*‘From the Journals’ is a new series of posts on Adventures of Potli Baba that features the experiences, observations and gamut of emotions that stay with me long after my journey is complete.*
It was 11 p.m. An icy wind came roaring from the snow-capped Himalayas and knocked against the windows of my room. I didn’t pay much attention; my mind was on next day’s drive to Khardung-La, the world’s highest motorable road. In six hours, I would be 18,400 feet above sea level and living a childhood dream.
The road to Khardung-La is quite treacherous – melted snow forms a sheath of slush on the narrow mud roads, giving them the appearance of chocolate gelato gone wrong. With jagged mountains on one side and a sheer drop on the other, our 4X4 struggles to stay on the slippery roads. I’m torn between praying for life, keeping my eyes peeled on the road and catching a glimpse of the magnificent Leh valley below us – a palette of blues, greens and browns dotted with compact, boxy homes.
As we inch our way upwards, the landscape gradually changes from plain rock to snow-streaked sections with icicles hanging over the road’s edge. I grow impatient, wanting to leap out and touch the snow. Minutes later, the 4X4 comes to a halt at the top of Khardung-La and my wish is granted. “You guys are lucky”, our driver says, “It snowed just a few hours ago.”
My pink down jacket is the only spot of colour in a blanket of white. (Well, that and cars full of tourists, but my sensory overdrive blocks out everything except the snow.) I quell my excitement and slowly, almost nonchalantly, walk towards the nearest pile – it would be easy to blame my high-pitched bursts of excitement on the lack of oxygen at that level, but years of conditioning have taught me to behave lady-like amidst strangers. My fast-freezing fingers pick up a handful and I blink my eyes rapidly in an attempt to stop my brain from reacting to the icy cold of the snow, but the sensation of holding thousands of shimmering diamonds stays. It’s the first time I have ever seen or touched snow; the experience is unreal.
I feel its coolness against my palm seconds before it starts to turn to liquid. My mouth savours the feather-like kisses of the fresher flakes before they melt on my tongue. They taste of Bollywood song sequences and snow angels and ice skating in faraway places that I have only been to in my head. More than anything, they taste of a 10-year old girl’s dream to see snow someday.
A smile of pure delight bursts from somewhere deep inside me, and I become that 10-year old again.
I sat sipping a cup of steaming Ginger-Lemon tea from the army canteen at Khardung-La and drank in the sight of snow. My eyes moved rapidly over every bit of the white landscape, etching an image in my mind for posterity. I couldn’t stop smiling and thought, this moment can’t get any more perfect.
It did, though.
It started snowing again.