Friday, February 11, 2011

Personal Geography: Ladakh


Every year, I know summer is around the corner when I start looking through my collection of dog-eared road maps looking for that elusive, yet-unridden road that promises motorcycling nirvana. I know it’s summer because my craving is stirring and Ladakh always beckons, like a flame to a moth. It’s that time of the year when my soul starts becoming fat and jolly like an Ahmad Jamal piano riff. Ladakh is beckoning and there is no place else on earth where the texture of the landscape can make my heart race and the sound of a name send a delicious frisson of anticipation down my spine.

I’m talking about riding there on a motorcycle, where you are infinitely more connected to your surroundings. This is where deserts, mountains and rivers collide with a jagged scream under skies so high it’s disorientating—18,380ft up at Khardung La, the journey’s end, where the sun burns, the wind chills and the colours glow, strangely enough, on bare-naked mountains, where below, the road falls away like a coiled rope. There’s no ignoring the smells, the temperatures, the 360-degree panoramas and the children’s hands outstretched in greeting, their cheeks stained salty with last night’s tears, top lips crusty with this morning’s snot.

The geography of the motorcyclist is personal, spiritual, physical in nature: any road I know, any road I ride, becomes a part of my mind, a part of myself. The link between rider and road, it’s tangible, and for me, being at home means being in this place, Ladakh, that I have etched into my being with every day, with each ride, with each revolution of my wheels.  And Ladakh is a piece of my landscape, it is me.