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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

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Marriage, Love and Morning Matters

Morning commute is usually about playing your version of Monster Truck Madness while Metallica belt out the perfect background score. But sometimes you’re caught on the right side of the road.

Yesterday, 20 minutes away from my destination, I caught sight of something spectacular.

A man wearing his heart on his car. These pearls of wisdom made for more than morning chuckle.

(Roughly) Translated thus…

—-

If Marriage is Love then why get Divorced?

Marriage is not a necessity  –  Love is a necessity

Marriage is a compulsion – Love is what we seek    

Marriage is suspicion – Love is a belief

Marriage is selfish – Love is about giving

Marriage is a societal obligation – Love is a bond we choose

What have you done, Marriage or Love

—-

I wondered if the driver had ever been married or in love or both at once. But it matters little for he made Monday morning glorious.

Here’s to people ruining their cars and making our day. Amen.

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My Way on the Highway (or why I’m sure my Driver Karma is outta whack)

When I was three months pregnant, I decided to make life simpler and travel to work at ease. So I could read, munch, stare outside and get lost in my stream of consciousness while someone drove me to work. It was also meant to be relaxing after a day’s work.

The man in question (appointed through very reliable driver of so-and-so) was young, brash, and always late. We’ll call him Driver No. 1 (yes, there are more). The wiser older people said I wasn’t used to having anyone work for me. I had to give it time and loads of patience. Yes, sometimes I could read or munch but I was never relaxed. I gave plenty of holidays, money before it was due but I could never trust the fella to turn up on time. And he never proved me wrong. So finally I decided to rid myself of the menace.

Problem not solved though. I was still barred from driving and had to put up with whoever or whatever was going to come next. Enter Driver No. 2, again sourced through the aforementioned reliable driver of so-and-so. The newbie was always on time. He also always spoke at length about nothing in particular and could not stop himself from driving like a maniac. In addition to the above, he thought the sun rose from his nether regions. Since he was Driver No.2, I decided to swallow a whole lot and just put up with him, tide through the months. Somehow we got to June, three months away from D-day, due date, life-changing experience etcetra. Then came Europe (free wheeling holiday in running shoes with baby bump to boot). Mr. Driver meanwhile outdid himself in my absence. Screamed, shouted and left father-in-law with sprained leg stranded in the middle of nowhere. There was no real reason for the behaviour, except he was an asshole. When you’re having a baby, everyone will tell you to think happy thoughts, stay calm and breathe easy. With Driver No. 2, life was anything but. So, unpleasant as it was, I didn’t regret his exit from my life.

But I was still three months away from freedom. So the hunt was on and fulfilled quite promptly in the form of Driver No. 3 (who had the distinction of getting me to one week before D-day). Seeing as he lasted till the end you would think I was happy. I don’t want to be hard on the guy and I’m sure I was being too picky. But sometimes his driving made me want to holler in his ear. There was nothing wrong with him per se. He drove safely, was always on time, did not speak a word and was very well mannered. But god-oh-god why would you always follow the slowest-moving vehicle and then honk to almighty. Or go right up to the person wishing to turn and then suddenly realise you have to swerve your way through to go straight. I realized I’m no back seat comfort seeker.

So I counted days, to deliverance, to abuse-while-you-cruise routine, to driver-proofing my life.

To finally being able to drive my way on the highway.

P.S.: Driver No. 3 is still alive and flourishing as assisted ride for father in-law. And I have a new menace to deal with. He’s a whole other story. Wait for it.