Greetings once again.
Hard to believe, but today is my 6 month anniversary of being out of the states. Can’t say I miss it. For those of you wanderiing when, or if, I’ll ever come back…I have one thing to say…just let me know what happens November 4th! or will it be January???
Anyhow, it has been a most interesting week, which has included 4 days on buses. I’ll try and keep it condensed, but it won’t be easy. so please bare with me. Left Manali (state:Himachel Prudesh) Monday morning at 2:00 am for Leh (Ladakh). Well, we were supposed to leave at 2, but it was actually 3:30. The bus ticket agent had told me we would get to Leh at 8:00 that evening, which contradicted everything I had read and indeed turned out to be false. Anyhow, to keep it brief, we traversed through terrain that I am convinced was never meant to see automobiles, especially large buses carrying a bunch of Indians, Israelis and 1 american tourists. There were a plethora of passport check points that slowed us down in addition to a collapsed bridge. (stay tuned for pix). so we just crossed the river instead, which was a bit daunting considering there was a graveyard of failed attempts surrounding us. Then we crossed through glacial tundras where there were blizzards and hail and then through desert conditions and back into ice. The Himalayas have got to be the most diverse mountain range (in addition to being the youngest and highest in the world). Anyhow, remember how I said we didn’t get to Leh at 8? No, we stopped somewhere in the middle of one of those glacial spots and spent the night in the tents set up by tibetan refugees that sell tea and snacks and also have make shift cots where people such as ourselves can spend the night for a nominal fee. Then up before the crack of dawn and off again. well, to get to the point, we did finally arrive in Leh around 4:00 pm the next day. Leh is on the sensitive Indian/China,Tibet border…so there is a heavy police presence. It also is at an altitude of +3500 Metres (amlost 12,000 feet). When I mentioned altitude sickness during my trekking it did not even begin to compare with Leh. And that is because when I was trekking I was in the middle of the mounatins with trees. However Leh is a bit of a desert. Very dry, very cold and very high…which does not a good combination make. Have you ever gotten out of breathe while just sitting and reading? It’s not pleasant. But enough about that…Leh is an interesting place. A small town, but very attractive and quaint. The most intersting part is that because of it’s geographic location (you can look on a map in the eastern, North Western Great Himalayan range, next to Tibet) it doesn’t even feel like you’re in India…it really is like being in Tibet and most of the people are in fact Tibetan refugees. Sorry, no photos. I still feel shy about that. There are pictures of the Dalai Lama everywhere as well as severa Monasteries. And why do they have to start chanting at 3:30 am every morning????? ANyhow, it really was an interesting experience to be there, but it was also very cold and the internet was nonexistent and I started feeling worse and worse til I could barely function. SOOOO…I decided to set off on yet another 2 day bus journey! This time heading west to Kashmir. Which turned out to be an even more intersting bus ride. This time I was not only the only American, but the only white person and certainly the only single woman…which they kept telling me was very brave. Anyhow, I was sitting at the back row of the bus, which is the WORST seat to be in when you are going over bumpy terrain. AFter going over a gargantuan bump and nearly crushing my elbow on the landing, the bus attendant told me to move up to the cabin with the crew. This turned out to be a much lovelier experience than the 20 hour ride from Delhi to Manali which I cannot remember if I mentioned or not. (basically we were promised seats but they oversold and put 5 of us up in the cabin along with the driver and his assistant. it was horrible, cramped, i was “suffering” from the bad egg, and sleep was nearly out of the question. however sam and I felt worse for the 2 israeli guys who had paid 650 Rupees for a Delux A/C bus and didn’t even get seats…at least we only paid 250). But I digress. So once again I was traversing through the Himalayas, driving where no man was meant to drive, but seeing completely different scenery. (stay tuned for photos). It really is amazing how quickly the terrain changes. Once again there were multiple passport checks and I really did feel bad for the other passengers considering I was the only one they had to stop for. Oh well. Hours and hours of driving, then stopping, then driving. Somewhere west of Kargil (you can look on the map) you start seeing lots of signs like this “Warning: You are currently under Enemy Observation”, “Photography Strictly Prohibited, Violators will be Severly Punished”. In addition to these signs you drive through villages that are nothing but army barricks and training schools. All of this is because the Pakistan border is a stones throw across the river. Comforting eh? In the past few years there are been several bombings along the road from Leh to Srinigar. AFter dealing with that for several hours, we finally arrived at Drass. Drass has the honorable distinction of being the SECOND COLDEST PLACE on Earth! Ooooo…YIPEEE! I am SO glad that’s where we spent the night!!!!! Sure enough, stopped there around 8pm and left bright and early this morning at 4 am. If I thought the roads yesterday were bad, today was even more eye opening. In this region there is a lot of rain, ice, snow, ice and snow melt, which makes the roads full of holes and what not. Also, due to all of the army camps along the way there are several slollom style speed barriers. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the bridges. since they are “weak”, only one vehicle can cross at a time. anyhow, once agiain there were multiple passport check points and then there was the Zolhoil Pass, right before the Kashmir border (which is only opened certain days a week) where all vehicles have to stop to get “inspected”. By inspected I mean several (Kashmir) soldiers get inside and go over each vehicle with a radar wand in addition to a few dogs…checking for weapons. (it was also helpful sitting in the cabin getting all the information from the crew…who really were quite sweet and looked out for me). I am not kidding when i tell you what an experience that was. So finally we were off, well sort of. The roads got even worse…as in more bumpy and even narrower…and the mountains got more sharp. There are several quite humurous quoted signs along the way about road safety, but today I saw my absolute favorite. “Pagal Slide, the World’s most Unpredictable Slide”. I could not stop laughing, which made the crew laugh. I mean, how do you take a sign like that? Anyhow, in addition to the rough narrow roads we had to compete with dozens of flocks of shepards with their goats and sheep out for the morning grind. Finally we made it through the dangerous area down to the bottom (many have fallen down into the gorge to their death during times of heavy snow) and into the Kashmir Valley. Everyone has told me that it is the most beautiful place in India, much like Switzerland. While it’s true I’ve never been to Switzerland (oops, missed a country) it is as I picture it and Kashmir is incredibly beautiful. I just don’t understand how the terrain can change so drastically so quickly. HOwever, it’s beauty is the reason for the conflict. Kashmir is very fertile and produces many crops, which produces much wealth. I am not exaggerating when I say there are guards every 10 m. And so many convoy trucks, which required our bus to pull over and wait for. Anyhow, I think you are getting the point. So I finally arrived here around noon. Srinigar is the summer capital of Kashmir and it’s focal point is Dal Lake. and Dal Lake is known for it’s House Boats, which were popularized by the british in the 1800’s due to the fact that they could not own land. Anyhow, chilling on a house boat and enjoying all the extra oxygen from the abundance of fauna and thinking of all of you wishing you well!