LADAKH II .. AUG 09/08

Date: Saturday, August 9, 2008, 12:10 AM
Saturday.. August 9th.. 2008..

When I signed off Part I of LADAKH .. I was walking down the
long driveway from the Jammu-Kashmir Official Government
Tourist Hostel in Parakachik..
it was about 6:30 AM on Thursday.. August 7th.. and I had
decided to press on alone to the ‘Zanskar Valley’ without
Tim and Ann who had decided NOT to go further but to return
to Kargil and explore Rajasthan in West India..

It was cool.. 48 Degrees F and I felt great.. so I began to
walk South on the road towards the village of Parakachik.. I
stopped and rested from time to time.. and took a few
photos.. and I just ‘got into’ the walking in the morning
cool.. at 7 AM the bus going back to Kargil came towards me
and stopped when it got to me.. the driver and conductor
Sadar Ali and I had a fun visit.. waiving to each other..
the bus pulled slowly away towards Panikhar and Kargil.. and
onward I walked..

I got to.. and walked past the small village.. Parakachik..
and ‘viewed with absolute awe’ the top of Mount Nun..
elevation 7,135 metres or 23,402 feet.. pronounced Nun as in
‘Noon’.. NOT Nun as in a member of a religious order..
oogled at its beauty.. and shot more photos.. and finally
came to a perfect spot to ‘camp’ and ‘hitch hike’ .. a place
that a driver could see me from a bit of a piece up the
roadway and a place with space for a vehicle to pull out
into..

So there I sat.. alone by myself.. hitch hiking in Ladakh..
heading for THE Zanskar Valley.. cool.. by now into the
lower 50s.. wearing my ‘Alaska cabin sweater’ (down jacket
to some of you).. and my Alaska Red Polar Fleece Cap UNDER
my ‘sun hat’.. the people here giggle and call my hat my
‘umbrella’ it is so wide in diameter.. how on God’s green
earth could it get much better.. well soon it did.. soon it
‘topped out’..

Down the road.. coming towards me.. I saw.. I heard.. two
(2).. Royal Enfield.. Bullet 350 Machismo.. Fifty Years In
India.. The Legend Rides On.. MOTORCYCLES slowly motoring
towards me..

It was Clement and Patricia Olinger from France with eleven
year old son Merlin riding behind Clement.. what joy.. the
joy was however only beginning let me tell you.. my very
first vehicles heading South towards Zanskar..

Well I photographed them.. we visited.. and eleven year old
Merlin slipped off Clement’s Royal Enfield and got onto
Patricia’s Royal Enfield.. and Clement MOTIONED ME TO GET ON
BEHIND HIM..

We had a short discussion.. “I am too heavy.. my back pack
is too heavy..” and Clement said “We will just see how it
goes”..

So out and off went the (now) four of us.. it was a nice..
gentle downgrade and the Royal Enfield did just fine.. oh my
goodness.. early morning.. cool and pleasant.. viewing Mount
Nun from the motorcycle and just EATING THIS UP LIKE YOU
WOULD NOT BELIEVE IN A LIFETIME.. motorcycling in Ladakh..
oh my GOODNESS how can it possibly get better.. well.. it
was about to.. get even better.. let me tell you..

Sometimes a prayer to God is not a prayer so much as a
spiritual longing and saying out loud .. not to God
certainly.. but just out loud.. “Boy would I like to do THAT
someday”..

Up ahead.. what to my wondering eyes should appear.. pulled
off to the left side of the road and parked for the night..
were two (2).. India Tata Brand.. ‘over the road’ trucks..
the same two that I had heard and watched climb the grade
past the tourist hostel the night before..

“Clement” I said.. “Pull over.. maybe I can ‘hitch’ a ride
with the truckers”..

He said “Sure.. great idea” and we slowly pulled to a stop
behind the ‘rigs’.. out in the field to my right was one of
the truckers.. doing some ‘business’ out in the fields.. he
finished and walked slowly up to us and I ‘HIT HIM
WITH’  “As Salaam Aliekum” and he smiled broadly and
replied the proper reply.. something like “Aliekum wa
Salaam” .. I don’t have my notes here with me so probably
have not gotten that correct.. so I just now called over
here to the computer three Muslims and they said I have it
correct..

MEET Mister Shakeel Ahmad Bhat.. I said “Are you going to
Padum” and he nodded “Yes”.. and I said “May I pay you to
ride along to Padam” and he said “How many” and I said “Only
one.. just me..” and he nodded “Yes sure” and THE adventure
was about to begin..

Clement Olinger.. you are too much.. I OWE YOU MY MAN.. I
OWE YOU..

Both Clement and I knew the Royal Enfields would not hold
up to carrying me for a long distance.. but without
Clement.. I could not have ‘caught up to’ the two trucks..

So off I got.. snapped several more photos of.. not only
Clement and Patricia BUT of the truckers as well.. my
goodness.. pull out a camera in India and ‘here come the
Indians’.. they just love to have their photos taken.. it is
amazing..

It was time for Clement and Patricia and Merlin and the two
.. Royal Enfield motorcycles to hit the road south.. lots
and lots of waiving and off they went south to Zanskar..

