When we woke up on the 6th day of our trek, our tent was lined with snow. There was snow on the bag packs we had used to barricade our tents from the wind, there was ice in Gayatri’s muffler which she had left upon those bags. The three of us got up, shrugged, smiled and walked into a sunny morning to a welcoming fire. We were champions now, and nothing could dampen our spirits that day.
The guys who had slept in the big tent were too lazy to wake up, so in the meantime, the three of us women went through our daily morning ‘deployment’ ritual. Here at Lower Shingra, I had come to love this huge rock which gave us refuge while we deployed.
After the last breakfast and the last packing up of bag packs, we started the last phase of our journey through the valley. It was sunny, the Chadar was beautiful as ever and we were in very high spirits. We sang, danced and shot videos and pictures through most of our journey. Singing still drove us breathless sooner than we would like, but we sang nevertheless. We were happy, and sad, and excited and nostalgic – all at the same time.
Yesterday we had seen how capricious the Chadar was, today we saw an example of its constancy. On the first day of our erstwhile journey, which waiting for Mansi and company to catch up, Ramesh, Bhavdeep, Kartik and I had raised a mound of snow. Now, while going back, the mound still remained, reminding us of a day that seemed to have passed so long ago.
The previous night, while looking for my diary, I had come upon my Walkman wrapped in a dirty woolen sock. Haven’t you always wished life had a background music. Well, if not life, adventures at the least should have one. And so it was that in the return leg, I played all the best songs of Lord of the Rings and walked on, oblivious to the voices of the people around me. In my ears played the resounding magic of Howard Shore, and around me, lay the Chadar, saying goodbye.
At 1, we reached the familiar foothill of Tilat Sumdo. We hauled ourselves up, and found good old Rigzin coming to us with bowls of ‘Miggi’, as he called it. It was an overwhelming feeling, to have almost completed our trek and to be having the last lunch in the Zanskar Valley.
We took a lot of pictures to mark the end of our trip. After having Maggi, some of us went down to the river and did something which had been unthinkable till then – we removed our gloves, immersed our hands in the ice-cold waters of Zanskar, and splashed it on our faces. Of course, our hands froze and became ice-cold and had to be massaged back to warmth for a long time after that. But it was completely and absolutely worth it.
With our faces washed and stomachs full, our attention now turned to the Tempo Traveler waiting for us, up on the road. It was parked at a different location from the last time, so that we wouldn’t have to walk a lot, but the climb upwards would be longer and tougher. Gyanji, apparently, wanted us to go back with a bang. I, however, had climbed a hill several times tougher than this the previous day. So this time, I decided to climb this one up without taking any help from the helpers – not even a hand to pull me up. With just my faithful trekking pole, my leather gloves and Gyanji’s gumboots, I climbed up the unnamed hill, to the waiting savaari.
Up there, we gave our trekking poles and a few torches to the porters and helpers as gifts. (Their happy faces are one of the most satisfying sights in today’s world of discontent). Soon, we were on our way to Leh. Then we were at Nimu, at the confluence of Zanskar and Indus, then passing by the military camps, past the messages that said ‘Dare to Win’, past the markets of Leh, soon, at Hotel Panorama, where to our pleasant surprise, all six of our friends who had come back, were still staying. We had come a full circle, and now was the time for many meetings.
And there, I have told you everything. Ummm, wait, everything? Probably not. I haven’t told you, for example, about Mansi, who came out to salute us when we reached Panorama. I haven’t told you how Manisha cringed her nose in our presence and told us how awful we smelled. I haven’t told you about the layers and layers of grime and sweat that we washed off our bodies when we had a bath, and how, after the bath, we realised that our clothes were a stinky mass of dirt unwearable for the rest of the trip. Oh, and I haven’t told you that when we were just about to leave for the Airport, we were greeted by flakes of snow falling from the skies. It was as if Leh wanted us to see everything before we left. (Thanks to the snowfall, we were stranded in Leh for another day and so, we went out to see the Himmis Monastry and went to play ice hockey.)
Well, I haven’t said everything. But I have said enough. With this, this journal should come to an end. But I do not want to stop writing. I feel now all those things that I had felt while leaving the Chadar behind – it is as if, by putting my pen down, I will end this journey with a finality. And I do not want to put one full stop. So instead, let me say that we will go back there, someday. And maybe, we will find there a mound of snow, where fellow trekkers had stuck up their trekking poles. Maybe.