Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ladakh Trip: Day Eight. Panamik and the return

Back on the road after, we greet the morning with the sight of a 32-truck convoy of Shaktimans rumbling past while our Sumo crouches in a corner trying to make itself as small as possible (no mean task for a Sumo Grande, but next to a Shaktiman, easily accomplished) before heading to Panamik. There's a distinct difference between the way the Air Force drives it's trucks, versus the Army. AF drivers are a lot more cautious... the army just barrels through like they own the road. Oh, wait, right - they do own it.

Panamik is around 9 km from the beginning of the Siachen glacier. We can stand now, in the hot sun, drinking in the peaceful idyll ,and look towards the east... at the faint outline of a mountain, hidden in the clouds, where a brutal, bloody war of attrition plays itself out. A sense of surreality.
The hot springs at Panamik literally are. The temperature at the source, where the water bubbles out, must be close to boiling - it's definitely way hotter than anything the geyser at home at it's max setting can churn out. Too hot to touch, or even to get close to. The rocks around are slippery, not only with the poisonously-green, virulent algae and moss growing wild in the unexpected warmth, but also with the sulphur coating - chemical from deep within the Earth's crust, making a natural soap.

The obligatory group snap

"God made Ladakh - and we connected it to the rest of the world" - Border Roads Organization.

A brief stopover at Leh. I finally figured out what the prayer flags mean - Blue for Space. White for Clouds. Red for Fire. Green for Water. Yellow for Earth. And there you have it - Ladakh in a nutshell.

Awesome views of the valley on our way back - dusk falling, space-blue sky, and the trees swaying against the blazing sunset clouds.

It's been exactly a week since I left, to the minute. We've seen Delhi, Manali, Rohtang, Sarchu, Leh, Khardungla, Nubra... Buses, jeeps, camels, tents, monasteries.
It still feels unbelievable.

The Hotel Kaal. A new hotel, wooden traditional facade, flagpole. Hot showers, aahhh... and an awesome dinner spread...

This is our welcoming committee, a four-month-old, extremely boisterous alsatian pup named Kimmer. The bugger's going to be a monster when he grows up - check out the size of the nose, ears and paws.


I approach...


Nah, I'm just kidding - I'm just his latest chew toy. But seriously, though, he will be a monster; later tonight, when I came back in the dark after taking a couple of snaps of the moonrise, he vocalized such a deadly, deep, primal grown from the shadows I damn near pissed myself. To quote Pratchett - it was a growl that went straight from the ears to the little bundles of nerves in the spine that handle the legs, and pressed a little switch called Gibbering Terror. Completely bypassing the brain.

Monks Gone Bad

Some new guests have arrived - including M. and RSS in all his glory, a black cowboy hat, three week's supply of Gold Flake and an unconscious imitation of a monk's maroon-saffron color preference.

A brief conversation back home, now that I have network again. Skerzling, says my area locator. I find myself looking at it and smiling... everything's so new, different, exotic, even in the most mundane things.

I want to introduce another character we have encountered during this trip - Amit Kaushal, a.k.a. Kevin. Kevin is our local trip coordinator, and is arranging for the hotels, the vehicles, permissions, etc while we are here. Kevin has a lot of quotes to contribute...
On the firang kids we'd met earlier - "Bigade hue nawabzade"
"The Karmapa will be staying at this hotel on the eighteenth... you should come. Meet him."
"We've had lots of personalities stay at this hotel... Kate Moss, Melanie Griffith, Cindy Crawford..."
When asked if he'll wake up in time to send the car - "Every morning, I wake up sharp at 5 when the plane from Delhi flies in. That is my alarm clock." Vision of airplane honking on horn as it flies over Kevin's house.
Night falls, and it's time to rest some more. It's been an easy day - but we need to conserve our strength. There's lots more to do, coming up...

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