Friday, August 22, 2008

Froggy Jump!

Just yesterday, I was watching the movie, "An Inconvenient Truth"; Al Gore's documentary on global warming and climate change. I seriously recommend this movie to all those who care about the environment and even more seriously to those who don't; this one's just the kind that will scare your guts into caring. Anyway, this post is not about the environment. It derives from one of the factoids that Al Gore shared about frogs to explain the attitude of a lot of people, especially in the developed nations, towards global climate problems. So Al Gore says that a frog, when it jumps into boiling water, immediately jumps back out to save its life because it receives that painful jolt. But the same frog, if falls into tepid water, and somehow the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will simply continue sitting there, oblivious of the fact that its getting cooked to death, till its either cooked or rescued! Whats the point he's trying to make? That you need that one hard jolt to shake you up into action.
So as I sat down last night to chew on this in the lone time I had (of which, in the absence of suitable human distractions, I have a lot these days) I realised thats true over a really wide range of things. Your exams are on two weeks from now, and you sit here, writing a blog post, knowing fully well that you'll be cooked meat within the next fourteen days! But why do you not do anything about it? Because it moves slowly. One night before the exam, you'd realise that the grand feast is the day after and thats the fearful jolt that would hopefully kick you into action. For some of us, even that doesn't work. We're somehow so amazingly fearless, or unaware (whichever way you put it) that we'd still carry on the way we were going about right until the day the divine boot lands on our derriere and then the otherwise mundane task at hand becomes herculian.
Procrastination is not the only time this "Froggy Jump Syndrome" kicks in. Say you had a bitter fight with a friend today and the two of you decided to never talk again. A flashpoint in life, one would say. So tomorrow on, suddenly, there is one less person to talk to. And that hurts like crazy. The pain will slowly go away, but every time you sit and think of it even 10, 20 or 30 years later (if you were unfortunately never able to patch this up in that time), it'd prick you where it hurts most. Its deliberate. Something you don't want to do but can't do without.
Imagine now, a very close friend of yours from years ago. You were the best of friends, and could never do anything without the other's company. And then, one day, the friend had to move to a different town, or the two of you went your own directions in life, vowing to always keep in touch. Slowly, but steadily, time filled up that vacuum that was created by the others' absence. At first, you'd talk everyday, then once a week, slowly to once in a year. Each of you got busy with your own lives and lost touch to the point that you don't know where the other one is. The final result is the same in both cases. The feeling is extremely different.
What then is the moral of the story? That, in most cases, humans resist abrupt change. It makes us uncomfortable, squeamish and a little too conscious of whats happening around us. If the same change takes place gradually and inconspicuously, we'd find ourselves behaving very differently, or rather, indifferently. I guess this draws from some sort of a survival instinct. Fast is a challenge. Conspicuous and in-your-face is a challenge. Making a deliberate choice on the harder side is a battle that draws out the last possible ounce of strength. And if we let it go, the inbuilt fatalism somehow seems to take care of everything, be it a quarrel (which it may), or the environment (which it does not!).
So the next time you feel like a frog in boiling water (regardless of how fast it got hot), make sure you jump!
Thus ended the recondite rumination.

The Blood Donation Camp

A few days ago, a blood donation camp was organized by the Indian Red Cross Society at IIT Delhi. The following were three of the most amazing excuses a lot of wimps decided to make to get away from donating blood:

1) There's too much blood in the world anyway.
2) I don't have enough blood to donate. (This comes from a muscular fellow who was quite capable of pounding me to pulp if I pressed on further)
3)They'll sell my blood in the black market! On being told that its the reputed Red Cross Society that is conducting the camp: "They're the biggest black marketers!"

Its amazing what some people will do to still maintain a false bravado after not having done something right. They'd rather look stupid than do something noble, or admit that they're scared for that matter. This post goes up so that everyone's aware that these excuses have already been used! Donate blood, its a good thing to do.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Circle of Life: Epilogue

