The car ride back from Kargil to Leh lent lots of time for musings and speculations on India and the Universe at large.
The welcome drive back to Leh was an adventure itself. Sean and I sat in the front seat and argued what was important in life, understanding amongst cultures or the strength of the Scientific Method (in a nutshell). I think we left it in agreement that both were important and that we were striving for different things in life. Later on this discussion gained a slightly irrelevant tone as we were stopped at a road works construction site for ten minutes. What at first seemed like an inconveniently placed pile of rubble with a bulldozer embedded in the centre turned out to to be an eye opening road working display Indian style. It is one thing to note that life is cheap â€“ dogs asleep in rubbish next to humans â€“ but it is another thing to see the unexpected effects of this lack of value. Instead of utilising more earth moving equipment to move hillsides, they employed gangs of men, some looking as young as fourteen, others as old as sixty to throw rocks at the hills side trying to dislodge larger boulders. What insanity is this system where a person can survive on a job biffing rocks. It reminds me of the Ijsselmeer in the Netherlands, a great long dyke which separates an inland sea of fresh water from the North sea beyond. According to the information plaques in the centre of the dyke, it was built at the resolution of World War Two by the hands of Dutch labourers who were so numerous and unemployment was so high that rock by rock the massive structure could be assembled. No wonder my grandparents Henk and Jos left the Netherlands. I wouldn’t have stayed to throw rocks either. What now scares me, is that is only sixty years ago â€“ oh how thin is the veneer of civilisation that we now live in. It feels like the only thing separating developed cities from those less is a large healthy dose of cheap concrete keeping the dirt at bay and pound control locking up and killing the packs of stray dogs.
Beyond the dust covered hordes working on building a better future we arrived back in Leh for two more days of rest and relaxation. The New Zealand boys (as they came to be known: Andrew, Ajay, Karl and James) proceeded, as it later turned out, to get conned by none other than the Air Deccan travel agent in Leh into believing that their flights hadn’t been correctly booked through Air Deccan. All up they probably lost one hundred and fifty pounds each, and it was also the most ingenious of the con jobs that the insurgents had come up with so far â€“ kudos to them. None of this ‘the tourist office is that way crap’ â€“ the elaborate scam works much better.
Some where in the middle of all of the chaos of biking and sh#tting and fighting and dust and noise and killing was a sanctuary called the Book Shop Cafe. In its relaxing eaves we read Tintin and Mudassir explained his belief and understanding of Islam. The discussions were enlightening, as my knowledge of Islam was very near nothing and mostly deliciously ignorant. As far as Mudassir explained Islam is an aesthetic appreciation of the Universe, based on this beauty is a very good method for living a wholesome and fulfilling life, in that it provides meaning, passion, beauty, life and death as ones wholeness of being. I am sure I have misrepresented very long and passionate discussions, but if anything I have least learnt the blatant falsity and misrepresentation that occurs in much of the Western media. Whilst they cannot be entirely blamed for this, and a quick look at how the West is portrayed in the Hindustan Times or Times of India is hilarious – we are all sex mad Christian religious nuts who have way too much money, our media certainly has no high horse on which to ride.
Religion in India at least on the surface appears to be quite different to Christianity in the West. Where Christianity is something that a person does, believes in or affiliates with; Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Janism and the plethora of other religions in India appear to be lived and breathed by the population as both spiritual philosophies and as inevitable as gravity. Shrines are attached to every taxi, truck and building, cows walk the streets and get prayed to, half naked men walk draped in robes through train stations without causing a second look and the editorial pages wax on about the interconnectedness of life and the inevitability of death. Christianity and religion may becoming irrelevant in Western societies, but god is far from dead in the East.
Before heading back to Delhi, Will, Olly and I decided to spend our penultimate day day rafting on the Indus River. Whilst it was only grade two rapids it provided a good adrenalin rush and a welcome change from the bikes. Plus it only cost R1000 for most of a day and lunch. At one point we all jumped in the river and swam alongside the raft, a bit disconcerting when you have no idea what is coming around that next bend. At the end of the trip we played volleyball with an odd mixture of river guides and English school kids. It is possibly the last thing I would have expected to be doing if you had have asked me eight months previously.