Sunday, November 04, 2007

Just Got 'Leh'ed

Disclaimer: The article is written with my heart soaked in words, under the influence of Albert Camus' short story, 'The Adulterous woman'.

Just Got 'Leh'ed: diaries of a conscious mind
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Breathless! The first few steps on its soil and it takes your breath away. Breath; the basic premise of an existance. Breath; with all its monosyllabic cohorts; that basic involuntary action that the brain has taken over since time immemorial and controls like clockwork; like its life depended on it. Breath; in all its pristine form, that age-old pastime, passed down from generation to generation, a religion in itself, a belief believed by all, unsullied by the other processes that govern the republic of our being. Sensation, temptation, rational, logic, perchance to dream, wants, desires, needs; in a swift bloodless coup d’etat the need to breathe takes over all sensations. A faint gasp is heard if not felt, emanating from within the dark hollows of a vast labyrinth; Motionless; all your sensations are focused to the task at hand, to plead your case and negotiate a truce. A truce of immaculate conceptions, a truce without a plan but only with intentions. The only intention to catch your breath, to catch it and never let it go again. Breathless! It takes your breath away and in an ephemeral moment gives it back to you. And at that moment you are acclimatized; a conscious decision.

The flight that transports you there is filled with foreigners waiting to explore this lonely planet as much as you endeavor. Excitement of the unknown wipes the synapses that form whatever off your face and replace them with a subtle mirthfulness. You are alone and have no idea of the kind of people and experiences you are about to encounter. But you are prepared and have packed appropriately; that open mind and that adventurous spirit; yes they always come in handy. You wonder if there are any other people on the flight enroute to their very first ‘Tour de Leh’. You look around and start to read faces as you search the sea of literature for Indian authors and find just a few from amongst the multitude. You wonder why such few Indians choose to explore their own land, which lies in the backyard of their minds. Just then you see another such wanderer trying to find her place amongst the trekkers. She is not dressed for trekking and she feels out of place. Her dark beady mascara brimmed eyes meet yours and she wonders whether to start a conversation or not, but decides otherwise. At the other end of the itinerary you exchanges inklings of a smile and wonder again if your immediate destination is the same, the ‘Tour de Leh’. You find your way to base camp from the airport and start to get acquainted with the proceedings of the day. Just then you bump into each other again and exchange names and a laugh without much resistance. A resistance to things provoked by rational over the years that you need make acquaintances with waders who have been and will be trudging the same path and thought routes, and you decide to let go of that rational for a while; you’ve done it before; a conscious decision.

“Rest. Sleep. Acclimatize”, those rules border on the edge of discordance, and in the end the spirit of the rule wins. Err well you decide to go and ‘rest’ on the top of some mountain. So you travel from an altitude of around 10500 feet to around 12000 feet and visit the Hemis monastery. The west wind unwinds through you a rejuvenation of thoughts long lost to the battles of daily routine. From there you trek to 13400 feet to visit a lone Lama in a cave. Its imaginative beauty lures you on and each step tries to keep you back. And just then, in the height of the moment, you realize that maybe you aren’t following the so called spirit of the rule. You are not ready, you are not acclimatized. Back at the Hemis monastery canteen oxygen is what you search for on the menu, but instead you find the next best thing. A boiling hot glass of lime water, something that you will crave for during the rest of the tour. If a restaurant doesn’t serve Getafix’s magic potion, then it is not worthy of your presence. After heading to Shey palace and Thikse monastery another one who decided to follow your so called spirit of the rule, decides to konk off. No, his engine does not give up its ghost but it does crank and give up all its inputs for the day. Your engine however seems to be working just fine as it pumps fluid at 52 times a minute. You shut your eyes, count your stars and drift between consciousness and never never land; a conscious decision.

The day dawns on you as you prepare for the acclimatization walk to Leh palace situated in the heart of the city. The covert operation of the previous day; the acclimatization trek; warrants a tougher route to the top and so some rock climbing is unanimously agreed upon. After leading somewhere; all routes lead somewhere; you come down and follow the winding route to the top, you engulf the city below and the horizon beyond it. And like the rulers of the past you let your hearts lay siege to the winds that whisper their way through the fascinating labyrinth of winding streets and quaint bazaars below. As the others decide to call it a walk, you decide that your boots are mean’t for climbing and you head to Shanti Stupa. The flat platform on the top sparks a kind of inclination to the theatrical masks within. As each actor plays the role their heart desires you decide to let go and let the camera within you search for their beauty. In a three dimensional space you move around as you occupy those infinite angles, knowing that everything is beautiful given the space and time to discover that beauty. You flirt with them all; the meditating woman, the TV anchor, the man with the beard, the Tai Chi in motion, the sunset child, the Polaroid model, the brown window, the flowing water on the road, each character outperform themselves, a performance worthy of its surroundings. You are enamored by them all; a conscious decision.

