"Do you feel anything?", I asked my friend outside the airport.
"Yes", he said.
"Like I smoked a joint"
This conversation is not regular stuff I ask people when I land every time. This was special. We just landed in Leh by flight. An altitude of 3500 meters is equivalent to the height of Monte leone. A lower oxygen in the air compared to New Delhi and altitude sickness is not surprising at this place. But I had more important things to focus my mind on. The iconic brown mountains that have always been a signature symbol of Ladakh were merely 200 meters from where I was standing. I had not slept for 30 hours but the excitement had overcome sleep in just a few seconds.
When we all had started tasting the air of Leh on a whole-day ride, we decided to return back to the room. Just after I passed the magnetic hill in Leh, I saw a person a distance ahead on my left. His one hand was on his forehead protecting him from the sunlight while the other one waved in front of the vehicles. He was asking for help which I assumed was a lift. I was cruising at around 80-100 km/hr and so did not apply the brakes too hard to stop in front of him. Had I done that, I am quite sure I would have been next in asking for help in this hot afternoon. I stopped 100 meters ahead of him, looked him back and turned my bike towards him.
"You need help?"
"Yes, I need a lift"
"I am going to Leh, is that where you want to go?"
"Come on, then"
He smiled and said, "thank you". A man in his fifties with wrinkles considerably visible on his cheek. He wore a purple t-shirt and was around 5'8' in height. I asked him, "where do you want to go in Leh? I will drop you."
"I have my car parked on the main road. I will tell you. It is just on the way."
"What were you doing here then?"
"I was helping my friend. He is in the truck business. He wanted to unload his truck here. So I parked my car and came in the truck."
I saw my friend waiting for me ahead of a turn. He saw a man sitting behind me and waved me to go on ahead. This man was a good chance to know something about Leh or Ladakh in general. The problem had been that Leh is the first stop for tourists. I will not be exaggerating when I say that Leh is flocked with people who are not locals except for taxi drivers. So, you probably won't get any chance to know any deep insights other than from people who have completed the circuit. Even those our not particularly of use as they speak one single line repeatedly, "Dude, Khardung La jaega, oxygen ka dhyan rakhna."
Here is the view from Leh Palace
"Yes, 5 km from the Leh market"
"Okay. What do you do?"
"I am an ex-military man. But I am retired now. I run my own business. I sell wood products in my shop."
"That is great!"
"Yeah! I don't like to sit at home even though I get a pension."
"Have you seen everything here"
"Yes, pretty much I have seen all these things."
Then he described a couple of places that I had never found on the internet. Although they did not excite me, still they were worth knowing.
"I am headed towards Leh palace now"
"Oh Okay. I will show you the way"
"Oh! Is it on the way?"
"No, I will take my car, show you the way and then come back"
"That is really kind of you. But don't worry, I will ask people around"
The problem with Leh is that there is no internet no cellular networks and hence no communication. You have to find ways the old-school ways - by asking the locals.
"So, any special food you might want to recommend"
"Where are you from sir?"
"Ah! You won't like Ladakh food, sir. We only put butter and salt and no other spices. You won't like it. Anyways, there is the only shkyun that is local. Otherwise, there were momos that were local to Ladakh but you probably would have eaten it everywhere else."
"Are you a Buddhist?"
"Have you met Dalai Lama?"
"No. Just a glance once. I wish I can before I die!"
We chatted for 20 more minutes when we finally saw his Omni standing by the side of the road. He got down and asked me to follow him. I insisted, "No, No that's fine I will go by asking people."
"No sir, you have given me a lift I will drop you at Leh palace. Please, sir."
He insisted harder than the relatives who offer money when you go to their homes. People who would say for formality but deep down pray to hear a "no". And I have been accustomed to those people. But he was serious. He put his hand on my left hand which held the clutch of the bike. "Please sir, I insist. The way is not straight. You will have trouble. At least I can do this for your help."
Never had I come across a man so thankful for my help. I could not resist. To my surprise, Leh palace was actually a zig-zag road with tributaries all along. I would have easily got lost at least once. Around 7 km from where we began, he dropped me just 10 metres before Leh palace. That was unnecessary. He stopped his car and all I was thinking was how to thank him for his kindest gesture.
As he opened the gate, I got off my bike. In a moment when you do not know who will utter the first word, he promptly said, "Thank you sir for the lift. This is Leh palace." He had made my day. Even though I saw Magnetic hill, confluence, hall of fame or Leh palace. This guy was all that I recollected in the evening. Maybe, the locals are kind enough to offer everything to someone who helped them. I wish I had a photograph of him. But asking for one just spoils the moment. These moments are best lived through the eyes and stored in the memory of the brain. I could not say, "thank you" to him. I shook his hand and then he went back on the same way.
It is amazing how you meet people that changes the way you think. How your perception towards a small gesture makes an impact on someone's life who met you 30 minutes ago. How these gestures are ultimately imprinted on your own mind. Maybe its nothing to most of us, but it has been one of the most memorable incident of my trip. As far as that person is concerned, even though I could not say it, I am thankful for his nice gesture and his friendlier tone. Even though I know I might not meet him ever again but as Andy Dufresne says, "Hope is good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies!"
The story was originally published on Meaninglesslife. Please subscribe to read more such travel stories.