Its been two months since we returned to Delhi and we still talk about it almost every single day. If I had one sentence to describe the trip, it would be "It ain't over till its over". At every step along the way, challenges were thrown in our face and we somehow manage to get past. At little bit of lady luck needs to be given credit as well. Two days after we left, there were massive protests in Jammu and Srinagar regarding the Amarnath land dispute. The valley continues to burn as I write this; I hope peace returns soon. Had we got stuck in the violence, we'd have had more than some trouble in getting back home in one piece.
Life has resumed to normal. Manu has moved on to bigger things and now is working in London. Dhar, Gussu and I continue to be in IIT. All of us have a year left before we too take detours to grander things in life. Dhar and I already have our next adventure planned. Next year we plan to fly down to Leh and cover the surrounding mountains on two week long treks and hopefully this will give me more stories to share.
Its been a pleasure recounting our escapades on the trip. Its taken a while, but been one of the most rewarding activities in the recent past. Hope that I'll get to write more, memories for a lifetime!
To conclude, a quote(apparently from nomadic wisdom) we found written on the door of a travel agency in Leh,
"A traveling fool is better than a sitting wise man"!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Circle of Life: Chapter 8: One Last Gamble on Life (Srinagar-Delhi)

The morning of the 22nd of June brought with it bittersweet emotions. If everything went right (emphasis on IF), we'd be home by this time the next morning. But the most amazing trip of our lives was also at its end.
So we got up early, were checked for identification by the army (as had been done many times), reached the taxi stand, and hurriedly got front seats in a shared cab. This bit was easy. And then came the babbling driver. At first we just thought of him as loquacious prick, but in about ten minutes after we had moved(already too late) we began to smell the alcohol in his breath as the smell of tobacco faded. We were sitting in a cab taking us through the treacherous mountains from Srinagar to Jammu with a drunk driver. We had already paid up, since all passengers are required to pay before the commencement of the journey and were already a fair distance away from the Srinagar bus stand. Dhar and I contemplated on whether we should get off and risk getting stranded or stay on and risk getting killed! And this is where we made this last gamble on life to reach home on time. We decided to stay on, and pray like hell that we didn't wind up as mangled corpses by the end of the day. Dhar switched on his trusty I-pod and closed his eyes. Later he would tell me that this was because he didn't want to know if he was dying! Such was the fear. I, on the other hand dedicated myself to the task of bearing the brunt of the driver's monologue so that atleast he kept talking and didn't doze off on the wheel. Memories of a very recent accident with one of my friends in a very similar fashion didn't make the activity any more pleasant. And in the midst of all his monologues, there was a family sitting in the backseat, chattering away to glory, blissfully unaware of the situation. At one point when I did tune in into what he was babbling about, I heard the words, "I'd driven all through last night to get from Jammu to Srinagar this morning. I've had only half an hour of rest." This was the ultimate alarm bell and I just clenched myself harder. He was saying all this of course, while he was ripping up packets after packets of tobacco, which he seemed to be wired on. Dhar momentarily opened his eyes along the way, probably just to check if he was alive, and on one such instance he nudged me and pointed out that the driver had begun rubbing his eyes! Alarmed, I asked him to stop by some tea shop to get tea so that he would stop feeling sleepy. The reply that came back was even better: "I'm rubbing my eyes not because I'm sleepy but because I have some eye defect!". So here we are, going from Srinagar to Jammu, hilly road, with a driver who's drunk, sleepy and has an eye defect! Now this is a set of lives that even God will find hard to save! The blessing in disguise however, was that we hadn't hit the mountains just yet. Since Kashmir is a valley, the first one-sixth or so of the journey is on plain terrain. Thankfully we stopped by a tea stall soon after and I sent the driver off to drink buckets of tea and do whatever it takes to keep him awake. As luck would have it, even his music system wasn't working, which would have most likely kept him up.

(Above: Guarding the highway)
The ride seemed to get better as my driver began to wake up. He spoke less, slurred less and was driving in a straight line for a change. Dhar finally could bear to open his eyes! And slowly we wound up the hills to the Jawahar Tunnel where we got our final look at the Kashmir Valley. Also quite apparent were the effects of global warming. In 2005, I had seen patches of snow around the tunnel and a lot of snow on the mountaintops in the distance. All of this had now disappeared. As we slowly traversed the 3 km long tunnel, I realised that we were probably much safer now. A few hours drive by the Chenab river went smoothly till we hit the one last of the zillion traffic jams on the trip. The Amarnath Yatra had started and this was the primary route. Everyone was in a hurry and ironically this hurry had caused the jam. It took us almost an hour and a half to slowly inch to freedom! Along the way we also stopped for lunch near the Baglihar Dam, a contentious point between India and Pakistan. There's something funny about this place. There are about 8-10 small restaurants and all serve only one dish: Rajma Rice! So much for variety. On our way to Jammu, the driver took a detour to Katra which is the base camp for the Vaishno Devi Shrine. Here it became disgustingly apparent that religion is big business and I was keen to leave as early as possible. Thankfully, without any further incidents, we had reached Jammu. The heat however, was oppressive and something we weren't used to now. So the first thing we did after booking the night bus was to look for an airconditioned restaurant to have our dinner in! We didn't care how the food was, we wanted the cold air!

