Ladakh – Part Twelve (and Last)

… After Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7Part 8,  Part 9Part 10 and Part 11

10th June 2015 – Day Twelve

From refrigerator to fire

I woke up exactly at 7:30 am, but I was still feeling lazy. Sumit and Gurdeep were producing sound waves in different scale and different pitch from the adjoining beds. As long as I am asleep, snoring doesn’t bother me, but the moment I am awake, I don’t like the tune, typical to any other person. So I had no way but to push them up. We got ready fast – the bathroom was so dirty, nobody volunteered to take bath there.

Two extremely healthy ladies were strolling outside. The moment I came out of the room, one of them caught me – “Hello, what are there to see in Patnitop?”

I had absolutely no idea about the places to visit in Patnitop. The place is a small hill station, the highest place between Jammu and Srinagar, consists of ten hotels and ten shops. Beyond this nothing is known to me about the place. But the ladies were in no mood to give up their hope – “Then why have we come all the way from Delhi to here? What the hell would we do here if there’s nothing to see?”

Big problem. They didn’t ask for my opinion before coming here, now how can I console them? I told her politely to enquire at the Hotel reception; they would be in a better position to guide you.

They seemed to understand and moved slowly towards the reception. We headed out towards a tea stall, and had light refreshment with tea and potato chips. Luggage was already tied to the bike, so we didn’t take much time, and finally hit the road at 9:00 am.

Body pain was still persisting, though better than previous day. Volini painkiller spray had worked its best. But the road condition did not let me relish the temporary relief. It was all broken till Udhampur and the added pains were the caravans of trucks.

The road improved few kilometers before Udhampur. The Hill was almost over now it was more or less flat land with moderate ups and downs. We stopped at Udhampur for a heavy breakfast. Samosa, Pakoda and Cold Drinks. For the first time we got engaged in chatting on something other than our travel – world, politics and Kashmir issue. Gurdeep seemed to be extremely angry on the Kashmiris – especially the Srinagar residents. He had a bad experience there. A person selling Shik-Kebabs on a shikara at Dal Lake denied to sell the Kebabs to them, saying – “this kebab is not for you begger Indians”.

We discussed about the special status of Kashmir, the AFSPA and finally at 11:15 we realized that we would have to move on. The coldness was gone from the air; the sunlight was burning our backs under the woolens. I put off my jacket and tied it under the bungee cord.

After covering some distance I came to a Y crossing. Sumit and Gurdeep – both were somewhere behind me. I asked a police posted there and came to know that the straight road goes to Jammu, not the left one.  I parked the bike there and waited for the duo.

Sumit arrived in a minute and I took him in the right away. Gurdeep came after two more minutes and without looking at us or hearing our shout, he straight rode to the left road and vanished in moment.

I rushed behind him, asking Sumit to wait at the junction. After around 8-9 kilometers I could catch hold of Gurdeep, stopped him by honking madly, and then took him back to the junction, and resumed our journey to Jammu.

And then we reached to the dreamy expressway of Jammu, with magnificent beauty all around and small picturesque tunnels. This time we didn’t enter the Jammu city; just zoomed past the highway and caught the bypass. At 2:00 pm we crossed Jammu.

Mountain road was finally over, now it was flat road up to my home in Delhi. We could realize the June heat now. Soon we had to stop at a crossing, to gulp few glasses of “Banta” (soda water) and sugarcane juice. And then we started again.

Again we made a pit stop at a shop after 30 kilometers, finished a one liter water bottle in one minute, and then again started for another 30 kilometers. Pathankot was still far away. Jalandhar two hundred kilometers, we actually had covered one hundred kilometers since morning. Our target was seven hundred.

The first day experiences were coming back, dried up tongue, throat, the shirt and vest were burning on top of my body. The only difference from the first day was – I now had a buff covering my face, but that was not giving any relief at all.

But … but there was also another strange feeling today. We still had not crossed the J&K state, we already made three stops for Banta, sugarcane juice and water, we all are hit by the intense heat wave, but beyond that I was getting a feeling which was unknown to me – lack of concentration. I could not be alert while riding, the minimum alertness that is required to ride a bike on a highway was missing. Now we were in the plains, traffic had increased, this lack of alertness could be fatal. I never had this feeling before – I was feeling like I hadn’t slept for ages. I was fighting to keep my eyes open.

I got panicked. I reduced the speed, forty – fifty. But still that didn’t help me, I was feeling hard challenge to maintain the balance on my bike, I was feeling like, wherever I fall down, I would sleep. I never experienced this before while riding. Is this dehydration?

Sumit and Gurdeep were no more visible, they had sped away. I could not spot them but before stopping I need to inform them. Also it would not be safe to sleep alone at the roadside with the bike loaded with luggage.

