The view from my plane window was breathtaking! I was awestruck by the lunar landscape: brown rolling mountains. I had never seen anything quite like this in my life! We would soon be landing in Leh airport, Ladakh, the highest civilian airport in India.
Complementary to the landscape was the hotel manager, Tsering who had zen like quality: serene face with a gentle smile and did every task with great poise. He introduced us to Motup who played a key role in the next few days of our lives.
Motup drove us through Khardung La , a high mountain pass at 17,582 ft to Nubra valley. While returning back the next day we got stuck at North Pullu check point . They weren’t allowing any vehicle to pass through until they had cleared the snow along the pass. The first snowfall of that season!
While waiting I experienced my first and only altitude sickness; difficulty in breathing. As I was trying hard to breathe in more air I could sense the sudden shift in the mood around : from everyone looking bored or chatting in groups to everyone rushing to get into their cars. Motup jumped into the car, revved up the engine while informing us that the snow has been cleared and that they are letting us through.
Everyone was in a great rush to be among the first ones to cross the check point and start climbing the mountain. People went to great lengths to overtake one another. We saw an Innova climbing up the hill bumping and jumping along the rough patch from the road below to the one above while the rest of us were sane enough to take the proper U-turn. After all this drama of rushing and risky overtaking soon we find cars stuck at various points due to snow! I was so happy to see the hop step jumping Innova stuck on our way up. But soon we got stuck too.
The guy behind us helped Motup dress our tyres in snow chains to prevent skidding.That’s when we got enlightened by Motup about the mad rush that went on. It was simple, you can’t be the last one to get stuck because then there will be no one to help you with the snow chains. Now that the snow chains were on Motup wasted no time in cruising along the climb steadily.
We were all relaxed, taking the scenery in and enjoying the snow when all of a sudden I felt the car veer off towards the deep deep valley. For a minute there my heart plunged and my mind in a flash went through our ending: the car with all of us (my daughter, my husband and me) in it nosediving first and then rolling down violently and endlessly into the valley. Thankfully LIFE decided to stick around with us. Motup regained control over the car. Our ride from then till we reached our hotel was a very silent, perhaps very reflective one for each one of us.
The next day (our last day in Ladakh) we were having second thoughts about going through Chang La to Pangong lake considering our little misadventure the previous day. But Motup convinced us otherwise and we found ourselves standing on the shore of the lake taking in the beautiful view.
I was surprised to see Motup early next morning ready to drive us to the Leh airport! I thought he did only long trips. He promptly dropped us off at the airport, helped us unload the luggage and acknowledged our thanks with a nod and a smile before disappearing into the car and driving away.