(Above: Last look at the Kashmir Valley, Driving through the Jawahar Tunnel, the Baglihar Dam, The Silver Line)
Soon enough, we boarded our Volvo bus to Delhi which had already been delayed by 2 hours. The bus also looked rather dilapidated. The tyres seemed to be worn out, our window was coming loose and the AC wasn't working properly. This wasn't going to end soon. Having no choice, we boarded the bus and almost immediately dozed off. The next thing I remember is waking up in the morning, while the bus was crossing some fields somewhere in Punjab. The AC had stopped working completely and the windows couldn't be opened, making the ride unbearably hot (this was 23rd June, just to give an idea) . We were grossly delayed, which meant that we'd also have to bear the seering afternoon heat. On top of that, the bus' suspension had collapsed, so every time it hit a bump, everyone would be sent flying off their seats and then the bus would literally bounce and gallop like a horse! Somewhere along the line it also developed a leak somewhere so the floor of the bus swelled up everytime the bus accelerated for long and would shrink when the breaks were applied! The mood in the bus was foul, but Dhar and I couldn't help but laugh at our situation. We weren't going to get home easy. Thats how it had been, and thats how it will be!
Finally, around 1 pm(around 5 hours late), as we entered Delhi, and some five kilometers from Dhar's house, the passengers finally lost their cool and let the driver and his helper have it! A very heated argument and scuffle ensued, with the passengers rightfully demanding a refund, for this had been a bus ride from hell. Again, Dhar and I found a message in this. This was barely five kilometers from his house, and the journey would give us moments to remember right till the moment we stepped inside the relative safety of our homes! Thankfully, the other passengers soon realised it was better to reach soon than to argue. I bade Dhar farewell as the bus made its way to the final stop.

(Above: We made it! And in what condition!)
I got off at Delhi's Inter State Bus Terminus and having no energy to go to my own house, I headed straight for Manu's to wait to be picked up and taken to my place.
So this was it. We had made it! The circle had been completed. And boy had it been a tough circle to complete! As I rested in Manu's house and narrated to him the one half of the trip that he had missed, both of us realised that it felt like we'd been away for ages. It had been eleven days. But those eleven days, made us live and love our lives more than any other day that we had ever seen. We carried with us memories for larger Circle of Life.


Monday, August 4, 2008

The Circle of Life: Chapter 7: Then There Were Two (Leh-Kargil-Srinagar)

I always have a firm faith in one fact: As far as possible, never come down the same way you went up. Taking a different return route always helps to get rid of the depression caused by the approaching end of the trip.
Manu and Gussu left early the next morning for the airport. Having bid them a groggy farewell, Dhar and I decided to abandon the plan to go to Khardung La, the world's highest motorable pass, and catch some of that much needed sleep instead.
It felt weird and somehow depressing that four had turned to two, but we had to get back on time to prove all the naysayers wrong, and thats how Dhar and I approached the next leg of the trip. We spent a very relaxing and quiet day roaming around town and getting our stuff ready. A peaceful lunch at Leh's countless garden cafe's with their lovely clay oven pizzas was just what we needed. Around 3 in the afternoon we boarded our bus to Srinagar, which, if on schedule(we now know that this is NOT a given around these parts) would land us in Srinagar early next morning. Along the way we would cross Lamayuru, Kargil and Dras, some of India's biggest conflict zones nine years back in the Kargil war.
The desert seemed to dominate the scenery as we exited Leh and started our sojourn towards Srinagar(Left,Right: Exiting Leh). Along the way we witnessed the conjunction of the Zanskar and Indus rivers where the mixing of blue and brown waters made for a beautiful spectacle. As we drove along beyond various police check posts, the sun began to set. The sun sets late in the mountains and it was bright even around 8 in the night. The setting sun cast its golden glow on the waters of the Indus, snaking its way through the gorge. Before long, we were crossing Lamayuru which is essentially a monastery town and a quiet place where monks can find their peace.
After Lamayuru it became dark and cold and as I waited for the moon to rise and bathe the mountains in its silver light, Dhar decided to take a nap. After having laboriously crossed Fotu La around ten in the night, we finally arrived at Kargil at around 1 in the morning. As I crossed the main street of Kargil, I could feel the adrenaline pumping as I saw the streets from where reporters would report the scene on the war front in 1999. My copy of Lonely Planet says that Kargil is shelled often from the other side of the Line of Control. That added to the adrenaline rush. At one point we stopped at a tea stall. A river runs right next to the tea stall and a mountain range exists on the other side, the top of which the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. So there we were, at one in the night, four kilometers from the LoC(as the crow flies).(Right:The Zanskar and the Indus meet) I dragged a very sleepy and grumpy Dhar out of the bus to take a photo as a testimony to this event. The feeling of being there quite paralleled the feeling of having walked across the Wahga Border into Pakistan in February last year. After Kargil, I dozed off and missed Dras. The next I opened my eyes, it was nearly sunrise and we were crossing Zoji La pass into the Kashmir valley.
A pass is usually a divide between two regions that are deeply distinct and unconnected. As we crossed Zoji La, we began our transition from the arid, bare mountains of Ladakh to the lush, green mountains of Kashmir. Also began a transition, from relative safety to an unsettling army presence. Down below us on the valley floor was Baltal, one of the camps for the Amarnath Yatra. For as far as the eyes could see, there was a mess of scores of camping tents and cars. A quick call to the worried parents in Delhi from Sonamarg, and we were well on our way to Srinagar. I had visited Srinagar in 2005 from the other side and I was particularly excited about visiting the same places and seeing if they had changed at all.

