Hapus in the Himalayas

Well yes that was my mission for this year’s b’day-wc happens to be ma 40th birthday!

I wanted to take Alphonsos to the Himalayan mountains this year. Initial plans were to go to Lahaul, Spiti & Zanskar valley. My friend Anne Margaret who too will complete 40 in Oct, will be celebrating her b’day in South Africa. What to do can’t afford it so she suggested we go elsewhere in India. Again Lahaul, Spiti was getting to be a costly trip so we proceeded from Srinagar.

Now firstly I’ve been to Ladakh 20 yrs ago when I was younger & fitter. I’d gone on a trek. That was my first trip ever alone, a month to Kashmir and Ladakh. It changed my life forever & gave me a whole new perspective to live…earn for the next holiday & help people. I was treated marvellously well in Kashmir. I was not allowed to pay anywhere. The Kashmiris treated me with utmost respect & love, one reason because I’d gone alone to their part of the country.

The men would ensure I was not alone anywhere, they would send their wives or daughters to accompany me even if I went to pee. I was on shoe string budget in 1987, when I was a student & had gone with few 100 rs in my pocket. Even then I ate cherries & fruits, lived on curds & rice in Kashmir & potatoes-rice in Ladakh..besides other local cuisine.

It was the most thrilling experience & one that will always stay with me. There was strong army presence even 20 yrs ago in Kashmir. Infilteration, bomb blast and heavy rains that had flooded Srinagar for 4 days. In fact I got the first harsh brush with authorities when I clicked a pic from my camera in the bus on way to Pahalgam! The soldier stopped the bus & asked me all sorts of questions. He demanded I hand over the role to him & asked who I was, place of origin & why had I clicked the bridge. Now except for that soldier I had no idea about the bridge-I had not seen any.

The reason I clicked was one doesn’t get better pics than when on the move-The turns and curves of the of the mountains & valleys always make good pics and that is what I’ve done all my life. Didn’t know even this would get me into trouble.

It is still a mystery and marvel to me how I reached Srinagar & from there to Sonamarg. I vaguely remember the bus journeys. I distinctly remember falling ill-rather out wt gastro- due to bad water!!

We went all the way upto Leh after Sonamarg. Here not much of trekking, but I visited Thispay, Hemis, Gonpas and the famous Lama Yuru. The little trekking we did was from Baltal to Amarnath. I could not afford thermal or other warm clothes. I had taken haversack & as little clothes cover as I could afford. My SLR was in place though. I remember the difficult trek to Amarnath & the fact that we were at the cave for 4 undisturbed hours! It also was a fact that I was the only girl who completed the trek, as the others had left the group to return to base camp.

To re-visit is fun, although I had read somewhere yrs ago that one should never visit the same place again. But this time too I was keen on going as we were to visit Pengong lake & Nubra valley, new places in the Ladakh region. I’d heard these were really beautiful & the experience is unforgettable. Believe me this is an understatement.

Anne, her aunt Ayala too agreed then anne’s bf ashiq & mr raja Hindustani the driver…whos good at the wheels & insists since he’s set his heart on me I shld too fall for him….grhhhh why me??

Firstly we travelled quite lahdidah! We flew by Cheap air tickets on May 19, then we hired a vehicle which took us from Srinagar airport, went straight to Sonamarg and stayed at a lovely cozy hotel Snowland. The next day although we were ready in time, we had to warm ourselves as we waited for the army convoy to leave so that we could leave thereafter to Kargil. On 20th we reached Kargil. Till Sonamarg it was just about ok, from then on it was cold, chilly, rainy and got more dark, cold and finally the snow.

Sonamarg was the same-one dream run. Cold, rainy, over cast and the army cordon was to return only in afternoon so whole morning we sat around chilling…taking pix. A river flowed behind the hotel, one of the most picturesque views. Horses mating, grazing…snow-capped mountains & slight drizzle. Only a decent man for TLC was missing….but that’s ok.

It was a pleasant surprise to live in a hotel in Kargil! This was unheard of even a decade ago. One could only live in army barracks or municipal hospital. But what a set back to all my plans. I sat quietly listening to my pm3 with some cool dire straits, suddenly one darn Gujju aunt walks happily with washed undies of her hubby, blue electric ones to b precise wc she coolly hung bang in front of ma face. Hello auntiji this is my part of the string I don’t want to see neither urs nor ur bloody husband’s. I looked astounded & abso shocked.

