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.
Lights dazzling through the falling droplets, the dim ambience with latent moisture in the air, light reflecting off puddles, crowds flowing with umbrellas, leaves a feeling of poetic romance lingering in the air. I love it when it rains in Amsterdam.
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.
When the prospect of exploring the Himalayas popped up, I was above and beyond ecstatic. Most I have been around mountains was outside India. There were only a 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 the lack of oxygen had caught us unawares with altitude sickness but also the cold. Excitement turned into grumpiness. Breathlessness, grumpiness and of course drama enveloped us.
One hotel customer was kind enough to chide us for being 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. Living 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 an exception to certain roads which restricted to foreigners.
There were several temples that we visited. The peace and tranquillity I observed, momentarily left me wanting to give up life in the urban rat race and live there.
Sitting atop a small peak, Leh Palace was a stunning sight and it had incredible views.
Next stop was the Lamayuru Monastery in 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 were perhaps the only means of connection to the outside world.
Cricket – not surprisingly, was 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.