Emotionally I had moved on quickly. As soon as Morgan saw me onto the bus I had made a new friend and then I threw myself headfirst into adventure. Again, I luxuriated in independence.
White knuckled I glanced down the loose rock and dirt cliff face. Spine-chilling, cliff hanging hairpin bends led me to ponder if we about to join the unnerving number of burnt out truck carcasses that dotted the hillside. While my mind was caught somewhere amid the taste of adventure and the horrors of death my body was wedged sideways between a young French girl and a thigh bruising gearstick. And springing up through the middle were the fresh sprouts of freedom. Surreal and spectacular lunar-scape views ran across the windscreen, ice blue rivers, green grassed plateaus and a backseat full of carsick grown men. I was on my way to the 14 day Ladakhi festival in the Himalayan town of Leh but a few hours into the 22 hour ultimate endurance jeep ride we hit a road block. A truck had fallen into a hole. Surprisingly it only took 2 hours and some true Indian initiative for the cavity to be filled. Rocks, chipped out of the adjacent and unsteady mountainside were haphazardly thrown in the hole and eventually the truck was able to joggle off. This was the first of a string of delays including a landslide, multiple police check points and periodic spew bag emptying stops. Arriving at Leh in the middle of the night our driver had to comb the town for open guest houses, this added an extra couple of hours to his driving time, his stamina was phenomenal, my new head cold was not.
I spent the first few days in Leh choking on the thin 3500m altitude and watching the slow and unusual traditional dancing, polo matches and music concerts. Acclimatisation never properly took hold before I brainlessly joined a group of seven, much fitter than me men on a climb up to the summit of the Stock Kangri (6100m), a really high mountain. Unearthly moonscapes made me feel like I was in a documentary in a land far away. I gasped, trudged and struggled up that mountain and at around 5000m the clouds parted and a message reached me loud and clear. I wasn’t going to make it. Moving my legs had become a really hard task and any type of minor exertion caused my chest to heave and my heart to beat wildly. I was completely ill equipped in equipment and physicality and turned back 1000m severely short of the mark. Heading back to my tent in the dark, I was alone, freezing and felt on top of the world.
To contrast the endless grey dirt of Ladakh I followed up my Himalayan adventure with a dousing of fresh oxygen and lush greenery in the Parvati valley. Although I’d only travelled a few hours down the road, one would have been forgiven for thinking I had entered Israel. The land was awash with Israeli backpackers and boy did I feel out of place. Mustering through the herds of Israelis I caught wind of a nearby ancient and remote village whose occupants were either the descendants of Aryans or Alexander the Great’s army, either way strict traditions and unchanged customs stood strongly in place. Rating supremely high on the interesting scale, I was supremely interested and wasted no time to bound my way up the 3 hour hill hike from a taxi drop off point which I made with my Israeli friend, Noa who I had been traveling with since Leh.
Entering the outskirts of this mysterious and misty mountain village a peculiar energy hung in the air. The village itself was quaint but eerie and harboured large old wooden barn houses dispersed amongst the dense, green marijuana forest. There were signs everywhere not to touch anything or else face a fine which would cover the cost of the sacrificial goat needed to cleanse the object that had been contaminated with primitive energy. Steering close to any sacred site (which seemed to be most of the village and the surrounding forest) was met with wide eyed panic and yelling: “don’t touch, don’t touch”. After dumping our packs in the only accomodation available we set out for closer inspection of this bizarre place and walked straight into the middle of a full-blown funeral. A few moments of dumfounded shock was followed by an appointed detour-er who led us swiftly around and away from the ceremony. This unfortunate death left us with an empty village open for the exploring and what a magical place it was, mainly untouched by the modern world we kicked ourselves stupid for not carrying a camera. Purchasing from the town’s shop proved a novelty as goods were not allowed to be passed directly between us. Our shopkeeper therefore left our products on the ground for retrieval and payment was made in the same way. Groups of adults would part for us as we passed. Kids would squeal and run away, the older ones made daring leaps across our path, the youngest yelled obsenities. This place was undoubtably intriguing but it was obvious we were not welcome and thus opted to hot foot it out of there as soon as there was a break in the thunderous rain storm that took hold of the mountain the following morning. We weren’t the only ones waiting for a break in the weather, making our way back down the mountain we encountered truck loads of police on their way up. They made periodic trips up there to slash the naturally growing marijuana forest and conduct raids aiming at nabbing anybody caught making, buying or selling Malana Cream (hashish). Every few minutes we were stopped and interrogated by each troop but each time were allowed to continue on our way after we politely answered their questions.
Seeking a rest from the exhausting adventures I parted ways with Noa to relax in the peaceful town of Manali. Entering a cafe I saw him sitting there, alone, eating his lunch. I had first spotted him in a packed yoga class in Rishikesh, then at the Dalai Lama’s teachings, across the polo pitch in Leh and now five towns later in that cafe. I felt since we kept “running into each other” it was fitting to strike up a conversation and after discovering we were both heading to Rajasthan we decided to unite in travel. I’ll name him Dick, I don’t actually remember his real name and I’m not surprised I wiped it from my memory. What I do know is I should have never approached him in the cafe that day.