I look into the side view mirror. I see Tarun with his camera focussed east. I catch his eye and smile into the mirror at him. He winks. I laugh and with one click he immortalizes the moment.
” Juley” Kelkar shatters the quiet rhythm inside the SUV with the traditional Ladakhi regional greeting.
“Juley”,the Indian Army soldiers clearing the boulders off the Leh – Pangong Lake road wave back.
” Juley” I yell out to some workers resting by the road side.
” Juley” Kelkar shouts to the women with baskets on thier backs.
Soon a ” was sleeping” Anshu joins the ‘Juely’ contest.
Our very accomodating driver Sonam Bhyaa smiles as he negotiates a tricky turn and and hit the brakes.
” Jule …… WOW.. “
With our mouths still open we stare in awe at the wonder that is Pangong lake.
Our arrested ‘Juleys’ gives way to a silence that is undisturbed till we reach our campsite by the banks of the Lake.
In the evening we walk to the water’s edge and sit by a pile of rocks with our feet dangling just above the surface of the water.Every once in a while we dip our feet in to the water for a split second.
” You know what this reminds of me of?”
Kelkar continues all the same pretending to ignore the lack of response, ” The Manu vs Bayern Munchen game at Camp Nou , Barcelona.”
Seriously! Here we are probably in the most beautiful place on earth and Kelkar compares the experience to a foot ball game?
“Munchen was leading with one – nil.”
Anshu clearly not paying heed to Kelkar’s narration ,” Hey doesn’t that rock over there look like the Pride Rock from the Lion King?”
Tarun sprints across to the rock and on reaching it he grins and says, ” Race you to the pride rock”
Anshu and Kelkar bolt from their positions and follow suit;
Kelkar still continuing the story ” it was Basler who scored the first for Munchen”.
I didn’t budge. I look over to the three as they settle on the pride rock.
We are a comical sight. A square peg and round hole kind of comical sight.
There is Tarun, great with the camera, a level-headed and over-cautious guy. A dear friend.
Beautiful Anshu. Her beauty magnified by her sweet disposition and very pretty eyes.
Kelkar of course, the entertainer. Impulsive and fun.
And then there is the fact that we all had officially met just 3 days back, before we started the long winding journey to Leh.
Yes we are friends of 3 days.
To bring you up to speed let me go back 3 days…
Tarun had flown in to Delhi from Georgia, US; Kelkar his friend from college flew in from Bombay. Anshu, Tarun’s childhood friend took the over night bus from Shimla and I flew in from Hyderabad to meet my dear friend from Grad school and take a road trip with two other people I had met via the internet and the only thing we shared in common was that we each knew Tarun!
Mark Twain wrote “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
I look from Tarun to Anshu to Kelkar. I ask myself ” Well, would I take a road trip with them again? “
The winds change direction. It blows towards me carrying with it -
” And ManU scores at the 90th minute! Oh what a goal that was!
The commentator then says… everybody in this stadium will remember this day and when they do they will say ‘I was there’!! “
I dwell on the ” I was there”…..
I look at the lake changing its colors with the setting sun.
I will always remember this moment and when I do I will say ” I was there”.
I look from Tarun to Anshu to Kelkar again. I think back on the landslides, the road blocks and many obstacles that we went through together that brought us to this moment.
I get up dust the sand off my jeans and walk over to claim my place on the ‘Pride Rock’.
The question follows me.Would I take a road trip with them again?