We were supposed to begin the day with a 7 km trek through the desert. It turned out to be a 6 km walk on the village road, with one final sandy bit. We had been warned the ‘trek’ would take atleast a couple of hours. We finished it in slightly over an hour, without any breaks. Stanzin smiled sheepishly and told us that Indians normally took a long time to walk this stretch and stopped for breaks every ten minutes. The destination point had been the famous Bactrian camel ride near Hundar. We were very early and after running up and down the sand dunes for a while, finally decided to get the camel owners to get moving on the ride bit.
Bactrian camels, unlike normal camels, are double humped. I watched with wonder as they appeared into view. Unlike the lovely photographs I had seen before, their humps were kind of sagging over their backs. Besides, they all looked terribly tall. Mine looked terribly annoyed. After I got onto it, he was persuaded to stand up. Then he looked around and decided to sit down again. One more round of persuasion later, he stood up again. Each time, he decided to do his squats, I lurched, my heart lurched, the world around me lurched. Throughout the fifteen minute ride, I sat clutching the rug tied to the camel with my sweaty palms. Many photos later, we were done.
After checking out of the Olathang Hotel where we were staying and grabbing a bite, we decided to visit the Diskit monastery. Sachin and Sandeep, enthused by the morning walk, decided to walk it up. The rest of us, wisely refrained from exercising our limbs in a post lunch stupor and took the vehicle. At any rate, it was not long before the duo joined us at the monastery.
Diskit’s monastery is old and situated on a picturesque mountaintop. It has plenty of staircases leading to various hidden corners and locked doors. Also, being in the less frequented Nubra, it did not have quite as many visitors. We decided to park ourselves in one of those stairways that wrapped itself around the monastery. The view was stunning. The only sounds were that of a river flowing nearby and Sandeep trying various threads of conversation as the rest of us sat in silence.
After some general quiet and peace, it was time to move on to Hundar, our next stop. The guesthouse here was not so fancy. But it was by far the best in terms of a view. Our rooms were located in a lovely cottage with a lovelier porch. The porch faced the mountainside and we could see an old monastery perched somewhere in the middle. When we walked about town in the evening, we realized that this old monastery was not frequented often and had a narrow, long and steep walk up to it. We stuck to the relatively popular and comfortably accessible town monastery.
Aswath, (winner of the moniker ‘go-getter Nirvana seeker’), plopped down to meditate. Everyone tried it for a while. Boy! sitting on crossed legs with a straight back is quite torturous. Give me stretching my legs by walking any day and a while later I decided to give up on religion and begin exploring nature alongside the nearby river. Everyone joined and all of us chose our spots and did our own thing. As I sang corny old 90s Hindi songs to myself, confident that no one would hear me above the sound of the river, Sachin amused himself by singling out the sound of the river in different spots and Priyanthi simply lay on a rock and looked at the sky.
We walked back up and started chatting with the military guys there. They were guarding a bridge that had ‘no access beyond this point’ signs plastered clearly. This turned out to be the road to Siachen, one of the contentious border areas that India has with Pakistan. Postings to Siachen can be long and lonely and at that altitude, even eating becomes painful. The army chap smiled wryly when we told him we loved the mountains. ‘Try seeing them for one year continuously’ he commented, mocking my definitely urban soul.
Back at the guesthouse, the completely unused pack of cards was finally used, while we waited for 8.30 p.m. – our dinner slot. Given limited dining space and a limited kitchen, all of us had to pre-order the food and show up at the scheduled time. Except, our scheduled time got pushed as the single handyman running the show scurried about. Eventually, we were served. Priyanthi and I sat and cast quizzical glances at each other when we spied a Bengali couple, clearly on their honeymoon, being chaperoned by an elderly gentleman. The handyman, meanwhile, in an effort to be chatty with his customers, asked us if we were sisters. We both spontaneously replied ‘Yes’. The idea of trying to explain that we were friends, who looked similar, just seemed too tiring and unnecessary