Another day, another calling. It beckons the Lance Armstrong in each of you to test your endurance and geared cycling ability over a 15 km route. As you go downhill you zoom past the airport and visit a monastery only to question the nature enthusiasts within you, as you decide to clean the hillside of the garbage that others have littered. The route back seems tough as gravity pulls you down to remind you of your place on earth and of the soldiers that protect our land as you catch your breath at the war museum, only to be re-energised by their heroic climbs dodging bullets to reclaim what is ours, as you climb your way back to basecamp. Tired and excited you head towards the city grounds to treat yourselves and your slightly aching muscles to a polo match and then to lose yourselves in the quaint bazaars and find yourselves again. The night calls for a group meeting with the camp leader as he lets you through the pitfalls of taking risks as he narrates an incident where someone from a previous group zoomed down a slope and at a turn tried to avoid a car and went into the valley, resulting in some temporary reconstruction surgery of the lower jaw at the army base. You chose your captain, ironically nicknamed ‘captain’ as you decide to stick together as a team the coming days; a conscious decision.

Finally thinking that you are acclimatized you awake in yet another predawn and prepare for the start of the ‘Tour de Leh’. The plan is to complete the route in 6 days doing an average of 40 kms a day. Flaged off and spirits intact you set onwards to a place called Basgo. The vastness of the barren land offers you a treat like no other. The silence of the wind, as it whispers in your face, carries the sound of your every movement, every heartbeat, every sensation; as the beads of perspiration find their way to the earth to acknowledge its hospitality. A lunch break at Guru Granth Sahib Gurdwara and you set off to Basgo. A kilometer from camp and you realize that you’ve been screwed, or unscrewed for that matter as you notice your pedal screw has decided to abandon its task. Without a spare at camp you have two choices; panic as you may be left behind the next day or take your camera and capture the abstract as you walk down the road you came along, knowing that you’ll find that pin in the haystack. You choose the latter and shoot abstractness as you bounce along the road alone. You don’t intend it to be abstract, you intend to capture reality but in some cases it just turns out that reality itself is abstract. You decide to counter panicky thoughts by flirting with the abstract, until you find the part in question. You were so close to getting screwed, but not just yet; a conscious decision.

The next day you realize that you need to reposition your baggage on the cycle to reduce the strain, and to rub it in your seat is too narrow and your derriere is numb. Lunch along the river Indus and you finally reach Nurla. The camp is along the river and a bridge lies there to be crossed. You head into the mountains and trek along narrow paths. One cyclist decides to test his cycling skills on a path one foot wide, as you capture his exploits. After passing one village you trek ahead to the next village higher up in the mountains. There you are welcomed to a home to break bread with its inhabitants. The old lady offers you whatever she has, including her smiles. After trekking 12 odd kms you trek back to camp and relax under the open roof sprinkled with stars as you reminisce your chance meeting with the lady of the mountains; her simplicity, her openness to accept, her humbleness of heart, her wisdom of humanity; technology changes, humans don’t; a conscious decision.

The next day you head towards Lamayuru which hosts the oldest monastery in Ladakh built in the 10th century. You lunch along the river and allow the cold water to brush your feet and cleanse your soles as you reach the final steep ascent to your camp. A few decide to go the distance by bicycle while the others close the gap on foot and then hitchhike. At camp you find the happiest person you have seen in years. The little boy is adorned with a pink woolen cap and eats rice out of a blue cup. You can't walk away and so you sit down as he willingly poses for you to capture his every move. You don’t exchange words but in a way you have the most wonderful conversation. All children should be like him but some aren’t. You climb the highest point of the monastery to glimpse a panorama of a past present continuous era, that eternal quest to find some purpose to your existence. You decide to visit the monastery early next morning to join the monks in prayer. That night you think of the genuine laughter that emanated from that little kid as he subtly hints that you all need mirrors to remind yourselves of who you are. You look in the mirror hoping to see his reflection; but you don't. And you remind yourself that you all need mirrors to remind yourselves of who you are. To be or not to be, that is the decision; a conscious decision.

