It ain’t India unless there’s a cow in the middle of the road.
Seriously, every place I’ve been, cows can be found leisurely crossing the road (and other farm animals, but the cow is the most quintessential), seemingly oblivious to the hurricane of traffic swirling around them.
If I had to concisely sum up my experience of India, I would describe it as sensory overload. This feeling mainly applies to my time in the major cities, as Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh are much more remote, peaceful, and pleasing to the senses (or at least to mine). But despite the dense population and chaotic way of life here, things seem to function, even if I can’t always see the rhyme or reason as a foreigner.
I’m back in Delhi after two solid days of rest in Guwahati. I found a copy of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho on the bookshelf in the communal living room, and quickly read it cover to cover. I know most of the western world has already read this book and I am late to the game, but better late than never. It was a gem; there are many little nuggets of wisdom and interesting analogies weaved throughout the story.
The bus ride was less like hell and more like purgatory.
It turns out I was armed with higher tolerance on the way back from Ziro than I had on the way there. To my surprise, the same “punk kid” ended up being my Sumo driver from Ziro back to Naharlagun. This coincidence made me smile, and, once again, his driving skills proved solid. Once we arrived, he shouldered my backpack and took me directly to the bus stand. We exchanged a handshake and then parted ways.
On May 12th, I set out for Leh airport from my guesthouse at 7 am to catch my morning flight to Guwahati. I had booked my AirBnB accommodations literally ten minutes before leaving, just barely managing it with the in-and-out wifi signal. I know by now that I prefer to have my accommodations booked before I set foot in a new place, at least for the first night. It saves time, energy, and potential stress, especially in a chaotic, big city like Guwahati. The guesthouse I chose (Shimzun Guest House) is owned by Chihan, who lives with his sister and nephew in a separate apartment downstairs (with some communal areas). He was happy to have me stay with them despite booking at the last minute.
Since I last wrote in this blog in 2014, a hell of a lot has happened, for better and for worse (but mostly for the better). A few of these events I could have imagined, but others I could never have predicted.
Travelling to Thailand for two and a half months in 2014, following the death of my father, was my first flirtation with rebellion and adventure. I did not outright quit my PhD program in chemistry—I initially took a four-month leave of absence in order to maintain a safety net. Still, in my mind, I was finally channeling my inner badass, a formerly dilligent graduate student gone rogue. I temporarily detoured from academia in the hope of gaining a renewed vitality in being estranged from my normal way of life.
This morning, my guide (Ishey) and porter (Deachen) picked me up from my guesthouse around 7:30 am. I left a load of belongings with the guesthouse owners for safekeeping during the trek, resorting only to the absolute essentials. We set out by taxi to drive towards the mountains, on the mostly rocky (and very bumpy) road to Chilling (3210 m), which took several hours.
At one point that offered a stunning view of turquoise water against the mountain backdrop, Ishey asked the driver to stop so that I could take a photo. I pulled out my little Apeman camera from my jacket pocket, ready to start snapping away, and, much to my horror, the camera did not turn on. I had fully charged it the night before (or so I thought), but obviously something had gone awry. Power outages intermittently occur at my guesthouse, which could have been the cause, or maybe I accidentally turned off the switch that powered the outlet. Either way, like an idiot, I had forgotten to charge the backup batteries and didn’t bring a backup camera source (iPad, phone), choosing to leave them at the guesthouse. Maybe the altitude had gotten to my head.