The 100 odd km stretch leading up to Leh was breathtaking. We rode alongside the mighty Indus, which was overflowing on to the road. The mammoth purple rocks rising up along the side of the road were imposing. It made us feel really small and, in a sense, insignificant.
Gopal screamed "This is the river after which we’ve been named!"
In that soft evening lighting, with the cool wind on my face, it just felt magical. It was one of the happiest times of the trip. I remember looking up at the brilliantly star-lit sky, with music playing in my head, and trying to absorb how blessed I was to be there.
Joy is the night-riding specialist in our gang. I won’t be surprised if he has some infra-red vision capabilities. He keeps fiddling with his visor, always looking dead straight. Occasionally he gets sufficiently distracted to holler a comment or two. Otherwise, he doesn’t talk much while riding.
Gopal on the other hand, simply cannot keep shut. During long rides, all the mindless chatter helped us retain some level of concentration. It’s hard to fall asleep while chatting (unless you’re a certain Suraj Kurian studying in Hindustan college). During our many rides and conversations, we pretty much gossiped about every single person we’ve ever known.
As we reached the outskirts of Leh, we were greeted by the Indus violently flowing over certain sections of the road. Luckily, we’d be sufficiently trained for this during the previous three days.
Interestingly, even with the Indus flooding roads and canals just outside, there is severe water shortage in Leh. Talk about bad water management. Normal restaurants don’t even serve drinking water. You have to buy bottled water.
We entered Leh by 10 that night, after 14 hours on the bike. We found this tiny excuse for a room at this old lady’s place. But we couldn’t care less. We’d made it to Leh. It was like a dream. I thought about the many occasions when the trip seemed buried for good. All the hurdles, the frustrations with the bike and river crossings, the many slips on the bike, the times when self-doubt crept in, when we wondered if the plan had any relation to sanity... but it was worth it all, and much more. That night, I experienced truly contented sleep.