The global media has always been on India’s case – it’s never always safe. As a third-generation Indian Malaysian girl, it was thrice as hard to convince my parents that I planned to travel through the high mountain passes in India.
It was the raw and undiscovered India I wanted to see – the rugged landscapes and the people who live in their shadows. Not the India that I remembered visiting as a teen where you are ferried in comfortable taxis, heading to witness your cousin’s next big fat wedding and sitting in a comfortable cushy chair at The Taj Hotel.
So in February, I booked a one-way ticket to Delhi. From there, I eventually made my way to Ladakh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
My first adventure destination was Ladakh, the land of the high passes which was situated at an altitude of 3,353m.
While most people visit during the summer months, I decided to travel to Ladakh at the peak of winter where temperatures range from -20°C to -30°C. More so, I wanted to experience one of the most challenging treks in the world – the Chadar Trek in Zanskar Valley. “Chadar” refers to a blanket of ice and can only be accessed during the coldest months of January and February. The region remains closed off for eight months a year due to heavy snowfall, and is used as a route for locals to get access to education and local supplies.
I remember exchanging panicked glances with my trek mates every time we stepped on an unsteady slab of ice, ready to break at any time. Wearing eight layers of thermals and coming from a tropical country, it was way harder for my body to adjust to the harsh environment but that didn’t matter anymore when I was greeted by the region’s stunning landscapes.
After recovering from the intense trek, I decided to spend my birthday in the landlocked state of India – Sikkim. I stayed at Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, and was greeted with views of the third highest mountain the world – Mount Kangchenjunga.
Gangtok has many attractions and cafes for one to experience but I was more eager to discover the untouched areas of the North Sikkim district – Yumthang Valley, known as the “Valley of Flowers”.
The journey was a quiet one. Time slowed down. I spoke to locals, drank the delicious butter tea and visited the Nathu La pass which is a mountain pass that connects the Indian state of Sikkim with China’s Tibet Autonomous region.
With only 45 days left in India, I still wanted to continue to explore the upper Himalayas and thought it would be nice to experience India with a local. Days later, I teamed up with a Couchsurfing buddy who rode a Royal Enfield Thunderbird and we began our journey to the upper Himalayas on two wheels.
My passion for mountaineering took me to the world’s highest Lord Shiva temple as I climbed the Chandrashila peak at a height of 4,000m. Ringing the temple bells at the windy top enhanced my spiritual experience and created a positive vibration that is forever etched in my memory.
I continued my journey through one of the world’s most deadly roads, in Kinnaur, that had been cut through a mountain. It felt like I was narrowly trying to escape a wormhole. One tip over the edge and it’s instant death.
Exploring further into the deep Himalayan ranges, I visited the last village of India before the Indian-Tibet border known as Chitkul. The path was lined with cherry blossoms and it felt like I had stumbled onto one of the last quiet places on earth, somewhere where I found clarity and connection with nature.
Ninety days later, I returned with a pocketful of experiences, became fearless and realised that with a few general street smarts, the good outweighs the bad when you’re out there on the road, alone.
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