“Some people follow their dreams, others hunt them down and beat them mercilessly into submission.”
I am currently curled up under a very thick handmade quilt at 4,400m (14,500ft) in a tent that is part of a makeshift village in the Himalayas. It is amazing to think that I’m still in India, as I am currently in a scarcely populated mountainous region that couldn’t be more different than Delhi. The people are friendly, and unlike the rest of India, the women work alongside the men. They no longer wear the colorful silk outfits of the south, but rather boots, jackets, and warm scarfs, because even during the summer time it’s cold. They no longer look indian either, but rather they look like strong mountain people, and rightfully so. This makeshift village is situated on the road from Manali to Leh which is the only access to the north. Because there are passes over 5,000m, this road is only open three or four months of the year. During the rest of the year, Leh and the surrounding area is cut off from all civilization. On this “highway” there are tents about every 30-40km that sell food and water, and occasionally have a bed or two to stay in as well. There are also people every ten or twenty kilometers working on the road, a never ending hopeless project. Between the heavy rainfall during the monsoon season, then snowfall for the rest of the year, it’s amazing there is anything left of the highway. There are numerous landslides that wipe out sections of the road every year which is one of the reasons we only averaged 25-30kmph while driving along it. The road, for the most part, is also only wide enough for one car, so it was always interesting meeting a vehicle coming the other way. Though the road was rough, it was an absolutely spectacular drive though the highest mountains in the world, and I was lucky enough to have the front seat. This is the road I will be cycling on in a few weeks once I leave the Ladakh region.
The makeshift village I am in has about twenty tents, and is set up for tourists who are driving to Leh (the 500km journey takes two days because of the roads, so this is the stop-over point). There were two beds in each tent (with very warm blankets) and a toilet in the vestibule. The toilet was actually just covering a hole which led straight behind the tent into a lovely pile of sewage.
Before beginning the journey to Leh, I first had to take a bus from Delhi to Manali which was long, very long, especially since (typical India) it arrived four hours late (making it a 17h bus ride). Once I arrived to Manali I was exhausted since I hadn’t slept, and was not looking forward to dragging my bike box and all my luggage around until I found somewhere to stay. Lucky for me, Manali is a tourist town, so there were guys waiting to recruit you to their guest house. I accepted one of their offers, and the gentleman helped me load up my bike and took me to his place, which ended up being beautiful. Unlike Delhi, there was country side in Manali, and I stayed in an apple orchard with cows wandering the small dirt paths through the town. I played badminton with some local children who lived right next to where I was staying, and we all had a good time as they taught me Hindi words, some of which were very hard to pronounce. Staying in Manali was a great introduction to the north, which is an absolutely amazing part of India.
After seeing the passes I will be cycling over, and the conditions of the roads to come, I am in awe that I still think I will be cycling through these mountains, fully self-supported. Driving over 4,000m, and 5,000m on the passes, has reminded me just how hard it is to survive, let alone move, this high up. I am now going to spend a few days acclimatizing and preparing for my journey in Leh before I set off on what is sure to be the greatest adventure of my life.
Here are the roads. Since it is still the monsoons season, the lower altitudes were very wet and often we were driving in a foot of mud. There was occasionally a small river we drove across as well.
Thank you, Shirine, for your luminous words, feelings and photos. I am sitting on Lake Desire in Washington, reading much of your blog to my friend Dorothy, and we are both moved to grateful tears for your inspiration.
Dorothy sends you this poem by Dawna Markova–
I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.
Warm wishes and love,
Mary Parthemer and Dorothy