This was the same one who sat with other huge aunties bitching abt my friend anne’s size!! These gujjus I tell you..but more fun. At night a load of Maharashtrians sat at the dinning table staring into our boobs! What’s wt Indians & staring man?? They were talking in chaste marathi-hahaha I know Marathi, Hindi & gujarati….hahaha
They looked like straight out of one chimanrao- gundyabahu comic strip with monkey caps & ears to be precise!!

Food was awesome everywhere. Except that Dum aloo kashmiri had different pastes & taste in every other restaurant. Ok, I was all set to open my b’day goodies that I’d brought along-alphonso mangoes! Early morning for breakfast before we left for Leh. One tiring long and dusty journey to Leh it was.

But so much is the same! State of the roads, lovely people & more than anything the beauty…that’s still untouched & virgin…so very rare in India.

We were dead tired…had a lovely hot shower & prepared with the white wine that I’d carried for everyone to drink down for ma b’day. Surprise…anne & ashiq planned a lovely cake wt my name & 40 written on it. They sang, candle was lit & lovely meal we had wt white wine.

Yes dessert was hapus in the Himalayas!

Next day we took easy. Thanks to the elections in Ladakh there was a call for bandh. Visited some Gonpas, hall of fame as respect to our brave soldiers who gave their lives in Kargil war, etc. Finally in the evening we went to the market, didn’t buy much as had to go for dinner with my army friend.

Vow! Had some good Chinese food and went on a lovely night walk around the city. Saw the more low profile 2nd palace. Went around and was dropped back safely. Col Sannat told me to be careful as it had snowed on top & pray we don’t get stuck on way to Pengong & Nubra…now that was NOT good news at all. I was freezing as it is..I knew that it would be cold but not like this man. One set of thermals, 1 sweat shirt & 1 flannel pull over…gosh why didn’t I carry my humungous jacket??? Well too late dear…

Next morning we left-daily we ate out of lunch boxes wherein the menu was 1 boiled egg (ugh), 1 boiled potato (ughier), sadela synthetic juice, rarely a macaroon, perk (VOW) some such stuff & yes Indians love Bananas…fruit I mean

Anyways long ardous drive boob breaking roads I’m serious thought they existed only in Mumbai but the Himalayas beat them! Most were asleep, stenzin our driver-by some mercy raja Hindustani was called back to Srinagar-also in Ladakh the Tibetan union is stronger so any vehicle has to be parked in the city & we have to take their cars. Now stenzin’s reply to my repeated query where is the lake, he would say “ma’m 15 minutes!”

Khair, saw Yaks & Pashmina goats grazing-yes same ones whose wool is used by the Pg3 celebs for wearing Pashmina Shawls…The terrain was a mix-dusty & specs of greens, then dry, arid, suddenly sno
w…I saw flakes & went beserk..then icicles…gosh when was the last time I saw them? To top it all the car-wc was cramped man-kept skidding. Thankfully some other vehicles too skid so all together would dig snow, pick mud in their freezing hands & chuck it along the path. I wondered there’s something called as snow wheel chains wotta happened to them?

Drive was long & winding…frustrated with sitting for hours & days, suddenly I saw a spec of clear crystal blue between few coloured mountains! Ordered stenzin to stop, got out changed the lens & with the zoom clicked away this spectacle! Later some more drive & reached the lake! Gawd pl do something abt these loud Indians ya…

Drive back was ok, though snowed. We were keen on getting back ASAP coz we had to wake up at 3.00am the next day. Never have understood how in Mumbai I can’t wake up early, in the cool mountains I’m up with the sunrise.

Now begins some adventure our journey to Nubra. Early morning winding thru’ mountains is now daily journey…but as we went higher towards Khardungla, my sleep was tossed outside the wee bit open window. It was Snowing! This realisation dawned as I stepped out to pee…both the cameras & me was I remember…at Khardungla Pass-shit man teeth chatted, shivered & my body shook…rubbing hands we went to the army canteen. There was one spooky shop for souvenirs. Why aren’t we more enterprising? At 9.30am this shop was closed! Some really cool beer & coffee mugs, caps, scarves, etc…again had lunch in a box. Thankfully stenzin found a good Tibetan hut that gave up Ladakhi food –Tukpa, soup & Haag-Kashmiri saag-green as ever.

