Dawa moved slowly across the cold desert surface. The sun was bleak, and the land was dry. The wind blew mercilessly stinging on the little exposed skin of the old man’s face with fine particles of needle-like sand. The chill in the air made everything bow in its path. The landscape was sad, stretching flat for miles to the horizon where stood the mighty mountains of ancient snow and ice.
The Cold Desert lay in the lap of the gargantuan Himalayan range that separated the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetian Plateau. It stretched into unfathomable miles on the eastern side of the Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Bound by the mighty Karakoram range in the North and the mysterious Zanskar mountains in the South, the Cold Desert of Ladakh was one of its kind in this lonely planet of ours.
It was perhaps the only place in the world, where standing at a single point, one could see, snow, sand and even a deadlock sea. There were mountains of all kinds, of sand, ice, rock, and soil and much more. They were of different colours of white, grey, black, blue, brown, and golden yellow. Some hills were solid, while some loose spitting stones, while others were magnetic pulling things against the Earth’s gravitational pull.
There were miles of flat sandy deserts along with ancient slow-moving glaciers of frozen ice and snow. It was a realm of opposites, where extremities coexisted like no other place known. A desolate land isolated from the rest of humanity, which some select sects of ancient races had come to call it as their home and the old man was the last surviving member of his tribe, ‘The Children of the Moon’.
Ninety years back in the year 1900, in the first year of the twentieth century, on a full moon Monday night in the month of Moon, Dawa was born on the banks of the Pangong lake, world’s highest deadlock sea to parents Amala and Zerdan, the last couple to give birth in their clan unknown.
This ancient nomadic tribe who had been wandering the Himalayan region for thousands of years somehow had dwindled in number, and the last surviving generation was unable to reproduce.
In the Tibetian culture, Dawa meant Monday or the Moon month. It is also believed that Shakyamuni Buddha took birth, achieved enlightenment and ‘parinirvana’ (death) in this sacred month and especially on a similar night of the full moon. Dawa was a great source of hope for his tribe. He shouldered the grave responsibility of continuing the clan of the ‘Children of the Moon’.
By the time Dawa reached puberty, the youngest woman in his clan was sixty-years-old. Though he carried the seeds to continue his tribe, there was no fertile soil to plant it into. So when he was twenty years of age, Dawa was sent out on a mission to find a wife for himself and bring her back to extend his clan. From that day on Dawa roamed each and every corner of ‘The Cold Desert’ of Ladakh in search of a wife, however, for whatever reason, could never find someone and bring her home.
Then, after roaming the lands for a decade, when Dawa tried to return back to his tribe, he could not find them anymore. They had mysteriously disappeared. As they were nomadic in nature, there was always hope in Dawa’s heart that he might find them one day. That hope too disappeared after searching for one more decade, when Dawa presumed that they all must have died of old age if not due to some other reason unknown.
Fifty more years passed after that; now the year was 1990. Ninety-year-old Dawa by now had spent nearly a century, roaming ‘The Cold Desert’ initially with his clan, then alone searching for a bride and then trying to locate his lost tribe, and finally just to merely survive.
The greybeard gave a slight pull to the rope in his hand, at the other end of which tugged slowly a massive beast covered in layers of black and white fur that repelled the piercing wind chill and the unbearable cold. Chimba the Yak was the antediluvian’s only friend in this harsh landscape of solitude.
The eight-year-old Yak was also his primary load-bearer, carrying on its back a thousand assorted things required by the old man to survive in this hostile land of yore.
Some of the things that the mighty beast towed were utensils, medicines, food supplies, clothes and furs, sheep bladders of water, few gourd-shell bottles of mountain spirits, a yak-skin tent, and lots of ropes and wooden poles. Survival knives and blades, a rustic muzzle-loading musket with gunpowder and lead loads, and a smoking-pipe-axe-head tomahawk with some tobacco were a part of the paraphernalia too.
At about the same time a few hundred kilometres from Dawa travelled two fast-moving trails of dust across the desert plains of Sarchu. Now and then as the mini-tornadoes slowed, one could see the leather-clad silhouettes of two bikers riding on their mechanical mounts.
Very similar to Dawa’s Yak the rider’s motorcycles too were loaded, to the core. Their accessories such as nylon tents, insulated jerrycans, butane stove, and carbon steel knives were, however, years ahead in technology compared to Dawa’s load.
