s. Neha, the phenomenal Mommie, our laughter source, home schools her kids and that makes her a teacher (and Principal) as well. Then, there is Karma, my classmate and friend from school, who I met after 30 years, a school Principal, who was awarded recently by the Prime Minister on Teacher’s Day. (That is another story). And then, there is yours truly. What was common with all of us is the fact that we all teach. I am a soft skills trainer, Meenu and Venki are well-established corporate coaches and the other three school/college instructors. The fact that this is the common thread among us all has occurred to me now, as I write in reflection. Things you realise!
Early morning on 6th July , pretty much on time, we left Meenu and Venki’s who had hosted us for the previous night for destination Jammu. All went pretty smooth. We hogged and gorged on aloo parathas at Murthal and lassi…basically pigged our way to Jammu. Jammu and Kashmir happens to be my home state. So, yes, nostalgia overload.
We stayed at an army cantonment courtesy Pavitra. It was a day for getting to know each other as well. The next morning, on 7th, we were ready on time at 6am to leave for Srinagar. All set and excited, we joined a long queue of vehicles. Then began the quest to get out of the city into the Jammu-Srinagar Highway. We were told no vehicles were being permitted to pass. Knowing a few other exit points out of Jammu, we tried to divert to three other exits including driving all the way up to Samba and then taking the direct road to Udhampur from there. We got to Samba only to be told all vehicles will only go via the main highway to Srinagar from Jammu. Back to square 1.
Eventually, changing the statement of “we are going to Srinagar” to ” we are going to Udhampur”, we managed to get past the checkpoints. We land up in Udhampur and I check with my sources as to what is really going on. Bottomline, Srinagar is a NO ENTRY zone. Our bookings for Srinagar go Kaput. I call up Vaneeta who had organised our bookings and we re-work bookings via Manali.
We vote and decide to head to Manali instead with a stop at Dharamshala or someplace close by. Courtesy the Services, we manage that with a stop at Yol in Himachal for the night.
So, what was meant to be a journey to Srinagar from Jammu on 7th becomes a trip from Jammu to Udhampur to Yol (via Samba’s bad bypass road and laden with the infamous marijuana plants all along through the sectors of Punjab and Himachal). Erm…that’s something else but I was a good girl this trip.
No complaints as now, we are road-tripping through Himachal. Where we were to see Himachal only at Kullu Manali sector becomes a drive through Nurpur, Dharamshala, Yol as well. A lazy night at Yol, we figure, so far so good.
The next morning, we were greeted by friends (mutual friends of Meenu, Venki and I) who live close by at Mouli village in Dharamshala. The little Aloki had brought us a big slice of chocolate cake she had baked the previous day. I did polish that off shamelessly after a pitstop for parathas for breakfast somewhere along the way to Manali.
We made another stop at Nature’s Nest along the way where a lot of tourists were river rafting. Silly pictures, a quick lunch and conversations later, we left to join a long queue of one way traffic held up for a mobile court. Courtesy a long wait and chatter in a long line of vehicles, we watched a smart cop push back a Haryana car of three stoned youngsters who were trying to break the queue…very efficient I’d say. Paper checks done, we drove on, through some bad and some fairly great patches of a shifting landscape, gorgeous sunset and trees that grew taller than most I had seen, and landed up finally at Iceland Hotel on 8th evening. Check in done into a great property. Dinner and a tad rum for a select few who didn’t mind having a go at it despite the Diamox tablets we had started to take since our exit from Delhi (The Diamox and related tales are something else).
A beautiful morning greeted us…but then, that’s another day…
© Sandhya Suri