By Lea Trafford
The journey of many crazy kilometres begins with a single email.
The land of many La(h)s. I didn’t know until we were preparing to walk up to and over them that literally Ladakh meant “many passes” and they weren’t kidding.
I was in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India earlier in the year on a Uniting Journey tour with a small group. My partner saw the photos of the Himalayan backdrop in an email I’d sent home, and he was already researching.
He had to be there, and soon. By the time I arrived home the flights were almost booked. Oh, and our good friends wanted to join us too. Well, why not?
I love to travel and my tourist visa for India was still current, and our new friends in Dharamsala were happy to help plan the itinerary. So with a single email home, we were well on the way to this most remarkable of places.
We left from Srinigar Kashmir in a whirlwind of excitement for the long road trip ahead to Leh and beyond and we were certainly not disappointed.
The landscape is majestic, as it is surreal. However, the roads are narrow, as they are steep. This kind of travel requires you to be so present and in the moment.
If you gave the apparent lack of consideration to road safety too much thought, you may well have just stayed on the houseboat in Kashmir (but that is another story).
Our first remarks as passengers when we began driving were not ideal – “I thought we made it clear that we wanted safe and slow drivers” and “I know how to drive and this is not even close”.
One of the passengers in the group was definitely feeling uncomfortable and concerned. The others were mildly bemused and occasionally shutting their eyes, but the scenery was so spectacular that this really was out of the question.
We survived that first day without incident (of the traffic kind) and we continued to drive on those roads for the next three weeks without incident (of the traffic kind). What was amazing however was that the driving conversations continued as they had started.
One of the group members felt they were right about how to drive and how not to drive, and they (our experienced local Indian drivers) were incompetent and wrong.
Listening and giving full attention to these concerns was everything in this situation. Being present to these concerns and acknowledging these fears as they were discussed, but held ever so gently.
Occasionally, catching a glimmer of change and an altered perspective, as we all later agreed that he (our experienced local driver) had driven ‘quite well’ today.
In fact, at the end of the trip there was even mention of a small acknowledgement that the drivers had ‘learnt and improved along the way’ and maybe they weren’t so bad.
I was very glad that our experienced local driver was driving our car, as we would still be in Kashmir if it had been up to me. Their driving skills were indeed quite exceptional and I will be eternally grateful for their care and skill.
Postscript on Kashmir: 24 hours after we departed for our road trip there was a military incident and there was an imposed curfew for a few weeks.
We also learnt that the cafe we had lunched in had caught fire after we had left and the road was blocked for many hours.
Then of course we began another conversation about those what ifs?!!!!!