nearing the end

nearing 16,000 feet

Despite my being able to type upwards of ninety words per minute, my little fingers can’t seem to keep up with the pace the world is revolving in these days.  The past two weeks have blurred together into flashes of buses, airplanes, departures, and arrivals amidst stifling heat and monsoon rains.  Before I even got a chance to write about my journey, the rains came and washed away the towns and villages that I stayed in, swept away the bridges I crossed, uprooted the trees from the ground, stranding the people I met along the way and forever altering the landscape I thought I knew.  The things I remember have no doubt completely changed, now solely existing the way they did as a memory in my mind.  Although nothing in Ladakh exists as it did when I was there, I’m compelled to finish the story of my journey in the Ladakh that I remember.  It now seems petty and trivial in light of what happened, but it’s the only story that I saw and the only one I know how to tell right now.

The journey back from Diskit was long and rocky–literally.  Myself and a handful of other Westerners took the local bus, which cost me a mere 130 rupees.  When we boarded, nearly every seat was full of Ladakhis.  Unfortunately, the driver refused to let us sit on top of the bus, so I retreated to the window seat in the last row, which is no doubt the most turbulent seat in the vehicle.  Needless to say, it was a blast, as every bump sent me rocketing upwards out of my seat.  It was like a thrifty six-hour rollercoaster ride on the rooftop of the world, reaching elevations over 18,000 ft.

khardungla, the world's highest motorable road

I spent four days hanging around the Women’s Alliance in Leh before setting off again.  During that time I participated in workshops with Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder of the International Society for Ecology and Culture, author of “Ancient Futures,” an expert on Ladakh, a pioneer of the localization movement, and an analyst of globalization and it’s consequences.  Needless to say, I learned a lot in a very short amount of time, most of which I couldn’t possibly sum up briefly.

I left at twelve in the morning, Tuesday, August 3rd, on a mini-bus through some of the world’s highest mountains, headed south to Manali.  For twenty-two hours I drifted in and out of sleep, spending my waking hours watching the swiftly changing scenery slide by my window.  Around four in the morning, I awoke with my face on the dashboard to find the bus making its way across a vast plateau of permafrost situated between high peaks, and I felt as though I was nearing the end of the earth.  Later in the day, around noon, I again awoke with my head on the dashboard to find the bus empty and abandoned, engine turned off, sitting in a line of traffic.  I groggily walked outside and over a hill to see what the hold-up was, at which point I saw that a river of glacial runoff had wiped out the road and stranded a car.  We waited two hours for cars and trucks to be moved, one by one, safely to the other side.

For twenty-two hours, I sat in the front seat of the mini-bus, watching us twist and turn up and down steep mountain roads that hang precariously atop rocky cliffs, but I wasn’t scared until the rain began falling and the night came.  For the entire trip we only had one driver–a young Hindi man who seemed to survive off of cups of chai and chewing tobacco–and towards the end of the journey his demeanor changed.  He’d yell at trucks in traffic, drive off the road and down the rocky slopes to cut off other cars, and push the bus through slippery tracks of mud at risky speeds.  Needless to say, I was really grateful to arrive in Manali at ten that evening, only to squeeze in eight-hours of sleep before jumping on another ten-hour bus the next morning.

The end of the trip was far from glamorous.  After resting for two days, I took a twelve-hour overnight bus to Delhi to catch a flight the next evening.  I spent the day trying to escape the sweltering heat of Delhi, and was so relieved to be boarding a flight that evening.  Unfortunately, the flight left without me, due to it being extremely overbooked, and at 12:30 in the morning in New Delhi I called home for some advice and wisdom on how to get the hell out.  There’s a reason I don’t really call home when I’m away, which I remembered as soon as I started talking to my mother, which led to me bawling my eyes out in the middle of the international airport.  For the next twenty-four hours in Delhi, the strong-willed woman who fearlessly traverses the globe on her own was replaced by a big ball of nerves that cried at a moments notice.  When the operator of the phone booth asked me when my flight was, I cried.  When the taxi driver told me how much it would be to a hostel, I cried.  And when the man at the currency exchange counter told me the exchange rate, I also cried, at which point he asked to take me home with him (which was weird).  It was a frustrating, sleep-deprived, emotional, and draining couple of days, but it was all okay when I finally boarded that flight to Chicago.  I now realize that, while I love India, she’ll never stop trying to test my patience.

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3 Comments

  1. Elizabeth, I am so glad you are home now. What a circuitous and eventful journey, and return! I am so glad you wrote of your time and experiences in Ladakh…though the floods and resulting devastation have altered the cultural, social and physical landscape that you knew, your writing is a wonderful capturing of a time and a way to honor what has been lost–the power of memory to honor, to respect, to help grieve, to make change. I am glad you wrote it.

    I love the photos and all that you have gifted us with this blog! Welcome home!

    Larry

  2. I have to tell you I am blown away. How nieve of me. I just thought that you were globe hopping for fun. I didn’t realize that you are on the edge of human experiences. I feel ashamed to say that I feel frustrated here many days but I have no right to be. Where you have been is the real world. These people and yourself have to deal with struggles each day that make mine so small. Keep doing what you are doing my dear as your life will be richer for the experience. Oct 6, 2010

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