Your way back to base camp at Leh is by foot, a bit of hitchhiking down the steep decent, atop a truck to Nurla and finally by bus to Leh. From there you visit Kardung-la which is the highest motorable road in the world at 18380 feet. La means pass in the local language and the road is maintained by the army. The route goes upto Siachen Glacier. In the evening the culmination of your ‘Tour de Leh’ coincides with the close of the Ladakh festival. Tradition echoes in the costumes, in the dances, in the skits and in the atmosphere. At the end all the performers come on stage and start dancing and you are asked to join them and partake of their culture. You haven't danced for a long time; something that turns you on and frees your spirit. You let yourself be seduced, you let go; a conscious decision.

The beliefs of the land; the rules of Buddhism is that there are no rules, there are only guidelines. As someone put it so simply, “It’s about the journey of the mind, to see what’s in there, discard what’s unnecessary and see what it takes to find true happiness.” On the ‘Tour de Leh’, at one instance in space and time, you slip to the rear as you give into temptation. Motionless! You find yourself stop in your tracks, smitten by the winds of the land as they whisper their open secrets. The best gift that you can give anyone is the gift of freedom to be themselves; that’s what Leh has offered you. That ’resonant whisper’ in one of its reincarnations has taken your breath away. Breathless! It takes your breath away, and in a swift bloodless coup d’etat the need to breathe takes over all sensations. A faint gasp is heard if not felt, emanating from within the dark hollows of a vast labyrinth. You have been offered the freedom to be whosoever you want and that thought overwhelms you, cause your soul is on the line; you’ll have no excuses. Motionless; all your sensations are focused on the task at hand, to plead your case and negotiate a truce. A truce of immaculate conceptions, a truce without a plan but only with intentions. The only intention to catch your breath, to catch it and never let it go again. Breathless! It takes your breath away and in an ephemeral moment gives it back to you. “Is everything OK?”, asks someone. You smile, you are flushed. And at that moment you have been acclimatized, you’ve just got ‘Leh’ed; a conscious decision.

14 comments:

Richa said...

beautifully Written!!
Relived the lil bit i gotto experience... :)

Shantanu said...

dear alistair,

wonderfull story in real time ...
it seems an experience of a lifetime.... enjoy it..
hope i would too in the near future....

Gurdeepak said...

got your ref from Trilok. Did all of you guys get Leh'ed? Some record eh!!

;)

Nice read!

Alistair D'souza said...

@ richa
I relived the entire experience when I was writing this :-)

@ shantanu
yup buddy... you should visit the place... chaitali and you would love it...

@ gurdeepak
I think most of us that let go would have got Lehed... yeah some record :-)

I captured Trilok in some videos... he does have excellent control with the bike... we had to be careful while walking but he was using the bike there...
http://www.youtube.com/profile_videos?user=trilokgk

Goli said...

I want to get Leh'ed too... :). I loved the videos, I thought that they were cool.

Richa said...

btw how wud u know... 'she wonders whether to start a conversation or not...'

Alistair D'souza said...

@ richa
well for one thing where she was going was obviously unknown territory... and there were just so many questions on her face...
weren't there :-)

Richa said...

well, dunno ;)

Etchen said...

Lovely!

I think I bneed to pick up another Camus book.

Alistair D'souza said...

@ richa
well then... errr :-)

@ etchen
oh yes... Camus is a good thought provoker... so are you gonna do your thing and buy all his books...
I have quite a few of hi stuff.. yet to complete them all.. loved his 'the stranger' the most...
could relate the story to things...

Aditya Kulkarni said...

Ala-boy, I finally completed reading your blog. Well written :-).

Was it a "conscious decision" to make it so difficult for people like me :-)?

Alistair D'souza said...

@ addi
the word 'conscious' would mean to be aware of your sensations, thoughts, surroundings, sensitivity... basically be aware of oneself and then make that decision while being mentally active, and making the decision with a lot of certainty...

'streams of consciousness' writing comes from similar concepts...

Richa said...

hahaha! lotsa explaining to do :)

Alistair D'souza said...

@ richa
yeah :-) I guess so...