(Above: Sunset on the Indus, Near Lamayuru, Dhar pointing to the LoC)
It so transpired that we arrived in Srinagar three hours later than the stipulated time, taking the bus journey to about 18 hours. Needless to say, we were exhausted and the hot weather that was new to Srinagar didn't make it very comfortable. This was not the Srinagar I had visited three years ago. We did find a hotel in Lal Chowk (the city centre) which has historically been a very volatile area but has been relatively safe in recent times. However, a trip to the hotel balcony would unnerve even the hardiest. Every nook and corner of the streets below that the eyes could see had an armed personnel guarding it. It felt like a scene from an action movie where everything runs in perfect order but in slow motion just before something goes terribly wrong. This feeling that I couldn't shake off was another thing different from the last time I visited Kashmir.

(Above: Sunrise at Zoji La, The lush Kashmir Valley, Amarnath Camps at Baltal)
We got ready and headed for the grandest meal of our entire trip: the Kashmiri Wazwan. The Wazwan is a 36 course minimum, 60 courses maximum cermonial meal that one can seldom get beyond without bursting from every seam in the body. So was the case this time. We were given seven courses of the Wazwan and by the sixth we were stuffed beyond belief. This is what heaven must feel like! After that sumptuous meal we headed to the Hazratbal Shrine.
Hazratbal is a mosque in old Srinagar which houses a strand of hair from Prophet Mohammad's (PBUH) beard. This ancient relic was the centre of a major controversy in the sixties when it got stolen and threw the valley into a tense state till it was fortunately (albeit mysteriously) discovered a few days later.
A funny incident at Hazratbal is worth recounting. Dhar and I had been on red alert since morning. The unsettling, large army presence was one cause. The parents had also scared us to put us on our guard. As a result we were quite literally on tenter-hooks when the mic at Hazratbal was switched on for the afternoon Azaan. Some electrical disturbance caused the speakers to give off a staccato sound. Dhar and I, already tense, thought a gunfight had started nearby and were almost running for cover when the voice of the muezzin echoed on the speakers! We also realised that the guards hadnt moved an inch! Sheepish and relieved, we finally went into the mosque.

(Above: Hazratbal, Shikara ride to Char Chinar, Destruction of Nishat Bagh, Ice cream saves the day!)
It was my duty of sorts to take Dhar around Srinagar, since I'd been here before. Paucity of both time and money ensured that we could visit only the most important places. After Hazratbal, we took a shikara ride to Char Chinari, which is a small, beautiful island on the Dal Lake with four Chinar trees on the corners. I was quite dismayed to realise that the new, tourist infested Srinagar had also become grotesquely expensive. I was further piqued when we visited the Mughal garden of Nishat. The place was literally teeming with tourists, who couldn't resist the idea of stripping off and jumping into the various fountains in the beautiful garden.
By now, we had pretty much had it with Srinagar. We thought of leaving for Delhi the same night so we could reach Delhi early, but unfortunately or otherwise, there was no bus that could do this. And then we decided to make best of whatever time we had and a nice trip to fantastic Kashmiri bakeries and ice cream parlours near Lal Chowk, seemed to make us forget our chagrin with the place.
At night we had to honour the memory of our departed companions, and hence we played a couple of games of poker(official sport of our trip by now) and then we spent time reminiscing the best moments of our trip before we called it a day.
(Above: Lal Chowk by night)
Tomorrow would be the beginning of the end, the last arc of the circle, the home stretch, but who'd have expected a fight to the finish?

