Two months ago, I had this momentous epiphany that I should be giving up the apartment, my belongings, a stable base and live out of a backpack. I gave my two months notice to the house owner, packed up my stuff and made plans to call the road home. And the first place I wanted to go back to, as a nomad, was a strange place that was never comfortable, always had great adventures in store for me and felt like another planet to someone who comes from the land of bright tropical sunshine - Ladakh!
|Leh Palace, glowing on a winter morning|
I always thought, as a wandering soul at heart, I would never want to call one place home. But here in Ladakh, every single time I arrive, I feel at home. Including last month’s journey, I’ve been here five times already - thrice in summers and twice in winters! I returned this time thinking I’ll be back again coming summer. I often wonder, how is it that a place can call out to me again and again, and again?
But what makes a place feel like home?
Novelty? Certainly not!
The first time I arrived in Ladakh, it was like novelty hit me in the gut and assaulted my senses ceaselessly. I never knew Himalayas were so dry, muddy and so majestic. The oxygen deprivation was a completely new sensation altogether and the proximity to sky-high mountains was inexplicably nostalgic - having grown up in plains, those were memories probably from my past life.
It was here in these mountains that I first experienced freedom in its purest form. Sitting on the banks of a solitary Pangong, then untainted by the consumerist hogwash, I felt like I arrived at the end of the world. Except for a handful of vehicles, the disastrous human touch was delightfully absent and the untarnished natural beauty of the blue lake was mine and only mine to savour. It’s been 7 years since I first set foot in this enchanted land, I’ve seen the place change over the years - from blissful desolateness to pitiful commercialization. I’ve seen the place grow, I’ve explored it’s nooks and corners - I’ve gone from the marshlands of Chushul to the tribes of Dah Hanu, reached scintillating heights of Stok Kangri to freezing depths of Chadar. I’ve followed the trail of a Snow Leopard and watched dozens of Kiangs(Wild Asses) run amok across the cold desert. Every time I’m here, a sense of belonging and a rush of familiarity washes me over.
|Flowers on the way to Hemis Monastery|
I do not live here, but I see a friendly face on every corner. I did not grow up here, but there’s always someone who recognizes me here. I do not belong here, but my body adjusts perfectly fine to the high altitudes & freezing temperatures here. My mind - it takes flight here! There is something in these hills that reminds me of a place called home, that was never mine to begin with.
Last January, when I was worried sick about walking on Chadar(it’s a frozen river for god’s sake, which can break anytime!), I completed the trek without any incident. Our guide said, this was a rare occurance that we finished the trek without any weather related trouble or the need to wade barefoot through freezing waters. This year, when I went back, Ladakh welcomed me with a warm heart in the dead of winter by showing me its colorful festival welcoming summers! Feels like Ladakh takes care of me, always.
|Dosmoche Festival, marking the beginning of summer|
How many times have we made silent promises that we’ll be back somewhere and how many times have we actually gone back? With Ladakh, I go back every single time I make that promise. I’ve been to thousand other places since my journey started at Ladakh and till today Ladakh is one of the very few places that truly feels like home - oxygen deprivation, lack of greenery and freezing temperatures notwithstanding! Sometimes the strangest of places feel like home and perhaps the magic lies exactly in not knowing why.
Ladakh is my strange beloved place I can call home, what’s yours?
, by Neelima Vallangi