My First Road Trip….

Being rather fond of comfort & luxury and somewhat of an OCD when it comes to hygiene & cleanliness, I never thought of myself as a road trip kind of a person. I have friends who thrive on long drives & road trips to distant places and listening to their experiences made me think it was just not my cup of tea!

When Vaibhav suggested I could accompany him and his friends on road trip to Ladakh last year, my immediate response was “you gotta be kidding me!!”. Apart from the things I mentioned above, I really dislike cold. I am a warm weather person, never happier than when I am in sunny places. I even plan my annual vacations based on whether the country I visit has temperate conditions or not.

But when discussed the idea with my mom, she persisted that I should take this opportunity to try something new (I am eternally grateful for that) and I finally agreed to embark on this rather ambitious trip with a great deal of trepidation.

Be brave, I told myself, no one dies of a little cold and you can do it!! As Vincent Van Gogh said “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything”. Boy, am I glad I did it, because it turned out to be one of the most memorable trips of my life….it had everything from breathtaking beauty, scenic landscape, utter bliss to comedy, fear, anxiety, delays and unexpected snow storms. I was like a completely different person on that trip and the people who know me well still find it hard to believe half the things I tell them we did during the time!! 🙂

If you are planning on long road trips, first thing absolutely necessary (can’t stress this enough) is to make sure you are with the kind of people you like & get along with very well. Long hours spent in confines of a car with a wrong crowd can be quite jarring to ones senses & sensibilities with you wanting to beat up the nearest person at the first opportunity. But like me, if you were with a fabulous bunch (by that I mean they were just as crazy as I am) with a great sense of humor, long hours on the road can seem quite fun & stimulating.

Second most important thing to remember, especially if you are going up north to high altitudes & freezing temperatures, make sure you go with someone who is really experienced in driving in these terrains and knows all the Do’s and Don’ts.  Many a trips have been spoilt, I was told, because of inexperienced drivers or taking advice from people who did not understand how to cope with high altitudes. Oh, of course you also need to know where & how to get permits to visit many of the places.

I don’t want to talk about where to go or what to see in Ladakh as there is enough information on this blog for anyone to find. I’d rather reminisce on what made the trip so memorable. One good thing we did was to avoid popular tourist spots and go to some breathtaking places off the beaten track.

Few things I learnt at the outset, road trips are not about reaching the destination but all about the journey. Whenever something catches your fancy stop and explore; destination will still be there. Do not hope to find fancy restaurants with fine-dine ambience, eat at whatever roadside place you come across when hungry. If you are going to cold places, one does not get finicky about little things like having a bath daily or even once in a couple of days. Don’t even bother to hope to find conveniently located clean restrooms along the way….. not happening!! Nature is your restroom, so be ok take your bio-breaks wherever you can. One good thing about Ladakh is that we had long stretches of uninhabited terrain, so it was not that difficult. Of course as long as you don’t mind freezing your butt off in the snow and guys keep in mind which direction the wind is blowing!!!!!! 😀

Don’t count on sticking to the plan and reaching any place at the time you had initially planned. Unexpected snow falls & innumerable traffic jams are the norm and you have to wait for the JCBs to clear the snow and make way. This can take anywhere between 2 hours to 5 hours (more in some cases). All you can do is wait and believe me, you learn exactly what is meant by the saying ‘Patience is virtue’. All the ranting, raving, cursing and honking will do you no good. Instead you might as well be happy that you are surrounded by beautiful snow-clad landscape, take photos, strike up conversations with other commuters and generally make merry . My friends thought it would be a great idea to hop into cabins of the trucks parked next to us, replacing the drivers for a photo-shoot!! 🙂 Luckily the truck drivers were quite sporting, probably because they were used to such long delays and unhinged behaviors of tourists…..

While on the return journey, snow fall closed off most of the roadways and I had a flight to catch. We did not have the luxury of waiting for a couple of days for the snow to clear up, so had to figure out a way to continue the journey. So, Rohit and Vaibhav, who are the experts when it comes to road trips to Ladakh decided that we had to get in line as early as possible so that the moment road clears we can get ahead. Little did I know that when he said early, they meant 2 AM in the morning! In the freezing cold, we reached Dras only to find there were at least 20-30 other vehicles with the same brilliant idea. We just sat there waiting for 5 hours before the army gave us all clear to move ahead. By then, of course, there were hundreds of vehicles gathered all waiting to move. After waiting for hours, I just had to take a bio-break (try sitting in numbing cold for hours with nothing to do and you find that this is inevitable) and since there were no restrooms available and surrounded by cars, I was desperately searching for a place when I spotted a rather run-down hotel. As soon as they opened the door, I went in and called out. The lobby was in complete darkness and there was no one around. I just sneaked in and used their restroom (or at least I hope it was the restroom, it was so dark you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face!!). As the Murphy’s Law would have it, the moment I go to use the loo, vehicles start moving. My friends out there are yelling & screaming at me to hurry up and cursing me for causing them delay! I mean, really……. So, after getting up at some unearthly hour of the morning, waiting in freezing cold for more than 5 hours just to try and beat traffic, we get overtaken by tens of other vehicles. We managed to reach the destination on time and I got on my flight, so I guess in the end it all worked out fine. Though my friends did not let me forget that incident in a hurry!!

As if the nature did not throw enough curves for us on the trip, my travel companions were continuously thinking up ways to get into trouble. On our way to Kashmir, there is a long tunnel (Chenani – Nashri) you have to pass through. At frequent intervals, there are emergency alarms, phones & doors placed. One bright mind in the group says, you need to know how these emergency alarms work because if you are in real emergency, you may not have time to figure it out. Other equally bright minds agree that it is a worth-while experiment. So they stop the car, get out and pull the emergency alarm. The whole tunnel is ringing with sirens and then we race out of there like bats out of hell! J&K is one of most securely manned places in India and you find gun-toting armed forces personnel at every turn. And this is the place, my friends think is ideal for pulling emergency alarms in tunnels! I don’t even remember breathing for the next few minutes until we were safely out and relieved that we were not being chased by half the Indian Army!!!

Since we got away scot free once, why stop taking chances. Whenever we would find army personnel with guns, a guy in our group had to take their photos. We were even warned by one that it is not allowed and still he persisted. Ok, if you are that fascinated and you have to have their photos, you can at least be subtle about it and not make it blatant by literally shoving your phone camera to their face…. Geez! I was saying my final prayers and pretty much thinking of informing my near and dear ones, that I would probably be spending rest of my limited days in some army jail and that too in Kashmir 😦 We were lucky enough to come back unscathed. Now when we look back, we find it hilarious but it was anything but, back then!!

On the whole, I am really glad I went on this trip and got to experience so many new things. Would I do it again? Who knows… stranger things have happened! 🙂 🙂

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