The Winter Giant

On returning to Leh we received bad news – which was that we may not be able to teach in Turtuk because of heavy snow and a landslide on the Khardung La mountain pass. The Khardung La mountain pass is the highest motorable road in the world at an impressive height of 18,400 feet at its highest. We were beyond disappointed that we would be unable to teach in Turtuk, and went to sleep praying that the pass would be cleared up by the next morning, permitting our departure. Our prayers were answered and the next morning we were given the news that we were to go; we spent the next 45 minutes scrambling to pack our bags and not forget anything in the chaos (a true struggle, when you’re put in that position). Soon enough we were off, heaving a sigh of relief at having got the packing done at record speed, oblivious to the fact that our adventures were only just beginning.

I was perhaps the happiest person on that road when the snow first started falling, jumping out of the car in glee, layered in warm clothes and buttoned up in my winter jackets.

Catching a snowflake in my mouth
Catching a snowflake in my mouth

It was only after we sat back in the car, once I had tried and failed to catch the snowflakes on my tongue, when the real adventure began.



Ours wasn’t much of a drive – more of a stop; drive a little; stop; stay stopped for an hour; drive a little; stop – and so on and so forth.

I seemed unaffected by this for most of the time, but trust me, being stuck at 18,400 feet for hours can cause severe altitude sickness, which it eventually did for me too. I thought that I was immune to altitude sickness, but within a short while I was downing Diamox and Crocin like it was going out of fashion. The icing on the cake was the row of people getting off their cars to throw up all over the road, a sight every nauseous person would be delighted to see!

The snow filled pass didn’t seem to clear up for the longest time, and then when it finally did we were on a roller coaster plummeting to the bottom at an inhuman speed.

Snow capped mountains
Snow capped mountains

The journey back down to an altitude mode conducive to human existence consisted of anxiously holding hands and praying, eating and feeling sick, horrible headaches and eventually skipping lunch which was eaten by the rest at four in the evening due to all the delay on the mountain pass. I was kept entertained by our driver Ali’s enviable playlist of Bollywood music and was in constant awe of the snow covered towering mountains rushing by us with icicles of the most interesting shapes hanging from their sides.

Brown earth visible at lower altitudes
Brown earth visible at lower altitudes

As we sat down to eat, we came to the unanimous conclusion that the ‘Winter Giant’ who had been defeated by the ‘Summer Queen’ in the story we had read and enacted, just the day before in Liktsey, was exacting his icy revenge for our depiction of his humiliation. The headaches did subside, and the altitude finally decreased as we approached the town of Diskit. A drive that should have ideally taken 2 and a half hours took us 6 and a half – but each minute of those hours proved to be an unforgettable memory of an incredible adventure for me (even if I was concerned about my safety for almost every minute of it). I was filled with excitement and anticipation to see how this adventure would continue to unfold in Turtuk the next day.

  1. Bollywood – India’s version of Hollywood; but it is as much about music as it is about films.

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