One of the last things Marian and I did in Ladakh was a two day tour to the Nubra Valley. This required a five hour drive up and over the Khardung La, the highest motorable all weather road in the world. The word motorable is a bit in question as the upper part of the road on both sides of the pass was barely passable, somewhat terrifying, and a downright marvel of road engineering.
It was tempting to cancel the tour after the terrifying roads we took to and fro Zanskar but we decided the experience was worth the risk. At one point, I turned to Marian and said, “This exposure therapy is working, I no longer have a flight or fight response on ever hairpin corner.” We admired those who took on the Khardung La on motorcycle or bicycle and I had fine memories of riding a bike from Lhasa to Kathmandu in 2005. We crossed 8 mountain passes on that trip.
Our driver was excellent and patched up a flat with aplomb. We used the time to gingerly peer over the edge. Marian reminded me that whether the drop was 8 metres or 800 metres, the result would be the same. I used the same strategy I use to relax my mind on flights, I blessed the driver and made the prayer that we all reach our destination safely. I’ll do the same tomorrow as we fly to Paro, Bhutan-a dangerous airport that only certain pilots are certified to land at. I hear it’s pretty exciting.
It was a lot of driving to get there but we enjoyed visiting two monasteries and watching some folks ride camels over the sand dunes near Hunder. I pondered what it meant to live in such a location separated by such a road but realized that many kinds of road or social conditions can cause that kind of isolation.
I also realized I’m much happier walking or hiking or trekking or riding or paddling that travelling via car so I’m glad to be headed out to another 26 days of walking in Bhutan. This trip has been over a decade in the making and I’m glad to be sharing it with Marian.
Driving without guard rails on the roads was a new experience. I wondered if it made drivers more careful. Without guard rails, the great abyss was one moment of inattention away but fortunately, our driver pulled it off. In reality, how much of our life has guard rails? What are the hairpin turns? And what does it mean to go over a high pass? It was great fun in Ladakh to celebrate every pass reached by foot or car by shouting “Ki Ki So So” just as I had been taught by my Buddhist teacher, Moh.
Driving the Khardung La reminded me both to celebrate the preciousness of this human life while as the same time, being open to adventures of all sorts including the multiple direction changes of hairpin turns.