I sit here this evening in the tent in Khorzak shaking with anger, fear, rage, worry, confusion and I don’t know what else. This was the day full of drama and a traveler’s worst nightmare.
Last night’s sleep was repeatedly interrupted by howling winds. At times I thought our whole tent was going to fly away. When we got up in the morning and assessed the damage, it turned out that just of lot of loose rubbish, buckets, clothing, and other small things were scattered about out of place. There was no real damage that we could see. Today was supposed to be a day of rest but that didn’t last long at all. About noon, Khandro-la called us all together. She looked shaken. She had heard from the mayor that word was coming through from Leh that there has been floods back there. There is very little information but this is what we understand so far. There is a lot of destruction in Leh and the nearby village of Choglamsar. We have heard stories of houses being buried and many deaths and missing people. Apparently the few road backs to Leh are rumored to have been washed away or buried in mudslides. Khandro-la said that we are not going back to Leh tomorrow as planned as it is dangerous, if not impossible. That’s where we are now but there is a lot more to the story.
After hearing about the floods, Melanie and I were initially thinking only of what it meant for us. We have paid $1,080 for a 9-day trek that is supposed to start on Monday. If we can’t get back in time, we will lose our money. I tried to get access to the only public phone in town but there were about 100 people in the small room where the phone is, trying to get news about their families. Very few calls are getting through and it is assumed that the phone lines and electricity are down in Leh. After seeing the worried faces in the phone room, we also spoke to our drivers. They are sick with worry. At times these tough guys looked like they were about to cry. They told us directly that they want to leave immediately to head back to Leh to see their families and homes. Melanie and I then realized our problems were tiny compared to the local population. I felt ashamed. We felt awful for them and tried to figure out what we can do. Unfortunately, we felt helpless.
Later in the day, Khandro-la called for another meeting and we all gathered in the mess tent. Several of the group had already approached her about trying to get to Leh as soon as possible and she wanted to nip those thoughts in the bud immediately. She reminded us yet again that she was in charge and only she will decide when we leave. She explained to us all how dangerous the ride could be without saying what the dangers were. Now I understand that local knowledge is valuable but I want to know why. She then called in the drivers and said that she would ask their opinions. I already knew what they thought so I had hopes of leaving at first light. Unfortunately, as she spoke to them in the local dialect, I saw their eyes look sadly to the ground. The nodded solemnly and Khandro-la turned to us and said “See! The drivers say it is not safe enough.” I didn’t understand what had happened but she started her follow-up story about how these drivers have been serving her family for hundreds of years (seriously, she was talking about re-incarnation) and they are loyal and know the roads well. She will not allow them to drive any of us out tomorrow. The thought that she believed these poor guys suffered her for more than one life-time pissed me off enough that I blew up. I shouted something like, “It’s always all about you!” Bob shouted that I was the selfish bastard. Everyone was soon yelling while Kanya and Justin walked out. Melanie and I soon followed them. It was an ugly scene but I soon got even madder. Kanya, knowing several Indian languages, told us what Khandro-la really said to the drivers. She did not ask their opinion at all. She merely said “These idiots want to leave tomorrow to go back to Leh. There is no way I am allowing that. Do you understand me?” I’m trying to understand this woman. She is kind enough to organize an eye doctor to visit the poor nomads, yet such a self-centered liar that I wanted to punch her.