For the traveler who treasures an inextinguishable fire in his heart, Ladakh is a trigger as well as an arena for self-expression. The surreal landscape exudes an ethereal charm that is elusive and magnetic at once. When my husband and I started planning a road trip from Bangalore to Ladakh and back with our pug, we were apprehensive about how she would cope with the extreme climatic variations. However, with the assurance of the veterinarian, we decided to take her along. Our chariot, the red Thar, was readied for the challenge with extra fittings. For help with directions and hotel bookings, we joined the HVK club run by Mr. H. V. Kumar who knows the roads across the country like the back of his hand.
Bangalore - Bombay - Ratlam - Hanumangarh - Amritsar - Patnitop - Srinagar - Sonmarg - Leh - Diskit - Tangste - Nyoma - Sarchu - Manali - Karnal - Chittorgarh - Bombay
The above route is the one that worked out in the end. It was adventurous - doing the unthinkable as our moods drifted with the topographic variations, experiencing cultural diversities and photographing scenes from a story untold, embarking on a culinary expedition in search of unprecedented sensual treats, forging bonds with faces that appeared at the right time and the right place, babysitting our little canine friend whose fortitude and enthusiasm was nothing short of staggering. It was also extremely stressful - tight and hectic schedules which gave little room for distraction, bickering and verbal assaults resulting from divergent life philosophies and aspirations, an unexpected interview call shot our way to tighten the reins and return to a humdrum existence.
We missed some places, we discovered some others. Sometimes we adhered to our road-map, sometimes we overturned every rule in the book. We drove through the endless traffic in cities, the quietness of patchy villages, and the eerie solitude that echoed over huge stretches of uninhabited terrain. We crossed mountain passes and river beds, wobbly bridges and ditches in ambush. We stayed in Army camps, venturing out to restricted territories with military escort; we drove into the clouds afloat above piping mountain tops and mirroring lakes. We slipped into slumber on pristine white beds in overpriced hotels rooms and richly adorned houseboats, we nestled into the rudimentary comforts of a luxury tent with limited water supply and no heating.
From piety that transcends the walls of Harmandir Sahib to patriotism rekindled by a spectacular march past at the Wagah border; from peace feigned in the still waters of the enchanting Dal lake to a sombre reticence at the dizzying heights of glaciers watering the complex network of rivers and lakes below; from the ephemeral hues of Pangong Tso and the undulating sands of Nubra Valley to the multi-colored prayer flags fluttering in the wind blowing from a Buddhist monastery hidden in austerity; from hardy mountain horses galloping across dubious trails to double-humped camels ambling along arcane reaches of habitation; from a blob of butter disappearing into the countless pores of freshly tossed Aloo Parathas to the princely overtones of a Wazwan at Ahdoos; from the comforting warmth of a hearty brew of Gurgur Cha to the understated elegance of a Kashmiri Kahwah; from Ratlami Sev, Punjabi Chai and Amritsari Kulcha to succulent apples and apricots hanging down from rows of fruit trees in orchards, from acquaintances transforming into fellow-travelers and fellow-travelers metamorphosing into life-partners, to the world shrinking into the infinite hollow of a palm - we had it all. It was a trip of a lifetime. Sigh!