After getting a chance to get connected after more than a week, it was time for me to boast a little. Following was my Facebook status on the evening of 28 September 2009. It was a Monday and I was finally in Leh.
Let me go back to the day before – a Sunday, when I was still cycling in the dark and when Rumtse was still an unknown distance away. There is something that I forgot to write about in the last post.
Somewhere around eight in the night, I spotted a tent on the side of the road. A yellow bulb glowed inside. There was just one guy in there – the operator of that way side amenity. I asked him if he had any bed to offer for the night. Yes, he had. I asked him if he had food. Yes, he had Maggie. I asked him if I was in Rumtse. No, Rumtse was further 5k down. And then I left that place.
When I look back, I wonder why I did that – why I didn’t eat there and sleep there. I mean, I had been willing to sleep empty stomach under the sky some time back and now that I had finally found a tented shelter and hot food, I simply moved on! Logic cannot explain this. I was following my instincts.
Something was odd about staying there. I was the only customer. The guy smelled of booze. And from whatever little conversation I had with him, I didn’t feel like spending the rest of the night away from the main village. May be if I reach Rumtse, I can get something better to eat for dinner at least. This was a very vague logic. But then, I had been running on instincts and hunches. Surprisingly, as I would discover later, the decision to move on happened to be a good decision.
I kept cycling till I finally made it to Rumtse. No, I didn’t get to eat anything better than Maggie even there. But something nice happened the next day.
(the room where I stayed in Rumtse)
I was having an early morning stroll in the small village – a real village after so many days. I saw real houses, not make-shift tents. I saw local horses grazing over the yellow and green and golden fields. I saw ladies collecting heaps of dry hay in wooden baskets and depositing them over the roofs of their houses. And then I saw two firangs. One was tall and in a quaint sort of way looked like Dr. House. The other was much short and in another quaint sort of way reminded me of Shashi Kapoor (from that time when the actor wasn’t an over inflated balloon).
House and Kapoor told me they worked in London. This was their first visit to India. House was originally from South Africa while Kapoor’s dad was an Indian who had moved to UK before Kapoor was born. And then they told me, they were on bicycles as well. Fuck! I finally had company! This is when I was happy I had followed my instincts and had decided against spending the last night either under the sky or in that first tent that I had reached.
Soon we realized that all of us had started in Manali the very same day – the last Monday! The reason we never met each other till then was that, I – on account of having arrived in Manali on Monday itself – had absolutely failed to reach Marhi by evening (and had to spend an entire night along the road side), while they, having arrived in Manali on Sunday had been able to leave on Monday morning and had thus made it to Marhi by evening.
We would never have met if like me, they had done the Pang-Rumtse stretch in a single day. They had been carrying a tent and stove and had camped in the Morey Plains for a night before they took the mighty Tang Lang La.
As we started to get to know each other over the coffee and breakfast that we had in Rumtse, I was convinced they were God’s gift to me. All these days that I had been on the road, I had never needed much company. I had been cycling, struggling, talking to nature, listening to nature. But what was to happen on reaching Leh? What was I to do there, all alone for full five days? Suddenly, I had none of this to think about. Â Suddenly, I didn’t have to worry about company.
We left for Leh together we stayed in Leh together, till of course, it was time for them to leave for Kashmir and for me to leave for Khardung La – more on that in the last post in this bicycle diary series.
So that Monday, with House and Kapoor to give me company, I left for Leh. I was so happy and excited that I cruised like crazy. The road was awesomely smooth throughout and 80% of it was a solid downhill. After days of barren mountains all around, there finally were trees – mostly Poplar. There finally was greenery. A different kind of verdant natural beauty had suddenly taken over the surroundings. Every few seconds, these two dudes would exclaim – ‘this is epic, man’. I couldn’t have agreed more.
(the first noticeable Chorten – between Rumtse and Leh)
(Dr. House and Shashi Kapoor)
(this is epic man!)
(cruising with excitement)
The only stretch that slightly killed us was the last 10k to Leh. But then, the mere fact that Leh was merely 10k away, made sure that all three of us pushed real hard. By three in the afternoon, we had already made ourselves comfortable in our respective rooms in a good hotel in Leh. Once they were gone to their room and I sat in mine and I had a look at the double bed in my room, I missed Neelabh. One reason, why I hadn’t checked in the same hotel where I had stayed earlier in May (when I had flown to Leh with Neelabh) was because I knew that if I did that, I was only going to miss him more.
When I saw my face in the mirror, I shrieked with disgust. I was staring at a dusty block of charcoal. Once the initial shock of recognition subsided, I noticed my blackened image giving me a smile. I smiled back. We – my reflection in the mirror and I felt like the two Akshay Kumars from a recent Thumbs Up ad. Akshay Kumar needed to take a bath. Akshay Kumar hadn’t had a bath since the last five days.
When the three of us were having beer later in the night in an open air bar, it was hard to imagine that I had met them only in the morning. We chit-chatted and guffawed like we had been langotia cycling phrands.
These two dudes happened to be full time cycling enthusiasts. They were about 35 years old but absolutely fit. Besides UK, they had biked in several other countries in Europe. Kapoor had even done Tibet. And once he had taken one year off from work and cycled from the north of America to its south. Yes, for one full year. And then he asked me this.
“So, Eimwrit, have you ever been to America”? I told him I hadn’t.
“Well, then let me tell you something. In the last seven days, I saw more colours, sniffed more smell and felt more warmth here in India than I had done during one full year of cycling in America”.
You only needed to look into his eyes to realize that he really meant it. Suddenly, I felt proud to be an Indian. As we continued sipping our beers, I wondered if Kapoor felt a little sad at the fact that his dad had taken away from him, the chance of being born an Indian and the chance of growing up in a country that was so full of colours and smell and warmth. I refilled my mug, raised it in the air and exclaimed “ and this one for getting Leh’d finally. They raised their mugs of beer in response, and together we had our last sips of satisfaction for the night.