Road Trippin’ with an Infant Ally: Srinagar-Leh-Manali with a 9 Month Old

Riding the MountainThis wasn’t a chuckle. It was a loud gurgle expressing a form of delight she had never before displayed. Stretched on her stomach, lying first in her mother’s, then her father’s lap, she had been lowered closer to the water so that her tiny hands could touch it. Who would have imagined that our nine-month-old baby would find such joy running her hands through the placid Dal Lake in Srinagar on an evening boat ride.

Parents are usually judged by their ability to be responsible and caring, certainly never for being adventurous. When the opportunity of a road trip from Srinagar to Leh and back through Manali presented itself, we knew our accompanying infant wouldn’t mind. After all, her travels had begun from the womb, as the only companion on her mother’s work trips to Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jaipur and as part of an entourage on a wildly rushed pleasure trip across Europe.

Ladakh, though, was different. At this high-altitude region, adults were known to experience terrible sounding things such as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Parental phobia (discretion?) would consider it an unwise trip choice with a child. But in reality, and as our research prior to the trip showed, children older than three months can adapt to high altitudes as well as adults can. Our infant would actually come out better.

As we left the verdant views of Srinagar behind and began our slow ascent to Leh, our daughter showed us a precursor to what became a routine throughout the 10-day trip. She was rocked to sleep by the undulating motions of the car and raised her head every time we stopped, as if to ask, “Where are we now?” She posed atop a boulder in Sonmarg, got onto a gondola after bracing serpentine peak season queues at Gulmarg and displayed discomfiture only at the top when the cold winds blew.

Her smiles weren’t dampened like ours by the treacherous road leading to Kargil, our second night stop after Srinagar. En route to the town made famous by war and victory, we broke our journey for a windy visit to Vijaypath, the war memorial in Dras, which was followed by tea watching the sunset and the owner pointing in the direction of Tiger Hill, whence the enemy had come. Over the last few kilometres leading to Kargil, the lights on the road went out. The only sound, in what was late evening but seemed like the dead of night, was that of the river rushing beneath us as the tyres turned on the edge of the road that was nearly a rubble. This was National Highway 1D, an erstwhile Central Asian trade route connecting Srinagar-Leh-Yarkand.

RidingBack on the road the next day, we faced a blockade for a couple of hours, which threatened to undo our trip and made all adults churlish for good reason. The child, however, remained curious, sleepy, hungry by turns, helping us forget the situation. Entering Leh was a study in how awestruck nature can leave you, with its varied hues and stunning topography. Those who fly in directly to Leh need one day of acclimatisation. For precaution, even road trippers popped pills to keep their heads steady. Our girl stretched her arms in the wind and squinted at the sun, getting the driver to admit never having seen (in his 20-year driving life) a child enjoy a road trip so much. As we traversed high-altitude roads, her cheeks reddened by the sun and wind and body kept hydrated as suggested by web research, she had begun to resemble the children of the mountains. People wanted pictures with her at the Hemis Monastery and watching her made a woman at the Stok Palace Museum lament leaving her grandson behind.

Road trips nearly never stay true to course, least so when taken with a young companion. But they certainly promise (im)perfect adventures—whether in the form of a yak ride through a secluded open field, raucous cries at a double-humped camel’s face, special prayers and blessed intonations from a monk or when a moment of quietude beside a picturesque lake is punctured by shuffling sounds of a tiny hand, lifting a stone to devour.

This article appeared in The New Indian Express


Framed by Wanderlust with Amrita Samant (Photographer, Mommy Shots and ThatWindowSeat), Chennai, India

Amrita is a baby-grapher who loves to travel (looking on from ThatWindowSeat), drink wine, chase light, eat good food and all this while dodging selfie-sticks across the globe.

She’s joining me today for a quick (and not dirty) Q&A about her wandering soul and its many journeys. Travel with us will you.

Amrita Samant at a Holiday in FranceLast place you visited: France (July 2015)

Three places on your travel wish list: Russia, Iceland and Japan

An unforgettable experience from a  journey: A haunted rented house experience in Bari, Italy. Doors would open and close by themselves. Another one, learning to kayak on the ganges was overwhelming but an experience that pushed me way out of my comfort zone.

Five things you always carry on holiday: My camera/iPhone, sunglasses, sunscreen, multiple shoe options (just-in-case) and pepper spray.

Would you rather head to the beach, the mountains or city streets: If I had to pick one, it would be the mountains, But I try and give my trips a combination of at least two. (Greedy me!).

A place you’d like to visit again and again: Italy. Anyday!

A place you wish you hadn’t visited: None. I’m glad that hasn’t happened yet.

A person (real/fictional) you’d like to go on holiday with, and where: Can I ignore this one?

Your holidays are incomplete without:  A trip to the local food markets and a local movie at the theatres.

A stranger you met during a journey who you’re still in touch with: A (now) dear friend named Parvati whom I met in Halong Bay, Vietnam in 2012 on a terribly boring couple-y cruise 🙂 

If you’d like to participate in this series or nominate a wanderlust-afflicted friend, holler on Twitter or Facebook and I’ll be saying ‘Hi’ very soon!