MOUNTAINS AROUND ROHTANG FORMED MY MENTAL GEOGRAPHY
I have memories. i have always
enjoyed going off to the mountains, unplanned. Planned holidays,
somehow never seem to work out for me. I like the idea of exploring
remote places, which normal tourists stay away from. I love to
take off on my own. That somehow puts me in touch with myself.
I love driving cross- country, but you never really get to feel
the place unless you walk through it, touch it, feel it. I love
trekking through the wilderness. These are my wanderings. It is
my time to reflect.
I was very fond of the Kullu valley
as a child. My parents used to take us there for the two months
of our summer vacations. My Dad had a weakness for the mountains
- Manali, Rohtang, Kothi, Ralha, Madhi—all these places.
He used to write and my mother used to paint.. The rugged mountains
of Rohtang formed my mental geography. We would hire a cottage
in the middle of the apple orchard just outside of Manali. I remember
having apples for breakfast, apples for lunch and apples for dinner.
Kabhi apple ki sabzi, kabhi salad, kabhi apple ka stew etc.
Later when I returned from New
York to become an actor, I would keep going back to the valley
and discovering little new areas all over the place. Naggar has
been my favorite hide-out. I have been fascinated by Nicholas
Roerick’s work. He was a Russian painter who had fallen
in love with this little village and settled down here. His daughter-in-law,
was the famous actress of yester years - Devika Rani.
Wandering with my camera in the early
In the early 80s, the valley was
much quieter. Each time my shooting got cancelled and I had a
few days on hand, I would take off for the hills. Get on to the
evening flight to Delhi – pick up a friend and go straight
to the local bus stop, wanting to get on to the bus to Kullu.
The guy at the ticket window would say ‘Kullu ki bus nahin
laggi ji!’ So we’d ask, ‘Kahan ki lagi hai?’
‘Dalhaujji ki laggi hai ji’ – to which we’d
promptly say ‘Achcha theek hai, Dalhaujji ki ticket de dijiye!’
That’s how we traveled. Nima and I. Totally spontaneous!
I did this when I was at the peak of my popularity, just after
films like ‘Ek Baar Phir’, ‘Chashme Baddoor’
and ‘Hum Paanch’. People couldn’t believe it
was Deepti Naval sitting in the bus next to them, but I would
pretend I was someone else. I loved it.
For years I wandered in the Himachal
region going to remote areas of Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti. Then
I discovered Ladakh!
LADAKH CAPTIVATED THE POET
It was the summer of 1995 when I
first went to Ladakh. I had always been intrigued by the terrain,
passionately drawn to it, but had never ventured beyond Lahaul
and Spiti. I had been happily trekking in Himachal for years till
I discovered Ladakh.
Taking a break from driving, Vinod
& I - in Spiti valley - 1995
The landscape itself, the vastness,
the sheer enormity of space in that desert mountain region - for
me all that was fascinating. I got hooked on to it. I knew I’d
keep coming back.
As a child I had seen that Ladakh in a film called
'Haqeeqat' made by Mr. Chetan Anand. It was a war film and the
landscape they showed, got embedded in my mind even then. Now
after all these years I finally got to see it for real.
Standing on the high pass - Baralacha
La - on way to Leh
It was the month of August, 1995,
when Vinod and I drove off from Bombay all the way to Leh. We
did not take the Manali Leh route. Instead we went all the way
around from Simla, towards Kinnaur valley, which had opened up
just a few years ago, moving on to Spiti, Lahaul, and finally
ending up in Leh, Ladakh. We were on the road for two months,
driving alternately for hours together, in silence, mesmerized
by the mountainscapes around us - stopping along little villages
bordering Tibet and at times, China. The beauty of the terrain
overwhelmed me. That’s how Ladakh came into my mental and
Leh was full of people from all
over the world. Some person is writing a book on the frescoes
in the monasteries, someone else is doing a research on Buddhism,
some person working on a travelogue. People, a whole lot of them,
full of wonderful ideas. During the day everyone is out sightseeing
or trekking, visiting the gompas and then in the evening people
gather in restaurants and little pubs to exchange notes. It is
so wonderful to be in a city like this.
Now I am addicted to driving. From
Bombay to Ladakh.
On our way to Lamayuru
But it was the winter landscape
that intrigued me most. The first winter trip was in January 1998.
The film festival in Delhi had ended and Vinod was returning to
Bombay. I decided to take a flight to Leh instead. I was wandering
all over the place by myself. This time it seemed like a new terrain.
The colors had changed. The whole landscape was innumerable shades
of grays and browns. All the tiny green patches had disappeared.
Ladakh in the winter is more intriguing, more spaced out.
I can go on and on writing about
my treks over the years, but what I’d like to share with
you here is an unforgettable experience, which happened in the
winter of 2004 - my Frozen River trek. It is not just a trek,
it actually entails rock climbing, crawling, wading through icy
waters, walking, falling, cliinging, crawling, everything... It
is called the Tchadar Expedition.
Tchadar Expedition in the Zanskar valley of Ladakh