We saw dry sand like the kind you in the desert. Suddenly I saw Turquoise blue rivers- Shyok & Siachen. One is supposed to be slightly salty. Like the Pengong lake-wc is salt water, so is one river. Theory goes that once upon a time there was sea in place of the Himalayas, after the massive earthquake & movement wherein the Himalayas rose, we got the mountain range..good for us India. Also as a result the Ladakh area which is very dry & arid has these little spots of oasis around the rivers, water bed and in between the mountains.

We reached later afternoon 3ish..cold ya it was…there we saw tents..i’ve been soooo used to living in tents, shivering at nights, hoping for some warmth on my numerous treks, wc gave me an opportunity to travel to remote places- that this was luxury. Beds, tents that closed, warm blankets, we were special guests so got 1 more blanket & hot water bag for the feet!! Yeah…but my water drinking had not decreased so bladder needed constant release on top of that the cold it was horrible.

Ok, now starts a real Gujju saga…openly amidst the quiet serene beauty loud jibes & a harsh lang pierced our ears. Near the common toilets& bathrooms was a red board that read ‘heena travels.’ Hahaha good place. All silence was broken by these Gujjus who had come in hordes to Kashmir…why wot sin had we committed to bear these ones man…

The server brought some bhajiyas that vanished in split of a sec…when I asked for us he had to request the gujjus to eat less! Then they stared into anne’s face & talked about her weight. To top it children screetching around-it is genetic deficiency their community suffers from-seriously.

Loud mummy, wah wun fuck knows wot more…then when we inquired about dinner we were coolly told-wait this is real-there will be kadhi & khichdi-this is Ladakh man. What happened to Tukpas & momos? Arey madam unka majority hai na, wo apna maharaj leke aye hai so pure veg khana padega. Now….i’m a veg but I always eat local cuisine. Either remove the non-veg or ask for the same to be made in veg. But no these ones won’t eat local food..but we have to suffer? Search me…

One extra smart kiddo called anne fatty…took his case man..called him monkey, taunted the gujjus & realised this is our culture. We took to our tent for the drinks & warned the manager not to call us for dinner till these ones had finished. Before dinner as we approached the loos more was in store. Kids screamed & mothers told them poat upar base…sit on the pot! More over some told their tods ainya karje-piss on the ground! The loos were stinking man..plus we became safai kamgars! This only meant @ night I had to go behind the tent.

Dinner was sad as mentioned…slept well. Breakfast was another episode as the server opened all windows & doors to drive away the omelette smell…else the gujjus would run away. All along they spoke only of lack of sex, chill & sacrifice they ha to make for this lovely beauty! Spare me man…

Return journey was full of prayers & patience. Stenzin is quite frail. Now we went to the base of Khardungla pass, wot a queue. A smallie wireless army officer who was Shahrukh look-alike & with some attitude- controlled the traffic…basically communicated with the officers posted at the peak of the pass. I excused & asked him when we were likely to start…coz anne & I were dying to pee….he went on to telling me how unfortunate we were, unlucky, all in one breath! He said vehicles were stuck up in Khardungla, so he couldn’t commit to anything & more so sadistically stated we may spend the night in Khardungla. By then our bladders had reached beyond burst capacity.

By then I’d chatted with plenty army men, who told me their sparkling white snow boots cost Rs 10,000 a pair, there were over 20 soldiers, that’s where our tax goes honey I said to myself. Then god knows why that puny Shahrukh decided to chat wt me. Knocked on my closed window & asked where from was I? When he heard Mumbai he simply said bad timing, arse hole. Then saw aunty ayala & displayed some emotion for the 1st time. Thankfully stenzin had cut line somewhere & we began the long steep crawl. Some aberrations and stops..rather plenty I should say. Heavy snowfall, hazy atmosphere chilly sub-zero & we were huddled inside the scoprio. Outside all drivers pushed, dug snow splashed mud all over, pushed each others cars & the stops were just too frequent…why weren’t the snow chains on any vehicle, my simple query went unanswered all through.

