It was about 8 degrees and the warmth of the sun was very welcome. I rolled down the window of the station wagon and took a deep breath of the fresh, unpolluted Himalayan air. Nature was wonderful. The mountain range wore snow caps while its rocks in their varied colours desperately clung on to their jackets of snow. Icicles were signing autographs to the glaziers before dripping ,as tear drops bidding farewell to winter. It was a new world at more than 18000 feet and one that was waking up to the new seasons of spring and summer. This was the Khardung La Pass, I was into the thin air.
The freshness of the day delighted me and all of this reminded me of my good friend’s daughter,Elizabeth. She was named Elizabeth after the Queen of England and her great history. But history was the subject the child hated most, because she said it was something about the past,of which we should bother no more. She preferred a quiet and serene atmosphere, which she said awakened the inner senses and feelings. She loved the fragrance of flowers, the smell of fresh cut grass and most of all the first scent of the dry arid desert sand getting wet in the rain. It was fun to understand what she enjoyed but I realised that she got the best out of nature which presented many astonishing moments and things.
Thanks to her, I told myself, for if not for her, my senses would not have awakened into this paradise that many would consider as just another rugged, frozen, cold, rocky wilderness. Elizabeth had opened my senses to the beautiful landscapes, rivers, valleys,ravines, cold, wind and warmth among the tallest mountains under the bluest sky. I was enjoying the world the way she did as we headed towards Huder, a camp site which was a desert nestled among the mountains through narrow winding, wet, icy roads which looked like snakes crawling up and across the mountains.
The traffic followed the right hand drive system, which meant that we always had to keep to the left side of the road .Intermittently trucks coming from the opposite direction almost pushed our vehicle to precariously tread the edges of the mountain roads and I sensed a thrill in the daring feel of adventure.
After about an hour the driver stopped beside shabby looking tin bunkers, which though shoddy in appearance, ironicaly had a sign board requesting us to keep the mountains litter free. “Chaya, tea break” the driver muttered and putting his hands in his pockets, quickly walked into one of the bunks which was the restaurant. I followed him and for the first time enjoyed the best aroma as well as the taste of steaming hot lime tea, in a surrounding that had its own make shift architectural design sans luxury. Having finished our cup, we drove further higher to stop near a frozen mountain stream.
Walking over frozen ice was fun. Honeymooners lovingly huddled close to each other. Families, children and teenagers played in the ice while I enjoyed the sight of happiness and the sound of laughter. I too got to kick up some snow before walking down hill to a little stream. The pristine water danced as it flowed between the pebbles making its own music. A few wild yaks were grazing nearby and watched me dip my fingers in the stream as I invented my own game “freeze or thaw”.
Wiping my wet hands I noticed patches of moss and exotic wild flowers blooming between coloured stones and pebbles along the banks of the stream. I plucked no flowers but pinched some grass to enjoy the smell which was similar to fresh cut bamboo shoots. I saw the wild flowers and knelt to sniff their aroma. It was no scent of lavender, jasmine or rose but had a faint fragrance of lily, flirting around it.
Having spent quite a big time admiring the small wonders of nature we returned to the car to move towards the worlds highest, motorable road and after an hours drive stopped near a temple.It was unique because it had many Gods in the sanctum. Every wayfarer stopped to worship and make a small offering. The temple had pictures of Shiva, Jesus, guru Nanak and the Urudu words allah hu Akbar, meaning God is great written in the wall.It was quaint and had an addictive smell of burning incense and camphor. I stayed, to say my own prayer and like every other person rang the temple bells. They reverberated chimes, which in the silence among the mountains echoed just that bit longer, giving me a sort of assurance that it was heard by God.
We crossed the road to take some pictures of the sign board that read “Khardung La Top, the worlds highest pass at 18300 feet above sea level”.
I took my time to climb higher, maybe another 100 paces and looked up at the sky. It was fresh but the air was thin and the lack of oxygen was clearly felt. That however was not too bad at all as I sat myself on a bench to drink some orange juice.
Mount Everest was 29,000 feet and there were many other peaks that were higher than Khardung La pass but this was the highest motorable point. Wow, that was a life achievement and an experience to remember as well as talk about. This feeling made me proudly get up to walk with a swagger to the car. The drive to the Nubra valley was another memorable journey which meandered through streets lined with stone, clay and thatched houses in thinly populated villages. On reaching Huder I had an opportunity to be on time for a Tibetan cultural dance performance.
The danseuses performed a slow ,swinging dance to their own singing, backed by skin and string instruments. A pipe led the tune. They performed about five types of dances in different uniforms. It served as an eyeopener to a new culture which was unknown to me till then.
Back in my tent I recollected the long dangerous drive through the worlds highest pass. The enchanting experiences I had gained thanks to the wonder child Elizabeth and I paced around humming the dance tunes. But above it all, I was bewildered at the quaint little Khardung La temple.
If the almighty gods of all religions could find space, peace and sense to bless their worshipers from within the four walls of a ten feet by ten feet room, why and what the hell is the religious divide and the in fighting between man and man ? In gods name! I could not control my smiling mind and happily bid goodnight,to dream about tomorrow and to Khardoung La Pass.