Leh, two of three!
It’s better to be Mr. Late than Late Mr.
Tasked with finding a place to stay, we turned once again to our friend, Mukesh and he was not the disappointing sort. A couple of attempts and we’d found the place we were to spend the next week in.
A slight bend off the Changspa road and all you need to find Mona Lisa is follow the sounds of the gurgling brook. Damn you Leh, for creating visual scenery off mere drains.
The house itself was a modest one storey bungalow, though expansion above was on way. Settled in the middle of a strategic ecosystem, the house seemed well enough to survive the harsh winter months. Neat rows of vegetables, flanked on the sides with mounts of hay, a tube well and what survived of a bullock cart greeted us along with whimpering barks of the house dog. On one of the sides, next to the windows were lines of tea plants inside a greenhouse, bordered by flowering ones. Behind them on the far left, a couple of trees stood comfortably in the compound, a hammock stretched between one, both shading a couple of picnic benches and a sturdy wooden table. A wooden recliner lay beside the benches staring at the snow peaks in the distance as the sun set for the day.
The rooms were adequate, warm and wooden and a set of showers later, we set out to find our true friends.
I’m curvaceous, be slow!
The Royal Enfield is made like a gun. The rush of all that power is quite intoxicating and if you don’t know your way around one; can be quite catastrophic. After a brief bit of looking around, we settled for a mix of Standards and Classics, all of them with temporary registration numbers. No arguments followed as each one of us, picked their ride and stuck with them over the next week, I don’t remember anyone switching bikes for even a kilometer, so rooted was the belonging with the rented bikes, although Amarendra would’ve been quite keen, having drawn the shorter end. He did have the last laugh though as he bought one of the machines after he returned home, quite to the envy of us all.
Next morning, the choice of roads awaited us, though the choice isn’t a complicated one. There are two roads leading from Leh, the Manali-Leh highway and the Srinagar-Leh one. Our trusted guide Amarendra leading the way, I couldn’t care less about the choice.
The beauty of the bike rides is quite difficult to describe, yet an attempt must be made. Your own feelings vary between wondrous amazement to suddenly having discovered the meaning of life. The scenery changes every ten minutes from sandy barren deserts to lush green fields to dry icy peaks and the only people you see are so happy to see you that you yourself learn to raise the right thumb for the occasional biker from the other side or lower your palms for the kids to slap past as you never stop riding.
But stop you had too, after all, our butts were never trained for four hours of incessant driving and we had reached one of the several hundred monasteries, where the hitch hiker finally got off. Oh, the hitchhiker!
The hitchhiker hopped onto Amarendra’s bike (who stopped for directions) fifteen minutes out of Leh. I don’t really remember why all of us were pissed at him, but probably it had something to with the fact that he didn’t seem to have any directions, used our bikes for the ride, even helped himself to our cigarettes and tea and got off at the monastery only to get on to someone else bike, waving and grinning like a lunatic.
The climb up to the top of the monastery was one of the toughest I’d ever executed, although I’d never really executed tough climbs. The air was thin and sight of the 70 year old monk with a sack on his back climbing blissfully with the widest smile on his face, didn’t help at all. Three of us made it to the top and paused partly to remember the view; partly to make sure we didn’t die of asphyxiation.
With passes to visit Khardungla, Pangong and Tsomoriri ready when we got back and our bodies slightly more accustomed to the bikes, we found the most blissful restaurant in Leh (shockingly called Wonderland!), helped ourselves to a hearty meal and slept like blissful kids.