Finally we made stenzin stand guard behind the vehicle facing other vehicles, anne & I opened all doors went up front & peed till we felt like relieved humans. Thankfully we began crawling…me think anne’s prayers & commitment was answered. She promised to go to the church every week, arey god will go walking to her if she doesn’t. She has good luck-mine is hilarious for myself. Her prayers or presence always brings us good fortune, mine brings good fortune to others not to myself…so it contributed I think in this.

We managed to reach a Tibetan eco-friendly shop in Leh & rushed to the hotel to have hot water bath…we thought we’d take some good rest. Food was lip smacking Ladakhi food with stewed apricots in honey!!!

Next morning were Leh elections, we were to leave in time so that army & police do not stop us. Suddenly ashiq began banging all doors & waking us up. 1st time in 10 days ashiq woke up early, gawd I hate it when I’m given a time & then we are made to wait on these late types….ok, so finally we boarded…that’s when ashiq told me at the 1st army/police post flash ur card. Thankfully my manual camera equipment, press ID, etc came to our rescue…for long sunshine greeted us. Then delays along the road were due to road maintenance and blasts being conducted by BSF roads organisation. By the time we reached Kargil it was dark, rainy & cold. Ya ya gujjus were booked in the Siachen hotel in Kargil…loud as ever man. Woke up at 3.00am drizzle & loud awazes of that same piercing language…finally the other frail driver arrived..I was dead for the first time & couldn’t stay up to see Tiger hill once again…from Min
i Marg it was plain snow all along…I cannot hide my excitement.

In December 2006, anne & I took a special trip to Gulmargh, only to witness fresh snowfall, which we got only on a high ropeway point, here for my 40th b’day one of ma dreams had come true! I was in midst of snowfall every 2nd day!! We managed to reach Sonamarg for some quick hot coffee & bread toast. It was raining then. We went straight to Srinagar. Showered & went in a total high zombie hungry appetite to Moghul Darbar. Vow! What Kashmir cuisine we ate..me veg others Goshtava, Gosht, etc. We were drowsy after that? Some understatement…have vague memories of what we did thereafter..but we slept early. Oh! Forgot to tell that from the hotel that we’ve stayed in usually, we were stacked way in some super compact cottages…that day I really gave to the puny arse hole fuck knows his name…hitting on me like nobody’s business. Well im so used it by now…Gave him a piece of my mind because we were paying for it months in advance & if someone then gives attitude they’ve had it!

We then woke early to go to Pahalgam wt an abso cute kiddo Bilal driving. Sadly Bilala’s story is like many in Kashmir. 4 year old kiddo Billal’s father was struck by a stray bullet when he was shutting shop. Their mother barely managed to bring them up. He now drives the car…I goaded him about his future, studies & poor thing has to fend for his younger sibblings..that’s life.

Anyways anne & ashiq paid a man to catch their fish, wc they handed over to a restaurant in a hotel. It was nice to see a very aged bow-legged lady in a nauvari! Reminded me of my aaji…except the group began clapping & singing loudly to teechi taal turu…hahaha

Anne, ayala & I went over to the hotel garden where we got some really good Kashmiri herbal/acupressure massage. It was a treat…by the river side, cloudy overcast, slight drizzle, hot tea and massage! Sheer pleasure…ate something, went to ice cream corner ate ice cream & went back to the hotel.

Next day 29th we were all set to return…well I don’t carry heavy heart anymore as holiday is planned to be enjoyed to its optimum & then one has to return to reality, that’s why its called holiday.

Altho’ I admit I didn’t want to face the fucking heat in Mumbai. It was worse than I expected. The journey back till Delhi was fine. Fm Delhi it was worse by the min. These cheap fared airlines are a pain in the butt man! Spice Jet tops it. 1stly NO communication only we know how we managed to get our tickets for onward journey in Srinagar after we learnt out of the blue that the flight had been cancelled…the crew @ Srinagar was really nice but the company sucks!! The plane had some chutiya accented swiss ka aulad…the atmosphere was 40 degs with NO cooling facility for wc he didn’t even apologise. Then to top it some tartlet (cabin crew) was impolite…ya lodged complaint against her.. generally was in a raging mood….But to touch Mumbai’s soil is some other expreince altogether…when I returned after my stint in Bangalore 1999, I kissed the ground when I disembarked don’t know what it is abt this city man….

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