Towards the end of my Ladakh trip i had become very proficient in hitchhiking around the place. I no longer hesitated to stick out my hand to flag down any passing vehicle. I knew that people would stop if they could spare the space to take you on board. So i no longer worried about finding transportation to anywhere in Ladakh.
That little theory of mine was put to the test when i went to the Nubra valley.Â
They told me that i'll have to go early to a place called Nubra Chowk in Leh to catch a shared jeep to the Nubra valley. When i asked "how early ?", nobody gave me a proper answer, so i figured that 9am should be early enough.
The next day, I went to Nubra Chowk at 9am but there were no jeeps available. Someone then told me that the jeeps to Nubra start leaving at 7:30am and that the last one left about 30 mins back. I thought 9am was early but clearly what was early to me was late to them. Its all relative again.
Undeterred, and banking on my hitchhiking expertise, i walked along the road hoping to flag down a vehicle going towards Nubra. I waited at point in the road near the Tsemo monastery high above Leh. A hour passed without any luck and i was running out of patience.
Just as i decided to give up and go visit the Tsemo monastery, i saw a truck coming towards me. I flagged it down and luckily it was indeed going to Nubra and its driver was happy to have me on board. The truck was on contract with the army, so apart from the Ladakhi truck driver, there was also a young army officer from central India.
We exchangedÂ pleasantriesÂ and set off towards Nubra. The conversation invariably steered towards our incomes and for once i had no qualms about openly stating my income.. which was zero. Disappointed, the other two started discussing the pros and cons of the army vs civilian life, renumeration wise. It was a close argument but in the end the army won because of its extra perks.
The ride otherwise also was enjoyable, with the view getting more and more expansive as we climbed above Leh.
We soon reached the South Pullu checkpoint (below Khardung La) and here's where we hit our first roadblock.
The J&K police officer manning the check point was quite an authority figure and he point blank refused the truck to go any further, stating that there was a big army convoy due to come in from the other direction and that he can let us through only after 4pm. He was very firm on that matter and wouldn't budge.
With nothing left to do but wait, i went to a nearby tea shop to have my lunch of steamed momos.Â
After lunch, we were met with some good news. Apparently the convoy was delayed and the officer agreed to let us through. I then made the mistake of showing him my permit to the Nubra valley. It was then he realized that i was a tourist hitching a ride on the truck.
That changed everything. He forbade me to go on the truck stating that it was not safe. I tried to reassure him by telling him that i've done this many a time and that i was quite the expert on hitchhiking by trucks in Ladakh. He would have none of it. He told me that just a few days back a truck rolled off the mountainside just above South Pullu and that the would not risk sending me up there on a truck.
Disappointed, i had to give in. The police officer reassured me that he would find me a ride on a 'safer' vehicle. To this day i fail to understand how a big truck is less safe than a small jeep or car on those mountain roads. (If anyone has any theories please feel to share it in the comments below).
I sat in his office and waited, sulking. Slowly my anger faded as i realized that he was only looking out for me. We got talking and he invited me for lunch, but i was full already and politely refused.
Eventually, at 2pm a Jeep came. As promised, the officer convinced the driver to give me ride to Nubra valley. And i was off again.. towards Nubra and towards a new adventure.