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Death Valley, California

Desert plains and scorching sun; Endless hills and reddish glum; Dried up shrubs and flowing sand; Hundreds of miles and no waters in sight. Death Valley almost lives up to its name, and it ultimately misses on expressing the incredible beauty that’s hidden behind the veils of prejudice set by itself.

For almost half a decade, I have been yearning to visit Death Valley, ever since somebody that I used to know planted that idea. It now feels like life has come a full circle. The visit through the valley was part of a much larger road trip beginning in San Francisco, through Sequoia National Park, Death Valley, Las Vegas and ultimately culminating at the Grand Canyon.

Following a visit to Sequoia National Park, I made a stopover at in a little town called Inyokern in California. The motel owner suggested two routes towards Death Valley, one through the well maintained Hw-395 and another more dangerous route via Hw-178. Of course, I ended up taking the later. It was desolated, deserted and deathly and I loved it.

At the first sign of gas station, I made a pitstop for refuelling. There was not going to be any more of such stops for the next several hundreds of miles.

Some ice cream to beat the heat.

I stared at the road, and the road stared back at me. How the distance passed and the time flew was lost on me. I think my mind was numb and lost in the beauty that was racing against me.

Apocalyptically appearing dead trees marked the approach towards the great Mesquite Sand Dunes.

On the road again

Gazing at the sprawling lands with sparsely spaced shrubs and lit under blue-yellow sky, from hill-top view points was amazing.

Artist’s Palette, a natural and colourful hill formation, resulting due to the occurrence of various mineral deposits in the valley. I was quite amused to hear fellow tourists tout amongst themselves that it was due to elements such as mercury.

Watching two travellers camp up with portable chairs was envied by many including me.

As the sun began setting, I began making my way out

Not before stopping near Badwater Basin to make long exposures and some classic desert shots

First snow 2017

After being snow-deprived in the past few years, except for that one time in some January, the first snow came in early this winter. While I thought I was going to miss the first snow in Amsterdam, little did I realise that a much grander treat would await me when I reached this little town called Enschede.

The views out of my friend’s window, the UvT campus overlaid in a carpet of trees and wooded parks, were fast filling up with snow. The smell of hot Indian food and Chai started lingering inside the tiny living room. It made us ecstatic and filled the air with this unexplainable feeling of joy and cheerfulness. Suffice to say; I had to step out in the blistering cold to make some pictures.

Chai

Tea is another word for it, commonly used in the western world. To most, it is a hot beverage. I amongst many would describe it as a feeling. It never ceases to make everything – the look, the feel and the passage of time – ethereal. It shifts the state of life from the monotony of cell-phone and the instant messaging riddled world to that of just being – still and present.

On a rainy Sunday morning, my friend made some chai for us. We were all sitting by the window, sipping chai, watching the world go by. It was a surreal feeling.

Arching trees and fog

Sunday morning, there was no sunrise, for the whole neighbourhood appeared to have disappeared, cloaked under a veil of thick fog. Visibility was low, so I decided to go out biking. No sooner than I got out, the sun was out and fading away the fog to reveal the colours. I stopped at a narrow walkway with trees arching over to take in the spectacular saturated greens.

Leh

When the prospect of exploring the Himalayas popped up, I was above and beyond ecstatic.┬áMost I have been around mountains was outside India. There were only handful of occasions I saw them in India in over two decades. Part of the tradition to explore India every time I visit, following a trip to Agra, a friend and I made impromptu flight reservation to fly from the capital of the country to the capital of the Himalayan kingdom – Leh.

As soon as we landed in Leh, we were left breathless both metaphorically and literally. At 3500m, not only did lack of oxygen has caught us unawares with altitude sickness, but also the cold. Excitement turned into grumpiness. Breathlessness, cold, grumpiness and of course drama enveloped us.
One hotel customer was kind enough to chide us for being so unprepared and gave us medicines for altitude sickness. That breathed life into our miserable souls and lifted our spirits up. With that, we hired a taxi and proceeded to explore.

Pretty much everything around Leh is built by the Indian Army. The amount of engineering that had to be done to make life possible there was beyond imagination. Life in the Himalayas is hard. There is no internet, water supply, fresh foods, for weeks or maybe even months during winter (which spans almost the entire year). And yet, somehow human spirit found ways to survive and thrive.

The morning dose of chai at an altitude that exceeds most peaks in the Alps, certainly gave me goosebumps.

Pretty much all infrastructure is built and maintained by the Indian BSF (Border security forces). Civilians are allowed to use most of it with exceptions for certain roads which restricted to foreigners.

There were several temples we visited. The peace and tranquillity I observed left a desperate to give up life in the urban rat race and live there.

Leh palace was a stunning sight. Sitting atop a small peak, it had incredible views.

Next stop was the Lamayuru Monastery, Kargil.

The most ubiquitous piece of gadgetry in the Himalayan range turned out to be satellite tv. The satellite dish antennas were everywhere! In hindsight, it seems obvious now, but I was amused to see them. They perhaps are the only means of connecting to outside world.

Cricket – not surprisingly, the most popular pastime. I loved seeing kids dressed in monk’s red-orange robes playing the game everywhere, brought a smile to my soul.