It was amazing, the silence that greeted us when we returned to Leh from Nubra Valley. We had heard from drivers passing the other way that there had been some sort of disaster in Leh the previous night and that a hundred people had died. There was absolutely no traffic coming from the other side, and the heavy rain didn’t help; not least those of our group who were on the bike (I had finished my turn on the bike a while earlier; more on that in another post).
The only sign of activity on the way was the Rimpoche’s procession. Stanzin Nawang Jigmed Wangchuk is 5 years old and is believed to be the reincarnation of former Ladakh MP Bakula Rimpoche He was at Sumur monastery (in Nubra Valley) and on that day he was on his way to Leh.
The previous day, our driver had informed us to get up early so that we could go to Sumur in time to see the festivities there, in honour of the departing Rimpoche. Unfortunately, late night drinkage meant by the time we reached Sumur the procession had long passed. There was little sign of their having been any celebration by the time we got there.
Coming back, as we descended into Leh valley from Khardung La (supposed to be the highest motorable pass in the world) it looked the same. From on top of the hills, it looked pretty much the same as it did when we left for Nubra the previous day. Except for the lack of traffic in the opposite direction, nothing was different. And the crowd we saw at the Rimpoche’s procession (it was some distance off the main road) only reinforced the sense of normalcy.
Of course, we knew in our heads that things were far from normal. Having gotten back into the Airtel network we had called our families and figured what had happened. Our driver Jugnes had got a call from a relative saying the authorities had requested his village to be evacuated as it was supposed to be in a dangerous low-lying area. We had ourselves been caught in the rain and seen very few army men at Khardung La. All I’m saying is that by the look of things nothing at all looked amiss.
And then when we entered town (and got past another crowd of people waiting for the Rimpoche) it hit us. Not a soul on the streets. Not a single shop open. No one picking up as we called the travel agent’s office. Us not sure if we had a reservation at the hotel where we’d stayed two nights prior before embarking for Nubra (it turned out we did have a reservation; and the kindly hotel staff conjured up some sort of a sandwich for our lunch from whatever supplies they had). It was surreal. And scary. We thought after a couple of hours of rest we should go check out the affected areas to see what has happened. But before that could happen, we realized we ourselves weren’t out of danger.