I increased the speed. Whatever concentration was left in my brain, I accumulated them together and increased the speed; fifty-sixty-seventy-eighty-ninety. Yes they were visible far away. I increased the speed much more – ninety five. Did they realize that I was chasing them? Are they stopping at the side? … Yes, they were stopping in front of a Banta seller. I reached there. Sumit offered me Banta – but I was not in a mood to have it anymore. My tummy was full of water, only the mouth was dried up. I just told them, Nothing to drink, I would just sleep for half an hour wherever I get some shed. If you wish, you can move ahead.

They could understand my situation. Gurdeep told me, Sir, no worries, you move ahead, the first Dhaba you would see, stop there and sleep on a charpai. We’ll catch you in some time, and then we’d have lunch there.

So I moved ahead, leaving them behind. After sometime, I found a Dhaba under a huge Neem tree. Some charpai’s were laid out. The attendant invited me in, I asked him to wait until Sumit and Gurdeep arrives.

They arrived in 5 minutes, I told them, look after my luggage, and slept on the chair – keeping my head on the table.

I was sleeping, but it was not a full sleep. I could hear sounds of songs being played inside the Dhaba – old Hindi songs; Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhonsle … was that Bani Jayram? I could hear Sumit ordering Lassi, Gurdeep ordering lunch, I could hear the Dhaba man was saying “Yahaan se do kilometer aage ek nehr hai, wahan thanda paani milega, chaaho toh jaa kar nahaa kar aa jaao.” (Two kilometers from here you’d get a canal, you can go and take a bath there, the water is cold)

I was not actually sleeping; I was rather in a semi-conscious mode. After some time I got back to my sense, sat straight on the chair; and asked for some water.

Now I was feeling better. The heaviness on my head was gone. There was a water drum and a broken jug. I took some water and poured it on my head, and then covered face with buff and put on the helmet. It was a temporary relief.

Time was 4:20 pm. We started again. Initial few kilometers were smooth, and then again the dryness griped my tongue and throat. More or less all were facing the same issue. Again we stopped at a sugarcane juice stall. Ordered for three glasses of juice, poured two mugs of water on our head from a bucket and then put on the helmet. We were surely looking like Scarecrows, didn’t verify though. The hairs were stuck on sweat, a salty feeling across my face, an two melting feet inside the snickers – we were riding for Delhi, at least Ambala.

Pathankot was approaching. A rail track runs alongside the road for few kilometers here. We zoomed past some strange named stations – “Kala Bakra”, “Unchi Bassi”, some hutments around them and green fields spreading miles after miles, touching the horizon. Typical Punjab.

We crossed Pathankot after some time. Jalandhar was ninety kilometers ahead. There is a left turn at Jalandhar on the National Highway. In some time I reached there too. All strength of my body was drenched out. I was just riding like a machine – cruise control mode. After taking the turn I had to stop to wet my throat. There was a Banta-seller, I sat under his umbrella. I lost track of Sumit and Gurdeep, we agreed to ride on our own and reunite at Ambala.

The Banta seller casually asked me, where I was heading to. I told, Ambala. The guy smiled wryly – that’s too far! You have to cross Faguara, then Ludhiana, then Khanna and then you’d reach Ambala City. How will you make it today?

I looked on my watch; it was 6:00 pm. The sun was about to set, the heat wave would reduce in some time, then I would not have to stop every 30 or 50 kilometers to take break. The Banta seller boy also agreed, yes, today’s heat was abnormal.

I took rest for 15 minutes, and then started and suddenly Sumit and Gurdeep went past me, they were also having sugarcane juice at another stall nearby.

Six Thirty. The heat reduced drastically. I already had one view finder broken, I saw the sky through the other view finder, it seemed dark. Was it because Dusk was approaching, or was it because I was still wearing a sunglass? After few kilometers I stopped, took off the sunglass and looked at the sky. There was dark cloud spreading. It was going to rain. Ahh, relief at last.

Ludhiana was nearing. The three kilometers stretch in the city is in worst condition, bad road and deadlocked traffic jam. A flyover is being built, so there are few diversions to make things worse.

We reached near that under-construction flyover, and then it happened! A giant blow flew all the sand-pile and stone-chips stacked on the flyover into the air, it made an enormous ring of cloud just above our head, and immediately it was pitch dark everywhere. The ring busted on everything around us – including us.

Aandhi. It was the sandstorm. In Delhi summers, it is very common, but I had never seen such a sandstorm before, with this magnitude. All the vehicle headlights were on; still visibility was near to zero. Blows after blows of hot air were coming in, creating huge rings of sand and dust, making it almost impossible to see anything beyond 100 meters. Somehow I spotted Sumit and Gurdeep and followed them blindly. We crossed the Ludhiana city.

Now we were in a comparatively empty highway. The storm had not subsided; rather its intensity had increased. Here I understood why Pulsar 200NS is a good bike. I was fully covered from head to toe, so the dust and sand could not actually touch me, but the blows of wind could not touch the bike too. I was riding smoothly in the storm. Somewhere I stopped and waited for Sumit and Gurdeep, after they came they told me that they were facing difficulty in increasing the speed in such a stormy situation.

