Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Passage to India VIII

21 September

The day before, after Rohtang...


...following the river meandering through gorgeous gorges...

...and through Keylong...

...to Jispa, where we arrived late evening. There's not much to say, only that the air was thinning and breathing became an issue from time to time, especially in the Ibex Hotel where the manager, who must have had a weird sense of humour, put me up on the top floor. For me in my condition, I mean fat, out of shape and forty years old, climbing up there was an achievement like climbing Mt Everest without an oxygen mask. The hotel was almost packed because of a bunch of lovely Scottish eccentrics who drove from Manali to Leh in a convoy of jeeps, real old-fashioned sturdy Mahindra Gypsies, driving themselves. They were smart: usually you can't drive on your own in India (apart from traffic hazards, there are so many bureaucratic traps you could easily fell into, not to mention asking for directions), 4X4 is rare because the federal government is afraid that all smugglers and thugs would drive better jeeps than law enforcement and therefore put a ban on selling and renting such cars - so what did the Scots do? They rented the Gypsies (probably bought from the Army by well-connected private drivers) together with their owners - they drove the cars and the actual owners followed this flying circus in a separate jeep. Soni told me they were constantly scared that the Scots will damage their beautiful jeeps. Well, they didn't had to fear that because the Gypsies had a tendency to fall into pieces without any outside interference. We turned the trip into a Himalayan version of the cannonball race, with us overtaking them and making them choke of dust in their open jeeps, and them overtaking us and make me frantically cover my camera to protect it from dust. Next morning...

21 September


...the lovely sound and smell of two dozen idling diesel engines greated the day which was to be the most tiring, and maybe most memorable day of the trip.

The first challenge was Baralacha Pass (4980 m), which for us Hungarians is memorable for Kőrösi Csoma Sándor was among the first Europeans crossing it (and since he was Kőrösi Csoma, he crossed it not once but several times, once ráadásul in winter if his biography is to believed). It was cold, so cold that even 7Up! bottles froze to death but Funny Soni was Happy Soni today because at last he could put on his cooooool black gloves.

The pass was impressive, offering almost an Arctic scenery....



...which soon turned Alpine as we descended...

...towards Darcha and Sarchu, two little tent villages in the middle of nowhere.





After Darcha (or was it Sarchu?... not as if it mattered, a Maggi soup tastes the same everywhere) we saw some yaks which could be the richest yaks in Ladakh if they received only 1 rupee from every tourist who photographs them.

We crossed three more passes that day...

...on a road always dreadfully dusty...

...but never boring...

...but the best part was the Morey plains where we faced a very difficult traffic situation:

In 1994, I did this trip by bus and now I wondered why I am so tired, almost exhausted; travelling in a SUV sounds comfortable but in 9 minutes out of 10 I was in the state of weightlessness, being thrown up from my seat by the bumpy road, with one hand grasping for hold and with the other desperately shielding my camera from dust; the Rampur flu was still in me, the air was so thin that after doing anything I was gasping for oxygen and anyway, I was 15 years older and 30 kgs heavier, but this was no explanation for my exhaustion. I write this not for complaining but because I still try to understand the perfect black-and-white moment of my life - I was deadly tired but at the same time, when the Morey plains opened up before me, a feeling of ultimate exhilaration engulfed me and these two emotional extremities were tearing me apart. I wanted at the same time lay down and sleep till I die and run away into the wilderness, sit down meditating at the most isolated hill on the horizon because I was sure that I will find answers here, and more importantly, the questions I need the answers for. But after all it was not God who talked to me but Soni, asking "are you finished with photographing, sir?" I replied "not yet" and took a pee admiring the scenery for a last moment.



We climbed back into the car and drove on.



Met a little caravan on the way:

And drove...

...and drove...

...and drove...

...and drove...


...and drove...
...and drove...
...over the last pass...

...towards the Indus valley.

We met a Scot repairing his broken-down Gypsy on this pass. A rock smashed into the chassis and the jeep was loosing oil as if it was bleeding. He was lucky because the support car was with him, and had no doubts they would make it to Leh before the dreadfully cold night sets in (it was at ca 5000 meters). I offered him almonds and water, which he refused but literally jumped at the few beef jerkies I could give after living on them the whole day. Realising we can't do much to help them, we continued.

Now, I'm not a confessing Buddhist but when I saw the first chorten at dusk it made me very, very happy. It was only comparable to the feeling I experienced later, somewhere in Punjab, when I saw a McDonald's sign.

This time it was not about safe and clean food (anyone who doesn't appreciate a juicy Maharaja burger after weeks of dhal and rice is a nutcase IMO) but the closeness of the Indus river. There are places which even nowadays sound magical like Timbuktu, Samarkand, Isfahan, Cairo - like magic words which cast a spell of golden domes glittering in a glorious sunset, places where one would dream of riding into on the back of an elephant adorned with jewelry, swords flashing and saddles blazing, and when I say Indus river, all human history comes to mind from Harappa over Alexander the Great to... I forgot. Anyway, Alexander aside, arriving in the valley also meant that the day is over and soon I can tend to my broken bones and dust-covered camera sensor. In the magic and glorious city if Leh of course.

Talking about Indus:



...and here's the original song:



Magic and glorious Leh greeted us with dark streets and the challenge to find a hotel where there's place for our faithful car, but compared to the trip from Jispa this posed no real challenge.

After hunting down the only wine and beer shop still open, all I had to do was to study the map and guidebook (there's a Bengali guy who wrote one that blows LP out of the water) , trying to find something that I hadn't seen before in Ladakh. How I wished I could go beyond the mountains into Tibet!

3 comments:

nagyerzsi said...

Szavakat keresek a fotókhoz... Respect.

Pataki Balázs said...

Maha danyawad! Ezek szerint mégsem hiába cipeltem magammal azt a sok vacak kamerát.

Kecsi said...

tetszik ez az út, mi indított el ide?
Esetleg a bengáli ember nevét és könyvének címét megosztanád velem?