It's a one-week experience at best. (Part 1).
They tell me mountain climbing is as addictive as cocaine, only twice as expensive. I mean what makes somebody want to spend a ton of money to climb 7000 metres with minimal food, no oxygen and a chance to high-five death. I’m not sure I understand why it’s not in the Olympics category of death sports. As it turns out, more and more people are getting turned on by climbing peaks and instagramming the “I made it to the top” picture, much to the dismay of city cats. It becomes painfully clear once you spend a few weeks in places like Manali and Ladakh that more people than expected are taking mini vacays to pursue this exploratory sport.
I know how depressing it must be for anyone sitting in their 3 x 3 cubicle for the third weekend in a row reading about “people who left their jobs to travel the world” but there’s hope folks. The hope lies in the fact that the grass is always greener on the other side. When you’re in the mountains, you miss the city life and the chaos. I know I did. When you’re in the city you wish you were in a quieter place. The key is to a strike balance no matter where you are. Now before I announce that everyone in the audience gets a new Macbook like I’m Oprah, I'm going to tell you about my week in Ladakh. Truth be told, I spent four long weeks there and I was pretty elated to be going back to the city.
Higher than the skies
There’s skiing, climbing expeditions, glacier exploration, rock climbing, extreme paragliding and all sorts of adrenaline pumping awesomeness that makes you wonder why you are president of a country named Boringville, but then you come to terms with the fact that life is long and everybody gets second chances. Personally I’ve never been a fan of nature but since I was on a professional project I had no say in the matter. In a way this was my second chance.
There’s only one flight a day from Mumbai to Ladakh and it’s at 4am. So I land in Ladakh at 730 am on a bright sunny Leh morning with the camera crew – It was a shoot for a docu series on mountain exploration and the trip was scheduled for a month. June to August is considered season time when the most amount of travellers and hippies arrive from all across the world. So every café has international menus with terrible pasta and great coffee, not to mention alleys that encourage sparking A grade hash. Seeing little insects crawl out of hippie braids isn’t uncommon either. I joke. Side joke – why can hippies never find their money? Because it’s always under the soap.
Out in the Ladakh desert shooting with the monster cam
Week 1 Day 5
As soon as we land, we dump our bags, down some cappuccinos and get ready for Day 1 of shoot which basically involves walking through the city on camera and saying outlandish shit to tourists. I’m a natural – an intentional faux pas expert. For example walking up to a girl and saying “I love your moustache but mine is better” Either she’ll burst out laughing or she’ll give me the death stare. Both reactions are just priceless. I also practised my freshly learned Jullay! to passing locals. Jullay means hello, goodbye and even “good health” depending on the context. As we travelled to different locations in and around the region, we passed by many narrow metal bridges along legendary rivers such as the Indus, Zanskar and what have you. Sitting by the banks in the chilly wind reminded me of how slowly time passed around here. One minute here felt like a day in the city. Just inhaling the fresh oxygen and noticing the rocks change colour with passing landscape was a pleasure.
Ladakh gets pretty cold i.e – 30 degrees in the January winter, so if you don’t have a radiator in your hotel you’re icy frozen all day, every day. Much like Alaska, except hotels in Alaska have hot water showers.
With a 21 year old monk who's sworn to live at the monastery for the rest of his life
There is a certain spiritual sense to Ladakh with everybody being Buddhist and all. So the Tibetan flea markets are replete with monastery keychains and pendants, round golden gongs, incense sticks with long wooden holders. The region has several monasteries such as the Thikse, Hemis, Alchi all of which have captivating statues and ancient relics that make one feel like half a monk by just sipping tea in one of those high structures overlooking assemblies of monks conducting their morning prayer in the du- khang (inner prayer hall). Their red robes and characteristic clean shaven scalps made it easy to spot them from high up in the monastery. Their life of isolation keeps them pure hearted, they said. It made me slightly uncomfortable how happy they were with no friends, no latest info of the outside world and a lifetime of celibacy. That last one makes me cringe hard. All week we shot during the day, and while cameraman transferred footage, I sat my ass at the bar next door and filled my lungs with ladakhi cigars. It tasted like small twigs burning. I got lucky with the waitress though. When I say lucky, I mean she agreed to give me a free shot just cause I promised to come back the next day. Guess where I didn’t go the next night.
The “rock and roll” face with a Ladakhi kid
Week 2 Day 1
By the seventh day in Ladakh, I had eaten at every breakfast and dinner speciality spot, got high with most of the hippie travellers, consumed every type of Chang (locally brewed alcoholic beverage) available and ridden half the motorcycles in the market for a “test ride”. What I had stayed far away from was the salty butter tea which almost made me throw up the first time I tried it. I preferred regular tea sans the ghee. Ladakhis drank this by the gallon. My tongue nearly bled when I had my first sip.
The main markets had t shirts that said “I got Lehd” OR “I’m going to make that Lad-“akh”. People buy these. The Buddhist multi-coloured flags were tied up everywhere as a symbol of serenity and progress. On bikes, distance boards, local’s foreheads, menu cards at restaurants. It had been a refreshingly peaceful week and I’d made many friends but really longed to be in the city that I missed so dearly. The city had people – more people than poplar trees. It had a chaos that had somehow become my anchor. I sure needed myself some city love otherwise I was going to end up like the Ladakhi yoghurt – cold and sour.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Roshmin Mehandru
Photographs by: Yash Bandi