“I wanted to come back and tell everybody
I’d made it alone…’
SHE FINDS AN EERIE QUALITY IN her
dreams – if she wants it hard enough, she finds it fulfilled.
She had her first brush with Ladakh nearly ten years ago. There
was something about the rugged expanse, which kept calling her back
every time. One day, she saw glimpses of the frozen Zanskar River
on television. Sitting there watching it, there was an irrepressible
urge in her to be there, walking on ice-all alone. An injured knee
didn’t deter her from setting off. Nor did the danger of crashing
through the glacier into nothingness. It was a fantasy that simply
had to be lived for the highly acclaimed actor, poet and artist
The first impulse…
I went to Ladakh for the first time
with my fiance’ Vinod in 1995. We drove all the way from Bombay
via Delhi, then Spiti Valley to Lahaul and finally to Ladakh.
I had heard of the frozen river in the Zanskar Valley. I’d
walked around the area where the rivers Indus and Zanskar meet and
then flow down towards Pakistan. In winter, when the river freezes,
you can walk on the river and go into the Zanskar Valley. It has
no access otherwise. This rugged terrain and the sheer expanse just
keep pulling me back.
One day, I saw glimpses of the Zanskar on BBC. I felt, “Oh,
my God, this is something I must do.” Trekking on the icy
expanse of Ladakh, all alone was my secret dream. On the day before
starting for my journey, I just told my closest friend Pemu. I gaver
her password of my computer and told her I’d written down
everything. Pemu was hysterical, ‘How can you do this?’
But I knew I had to, in the way I had imagined.
Frankly, the night before starting,
I had second thoughts. I realized this might be a stupid thing to
do. I may not return from this trip alive. But then I felt that
if I was to lose my life going down the river, then maybe that’s
the way it’s meant to be.
I reached Leh on Jan 9 and it was
snowing. After acclimatization, I left for the river on the 14th.
Frankly, there was a tinge of skepticism too – being an Indian
woman, and going alone everybody thinks you’re little weird.
Not even the foreigners travel alone, and they are well-equipped
too. But I didn’t want to do it the touristy way –it
had to be the way the local travel and I wanted to do it their way.
It’s good to be well-equipped, but then it becomes too organized
and easy. I wanted to rough it out.
So, with my two local porters, I
began my frozen river trek – the Tchadar Expedition, as it
is called. It entails everything, from walking on rock ice to going
into the water. All of a sudden, you find yourself in knee-deep
water and then you have to climb high rocks. There are times when
you have to crawl under rocks with just a little space between the
rock cliff side and the melted river. It’s adventurous –
all that crawling, ducking and climbing. But it’s dangerous
We held to look for caves before
darkness set in. And these were not proper caves, but actually niches
in the rocks. We had to light a fire, to save ourselves from the
cold and to also keep the wild animals at bay – wolves and
The dangerous part of walking on
a frozen river is if you put your feet on soft ice, it’ll
break. You’ll land in the water, get caught by the underwater
current and finally get dragged under the frozen ice… It becomes
really treacherous when it snows since you don’t get to see
the thin ice. On our return, three Germans and locals helped us
scrape through – it would have been difficult with my bad
knee, the result of an old car accident.
Living the dream…
The experience was every bit of what
I’d imagined and much more. Every step was a wonderful surprise.
I kept waiting for more surprises – whether it was observing
the ice formations, or sitting huddled in the cave – every
moment was an enriching experience. When my porters would break
pieces of ice into the kettle to make tea or to cook vegetables,
chattering away in Ladakhi, I would ferociously scribble on my notebook,
penning my thoughts, writing poetry… It simply was a dream.
The first night, when I looked at the night sky, I just stood there
– stunned. It looked so unreal, as if it was an artificial
image worked out on computer graphics. The most fascinating part
was the texture of the ground under the clear water and its ice
and rock formations.
I trekked to the point where the
river reaches the villages and started walking back. Survival was
vital. I wanted to come back and tell everybody I’d made it
This experience has changed me from
within, it will always remain, very special for me.
Dreams are frightening…
I find dreams frightening. There
is a certain eerie quality to dreams. Sometimes you actually achieve
what you really wish for. One just has to work towards the goal.
And if you meet failure, its fine too – since in a journey,
failure is as imperative as success.
Future dreams? None really. I believe
in the now, and I don’t plan or visit a palmist or an astrologer.
I do not wish to know what the future holds for me. As of now, I
want to be a true nomad – I’ve got addicted to life’s
AS TOLD TO EDWIN PAUL