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Circle of Life: Chapter 6: 'Tso'litude (The Pangong Tso)

We woke up on the morning of the 18th of June to what were now the familiar and soothing Buddhist chants with mixed emotions. On one hand, the day had a lot in store for us. We were going to travel nearly 300 kilometers and visit probably one of the best places we'd ever seen and we were really excited. However, our bitter struggle with 'Parental Evacuation' was almost certain to fail. Dhar and I had mutually decided that we'd go on and complete the circle even if the other two left.
We left Leh at around 5.30 that morning, just another day in a series of sleep deprived days. We had to travel far, and the road would get flooded by early afternoon owing to the melting snow. Our minds were still racing to come up with a solution to our existing problem, when Gussu's dad called put his foot down on the issue. There was no way he was coming by road. And with him gone, Manu would also have to leave. So this was it then, there were four who started this and two who'd end it. This then being our last day together, we decided to make the most of it and decided to forget the disappointment that had just been caused and it was for once, easier than we had thought it would be.

(Border Roads Organization sends a small message to the parents!)

Along the way, we noticed a certain peculiarity about the Ladakh region- The color scheme of the valley follows a certain pattern. The river flows at the base of the valley and the surrounding areas are lush green. As one goes away from the river, the yellow-brown, bare starkness of the mountains takes over, till one hits the snow line. So there you have it, green, brown, white followed by the azure sky. (Picture on the right)
En route to Pangong, we crossed Chang La, the third highest pass in the world(Right). On our trip, we'd traverse both numero dos and tres, but numero uno, which is also in the same region, we had no time for. The road from Chang La vindicated our early departure. At many places, our car had to simply wade through water. After about a five hour drive, we finally reached the Pangong Tso.
So, what is the Pangong Tso? 'Tso' is Tibetan for 'Lake'. The Pangong Tso is a saltwater lake at an altitude of 14000 feet. It doesn't support aquatic life and its pure blue water, set with a backdrop of bright, bare mountains offers a view to kill for. The water changes its colour as the angle of the sunlight shifts during the day. The lake itself is 180 kilometers long, two-thirds in Tibet, but visitors are allowed only for the first seven.

(The blue waters of Pangong Tso)

We relaxed for a while by the lake and its freezing cold water before finally returning to Leh. Upon arrival, we indulged in our daily dose of crazy behaviour, and then retired for the night. Tomorrow there would be two.

(Right: Gussu during our daily dose of crazy behaviour)

The Circle of Life: Chapter 5: Spiritual Growth (Leh Days 1 and 2)

It’s quite ironic that I’m listening to the song “Fragile” as I write this. But this was exactly the condition all of us were in that evening we landed in Leh. But we were hardened travelers by now and after a short break we decided to head off to the Shanti Stupa to catch the sunset from the highest point in the city.
As we wound our way through the small town, already beginning to fall in love with it, we found ourselves crossing various picturesque garden cafés with amazing food. One notable thing was that most of the tourists in Leh were not Indian. But the place simply exudes beauty. The buildings are beautiful, the mountains are beautiful, the clouds, the people, their faces and their hearts simply display beauty like its everyday!

Anyway, when we finally wound up at the bottom of flights of what seemed like a zillion steps leading to the stupa, we did give climbing them a second thought. The oxygen was still fairly hard to find, we’d just come off the back of a really hard journey, and most importantly, my three companions had varying levels of vertigo. Dhar dropped off halfway and decided to spend his time on the stairs, while the rest of us proceeded upward, huffing to a halt every ten steps. Adding insult to injury was this excited little local kid who was looking to race us to the top. Needless to say, we lost that undeclared race. After reaching the top in over half an hour, we got a great panoramic sunset view of Leh and the surrounding mountains and decided to hurtle down quickly, so that we could reach the bottom before it was dark. We also counted the stairs on the way down to land up at a figure of 624 which is still disputed with great zest amongst the four of us.

