201612 NBK

Change Happens at 18,000 Feet

For a person who has been opposed to change for most part of her life, traveling opened my eyes. Once on the trip, change almost seemed like the word of the day, every day. No plans that were made in the morning ever panned out, on the contrary there was the constant ‘play it by ear’.

Image Courtesy: Arwa Husain

My journey started in a small north eastern town of India called Manali. The vacation was a 10-day journey via road from Manali to Ladakh in the Jammu region of India, and then over to Kashmir via Kargil. A road trip that challenges you in every way.  The twists and turns in the road can hurt your bones in ways you can’t even imagine. While every turn is a wall paper worthy picture, it always makes your stomach churn and your head hurt.

The highlight of the trip was to be a journey via the Khardungala Pass, which at 18,000 feet, is said to be the world’s highest motor able road. On the day that we were supposed to go there, I woke up excited about the journey, little did I know that this was going to be a journey ridden with throwing up on the side of the road, and learning that nothing in life is going to pan out quite as you imagined.

Image Courtesy: Arwa Husain

While Khardungala Pass was gorgeous, it wasn’t the highlight of my trip. The trip, when I look back at it now was more about the people I was traveling with. Yes, it helped immensely that every time I looked out the bus window, my heart skipped a beat at the beauty, but it was the warmth of the people inside that made me not only embrace the constantly changing plans, but actually enjoy them.

Here are the top five lessons I learned on that trip:

  1. Traveling between constantly changing altitudes ranging from 10,000ft to 18,000ft is the most excruciating experience you will ever have. Having said that, I think we often fail to realize how much our body is really capable of handling. I was surprised at how it became easier for my body to adapt to these changes after the first three or four days. This was how the trip helped me learn that mind over matter is a real thing. I believe I am now a person with more will power. Someone who can out last hardships both physical and emotional.
  1. The trip also opened my eyes to the fact that we often make so many assumptions based on the little knowledge that is available to us. I had so many misconceptions about the various religions and customs of the area, but traveling through these parts and communicating with the locals, made me realize that a large part of what I believed to be true was actually just a part of the whole truth. Having visited a plethora of monasteries and experiencing the Buddhist culture I came back culturally tolerant and slightly wiser.
  1. Compassion is another quality that I think is extremely underrated in our world. We all know how important a window seat is during a road trip, how sitting in the last row in the bus can cause pain in bones you didn’t think existed and just how precious that last box of Pringles can be. However, when you are traveling with people and spend most of your day with them, sharing your food with someone becomes a natural instinct, and you don’t mind giving up your seat just to make sure someone else is comfortable. A little kindness can go a long way and the people that I traveled with lead by example in this department.
  1. We live in a world that constantly decided your worth by how we present ourselves. Very rarely do we take the time to stop and look at people for their talents. While we constantly judge others, we are also constantly living in the fear of being judged. But at 18,000 feet when Oxygen is thin and the cold is set thick on your bones, you stop seeing people for what they are wearing and start seeing them for how they can help you feel a little better, hold your hand and offer you encouraging words. That experience, I think has changed a vital setting in the way I see the world now, more importantly it has helped me be more comfortable in my own skin.
  1. Food is the window to my soul. The element that completes my being. If there is a new restaurant in town, it becomes my life’s purpose to eat there. The road trip to Ladakh taught me that the joy of tasting food in its native land can never match the experience of eating in a fine dining restaurant.
Image Courtesy: Arwa Husain

The road to Ladakh for me was filled with picturesque mountains and perpetual road sickness, however the road that led me back home from these beautiful yet challenging mountains, has helped me see life in a completely different light.