I took my back pack and gear and with Shakeel guiding me..
got up into one of the Tatas..

As I was getting adjusted in the cab.. the other two
truckers came with me and were just peering at me.. asking
me questions..

MEET Messrs. Ishtaq Ahmad (who was to become MY MAN.. it
was HIS truck I was motioned up into.. NOT Shakeel’s
truck).. and Farooz Ahmed Bhat..

Well they finished ‘getting up’ from their
overnight-beside-the-road in the two Tatas.. as the three of
them carefully checked the tires and engines on the two
Tatas.. I was out shooting photos like crazy.. then it was
time for the trucks to hit the road.. they fired them up..
let them warm up.. and slowly.. oh so slowly.. it was 8:27
AM .. Thursday.. August 7th.. 2008.. the mighty Tatas slowly
eased their way onto the highway.. we four were HEADED SOUTH
FOR ZANSKAR.. the three truckers and Cap..

A quick aside here.. word on the street here is you MUST
watch out doing what I was doing.. the rumor mill has it the
truckers do some drinking and you don’t want to be with a
drunken trucker in the mountains..

As I was getting adjusted in the cab of the Tata.. I spied
a mysterious bottle with a yellowish liquid in it.. it did
NOT look good for a moment..
I picked up the bottle and was very VERY relieved to see it
was mustard seed oil.. I later learned that Ishtaq uses the
mustard seed oil on his scalp and hair as ‘hair oil’..

What a ‘fit’ I had fallen into.. two trucks.. four of us..
two in each rig.. just perfect.. further.. get this.. “God
of Abraham how does all this fit together”.. Ishtaq OWNED
his rig.. Shakeel OWNED his rig.. I was riding down the road
with two (2).. owner operators.. they were NOT employees..
they were OWNERS.. these were THEIR RIGS..

Nothing could be finer.. owners care about their
equipment.. owners drive their equipment with care.. with
caution.. with concern.. I was indeed in ‘safe very safe’
hands here..

I could actually lie full length down behind Ishtaq when I
wanted to nap.. there was a bed the full width of the rig..
about 18-inches wide.. to sit on or to lie down on.. and as
the day and as the drive wore on.. I indeed wanted to nap..
and did so..

The road was all it was said to be.. we had to cross little
rivers.. build little rock bridges for the rigs to cross the
little streams.. there were road hazards galore.. we’d get
out and remove boulders from the road.. there were
‘construction’ stoppages.. and it was bounce and sway from
side to side all day.. Ishtaq was hauling a large load of
‘reinforcing steel’ so he was loaded heavy.. Shakeel was
also hauling construction materials.. he too was loaded
heavily.. so we drove slow and we drove easy.. neither owner
was about to destroy his investment rushing..

I have to condense this.. so will just say it was too much
fun riding in the Tata.. more.. MUCH MORE FUN.. than I had
imagined.. very comfortable.. very roomy.. the two of us..
it would make no sense to chart our progress.. we were
slow.. I could’ve cared less.. we passed through Ringdom
Gompa.. we crossed the Pensila Pass.. it was 4:30 PM.. 1630
hours..
and it was cold.. I had my down cabin sweater on.. a
T-Shirt on.. my India shirt.. and it was raining.. out I got
and snapped more photos..

As dusk settled we ran into a horrible.. I mean we ran into
a HORRIBLE SAND AND DUST STORM.. Ishtaq could barely see the
road.. it was zero visibility.. it was bad.. bad.. bad..

At 10 o’clock in the PM on Thursday.. August 7th.. it was
very dark of course.. I was napping soundly in the back..
like I was in a Rolls Royce.. I felt the Tata come to a full
stop.. I heard Ishtaq do his ‘shutting down the engine’
procedure and it was quiet.. he got out.. and I got up..
Ishtaq went and got into Shakeel’s Tata .. and wonder of
wonders.. the three of them cooked up dinner.. hot
(temperature wise) Chicken in a curry sauce and rice.. I did
not accept their offer to eat with them.. broke my heart but
the risk was just too much..

I said to them.. “How far to Padum”.. “Twenty Five
Kilometers”.. “How long will it take us”.. “Two .. two and a
half hours”.. they were in no hurry.. enjoying their fine ..
hot meal.. it got to be 11 o’clock PM and it dawned on me..
I said “Are we sleeping here” .. “Yes” came the reply..

We were in the small village of Phe or Phay.. depending on
who you ask..

WHAT AN ADVENTURE..

During the day I had advanced the ‘proposal’ to Ishtaq..
“Can I ride back to Kargil with you when you get unloaded..
” .. he nodded “Yes.. why not” so I felt I was set to ride
North back to Kargil.. WONDERFUL..

Shakeel and Ishtaq slept in Shakeel’s Tata.. and Farooz and
I slept in Ishtaq’s Tata..

Farooz made the bed.. and it was a bed almost the size of a
regular bed.. nice and wide and long.. the back of the
driver’s seat came off.. and things fit here and there until
a bed appeared.. wonderful.. Farooz to boot is small.. short
and very thin.. he took up little or no room in the bed..

