21 November 2005
Just that this happened to be the World's highest - Khardung La. 18,360 ft. The rest of the stats can be read off that picture. Pretty amazing that we have a road this high. And what's even more amazing is that they manage to keep the road open every single day! It's perhaps the second most important road (in my not-entirely-educated opinion) in this country, after the Kargil-Drass road which borders the Line of Control. This happens to be the only overland route for supplies to Siachen. The army guys have thermal bunkers... beds crammed in the sides, with sleeping bags, warm clothing and other utilities lying (or hanging) all over the place. It really felt like entering a home. When a handful of people sit inside, the place feels tight... everyone is close to everyone else, there is a sense of warmth and togetherness, which I think is more important than we tend to assume. I'll never forget the voice of one of those army guys (the one in the picture below), or his eyes... I developed a much deeper understanding of loneliness, hope and guts.
Gopal went crazy with the camera... spent two minutes filming himself from different angles, from as far as his hands would extend... the usual accented talk... sharing his knowledge on the world's highest road, which were, not coincidentally, neatly stenciled on the huge yellow stone. Occasionally, he'd get tired of filming himself, and turn the camera at Joy and scream "Say 'hi' to World's Highest Joy!"
The World's highest road didn't give me any special high. It looked beautiful, just like the world's second and third highest roads the preceding week. The tag of the world's highest or tallest or strongest or whatever doesn't really sink in. I was telling myself that this was IT, and that I was supposed to be on a special high... but just the knowledge of being on the highest road didn't mean much to me. Joy, on the other hand, loves these highest/deepest/fastest tags... like just reading the suffix 'est' is enough to get him excited. For example, If I tell him that Congo is beautiful, he would probably look at me and yawn. But if I tell him that it's the Most Beautiful or No.1 Beautiful place in the world, he'd say "Machi, does Indian Railway have a train to... cuz I can use my free pass. I could take you along, for FREE (he'd pause and think of a deal)... in exchange for those boots."
We were joking how Joy would eventually get employed with the UN (his dream job) and open some merchandise store for aiding relief or something, called "The UN-fair deal shop"
This Punjabi army guy was kind enough to take us on a little hike up the snow slope adjoining the road, to this stone-shrine... not to our surprise, we saw Buddhist prayer flags fluttering merrily near the shrine.
There was just mountains and mountains of fresh-snow... white as it gets, with the bright sun reflecting off the slopes, and the cloudless, stunning blue sky contrasting beautifully with the white snow and the brown barren slopes.
While hiking up to the shrine, my right foot slipped into a little crevasse and I hurt my knee. It's amazing how much a little bruise on the knee could hurt so much when the air is thin. The throbbing pain just wouldn't let go. I sat there clutching my knee in pain, while Gopal was happily filming my agony.
Then I wondered how these guys defend the country at these heights. These guys must've overcome things like pain and disorientation early in their lives. Imagine running at these altitudes, fully loaded with supplies and weapons... running to save your life and to defend the country, while countless millions sit and watch television in the comfort of their homes, completely oblivious to what these guys go through. Too bad what these guys do isn't so romantic, or telivised... or maybe it's just that people don't want to face reality and see the truth. We're making heroes out of moviestars, cricketers... it's a shame. How many of us remember the names of Param Vir Chakra Awardees? Or what they did - for us. Something's gotta be wrong somewhere.