I am not overtly attached to my motorcycle. People often name their motorcycle something before they embark on a motorcycle trip but I have never felt that kind of an attachment. I love this motorcycle for sure. There is a familiarity when I handle it. I know the exact amount of force required to kick start it, I know the exact amount of acceleration required while switching gears and a host of other such seemingly irrelevant stuff about this motorcycle which brings in that effortlessness in my rides. It has been a companion for 7 long years now and I sure prefer it over any other motorcycle for a trip like this. It looks good and grudgingly I would admit it seems to be way more photogenic than me. Motorcycle riders may consider their motorcycles as soul mates and on the other end of the spectrum they may consider it as mere objects. I don’t know where i would fall on that spectrum. It certainly is not a mere object for me but I can’t go as far as calling it a soulmate. I’d say we are just good friends. However there are times when I could say we are something more. Maybe like “friends with benefits”.
Ladakh is one such time. Everyone has a friend who has done a motorcycle trip to Ladakh and all of them have only good things to say. You ride into Ladakh with an incredible amount of hype and one can’t help expectations building up. When expectations are high there is always a chance of disappointment. Anywhere in the world where nature is abundant and overshadows the human footprint tends to have a beautiful charm to it. Some places strike you with their beauty instantly while some take a little time for the beauty to sink in. The burden of expectations can sometimes mess up your experiences. One doesn’t need to worry about all that in Ladakh. The place is incredibly beautiful. I rode into Ladakh with very high expectations and it has exceeded every expectation I had by a wide margin.
I plan to take it easy today. Walk around, sit in cafe’s and reflect on the place and its people. The acclimatization won’t hurt too. I wake up early to a bright sunny morning and head for breakfast nearby. Buddhist chants from a nearby music shop reverberate all across the street. I like the vibe these Buddhist chants bring about in the quiet of the morning fresh mountain air. Breakfast over I set to walk around the place. A few shops have opened, a few are opening up and a few are yet to open. The morning cheer on people’s faces is yet to be diminished by the monotony of routine. A few tourists are out on the streets. Tourists flock this place, both Indian and foreign. There are adventure seekers, there are peace seekers and there are people in between – all mesmerized by the beauty of this place.
The serenity of the morning mountain air interspersed with feeble Buddhist chants playing somewhere in the distance is being disturbed by the loud thuds of a group of motorcycle riders. They are all prepped up to seek their adventures this land has to offer. The excitement they ooze out as they zoom past is infecting me. I got to change my plans. The cafe’s and the reflection on the people can wait. I am in Leh and I got to take the motorcycle out for a spin. The motorcycle as the cliche goes, needs to get Leh’d.
Hemis monastery is where I’ll head. There is a festival going on in the monastery and at 50 Kms away - the place isn’t all that far. I can be back by late afternoon to get my permits done from the DC office. I take out the motorcycle and head out for the monastery. I spot a service center open within the fag ends of the city limits. I stop. The motorcycle could do with a wash. It’s got dirty managing the tough mountain passes on my way here. I’d normally not bother much about washing the motorcycle clean but in Ladakh the motorcycle deserves to be pampered a bit. It needs to look pretty. I owe it to the motorcycle. Two men set on it to give it a clean look and I closely watch over them to ensure they don’t slack. They do a good job. The motorcycle, now spotlessly clean is ready to roar. The city gradually thins out and finally it is just me, the motorcycle and the road – all trying to blend into the landscape.
The road snakes in between vast stretches of empty land with mountains erupting at the ends to stop your gaze from travelling further. Jeep tyre tracks originating from the road and disappearing into that vast ocean of brown can be seen at many places. I get off the road. I want to add to these tracks and add my own in this vast ocean of brown. The mountains at the end maybe a Kilometre or two away allures me and the swirls the motorcycle is subjected riding in the slightly loose sand enthralls me. Today couldn’t have been more perfect. God bless those motorcycle riders I spotted in the morning for making me take out the motorcycle. Twenty odd minutes of negotiating speeds and twirls, I am finally at the base of the mountain. I climb a few steps to the mountain and lie down. The motorcycle all washed and clean hasn’t looked this pretty ever. The view I have feels like a canvas. The motorcycle in the foreground and beyond it the vast unending emptiness of brown with snow covered peaks in the horizon marking the borders of the canvas. This is an image that is going to be etched in my memory for a life time. I sleep for a while awed and amazed by the landscape.
The beauty of Ladakh lies in its nakedness. There are vast stretches of empty land everywhere with hardly anything growing on it. The mountains you spot whichever direction you look are naked in various shades of brown with the higher peaks covered in snow. Ladakh is that extremely beautiful woman with an impeccable body to die for. Riding a motorcycle in these picture perfect landscapes has an erotically sensual feeling to it. The landscape is the beautiful woman you are mesmerised with. Meandering on it in your motorcycle, feels like running your fingers slowly across her body.
Ladakh not just attracts you with its beauty; it also intimidates you with its emptiness. Vast empty spaces make you realise your insignificance – how small and irrelevant you are in the grand scheme of things. Everyday life offers you many instances to realise your insignificance but there is something different about realizing your insignificance in such beautiful surroundings. The beautiful surroundings make you accept your insignificance. Everyone ought to have such an experience once in their lives. We are all poets seeking meaning in the things we do and holding on to the things we love. Maybe the things we hold on to are just our ideas of significance. Accepting insignificance helps you in letting go. It brings out the philosopher from the poet inside of you.
I spend time gazing into the emptiness philosophizing about life, death, the things in between and the insignificance of it all. Ladakh is a place different from all others. In most places you get impressed by the landscape.
In Ladakh you want the landscape to be impressed by you.
A 7 month motorcycle ride that took me to every state in India, parts of Nepal and Bhutan and one town in Burma. These blog entries are inspired by this trip. Stories about people I met, stories about places I saw. Things that intrigued me, things that amused me. They say traveling changes you, they say traveling inspires you and they say a lot of other stuff. I don't know. I think a gun on the head is a better way to change people. I just hope that my travel stories entertain you
Right now I am in the process of writing a book based on this trip and figuring out the difference between a writer's block and procrastination.