Celebrating Onam at Khardung La

At 18,380 ft above sea level, things didn\'t go so well for this writer

Published: 04th September 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd September 2014 10:21 PM   |  A+A-

BANGALORE: A cup of noodles and a packet of Lay’s chips. That was all. It was Onam and we were stuck with cup noodles and imitation potato chips. Things were looking down. The sun was shining, but it was cold. The fact that we were about 17,000 feet above sea level might have had something to do with the cold. We were biking through Ladakh.

 A lot could be said about the trip itself, but mostly it was just a bunch of grumpy people who realised that this was not as fun as it seemed in YouTube videos. Oh how we fought -- we fought over the routes to take, where to stay, how long we’d have to be on the road, where we’d stop, who we’d push off the mountain first.

 As it happened, all this was on the back of mind, but I was more concerned about the dull pain in my stomach, followed by the pounding in my head. Some of us were in a car, and the driver, was helpfully playing loud, atrocious music. If we didn’t need him to get back to Manali alive, I would have pushed him off the next cliff myself.

 Oh, the scenery around was stunning, mind you. The scenery ever since we left Manali had been beautiful. Quite gorgeous every way you turned. The sort of environment that makes idiots with SLRs think that they were the second coming of Ansel Adams. Indeed, we had a few of those specimens along with us on this trip, and they were blissfully clicking away, unmindful of such small things like constant shaking due to the bad roads. (Confession: I had an SLR. It was switched off)

 However, unlike these artists, I found it a bit hard to concentrate on the surrounding beauty, since I felt a bit like a handkerchief in a washing machine.

How I envied the people who had managed to sleep off. We were about half way through and were heading towards the high point of our trip, literally, but this was not something I was looking forward to.

Yet another mountain pass, I muttered to myself. Stuck on a mountain on Onam with a bunch of idiots and a packet of Lay’s. And the cup noodles. Whatever.

 Just as I was coming to terms with my misery, the car reached a (relatively) flat stretch. I noticed that the bikers ahead of us had also stopped. This was it, I figured. Great. Flat piece of land very high up on a mountain. Hurrah. Nonsense. I’m never leaving Bangalore again, I thought. Reluctantly, I stepped out. People were shaking hands, congratulating each other. I decided that I would shake no hands.

No one offered their hands anyway. It was then that I saw the large board. 'Khardung La Top: World’s Highest Motorable Road 18,380 ft.'

 I was immediately impressed. In fact, I considerably lightened up. I don’t know what it was about that damned board that made me feel happy, but it did. It even gave me a sense of accomplishment, when I had done nothing more than manage to get here alive and in one piece. I even felt a fondness for people with SLRs. I voluntarily shook hands with people, including a bemused army man who was posted there. I even almost bought a souvenir t-shirt, till I saw the price on one of those things.

“It’s Onam today, isn’t it?” someone asked. Indeed, it was Onam.

 To everyone’s general amusement, one of the chaps took out a mundu, put it over his pants, and put a rudimentary pookkalam underneath the board. It was surreal at the very least.

Not to be outdone, in true Kerala style, someone had brought some brandy along to have on top of the highest motorable road in the world. I was positively thrilled by the recklessness of it. That third rate brandy tasted like Glenfiddich to me. “Is there something to eat?” one of the bikers queried, understandably tired. A cup of noodles and a packet of Lay’s. That was all. It didn’t seem so bad now.

(Hrishikesh Varma blogs at hvrhome.blogspot.com)

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