“I have nothing to lose.” This was what I thought to myself before clicking on the button that subsequently led me on a solo trip to Delhi and North India in July 2018.
2018 started off slow. I wasn’t sad nor was I happy with where I was in life. As cliché as it sounds, I knew I needed to feel alive again and as soon as possible.
Ever since I got my motorbike license in May 2017, the Manali-Leh Highway had always been on my bucket list. It’s said to be one of the most beautiful highways in the world. Somewhere you will be surrounded by mountains that make you feel so small and your problems insignificant (at least at that point in time). Of course, a trip to India made perfect sense, and again, I felt that I had nothing to lose, so why not?
The trip lasted for three weeks. The first half was more of a motorbike journey and the second being a sightseeing trip. I brought along my Canon Canonet 28 and shot nine rolls of Kodak Portra 400. For this travelogue, I will share the photographs I took during the days leading up to and during the motorbike journey.
The first place I visited after I landed in Delhi was the bus terminal at Kashmere Gate, where I waited for six hours before starting a 14-hour bus ride from Delhi to Manali. The heat in Delhi was ridiculous to say the least, so I was surprised at how quickly this man fell asleep on the bench.
While walking around Old Manali looking for a bike to rent, this man approached me simply because I had a Canonet 28 hung around my neck. I’d like to think that there aren’t a lot of backpackers who use film cameras when they travel, so perhaps that was the reason why he approached me.
We talked about films, and when he mentioned how much he loved Wong Kar-wai, I was blown away, because if anything, Wong Kai-wai is the last person I’d expect to have a conversation on with someone in the mountainous region of India, so that was in itself a refreshing experience.
After a bit of searching, I found the bike that would be my companion for the journey from Manali to Leh; a Royal Enfield 350cc Bullet.
The hardest part of riding a motorbike in the mountains was balancing the enjoyment of a non-stop smooth journey, taking in everything that nature has to offer and stopping the motorbike to take photographs of the breathtaking views.
After spending two days and one night on the Manali-Leh highway, I had finally arrived at Leh.
Leh is home to numerous popular Buddhist sites. A short hike is often required to visit the beautiful temples that stand out in the predominantly brown mountains.
I met Ben when I arrived at Leh from Manali. It was late, and most of the hostels were fully booked, and both of us were desperately looking for a room for the night. We gave up looking for a decent and settled for a dust-filled room with two single beds for the night. It was cheap, though.
Ben and I were supposed to part ways the day after because he wanted to go to Srinigar and I wanted to continue riding to Khardung La, the highest motorable road (kinda) in the world. However, in the end, Ben decided to join me.
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Khardung La was a short ride (about two hours) from Leh, so after Khardung La, we continued on and headed for Nubra Valley with Tur-tuk in mind. We knew nothing about Tur-tuk, but it was the last village along Nubra Valley that’s still part of India and since we wanted to make the best out of our trips, Tur-tuk it was, and what a blessing in disguise it turned out to be.
Tur-tuk became my favourite part of the trip. It was serene, quiet, peaceful and pure. From the people to the surroundings, I felt nothing but calmness within.
Of all the photographs, this was my favourite. She was seated beside a pool, where there were more than twenty children. It was chaotic as it should have been. However, when I sat beside her and we simply looked at one another, everything else became quiet for me.
There was only silence between us. She saw me, and I saw her. She was fully aware of my presence and I was fully aware of hers – a wordless interaction of some sort, as pure and as genuine as it could be.
After Tur-tuk, we rode to Pangong Lake and spent a night there. When we arrived at Pangong Lake, the sun was still out, shining its rays upon the waters and the mountains, creating a scene so beautiful and unreal, almost like a painting.
The cold wind was relentless, so we sought shelter in a humble tea shop for a cup of tea, or two.
Remember Ben? I took a couple of portraits of him just before sunset.
There were several tea shops along the Pangong Lake and the families living there earn a living by selling food, beverages and providing beds for visitors like myself. Some of the families had children.
There were also a couple of monks there. They were friendly and had smiles on their faces all the time but seem to be deep in their thoughts as well.
The Northern part of India, or at least the places that I’ve had the pleasure to visit, were so much more beautiful than I had expected. The motorcycle rides along Manali-Leh Highway and the Leh-Nubra Valley-Pangong Lake-Leh route will be hard to top. I’d be lying if I said I had perceived India to be this pure and beautiful prior to my trip.
While it certainly had its own flaws, the beauty within the people whom I’ve met along the way made my trip worthwhile and memorable. They guided me without me asking. They translated for me when I did not speak their tongue. They helped me when my tyre went flat. They were not how I had perceived India.
This was a side of India I never knew existed, and I’m so glad I was proven wrong.
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