(Above: The Shanti Stupa, Leh and sunset from the Shanti Stupa)
In all, we’d had a great day, but bad news was right around the corner. At night when Manu spoke to his parents, they asked him to fly back to Delhi when we were done with Leh and there was no way they were going to let him enter Kashmir on their way back. It was dangerous, and they would have none of it. Quite obviously, this spelled disaster because it put us on waitlists for our respective families to call and do the same. The families had been spooked because we had stayed out of touch the one day we had got stranded at Kangla Jal. Wasn’t our fault, but they too had a point.
As the next day dawned, any disappointment we had from the previous night got washed away. Manu and I had what was called the “City View” room and was essentially a lone room on the terrace of the hotel. As I walked out onto the terrace early that morning, I could hear the Buddhist chant of “Om Mani Padme Hum” echoing from the city through a loudspeaker. This was just the relaxing start we needed after what we had been through. Having had such a great start to the day we did what had become a rare phenomenon, something civil society calls ‘Breakfast’. Today we’d go in and around Leh, to ancient monasteries and palaces. Somewhere along the way, we’d also have to think up ideas to circumvent what I had begun to call ‘Parental Evacuation’ and save our trip. It wouldn’t be the Circle of Life if it wasn’t a circle, and we’d cover the circle with whatever we had.

(Above: Mantra stones at Thiksey Monastery, Monks announcing prayer time at Thiksey, Buddha statue at Shey, Manu with his newly bought prayer wheel)

With these thoughts in mind we headed to the ancient Thiksey Monastery, where we discovered that today was a very auspicious day. The full moon of the sixth month of the year was when The Buddha was born and also attained enlightenment. Today was that day and today would be a day of celebration and prayer. We were extremely lucky to have witnessed this event, complete with the prayer Ricola’s announcing the beginning of the prayer, and the gathering of all monks in the same room, that was beginning to resonate with the mellow, rhythmic chanting of the ceremonial prayer. Following this we visited the Shey Monastery and the Stok Palace where all of us got a very inspirational lecture on the cycle of life and death from an old monk. Having returned to Leh in the afternoon, we sampled Kashmiri cuisine and headed to the Leh Palace, which was actually the first place on the whole trip that we couldn’t talk about for hours. After having dealt with the Leh Palace, I embarked on a solo foot trip around Leh town. It turns out that Leh is in fact one of those nice little towns one can walk across. On return, I found Stenzing waiting with the other three guys. Stenzing was an acquaintance of Manu’s mother’s and pretty much embodies everything that’s nice and lovely about the people of Leh. Stenzing volunteered to show us around town and took us to the Sindhu Ghat, the banks of the Indus, where the Sindhu Darshan Festival is held every year. The Sindhu Ghat gave us our second consecutive great sunset, this time across the windy and picturesque Indus valley. He then took us to his abode, where we were treated like kings and then on exit we realized what makes the people of any place great-mutual trust and respect. Stenzing had installed in his house, a bolt on the open door that could be opened from outside as well. Upon asking him what would happen if someone else would come and open his house and steal all that was inside, plop came the reply, “That doesn’t happen here sir. Delhi, you’d have your house emptied within minutes, but here, that sort of a thing doesn’t happen.” This is what makes a place great. And unfortunately there are very few such great places left.

(Above: Giant prayer flag at Stok, Leh skyline by evening, Dhar's moon silhouette, With Stenzing at Sindhu Ghat)
We were feeling great on one end, but on the other, Parental Evacuation was beginning to weigh on our minds. And some bad news came in at night. We were to pass through one of the camps of the Amarnath Yatra, which is sometimes marred by terrorist trouble. While were clear that this was probabilistic and we wanted to take our chances, atleast two sets of parents thought otherwise, the other two, being mine and Dhar’s had still not sent in a word. That night Gussu’s dad forbade him from coming back through Kashmir.
He had just received information from someone in the Border Security Force that it was extremely unsafe to go that way. Manu’s mother had just left the decision to him in a fit of exasperation, but it was clear that he’d have to fly back if Gussu flew back. Dhar’s parents were still considering things, and I hadn’t heard from mine. Things didn’t look good, but this was no time to sulk.
For tomorrow morning, we’d visit probably the best place we had ever visited in our short lives- The Pangong Tso.