The Highest Road – THE top!

Apr 10, 2014 by     No Comments    Posted under: Uncategorized

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Prelude (written present tense at the time)

Its about 6am, I think.  I lose perspective of time and day on arrival in India.  I’m sitting at an old gompa above this ancient town of Leh, looking down at the Indus Valley.  The high mountains opposite are topped with snow.  A cool breeze creates a rhythmic flapping sound with the multitudinous prayer flags, and a few drops of rain fall on my face, despite the fact that this is one of the driest places in India.   I’ve done my kundalini yoga routine, and meditated facing the valley.  Its a great way to start the day, and celebrate living.

The Experience (written from notes and memory)

This was the day that we had all come to India.  All the other days were part of the journey, and even before that there had been months and years of planning by some, but today was the culmination.  Today we ride over the highest motor-able road in the world – the Khardung La.  Although it wasn’t meant to be the day.  That was meant to be a day later, but the Dalai Llama had changed our plans.

We were exploring the markets of Leh in the morning, when Amar suggested that we should ride the pass today.  The authorities informed him that His Holiness was coming to town soon, and with it they might close the highest pass, so that they could “fix it up” for him to drive on.  Would have been a shame to have come all this way to ride the world’s highest road, and not be able to do it, so a 2pm leave time was set.

Gear on, bikes prepared, and off we set.  Through the town, down what appeared to be a little back alley, winding our way around a little community, before the road opened up and we were ascending into the heavens.  In preparation for the Dalai fresh tar had been laid for the first few miles.  It was a joy to be riding on black, sticky hot mix.  Not even a speck of sand or dirt had been blown onto the road yet, and the Enfields purred through the twists and turns.  With the mountains surrounding us, layers of road snaked up the mountain ahead.  At one point there were bikes on 3 separate levels visible.  It was an absolute joy, on a perfect day.

We had to stop briefly at a checkpoint, and then we rumbled off again, the single cylinder engines thumping in the think air.  The road was a mix of semi-sealed, gravel, dirt and rocks.  The narrow road was only wide enough for one vehicle, and occasionally a seemingly out of control Tata would speed down the hill at yo  With hairpin bends and cliffs dropping away dramatically, one had to be ever vigilant.  But it was a thrill.  At one point a truck came around a blind corner at me, but as always a tiny gap on the dirt at the edge of the cliff offered sanctuary.  It was definitely a thrill.

Tony rode behind me the whole way up, and we had the bikes live in 2nd gear for the entire time.  The bikes chugged across the rocks, water, sand, holes and anything thrown at them.  We climbed, and climbed, and climbed, and weaved around hairpin bends, and the air became thinner, and the temperature dropped.  We appeared to be higher than some of the snow capped mountains around us, and as we came around what seemed to be the thousandth corner of the ride we saw the summit.

THE BRUSH OF CRISP, COLD AIR across my face heightened the exhilaration I felt deep in my chest.  My breathing was labored, as tends to happen at over 19,000 feet, but it was exciting, not alarming.  The sanitized air, and lack of odor was noticeable, particularly after the pungent scents we had earlier experienced in the hot, sweltering lowlands. An incessant flapping of thousands of prayer flags whipped by icy winds, the vibrant red, blue, and yellow flags contrasting against the white glacier in front of us.  Below us, the dirt switchbacks descending thousands of feet, the peaks of China in the distance.  The thumping of the single piston engine of the 1950s Royal Enfield motorcycle pure music.

And there, at the top, was my 72 year old Dad, a shit eating grin across his face, reveling in this moment that had taken us a month to reach, but which he had dreamed about for years – we had ridden to Khardung La – the highest point for any motorized vehicle in the entire world.

We had ridden the highest road in the world.

At the summit we stood, stared, took it all in and congratulated each other.  I took photos with Dad, with Will, with our group.  As the group splintered apart, driven to descend by altitude headaches, Will and I scrambled up large rocks to go higher, accompanied by our local leader and Hindu priest guide.  A short ceremony, with just us, at a spot higher than our priest had ever gone in his 50+ trips to the road summit.  A ceremony for our loved ones, both past and present.  A beautiful moment, a beautiful day, a day to live in our memories for all time.


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