And I could NOT get to sleep.. pant pant pant.. gasp gasp
gasp.. when you are suffocating.. can not get air.. it is
very uncomfortable.. I finally dozed off for a few hours.. I
could not wait for the sunrise.. well it came.. we all got
up.. for the fourth or fifth time it seemed like .. they
washed the Tatas.. I could not believe this.. the care they
lavished on the ‘rigs’.. THEIR ‘rigs’..

We pulled into Padum at 9:30 AM.. Friday.. August 8th..
08-08-08.. and we went straight to the construction site
with the load of ‘re-bar’ and Shakeel’s load..

TROUBLE IN RIVER CITY CAME SOON..

As we pulled into the construction site.. some ‘eyes’ saw
me in the Tata..
there was a meeting.. I was called over..

MEET Farooz Khan.. local union leader of sorts.. he had
advised owners Shakeel and Ishtaq that according to the
local Taxi Union.. the truckers could NOT Union Bust by
taking passengers out of Padum..

This is Shakeel’s and this is Ishtaq’s business.. their
bread and their butter.. RS 40,000 per trip.. they can NOT
afford to be ‘black listed’ by the local Taxi Union.. I
talked to Farooz Khan and got him to agree I could go back
with them.. this was a half hour discussion..

I went off to take photos of Padum and as I walked and as I
snapped photos.. I decided.. it is not fair of me to.. in
any way.. jeopardize the status of Shakeel and Ishtaq..

I went back and told Farooz Khan.. who was very friendly to
me by this time.. that I was going to take a bus North to
Kargil.. he seemed relieved by this.. and I also told
Shakeel and Ishtaq the same.. they too were relieved.. I
‘settled’ with Ishtaq.. 26 hours living in the Tata.. with
all of the photo stops I wanted.. including NOT having a
motel expense Thurday evening.. cost me three hundred
rupees.. SO VERY FAIR..

I then.. it was about 11:30 AM Friday 08-08-08.. decided to
get myself a hotel room .. and did.. the Kalish Hotel.. NICE
room.. nice hotel.. RS 250 a night.. and off I went to find
a way to Kargil..

Well it took me several hours to figure it out.. I could
not get any help.. this Taxi Union has Padum ‘locked up’..
no one would assist me as to how to get a bus.. they want
you to take their taxi from RS 8,000 up to RS 11,000 (this
you can divide amongst several so it works out to 7 in a
taxi and divide it out)..

FINALLY I found out what to do.. BUT I could NOT ride ONLY
to Kargil.. “We have NO seats to Kargil.. ONLY seats to
Leh”.. so I was more or less.. and it is not all bad..
‘forced’ to go to Leh..

For RS 600 I now get to ride the road to hell in a bus..
for RS 600 I get to actually experience the Fourteen Hour
ride up the road to hell.. for RS 600 I get to get up and to
leave Padum at 3:30 AM.. get to Kargil about 6 PM ‘or so’..
then I get to sleep in Kargil and catch the bus to Leh..

Having this more or less solved.. I will believe it when I
am ON the bus and the bus is ROLLING.. I went to my hotel
and did a bunch of washing of clothes.. I was filthy and
dirty from the dust storm.. it fascinates me how fast things
dry in the desert with wind and the dry atmosphere..

Right now I feel sort of ‘uneasy’ about the bus.. but we
will see..

Last night .. as I was here at the internet.. in came
Clement and Patricia.. we had a good visit.. then this
morning I ate breakfast with the three of them.. watched
them pack up the Royal Enfields.. took more photos and
‘waived’ them off at 10:30 this AM.. Saturday.. the 9th of
August.. came here and here we are..

Last night was an adventure too.. no lights in the room..
no lights.. absolutely no lights.. thank goodness I brought
my two large candles..

Bad night sleeping wise.. Padum is at elevation 3,53l
metres.. or 11,587 feet.. and I can just not ‘get it down’..
of course I am readjusting from Kargil which is
lower..

I have a total of six hours writing Nr. 58 and Nr. 59.. I
hope they track all right.. I did have a good look over
Writing Nr. 58.. will not have the luxury of looking over
this Writing Nr. 59..

NEXT UP THE GRAND ADVENTURE UP THE ROAD TO HELL ON THE
BUS.. ALL THE WAY TO LEH..

I have spoken with Konchok in Leh.. he is ready for me
Monday night.. I have spoken with Gonjoo in Kargil.. he too
is ready for me in Kargil on Sunday night.. he has my bag
watching it for me..

Well ready or not.. I must conclude this.. I can’t tell you
what fun it was coming here.. motorcycle.. Tata over the
road truck.. so much fun..

SO MUCH FUN.. and so here we go.. the leap of faith.. press
send and hope it goes to you..

MUCH MUCH JOY AND LOVE AND I DO HOPE I GET OUTTA PADUM
TOMORROW .. SUNDAY THE 10th OF AUGUST.. I HAVE BEEN HERE AND
I HAVE DONE THIS AND I AM READY TO GET OUTTA PADUM..

I will sign off with joy saying ‘Thumbs Up’.. Cap..
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