The Last Day in Ladakh
Day 10: Chumathang to Leh City
I woke up after a warm night’s sleep, the warmest in Ladakh, to begin the last day in the region. I packed my luggage and loaded up Ebony. In stark contrast to all the cold mornings, Ebony started instantly. The warm night and the instant start were attributed to the natural hot spring, which the valley was known for. I stayed in a budget hotel next to it. I let the engine heat up in idle and moved toward the compound to gaze at the sight in front of me.
A hundred metres ahead, the hot spring released waves of vapours into the atmosphere. A little farther, the teal-coloured River Indus flowed north-west towards Leh which became my navigational guide for the day.
The bike had idled long enough and it was time for me to get on the saddle. The road leading out of Chumathang was broken but was better than the road from Lukung to Chushul. My mind drifted back to the days I had spent in Pangong Tso, Nubra Valley, Khardung La, Lamayuru and Leh city. And further back to a burning thought that was the reason behind me starting this ride.
Bangalore, the place of my birth, is the only city I’ve called home. My father and his fathers have their roots in Devanahalli, which is an hour away from Bangalore. In the 80’s he came here to study and eventually built a life for himself and the family. I came into this world in 1994 in the Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences hospital. I studied up till tenth grade in St. Claret High school and the next two years in Vidya Mandir Pre-University College. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Sir. M Visvesvaraya Institute of Technology. All of my extended family live in Bangalore and so do all of my oldest and most of my closest friends. Bangalore, a city close to my heart, a city I shall always call ‘Home’. Yet, for the longest time, I’ve felt estranged here.
Like every other soul on this planet, I’ve been searching for that place which has my name written all over it. After riding through 20 of the Indian states in 2018, I thought I’d found it – Mumbai. I fell head over heels in love with the city of dreams! The hyper-fast life, the energetic people and the ambition that seemed to be dosed in the air of Mumbai drew me in like a flame that draws a moth. As a young adult, with eyes on the business world and making wealth, Mumbai seemed to be the perfect fit. But life had other plans.
I had completed my previous trip ‘Long Way Round‘ in April of 2018 after which, I had a choice to either get back to work and travel once in a year or live life by and for travel. I had chosen the former. In May 2019, I went on a short 4 day ride to Kerala and this is what I had posted on my Instagram (@mentlmanja).
“Man, I had an amazing time these four days. I really needed it and I’m so glad I decided to take this break from work. But I’ve been wanting too many breaks, haven’t I? Well, it doesn’t matter, I’ve got to push through it because I need the money to keep travelling like this” I said to myself.
It felt good that my mind was looping back to the thought that I had on the day that I’d started this ride – the quest to understand this unexplainable, ununderstandable “want” to earn big money.
Ten years back, my family could not afford most of the stuff that we can today. My father gave his blood and sweat for his work and sacrificed ALL of his wants for the family and to get us to the place we are in today. He had to do it all alone as mum was a house maker. But no matter how tough it got, my parents made sure that my sister and I had a happy childhood and gave us all that we needed without a second thought. But giving us things of ‘want’ was something they had to think upon deeply.
I remember an evening when I was in my 4th grade. My old rusty second – hand bicycle which I’d named Raja had been stolen a few months earlier. As a kid, I loved riding a bicycle! (perhaps my love for riding motorcycles began then) and I desperately craved for a new one. I asked Appa for a new Hercules, one of the popular brands then, that was priced Rs. 2500/-. An amount that was not as easy to earn then as it is today. He asked me to wait another year and I broke into tears! I threw myself on the floor and begged him for two hours! Unable to see me so sad, he finally took me out to fulfil my desire.
A stark contrast to our limited lifestyle was that of my uncle, who was a man of rich taste. He indulged in the luxuries of life to which I was a witness. And I guess that influenced me. For the longest time, I’ve dreamt of wearing a Hugo Boss suit and a Tag Heuer watch, chauffeured in a BMW 7 Series to a 5 – star hotel to meet with HNI clients. For the longest time, I’ve wanted to live the ‘high life’.
Maybe, the reason I chose to get back to work once I returned from Long Way Round was partly to live that life of extravagance, which I got to do this year. I got to indulge in some of the ‘rich’ experiences that I, as a kid, saw my uncle indulge in. I thought they’d make me happy but they never seemed to satisfy my heart. Something was missing.
I joined this company with the sole intention to earn. Maybe the motivation to work for money has dwindled down since the life funded by that earning isn’t fully satisfying. Maybe, that’s why I’ve been wanting too many breaks lately.
“I believe that a person finds motivation to work for three reasons – passion, money or gratitude”, I had stated in an IGTV video that I’d made. ‘Working for money’ could mean ‘working for sustenance’ and/or ‘working for bigger aspirations in life’ and at the time, I didn’t see a distinction between the two. After this trip, I see that they are two sides of a coin. ‘Working for bigger aspirations in life’ is a lot like passion, heck, it is a passion. It requires unwavering determination, relentless dedication and ceaseless effort. Earning ‘big money’ was surely a big desire of mine, considering it’s been with me for ages, but I knew that it certainly was not my passion.
These four days of riding have given me more happiness than all the other experiences I’ve had in the city in the year that went by. Maybe, the road is where I ought to be.”
What I was missing was the beat of my heart and my heart would beat only on the motorcycle. A city, any city, any luxury would not make me “dil se happy”. The path ahead was clear.
The dream of living the ‘high life’ was retired, framed and placed on the mantle as a memory of a former self.
I put my papers down in the last week of June ’19, spent four months trying to find a sustainable way to live a life of travelling. Once I did, I got on the saddle to ride the great Himalayas.
And that brings me to this final day in Ladakh. Where a long quest seemed to have come to an end. I had finally found what I was looking for – the place where I felt belonged. It was on the road and in the vast, barren, cold, magnificent land that I’d come to love so dearly.
Ebony had to be returned that evening, which left me with little time to explore the many points of interest that lined the road to Leh.
The first was Stakna Gompa. Gompa means monastery in Ladakhi. Gonpa, Gumba are other versions of the same. The monastery looked majestic on top of the hill, with the blue background. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go in.
Like I’d mentioned, this road is lined with attractions. After a very short time on the road from Stakna, I took a right towards Thiksey monastery. I was stopped immediately by the imposing view of the Gompa and the traditional Ladakhi houses built around it. I rode to the top and made my way back down to head to Shey Monastery. Then to the Druk Padma Karpo School where the iconic Bollywood film ‘3 idiots’ was shot. The Choglamsar Gompa had to be savoured from a farther distance.
Druk Padma Karpo School
NH 1: Srinagar – Leh
I reached Leh by 5 P.M. and dropped my dear Ebony off with whom I’d travelled for ten days and enjoyed every single moment.
A stone’s throw away from the bike rental shop was a German cafe with an open courtyard. As the sky turned dark, I sat relaxed at the centre table and sipped on a cup of piping hot tea. The owner, Stanzin, an adorable and sweet woman kept me company till I finished my cup. In a way, she was the personification of Ladakh with her kindness, beauty and joy.
Day 11: Leh – Delhi
A shared cab dropped me off at the very busy Kushok Bakula Rinpoche Airport of Leh city at 6 in the morning where I boarded my flight to the Indira Gandhi International Airport of a very smoggy Delhi. The first order of business upon landing was to pick up my sweetheart – El Poderosa!