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Truckking Ladakh

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Truck ride in Ladakh

Truck ride in Ladakh

Truckking really, did you think I meant trekking?

Ladakh is the high mountain, I mean Himalayan, desert region on the eastern side of Kashmir. We lived in California then. We hiked 2000 foot mountains, several of them, for what seems like months now, hoping to trek the Himalayas. At 18000 ft in Leh, capital city of Ladkah region, we realized that there was no way we were going to breathe and walk at the same time. So, trekking was clearly out.

Renting a FWD car would have been an excellent option but we were feeling adventurous. We decided to take the bus instead. There was a bus every 6 hours but that would work for us. We would hop from one village to next by the early morning bus. Thinly padded seats, bone weary rides, school kids of all ages with not one blue jersey matching other in color, women and goats going to the market, men folk sitting on the roof… we loved it all – it was home turf. After the first two bus rides, we realized that time table was followed optionally. Somehow, the villagers knew when the solitary bus would arrive – as if they had a pact with the driver. But for the rest of us, going from one village to other, separated by 20 kms, would take half a day. The 6 o’clock could arrive any time between 5 and 9. I guess it wouldn’t matter to the school kids – teachers reach the school at the same time as they.

Someone suggested hitching a ride on a truck. Why not, we thought. After all, there was only one road to bind them all. We couldn’t get lost. We hitched with one. The drivers were two skinny young men badly in need of a shave and shower. In a place where porcelain toilets are luxury and hot water scarce, we weren’t complaining. They sat us in the front cabin which was more comfortable – at least it had thinly padded seats, out back would be riding with the goats. They bought us apricots at the village. As they sat spitting the seeds out of the front window, we realized we were riding in a truck without the windshield window. C’est la vie, the view was clearer, and august air cool on the skin.

After the first ride, we stuck to hitching with trucks. We even rode a petrol truck. Sometimes we traveled with other passengers, mostly army men. They talked of border skirmishness but mostly they talked about their families they hadn’t seen in years. Wherever we stopped, we would drink a cup of tea. Innumerable cups of chai is part of Ladakh experience. Made with condensed milk, tea tends to be super sweet. We tried the salty chai, which is more like tea soup. No yak butter though, just some regular butter.

A road sign on Leh-Kargil highway

A road sign on Leh-Kargil highway

Ladakh is gorgeous – Yosemite multiplied hundred times. Some of the most exciting views of Ladkah can be had when the trucks make hairpin turns on the narrow road, on one side the mountains rise 2000 feet high and on the other side the drop is 2000 feet. But it is harsh way of life. We didn’t blame them for wanting all that we were getting away from – hustle and bustle, modern amenities and entertainment.

Travel Note: Hitching a ride with trucks in generally not a safe thing to do. Roads are unsafe, the drivers race each other, and there are no seat belts. Many drive 48-72 hours without sleeping or sufficient rest. They also constitute core transmitter populations for HIV and STDs. I think we got lucky and the fact that we spoke Hindi and some Punjabi made our experience significantly easier. On the positive side, Srinagar-Leh Highway is the only major road connecting all the major tourist spots, so chances of getting lost while hitchhiking is rather low.

Written by locomotoring

May 30, 2008 at 1:52 am

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