And then, the storm reduced and it started raining. Darkness everywhere, the traffic also reduced significantly. We increased the speed gradually. We had rain gears on, so faced no trouble in rain.

We crossed Khanna at 8:00 pm. Rain had also stopped, the weather was cool and all my fatigue was gone. I was feeling charged again, though Delhi was a good three hundred kilometers away, I felt I could cover it that night. But I controlled my mind – decided to be guest at Gurdeep’s home at Ambala.

After a long ride, we entered Haryana. Well lit malls and petrol filling stations here and there were illuminating like some islands. We stopped at a motel. Gurdeep identified the place as Rajpura. Ambala city is just twenty kilometers away from here.

We had some Paneer Pakoda and cold drinks there. I asked Gurdeep, how far is your home? Is it after twenty kilometers? – No. After Ambala crossing, we would have to head towards Shahabad flyover 20 kilometers away, and then we would take a left turn and go for another 10 kilometers to reach his home. So, his home is approximately 50 kilometers away from here.

We started again at 9:40 pm, and after riding for 10 kilometers or so, we first saw the signage of Rajpura. That means, the motel was not at all at Rajpura. We just entered Rajpura.

After some time we reached Ambala, the weather was dry here, which means, it did not rain here. We stopped under the Shahabad flyover at 10:40 pm exactly.

Sumit had to go – he had some important client meeting next day – so he would make last 200 kilometers that night. We shook hands, hugged each other. We promised to meet again at Noida someday.

My mobile started ringing, first my wife, then my father. They were all worried, I didn’t talk to them throughout the day – anyway, assured them and talked about our plan. Then we turned left.

It was a village road, but all tarred. A fantastic boulevard, darkness at both side, only the headlights from our bikes were making way for us. Not a single soul was outside.

We entered his ancestral home at 11:15pm. A typical Punjabi family – those who greet a guest with “Sat Shree Akaal Ji” welcomed me. I am not very much familiar with Punjabi customs, so I replied “Namaste” with folded hands. Gurdeep’s ten month old son first could not recognize his father, and then he glued at his father’s lap, until he slept.

When the little creature was playing at his dad’s lap, I discovered that the Punjabi of “Lap” is same as Bengali – “Kol”.

I forgot when I bathed last. But at 12 midnight when I was bathing with soap and shampoo, I was feeling like I had finally come back to civilization. We had our dinner at 12:30 am, a delicious Punjabi thaali. And then we fell asleep soon. After bearing the extreme heat wave throughout the day, the AC was giving us comfort.

11th June 2015 – Day Thirteen

Though we slkept late last night, but we woke up in early morning. Gurdeep took me to the rooftop to show his village. It’s not that I have never seen a village before, but Punjab villages has no similarity at all with Bengal villages. They are way apart.

We had a delicious breakfast, and then I asked Gurdeep and his family’s permission to leave.

It was Thursday. Gurdeep would spend the coming weekend with his family before returning to Noida on Sunday evening. Like the first day, this last lap of journey I would cover alone. I started at 9:20 am.

The heat increased on the way. I had to make two stops to wet my throat. At around 11:45 am when I first saw the huge signboard – “National Capital Region Delhi Welcomes you”, I got rid of all my fatigues. Yes, I have finally made it, I did it.

And then? Crossing Alipur-Mukarba Chowk-Majnu Ka tila-Shahdara-Dilshad Garden-Anand Vihar when I finally reached home, it was 12:30. I parked my bike, and called my daughter – asked her to come down with two bottles of water from the refrigerator.

She was shocked beyond her belief by seeing me. I later checked at the mirror, I was looking like a giant Panda. The whole face burnt out, only two white patches around my eyes – the sunglass marks. First I took rest for some time; then slowly I called my wife who was in the office, called my father, and informed Gurdeep about my safe arrival. My father was extremely tensed about my well-being. I had to reassure him. It gave him peace. The declaration of that peace was the greatest gift for my trip.

Called up Sumit in the evening. He reached Delhi at 3:30 am last night. And he went to bed after finishing the client meeting this morning.

*                     *                      *

I went out alone, at the dawn. I wanted to discover myself. I wanted to know my inner self. Did I discover? Did I get what I wanted to know? … I don’t know yet. I become a stranger to myself when I enter the boundary of this city. Maybe I need to go out some more times – alone, before the dawn breaks. I need to go out, maybe in another route, towards another destination. Actually, destination does not really matter, the journey is all that keeps me alive.

Till today, when I sit alone at home, or at office, I become restless. Somebody calls me from inside myself – I don’t know who. That soul continuously tempts me to go out, hit the road.

I am waiting, I am bearing this temptation. The moment it would become unbearable, I would hit the road again. I will. I must.

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