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Mountain Dew

October 30, 2009

I took the shikara to my houseboat and when I arrived something was different.  The two nights prior had been dead silent and tonight seemed to be an anomaly.  It was the barking of the dogs outside that heightened my sense of awareness.  It was as if every dog in all of Kashmir was howling.  I recalled an article I had read about the Tsunami of 2004.  It explained how people gave accounts of animals having a sixth sense.  In the days prior to the Tsunami, hoards of animals mobilized and traveled inland in order to avoid the imminent danger.  I always found this amazing given that humans at large consider ourselves to be the most superior species.  Despite this and even in lieu of all our technology, these basic animal instincts far surpassed ours. (related article)

Military Convoy in Kashmir

While walking the streets earlier, I had such an uncomfortable feeling.  There seemed to be an excess of heavily armed soldiers every few feet along the main roads.  When I returned to my houseboat, I was already anxious from but I couldn’t help but wonder what the dogs were uneasy about.  Were they foreshadowing something terrible to come?  Every so often a military chopper would flyby overhead and there I was lying in bed staring at the ceiling, eyes WIDE open!  To my relief, as sure as winter follows autumn, the morning came and I was grateful to wake up!  It’s strange that we take our days for granted and simply assume that each morning, like the sun, we will rise.  With that, it was time for me to hit the road!

I made arrangements to head east.  My ultimate destination would be Leh, a Buddhist town in the most northerly region of India; Ladakh. I would be driving through the world’s most grueling mountain ranges, the Himilayas.  The drive itself was gut-wrenching and I distinctly recall hitting my head on the roof numerous times!  At times, I could have sworn that the icy, stone covered “road” was actually narrower than our SUV!  That aside, the drive was unimaginably beautiful.  The first stop was Sonamarg, a glacier which stood at approximately 10,000ft above sea.  A panoramic scan of the horizon would yield vast autumn meadows with mountains standing guard in each direction.  Upon arrival the place was simply breathtaking and quite literally at this altitude each breath counted as two.  Stepping outside on snow was a new experience, and one I did not expect from India.  I opted to take a horse named Raju to the base of the glacier.  I thought to myself how was I so fortunate that lady luck had smiled on me once again?  Like the marketing campaign goes this was truly Incredible India!

There was an open pasture which I knew was my calling.  I gave Raju a nudge and the trot turned to gallop.  Off we went, full speed ahead, frigid air rushing at my face, and I felt as if I was a jockey on a racehorse.  In that moment, I could really feel that I was alive and yet  it had all the ingredients of a dream.  Reality recurred when my guide who was on foot finally managed to catch up to me!  I was enjoying all aspects of the ambiance with the exception of this strange neighing noise that the guide was making.  I think he thought he was a horse whisperer and could literally communicate with Raju with full fledge horse mannerisms.

No matter, we eventually reached the base of the glacier my frozen hands were greeted by a small boy named Sameer.  For 5 years old, this kid was really mature and told me all about the history of the land and the village people’s lifestyle.  All of this dialogue was in plain English which even his parents didn’t speak.  There was a nearby tent where his parents offered me a warm cup of chai.  Let me tell you, it was one of the most rewarding cups of tea I’ve ever had!  I climbed a rock which stood at around 20 feet high and took my seat.  I’m not sure how I always manage to find what seems like the best rock in the world, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.

The RockShortly afterward, my camera battery died, and just as well, this was one for the memory books anyway!  On the way back, I could see the water from the glacier trickling down towards the valley.  On one side the world around me was covered in trees shedding leaves and blanketing the world with autumn colours.  On my other side, the snow capped mountains towered above the haze of clouds.  It was as if I was physically witnessing autumn brushing shoulders with winter.  Wow!

I smiled the entire way back like a little school boy.  When I returned to the valley, my driver had told me a list of hotel options, and yet the most enticing option was to stay with a friend of his.  I was ecstatic to be able to stay in a local village home and experience an evening filled with culture.  This raw Kashmir evening led me  to a small village about 10km away.  Situated amidst the mountains, there were only a couple dozen houses here.  The house where I stayed was a gem situated a short walk from the banks of the glacier river.  It was a simple house which consisted of one main room with no furniture and a pile of blankets.

Kashmiri man wearing a pheran while keeping warm from the kangri (in front of the pipe).

The father of the house, and his son were relaxing in this room and I gladly joined them.  I am certain that the idea for the Snuggie came from Kashmir.  Almost everyone here could be seen wearing a Pheran, which is a warm woolen poncho styled kurta.  Underneath they would hold a Kangri, which is a wicker pot containing hot coals used to keep warm.  Kashmiri’s also refer to this as a “winter wife” because in the winter months, they never leave your side!  A short while later, a girl came in the room with her head covered and gave us rice and curry and then left as quietly as she came in.  I gathered that she was the son’s wife, and so I asked if she had eaten or wanted to join us, and the men laughed.  I hadn’t realized that I made a joke!  It seemed that women in these traditional villages have a very different lifestyle and are isolated from so-called male activities.  Needless to say, I wasn’t about to judge or push the issue further.

The night finished off with yet another wow moment – a bathroom break!  No, no, not the bathroom itself, which felt and reeked like a sewer.  The moment occurred on the way to the outhouse.  Standing outside, I must have stood there in the cold for easily an hour in awe at the moonlit valley.  All the village must have been asleep by now, and here I was standing in the middle of a stone covered field.  A handful off quaint country homes behind me, and the universe above. It was as if I could see every star in existence dancing across the sky.  The only clouds in sight were small cartoon-like clouds which seemed like they were being puffed out of the peaks of the mountains around me.  Wow!

The next morning I would set off for the remaining 10 hour leg of the journey to Leh.  What wonders this world can offer for who are adventurous enough to find them.  It was an agonizing trip with windy, rocky mountain roads the whole way, but it was well worth the price to drive through the top of the world!

Stay Tuned: Leh and Pangong Tso to come!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Thomas Feser permalink
    November 25, 2010 7:17 am

    Hi Prasheen,

    hope that you are well up in the mountains of India.

    Winter is on it’s way and I do wonder where you will spend your time. Prashila and I do hope that you find some time for another chapter on your web page. It is always encouraging !

    We will be going to Cambodia and Indochina / Vietnam between December and January to see a little bit more of the world as well.

    All the best from Durban


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