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An Ode To Road-Trips

I’ve come to realize that road trips are life-defining rites of passage, with each kilometer teaching us something about patience, humility, teamwork, family, kindness…along with sharing an understanding of how vast the world is, and how varied its topography, accent, and personality.

Over the centuries, the open road has signified hope, adventure and escape. It has also meant limits, dead ends, loss. But with each turn, each nook and cranny, travelers have found a life lesson that has left them a little wiser.

With a tank full of fuel and the promise of opportunity, road trips have always given the traveler a reason to smile. I wasn’t too big on them until recently, when after 6 months of lockdown we decided to drive down to Goa, a 7hour road journey that we’d taken several times in the past. What changed this time? I wish I could point my finger and share with you the exact moment, but I think it was a combination of minimal (or rather no) social interaction, the feeling of freedom on seeing the vast stretch of the highway, and the exhilaration of being out in the open again. I savored each and every moment of that drive, and I can still feel the wind on my face, smell the fresh jungle air, be awed by the dense foliage of the Western Ghats. 2020 taught us a lot, and one of the things I learned to appreciate was the good old Indian road-trip.

The next road trip to follow this adventurous getaway was a world apart- this time, the roads took us through the mighty Himalayas, through twists and turns on narrow roads built (and excellently maintained) by the Border Road Organisation at heights as great as 18,000ft above sea level, cutting through the vast expanse of sand-dunes, a constant companion of the Indus River that snaked its way through the valley.

We had arrived in Leh on 20th March 2021, and after 3 days of acclimatizing, we set off on this road trip to Tso Moriri, a gorgeous lake that lay 8hours away. We had met someone at the guesthouse we were staying in who had shown interest in visiting Tso Moriri, so we ended up making this plan the night before the journey, and on the morning of the 24th, we packed our overnight bags and headed out towards Tso Moriri, the cold morning air (it was -5deg that morning) ensuring that we stayed in our warm clothes even inside the heated car.

We started the journey of 233km, through a highway that took us through the most scenic landscapes, stopping at roadside restaurants where we were assured of fresh, hot food and relatively clean toilets (read all about the toilet situation in the note here) The driver didn’t talk much, but our companion-a young woman who I’d describe as an entrepreneur, an author, a storyteller, a passionate tea-brewer (she dons many hats, and I think that’s why I connected so well with her!)- had a lot of stories to share. She told us about her time in Sweden, her visits to the remote areas in India’s war-torn region, her experience in a monastery, her friendships with travelers who stopped by at her homestay in Dharamkot, her tryst with the world of art & literature in Pakistan (can you believe she’s only 30?! I am so inspired just thinking of her 😊) Lovingly and at length, she discussed everything from language and travel to spirituality and politics. How could I complain? I was getting a lovely tour of the landscape while receiving a first-hand account of the world I longed to be a part of.

The journey was a collage of images- narrow roads snaking through the mountains, with peaks towering so high above us that one had to stick their head out of the window to see the entire mountain, sepia-toned afternoons of sunlight and dust, rocky restaurant patios, laughter and Ladakhi music filling the air. I remember being cold, I remember being thirsty, drinking a lot of water, frantically looking for clean toilets on the highway, ultimately giving up and braving the cold to relieve myself behind huge boulders, relishing hot aloo parathas with milk tea, and stopping by at scenic places to click truckload of photos. I can still taste the meal we had in a small restaurant just off the highway in Chumathang, a place known for its hot springs. The owner, a kind lady of around 50, greeted us like long-lost friends, and immediately put out a flask of hot water to our table without anyone even so much as whispering “water” After this, she served us a sumptuous meal of aloo paratha-sabji-rajma with hot tea, a meal we relished after being on the road for over 10 hours (we had to return to Leh the same day, since our plans of staying overnight in Tso Moriri were canceled because of -25deg temperatures with low oxygen levels: the homestays were not allowed permission to host travelers)

Eventually, we reached Leh after 15hours of being on the road. We were happy for the journey, as well as the end. I am profoundly grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, a road trip that introduced me to a wonderful woman (who I have made several travel plans with already!) and showed me the meaning of trust, honesty, and community.

This road trip helped me understand that life is full of possibility, and mystery and one must listen to that voice in their head, that voice that tells them to seize opportunities and adventures, and not live life with “what ifs” That feeling flows through me again today as I write this, and I am blessed to be given the opportunity to learn so much.

Here’s to more road trips, stories, and connections that last a lifetime. 

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