Sunday, July 21, 2013

Friends, Chai & Maggi: A perfect road trip (Leh)

How often a small artifact of our past life triggers us into sudden flashbacks? Flashbacks that make us laugh, that make us cry and long for the time which over the years have gotten lost. Always ending up with a big smile on on the face and numbness in your eyes. For a person like me, this happens much more frequently than is healthy for a normal human being, generally ending up with asking myself, "What If...". What if that have happened? What if that have not happened? Something similar happened recently while reading an old book. A photograph stumbled out of it. The effect of times were visible on it, the edges were trodden, colors had faded but still the essence of the photo was clear. Five teens around a bonfire with large cups of coffee and plates full of Maggi. Who were they?

Shradha, Raj, Raghu, Khyati and yours truly... Five friends fresh out of school celebrating their freedom, celebrating their friendship, yet knowing at the back of their heart, it could be the last time they have got together for a long while. As the conversation moved to the future, they all promised to keep in touch, all promised to meet at least once a year and in five years time, when they have achieved something, they would fulfill their dream and travel together to Leh...

Seven years hence, we are still in touch but haven't been together for a long time now. And that road trip, well, it never happened. But what if we had gone on that road trip? What if....

On the road to Leh...

Honda CRV on rent, bags packed with bare essentials, camera in hand, music flowing in the background and with the roar of engine came the voice of Raj, "So buckle up guys, cause this is gonna’ be one hell of a ride!". Hence it began with the big laughs, sound of chit chats and apprehension of what is next.

With the enthusiasm of the finally going on this trip which we promised ourselves all those years back, time flew quickly. It was all about catching on the times, finding out about broken dreams and broken hearts. Stopping only once or twice for lunch or a quick snack, we reached our first pit stop, Manali. Checked in at the hotel, gorged over a delicious dinner and fell on bed satisfied over a day well spent.


Next morning, we were back in our CRV, bags packed, fuel tanks filled and ready to go. Our next stop was to be the Darcha on the banks of river, Bhaga. It was here that our trip started to be a little adventurous. There were many photo stops, lots of running and instant karaoke sessions. At one point, Khyati fell over a stone and we had our first injury off the trip (thankfully, nothing major). When we reached Darcha, it was like living on the road (just the beginning), temporary tented accommodation run by some locals and nothing else. But certainly an enchanting sight with the Bhaga river for company.

After dinner, we went in our respective tents. I was not feeling sleepy so went outside and found myself a large stone to sit near the banks of Bhaga. It was en enchanting night and I realized one would miss upon all these delicate details and lovely sights if we had taken flight to Leh rather than the road. The road trip is more of an experience in itself. It adds to the journey. I don't know how long I sat there looking at the beauty of the night and lost in my thoughts about life on the road when I felt a hand over my shoulder. I looked over to find Khyati wrapped in a shawl standing there. I could not help notice how pretty she looked under the moonlight and why not? I always had a huge crush on her (and clearly still not over it) but could never gather the strength to tell her fearing loss of her friendship. Tonight, she was not sleepy as well and came here when she saw me. I made space for her and we both sat silently gazing at the river glowing in the night.


We decided to start early next morning because of long trip planned for the day and also because of locals predicting rains later in the day. The trip ahead was really a feast for eyes. Each turn and each hairpin bend were better than the last one. We made many spontaneous stops admiring the rugged terrain and making plenty use of the photo ops. Also, the roads became a little challenging making us finally realize why everyone back home was asking us to be extra careful. Soon, we reached a small collection of tents/dhabas at a place called Bharatpur near Baralacha La pass at 16,500 ft. It was chilly out here so the pullovers had started to come out. It was a beautiful place and we decided to stop here for a while and have some chai before we drive further to the campsite at Sarchu. I noticed Khyati was struggling with her shawl in the fast winds and could not stop wishing that this trip changes our relationship a bit. The weather took a turn for worse and still some way to go before we stop for night, we rushed back to the car. The rain started and added a new dimension to the look outside but also made the ride a little more dangerous. Soon it was raining cats and dogs and car started skidding more and more. With some 20 km to go, it was impossible to move further. We found a place to set up our tents to pass the night. With difficulty we manage to set up the tents but were completely wet because of the heavy rain 

After changing clothes, we made ourselves a bonfire to keep warm as the rains have increased the chill and sent a shiver across us. After a while, the heat from the fire and warmth of being with friends made us forget it all. Soon we were all lost in the stories we told, songs we sang reminiscing us about the good old days and just like that we were back on the terrace all those years back when we promised ourselves this trip. Gradually, the adventure of night caught with us and some started drifting to sleep leaving just me and khyati. It was like someone wanted me to confess my true feelings for her. We talked about our life, careers, movies and other things. We kept on talking and were still talking when sun came up. Though I had not slept the entire night, I was feeling amazingly fresh and khyati looked the same. I don't know why but last night had brought khyati and me closer than ever before and it made me jubilant.

It was like world was feeling my happiness it welcomed us with a clear sky in the morning. Just the perfect weather after the adventures of last night. We might not accept it but at one point, we felt like it was gonna be the end of the road for us. But that was all about last night. It was a great day to drive today. And we started with a fresh zeal for destination Leh.

We soon crossed Sarchu, Gatta loops, Lachung La and Nakee La passes and reached Pang for a much awaited lunch considering we had not had anything to eat since Bharatpur and considering the events of last night, it felt like a lifetime.


After lunch, we had a fair bit of travelling to go, so raj drove like maniac to catch up on time leaving us praying for our existence at every turn. We were soon crossing More plains and climbing Tanglang La, the second highest motorable pass in the world at 17, 582 ft. We were about an hour away from Leh when we made our final stop at a tea stall located out of nowhere. It was overlooking a cliff  and strong winds were blowing. We ordered five chai and asked if anything was available to eat. 

Chai at the corner of a mountain

In about 10 minutes, we were sitting around a large stone table, breathing in the cold wind looking at the sun setting holding hot cuppa of chai and eating delicious Maggi. 

*****
Suddenly sound of horns brought me back from my trance. Here, I was far from Leh sitting in Delhi looking at the photograph of five teens smiling at me. I again looked at it, the photograph of my closest friends, the photo of khyati. Not wanting to waste another second, I stood up, picked up the car keys and rushed outside. As I started the car and ac started working its magic spreading the fragrance of new Ambi Pur (sky breeze), it was like, I am back in Leh driving with my friends...


Disclaimer:
Pics courtesy: Ixigowikioktatabyebye
This post has been written for “The perfect road trip” contest organized by Ambi Pur and Indiblogger.