With the cold desert air brushing across our faces, we were once again riding past the grand Nubra Valley, this time heading back to Leh.
We had just left the cottage we’d inhabited for a day, styled with English fireplaces and warm cozy rooms. Surrounded by wildflowers of all colours, my cottage was circumferenced by lofty barren mountains across a quaint clear blue sky. I was told that the cottage was open only for four months, during the summers, when the ice melted and set off the tourist season. Tourism is the new source of income for these valley dwellers, who otherwise historically traded along the silk route, until China took over Tibet in the 20th century.
And now we felt lucky to be able to trace these primeval routes, which would have somehow shaped our primeval souls in our current lives. Having left at around 9 in the morning, our time coincided with kids leaving for school. We slowed down as we passed them by, as they were extending their arms for high fiving our entourage of 10 people on 5 Royal Enfields, smiling and cheering us all along. I wondered about their lives in these distant mountains, so different than us the city dwellers, at times envying them for being gifted with this picturesque landscape and at times sympathizing for the hardships that came along.
A few minutes through the drive however, we were back in the giant scheme of things, with heaven kissed mountains and partly clouded skies. The vastness of the valley sent all of us into existential crisis, as we compared the insignificance of our tiny beings against these ancient godly structures, bloodchilds of tectonic tussles. At the foothills, flowed the Nubra river, an Indus tributary, carving its way through the white sands. Further ahead lay the cold desert, stretched dramatically for kilometers in sheets of white sand, with an ocassional spotting of the two humped bactarian camels being led by locals.
Our caravan was occasionally joined by the extremely friendly Indian Army trucks, who cheered us and sometimes even led us across hairpins. Even after serving at these remote locations, away from families and away from any forms of civilian grandeur, their warmth towards us was surprisingly incredible, something that was inspiring and moving at the same time.
We were in awe of their grit, as just a day ago, we were all somehow regretting the decision of biking up Khardungla which at 18,000+ feet was apparently the highest motorable road in the world. While we had all forever romanticized the idea of this excursion, we had not anticipated the tantrums the rickety roads and high altitudes would throw at us. And hence when we began the 10,000 feet descend yesterday we hardly noticed the alluring beauty of green meadows, grazing yaks, towering mountains, desolate monasteries, vividness of river sangams, brilliance of the galaxy at night. Hell, we were even to tired to acknowledge an ethereal sunset in the white desert! What today presented itself to us as celestial beauty, was yesterday “probably the biggest mistake of our lives”.
It was perhaps also because yesterday we were explorers, not knowing where the road would lead us or whether we would even make it to our cottages. But today, we knew exactly where we were heading, and what the journey had to offer us. Even amidst adventures from familiarity stems belongingness. Today we belonged to these roads, this terrain. We were shareholders in Nubra’s giant scheme of things, and so free of worry, we decided to open all our senses to this barren old one hell of a land!