August 31, 2015

To the mountains ! part III - Entering Ladakh

Last three days of our adventure.

We leave Srinagar early in the morning, proud to have found the cheapest way into Ladakh. From here it's a twelve hours trip to Kargil, and then another ten-ish to Leh, the capital. Our trip, however, comes to an abrupt stop two hours in, leaving us stranded in Sonmarg, the last mountain town before the Zogi Lah pass. As the road has just opened, accidents are common. Today rocks have fallen down and blocked the pass, and we have to wait until they're cleared. To be honest nothing upsets us anymore, so we just kill time walking around, meeting with other travelers, playing cards, and walking to the village to buy food. It takes 30 hours for the road to open again – we end up renting a room for the night, the four of us sharing the tiny space, and the bed. In the morning, we meet up with our friends and join the line of trucks and buses waiting to go through. As the pass finally opens, the whole column shouts and cheers, and a hundred motorbikes lead the way in a thunderous noise. The moment is strangely euphoric.

Zogi Lah stands at 11,575 ft and the road to the pass is absolutely terrifying. Think narrow dirt road meandering on a mountain side, with a chasm on the right. If you look out the window, you're literally above the void. As we climb, it becomes harder and harder to breathe fully, and soon it gets cold. We burrow into our shawls, against each other, but we can't help but open the window ever now and again to gaze at the incredible landscape, despite the wind that chills to the bone.

From the moment we enter Ladakh, the landscape changes completely, and it is exactly what we've been dreaming about. A land of naked rock, incredible patterns of purple, red, blue, green, painted on the stones like watercolors. It feels like being on the moon. We reach Kargil late at night, battle to find a room to sleep in for a few hours, then head back to the bus station at 4am to leave, again. This last part of the road is a blurry memory, made of falling asleep on P's shoulder, watching my breath rise inside the freezing bus, feeling my whole body go numb from the cold. At sunrise, we stop in a road side café where the sweetest man gives us hot tea and boiled eggs. It's the best breakfast ever. Soon we are in sight of the village of Lamayuru, and the road is over. It's been eight days since we left Dharamsala. Eight days of laughter, of disasters, of solutions, of rolled joints in shared rooms, of dirt cheap delicious food, of being dazzled, and it's not over yet.

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