Leaving for Ladakh – part 1


 Yatrigar krupya dhyaan de…


“Two days is a long time, na?” remarked my brother as we hauled my luggage up the subway to platform 6 of Bangalore station.

“Hmm, I’ll manage,” I grunted, struggling under the weight of all the woolens and thermals I was carrying.

Two days would be a long time. I did not remember when I made such a long train journey alone earlier.

I hoped I still had possession of my unique God-given gift – the ability to sleep for phenomenal amounts of time in the train.

But two days without working on the laptop! Now that seemed like a penitent stint at a deaddiction centre.

“Don’t take your laptop out in the train,” was one of my mother’s homilies, along with the usual “Don’t take food from strangers” and “Make sure you have your ticket.”

“Amma,” my brother grumbled, “he knows! He’s traveled in trains alone before.” And to staunch any such attempts when he would travel, he added, “and so have I!”

I smiled indulgently. It made my mother feel better, so I let her advise. Not that I planned to work on the laptop in the train.

But still – two days!

A genial sardar in a pink shirt and an even pinker turban smiled as my brother and I dragged our luggage under the seat.

“Kahan chale?” he enquired.

I noticed the small pin keeping his turban in place bobbing up and down as he shook his head when he talked.

Ladakh.”

His face broadened in a look of surprise as he mouthed the question, “Ladakh?”

“Aata hoon,” I said, as I went to bid goodbye to my brother.

It’s good for the suspense angle, I thought.

As I hoped, the suspense angle was more acute when I returned.

“Ladakh?” came the question again.

I told him of SPJIMR’s requirement to undertake a summer project with an NGO. I had weighed the options and picked up LEDEG, an NGO at Leh, chiefly because of the location. The project offered seemed interesting, and it was a chance to see an exotic place.

“Oh!” he said, and took out his dinner. “Khana ho gaya?” he enquired, offering to share his repast.

“Yes. No thanks.”

I do listen to my mother at times.

I clambered up my berth and tried making myself comfortable.

It wasn’t too long before she came to me.
Mistress of charming wiles, she gently caressed my eyelids as she cooed seductively into my ears, “Indulge me!”

I tried keeping a manly resolve and pointed to the novel, already drooping towards the seat as my eyes grew heavier. “Wait a few minutes….”

She was patient, this one.

She continued her ministrations, and I slowly realized that the words I was reading bounced right off my retina and nothing went beyond that.

Throwing aside my book, I smiled languorously as I gave in to my mistress – sleep – and embraced her whole-heartedly.

The next few hours consisted of snapshots of reality amidst a world of illusions. I flicked my eyes open once in a long while, took in my surroundings and kept sinking back into peaceful slumber.

Chalo Dilli

The train rolled into Hazrat Nizammuddin station an hour and a half late. The sun’s lighting prowess was already dimming when I got out of the station in search of a pay phone.

My first call was to Lalit. It was not a pleasant conversation.

“Tu aa gaya?” he enquired, not sounding too happy. “Sun, there is a problem. We did not get rooms at the International Youth Hostel. Stenzin (the Ladakh NGO coordinator of our project) tried booking a room, but the Pakistani Hockey team is here, so all rooms are full. I tried out at the YMCA, but they don’t seem to have any rooms either.”

“Unexpected problem No. 1”, I thought.
“Can I call you back?” he continued. “I am on roaming now, and the charge will run out.”

“Give me 10 minutes.” I said, sounding more confident than I felt.

I turned to the shop keeper. “How do I get roaming enabled on my cell phone?” I enquired. “I have a Mumbai number”

The shop keeper seemed to have taken special classes in pessimism.

“Nahi ho sakta…aap nahi karva sakte” he droned, with a disinterested look thrown in.

My desperation proved to be a countervailing force against his pessimism. I tried calling up Hutch helpline.

A sugary sweet voice greeted me “Namashkar! Hutch me aapka swagat hai. To continue in English, please dial ‘1’”

My fingers danced to the instructions, trying to get in touch with an operator.

Three minutes later, after listening to a snippet of “Hello, is it me you’re looking for” playing four times (of course, why else would I call? – I wanted to shout), I hung up.

“Bola tha aapko…koi faiyda nahi hai” was the shop keeper’s helpful contribution.

He definitely must have topped his special classes.

I tried another number and went through the same routine. Only this time, the snippet was “Where do we go? Where do we go now?” from ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine.’

“Life me aise hota hai. Hum kuch kar nahi paate….”

All he needed was a tin body, a set of diodes on his left side that pained him, a brain the size of a planet and an inspired vocabulary, and this guy could pass off as Marvin.

From the depths of my desperation rose an idea. I called up a friend in Mumbai.

“ACT NR” to 145.

At least one problem solved, I thought. I smiled smugly at the shop keeper. He gave me another morose look and went back to practicing melancholy.

The conversation with Lalit was no more helpful this time.

“I am put up with a friend now,” he said. “Find a place to stay tonight and we’ll meet up tomorrow.”

That would mean lugging the thirty kgs of clothes I had around the city. The problem with having to spend a week in Delhi was that I could not just carry woolens and thermals from Bangalore, but had to pack summer clothing too.

The shop keeper’s gloom was getting to me now. I called up Nitin, my friend from when we both were at TI, and got myself a place to stay for the night.

Noida would be out of the city, but at least I would have a place to stay and some good food to eat.

“Bhai ka office yeh hai” said his brother, pointing to the Adobe building, as we cruised along in their car.

Interesting décor, I thought. The office looked quite vibrant from outside, with the exteriors playing host to many bright hues.

We reached Nitin’s place around 9:00 PM. I knew all his family members, and we spent some time chatting and looking at his wedding snaps.

Tomorrow I take on the city, I thought, as I lay down to sleep. Tomorrow, I start my work.

In 2006, I spent the months from March to May in Ladakh. Six of us from SPJIMR had chosen to do our summer project there, working on understanding and forecasting energy demand and supply for the region. It was an incredible experience. As part of the project, we travelled across Ladakh for primary surveys. The posts below were written during the visit.

I couldn’t, however, get Ladakh out of my mind. I visited Ladakh again in 2009 with friends to enjoy the now-discontinued Confluence music festival. The post on the second visit:

Read all my travel posts here.

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