“The story of that first ascent to Leh from Manali is in this verse that I wrote after that terrible drive. To a land called Ladakh we were preparing to go, Over high roads generously peppered with snow. The old monk saw us packing the car and a greeting he waved, Which I returned since I am moderately well-behaved. ‘So you’re off to my land of Ladakh I guess, It will take you two days to reach at best.’ ‘No sir, I have a very capable car, you see, And within a day in the city of Leh we’ll be.’ ‘Yes son, the car will handle the road, that is true, What I’m wondering is whether or not will you. Those roads are high and almost touch the sky It would be prudent to be a little shy.’ And, worrying his beads, he walked away with a limping gait, And I scoffed at his warning—I was in good physical shape. It was a terrible mistake I made, And the price in full I paid. We climbed that towering road too high and too quick, And at the fifteen thousand-foot high Baralacha La fell violently sick. Altitude mountain sickness had enveloped me in a deadly embrace, My head hurt, my stomach retched, and around me the world reeled at a furious pace. Had to make Sarchu, the only sheltered place to stay, And it was misery personified every kilometre of the way. Mountains and streams make Sarchu a place of unimaginable beauty, But appreciating it was beyond me as I lay groaning, nauseous and retchy. It could have been paradise for all I care, Inside my mind it was the devil’s lair. The gentle monk had tried to warn us, Words that I’d dismissed as an old man’s fuss. Here in the mountains where altitude is king, Hurry or haste is a very deadly thing. A million times I called to my God that night, And then I saw the bright shining light. I snapped awake shivering with fear; are the angels here, is my end near? ‘Not yet, my son,’ a voice seemed to say in my ear. It was the sun shining through the tent, the beginning of another day, My head felt good and I could stand without feeling the world sway. That remains my most distressing night, Those seven hours that I took to fight the height. I am wiser now and whenever that awesome road I drive, I remember the monk and am never in a hurry to arrive. Apart”

Rishad Saam Mehta, Hot Tea across India
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Hot Tea across India Hot Tea across India by Rishad Saam Mehta
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