Thursday, 7 May 2009

Off to the Himalayas

And so I've finally booked my tickets and am off at last. I'll be leaving tomorrow and returning on the 14th of June, which gives me 38 days of travel, two days less than the 40 I had originally wanted to have (40 sounds so much more rounded and cool), and a lot less than the 56 days in total I've taken off from work.

But what can I say - it's tough to plan a trip like this. I've wanted to visit the Himalayas for a long time now - since 2007. But the summer of that year saw me shifting jobs with a small break between and no way to plan a last minute trip. Then 2008 came and I wasn't too sure about taking two weeks off in the summer since I planned on travelling in late 2008 or early 2009. I did take a ten day trip in Jan '09, which only whetted my appetite for more travel, making me make up my mind about visiting Ladakh in the summer. I certainly didn't think I'd be able to take an extended trip but maybe instead something along the lines of two weeks. And then came the news that I wouldn't have too much work at the office for the first quarter. Which led me asking for a two month sabbatical. Which I shortened to one month and three weeks to finish off some last minute work. And that's how I ended up with 56 days to kill.

Now I had started researching travel options about a month before going on leave. Like I said, I've been entranced by the Himalayas for a while now, and had worked out in my mind that the best way to use the time I had was to do a really long three week trek through the Himalayas to begin with, stopping at villages along the way to get a feel of the place.

Research showed me it wasn't that simple. The Himalayas would take more time to explore, the treks offered a deep exploration of only a tiny slice of the pie, and none of the companies I contacted seemed keen on responding, or were mostly aimed at professional backpackers or trekkers from abroad and charged huge rates.

It was around that time that I shifted my focus to Ladakh, which I've been reading a lot about. What attracted me most to it was it's pure desert feel - seclusive and all. I soon came to the conclusion that I'd need at least two weeks to explore Ladakh, and another week at least for a mild trek, which seemed doable. Any other travel could be arranged around Ladakh.

The problem, I soon learned, was that apart from air travel, the only other way into Ladakh was by road i.e the the two highways, bot of which were preferable to travel by because of the scenery, and both of which could be closed uptil mid June, which is exactly when I was supposed to be back at work.

Near panic soon set in. As my life slowly became a tangled web of search engine results, I got to know that the roads could open sooner (in fact, I've just learnt a couple of days ago that the Srinagar - Leh road is now open). This turned out to be a good thing as I figured I could do a bit of travelling before hitting Leh. Planning began in earnest. Do I go backpacking or join a tour? I had made up my mind at the start to never join a tour in my life. To me, they seem more geared towards tourists than travellers.

Unfortunately, none of my friends seemed to be willing to take even a week off from work to travel with me, making me lean towards a tour (as I didn't want to travel alone) or at least to start off with a tour group and then do my own thing once the tour completed.

It was around this time that I started on my sabbatical. I spent the first week continuing with my tour finding effort, but with no luck. None of the tours I found were in my price range, or seemed to my liking, except one. Meanwhile, I was also planning an itinerary for travel during the start of May, as all the tours I'd found only had trips beginning in the middle of May. But planning that itinerary was a real effort, because it forced me to come to terms with the fact that I'd be backpacking alone for the first time in my life. And that too for an extended period of time. And since I'd be backpacking for the first two weeks of May, I might as well backpack for the remainder of my trip as well.

I took this last decision on May 1st, when I realised I had to put a start date on my trip as enough time had gone by. Ideally, I would have liked to leave as soon as I had voted; I would have had 45 travel days in all. But all these decisions took time. I put May 6th as my tentative start date, with me leaving for Delhi and then Himachal first (as that's where all the good tripping points are) before travelling to Leh as soon as the highway opened. Then I decoded I needed at least a couple more days to deal with some last minute bank work. And during that time I heard about the Srinagar-Leh road opening up, which spurred me into booking a last minute ticket to Srinagar instead of Delhi.

And so I'm off at last.



Bits and Pieces said...

Aaaaaaarghhh!!!! This took a lotta trouble reading, you confused rambling soul!! Good luck with the trip, you will rock! Any internet access up in the Himalayas?!!! I soooooo wanna do Leh, and Valley of Flowers. Lucky you!

Daniel said...

Heh...heh...I find it therapeutic to analyse my thought making clears my head :-)

Yeah, they have internet connections in leh at Rs.90/hour :-)

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