September 18, 2015

Ladakh, almost summer

We trek for several days through the Sham Valley. Leaving on a morning bus that drops us in the middle of nowhere, we follow a riverbed. Soon it starts raining, then snowing, and before long we are freezing, and trekking is not so fun. We reach the small village of Yangthang at the end of the day and settle down in a house facing an immense chasm. Our host gives us black tea to warm up. We get a room with two giant windows opening on the Himalayas, and because of that it is so damn cold but we don't care. Then the hostess gives us a bucket of boiling water that the four of us share to wash our faces. At night, we huddle in the kitchen, the only sort of warm room in the house, and feast on rice, dahl and boiled vegetables. That night I stand on the roof watching the stars. It's cold and I don't care. I just want to feel the world swirl around me. Morning finds us glued to each other to keep the warmth. Pi wakes me up with a smile and a kiss on the back of my neck, I get up, put my sweater over the clothes I slept in, put on some heavy wool socks, and go for breakfast.

We stay a day here for one of our friends to recover from an injury. Pi and I decide to go down the riverbed and reach the monastery of Rizong, one of the highest in the world. On the way the clouds finally part and we soak in the sun. The view is truly majestic. We reach the monastery in a couple hours and a monk invites us in for tea. We sit there, listening to the monks singing somewhere upstairs. Our tea is brewed with yak butter and it is both amazing and really yucky. Through the window we can see the new snow that fell last night on the highest peaks. And suddenly I remember the date. Today marks a whole year spent on the road. I tell Pi who looks at me smiling : « I can't even imagine that. ». « You know what I'm gonna miss ? I tell him - this feeling. That I am so far away from everything that is familiar. That I am so far away from everything that has ever been taught to me. That I am the first one of my family to be in this exact place – perhaps even the first one from my city. That this is entirely mine. This adventure, right here, right now, with you, this moment is my doing. I made it happen. I am letting it happen to me. I don't know how I'll handle life without that feeling. Absolute freedom.

We're truly lucky – every family that host us is kinder and funnier than the last. Our legs are hurting but we keep going, and the weather is on our side. From Yangthang we move on to Hemis Shukpachan, then Temisgan. On the third day, we climb our highest pass. It's only 4000m but for all of us that have been pretty sick from the altitude, it's actually a challenge. I almost run the last hundred meters, completely high on the cold and the lack of oxygen, ignoring my limbs that scream for mercy. We leave O and C behind and reach the top a few minutes before them, but we don't stop to rest. Instead we run along the ridge and reach another peak, where prayers flags flap in the wind. Below our feet is the entire valley, a masterpiece of red, blue and green streaks on grey stone that looks like a Jackson Pollock. I grab P by the collar and we kiss on the spot, heart racing from the run. I feel like my life is a movie again, like it has been on so many other occasions in India. A song runs through my head and I sing it all the way down.

« Hold me fast, cause I'm a hopeless wanderer...
I will learn to love the skies I'm under »

Too soon the trek is over. In the morning, we have our last breakfast with our last family, then flag down the bus leaving from Temisgan. P falls asleep on my shoulder, my hand trapped between his fingers, and I watch the landscape go by. We go back to « our » house in Leh and the old man greets us with big smiles and many cups of tea. The lilac is more fragrant than ever, the sun is shining. I already know that leaving this place will be heartwrenching, but I try not to think about it.

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