Notes from Leh
The road to Ladakh had ended, and I stood in the middle of the little town that I had struggled to reach for five days
One late afternoon in Leh, I walked down to the polo field from where one could view the Leh Palace. It looked about to topple from the short hill on which it was perched. I clicked a few pictures only to get bored looking at fellow tourists doing the same.
I walked to the other end, tucking away the camera, and got ready to walk the town.
The road to Ladakh had ended, and I stood in the middle of the little town that I had struggled to reach for five days.
I walked the little lanes, relieved at the expected disappointment. I could now use the phone, take another shower, wash dirty denims, and fly back if I wanted. I longed for the road back.
Walking into contrasts
The lanes were empty; the crowd had gathered to watch a polo match that was to start in the stadium. I kept walking as the crows flew in a neat straight line, tossing random thoughts, thirsty, with a backpack swinging on one shoulder. The town looked like a cross between remnants of an old mystical town and a vulgar, irregularly carved out tourist cave.
I walked past an old car bearing a ‘Free Tibet’ sticker. There was also an old tramp lying half naked on the side of the road, empty beer cans, a wine shop, orphan notes from a guitar, a flowery smell wafting from a corner, three school kids carrying a bat, some asphyxiated hopes, red faces, woody smell of army leather, a donkey, and imitation paintings.
In the long brumous hours of the evening, I sipped tea next to the small tree oasis overlooking the Potala-like palace. Shopkeepers sat out and smoked hashish, escaping small town defeat and tedium with each blow.
Like a mute inspector of weirdness, I watched the proceedings. I would soon step out, walk the narrow lanes again, go back to the old guest house decorated in Ladakhi theme, take a cold water shower, scout for a place to eat and sleep; the same rhythm will repeat for every second person with tees and shades on, and carrying a backpack.
Perennially tired and foul mouthed, we all walk through ghost towns in search of little peace in history. Often, we end up swapping travel stories over beer in some derelict shady bar. Like a hopeless leftover breed, we travel on pretext of souping history and understanding culture; rather, what we look for is a sound board to stand on, and in the process filling emptiness inside with stories of worthless adventures.
A traveller’s story is as disappointing as those of the defeated towns he travels to.
A version of this story appeared in The Hindu