The next forty-eight hours took our breath away.
But that comes a day later.
Norbu, our local cab driver is car proud and tries his best to make us comfortable- rugs, small eats, medicines, water, music . . .
He talks about the changes in Leh post the Kargil war-
“More army means more livelihood. Since there’s no tourism in Leh for six months a year, many of us go do porter jobs at army camps at the glacier.
The army hospital provides free treatment and medicines to locals; Earlier, in my parents’ times we relied completely on village quacks, traditional medicines and even witch doctors for treatment. Life expectancy has gone up.
Tourism has gone down since the past two years. There’s no one reason for this, perhaps Ladakh is not in fashion, maybe it is the Nepal earthquake that has scared tourists off travel, perhaps people don’t want to be stressed out about high altitude sickness while on their holiday. Riding rented motorbikes is something most tourists under thirty-five want to try. Enfield Bullet is the most sought after bike to hire.
It’s easy to guess who the Delhi/ Punjab tourists are. “Where is the closest liquor shop?” is one of their first questions on getting off a flight.”
We drive through Shey, once known for the beautiful old palace reflected in a lake- ‘mirror’, from which it gets it’s name, now a village made famous for the school Amir Khan used for The Three Idiots.
Shey like many other valleys in Ladakh lies in the middle of a rocky range of mountains. I take in the ravages of erosion by sun, wind, water and snow all around and then Norbu softly says- ” The wind is a ferocious creature. It marks it’s territory. It howls when harnessed by it’s owners. It is vicious when they aren’t here, but angry when they roam these mountains on special nights. When the wind blows it’s best to stay indoors.
“The Wind.” He says those words again for emphasis.
“Who is it’s owner?” I ask.
Like the boys back in Leh, Norbu looks away.
What is the thought behind this fear of the wind, I wonder.
Shey is sprinkled with white chortens, all of which tell a story. The king of Shey had a unique punishment for criminals and law-breakers. He would make them construct chortens as a punishment, thus absolving the criminal of the crime.
I decide to sit it out the next night and watch out for non-Earthlings.
That night the wind blows a neighboring hut down and flings a dog and a huge clay tandoor across the fence. I see them flying from my window.
There’s no connection here with the outer world- no phones, television, nothing.
Except the Wind.
Unknowingly, I have begun to look at it as as person. In this black night in the middle of lonely mountain passes cut away from humanity, it shrieks like a banshee gone bat-crazy.
I imagine Norbu in my mind’s eye- sitting in his room in abject fear of the OtherWorldlies coming for him for sharing the sacred secret.
When the howling goes down I sink into a restless slumber only to wake up to a dream of a white spaceships with two huge eyes staring down at me.
My brain feels fuzzy. Perhaps the Mountain Wind is getting to me.