Thursday, March 11, 2010

Motorcycle diaries of riding to heaven

Expressindia » Story

Smita Nair

Posted: Mar 03, 2008 

It’s been 13 years, but 40- year-old Atmaram Parab still remembers precisely the taste of the six soggy biscuits that sustained him for more than a week as he waited for the snow blanket at Khardung La to melt.On the last day, when the entire ration—two packets of biscuits—had been shared equally among the group of expedition bikers, the only road that cleared was the road ahead to Ladakh. “Imagine you have snow all around you. And the only line of relief, when you have convinced yourself that there is nothing colder that you can take, leads to the top,” recalls the man who later voluntarily retired from a Customs job to pursue his new love.
A decade later, and two bikes older, Parab now chaperones bikers and nature lovers to Ladakh “every year, every season” because “it is much more fashionable to see nature changing her wardrobe”.
That weekend in 1995, once his team rode up to Ladakh, the Army took over once their Hero Hondas had given up, dropping them near a hotel. “We were given freeaccommodation and tasted real hospitality.” The hotel owner even arranged for hot water. “The first thing we did when we returned was to send him the money, with a heartfelt thank you note.”
His mother refused to permit “another risk after 1995 for two years”, but Parab is now a guide to many Mumbaikars who travel with him armed with a camera. The only difference between traveling with a regular travel operator and Parab’s team of “amateur photographers” is, as he says, that “you can expect a wake up call at 4 am for itineraries like Lake Pangong Tso, or you might get to drink the best gur gur (a local tea) at the house of a local”.
Having covered the beautiful valley a hundred times, it does not come as a surprise to hear that Parab has trekked to this land that’s above 3,000 feet above sea level “every season, and even in December, to see the shades of the region and get a sense of the place.” The expedition biker’s explanation of his choice of muse: “It is different to come back to a place which has the same horizon. It has no buildings or new man made structures cropping up every time you leave it. It’s like coming back to a piece of land which has not been abused.”
The anecdotes he shares are located in nooks and corners not identified even by the tourism board. “It’s like God changes the postcard at every turn and every bend that the road takes. So if you have a desert pattern on your right with the lake, the eyes are treated to a beautiful valley scene at the next bend. The shade of the snow changes with every mile.”
Parab has now organised a photo exhibition of Ladakh photographs taken by people he has accompanied. So, while the pictures placed at Ravindra Natya Mandir had amateur photographs of Ladakhi women, of the landscape and of the shadows of clouds on the hills, the big difference is that the name of his show, Shades of Ladakh, is dedicated to the Army.“Every time I think about how I quit my job with the Customs, I realise that the cause was much bigger. It’s like you have an entire heaven up there. I make it easier for you to stop dreaming. My job, or my destiny, is take people to their dreams,” Parab says.

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