After six hours of relentless riding, the duo stopped and called it a day. It took an hour for the two to pitch their tent and get settled for the night, as darkness slowly engulfed the sandy flats of Sarchu.
It had been Ulrich Klaus’ childhood dream to ride in the ‘Land of Mountain Passes’, ‘The Mecca of Motorcycling’ – Ladakh. After planning the trip for many years, the twenty-eight-year-old blue-eyed blond had ultimately been able to give fruition to his dream.
Ulrich spent most of his savings to buy a ticket and finally board an eight-hour-long flight from Frankfurt to Delhi and land in India’s capital city. Here the blond young German with the mysterious blue eyes met Durga, an independent Bengali girl, a graphic designer by profession, two years younger to him, with whom he had been communicating for more than a year now over the internet. He was madly in love with her not only for her beauty but for their shared commonalities and their love matured in the streets of Delhi.
Both Ulrich and Durga were orphans and wanted to start a family one day, be loving parents to their children and extend their lineage. Amongst all the similar interests between them, nothing got them closer than the love for motorcycles and adventure. It was both of their childhood dreams to ride the varied terrains of Ladakh and spend months in the wilderness as an ultimate test-of-survival in the ‘Land of Mountain Passes.’
It was not long before the two drew a rough map and were on route riding two hired Royal Enfield Bullets, a Machismo and a Thunderbird, fully loaded with survival gear for a month of adventure into the unknown lands of sand, ice, and snow.
As Durga and Ulrich kissed each other, huddled in front of a flickering log-fire under the moonlit-star-studded dazzling desert sky, many miles away from them Dawa smoked his tomahawk pipe. While Chimba the yak snored slumbering beside the old man breaking the silence of the night.
During the following days, Durga and Ulrich decided to give up the maps and take their adventure to the next level. With petrol in their motorbike tanks and jerrycans for a thousand kilometres or a bit more they agreed to venture off routes into lands not treaded by outsiders perhaps ever before.
The German lad and the Bengali lassy continued on their adventure trip roaming the Cold Desert, and soon they were lost in the land of yore. They rode like never before, shared food from tin cans, and made love under the night sky. They crossed rapids, shallow rivers, smooth roads, scary mountain passes, and tracts covered in snow, till they found themselves in a desert the likes of which they had never seen before.
There was only sand, which stretched for miles in every direction the eye could roam. Initially, they were on a metalled road but soon realised that they were moving on loose sand and nothing more. It was not long before they lost their bearings and the road. Whenever they reduced speed, the bikes sunk, and they lost balance and fell on the sinking desert floor.
To make matters worse a storm brewed in the northern horizon, and within moments it caught up with the biker duo. They had to continue riding to find shelter and could not stop or pitch their tents in this sandy tornado. The weather changed instantly, and darkness engulfed the terrain while blinding sand swirled all over, bringing down visibility to near zero.
Then, a massive gust of wind threw Durga off her Thunderbird, and the bike fell on her hitting her head and crashing on her femur bone. As she was falling, she saw Ulrich and his motorcycle through the veil of the storm dip into the horizon. It did not come up anymore. Durga screamed as an excruciating pain took over her consciousness, and she fainted on the turbulent desert floor.
After hours of unconsciousness, Durga slowly opened her eyes. By then, the storm was gone, and it looked like nothing had happened. For miles, she could see only golden dunes and a distinct rising column of dark smoke.
It felt as if she was in a dream. A gentle flow of blood trickled down her forehead only to vanish in the parched desert sand below. Her dazed state lasted for a moment, only to be shattered by a gust of unbearable pain that shot up her left thigh, jolting her back to awareness.
There was perhaps an hour of daylight left, and her first reaction was to call for Ulrich. Not seeing him anywhere Durga tried to push the Thunderbird and get up when she heard the sound of a crack and felt the same unendurable pain shoot up her left thigh. The agony was too much, and she lost consciousness. As her eyes drew shut, far at a distance, she saw a slow-moving silhouette approach from the horizon.
Now there was only darkness and blurry visions in a dream. Then light slowly appeared, and Durga opened her eyes gradually. She was inside a primitive tent. Everything around her looked hazy, and as she tried to get up a pair of warm and coarse hand comforted her shoulders, assisting her to sit. It was an old tribal man with a caring glance. He gave her some hot soup from a simmering kettle at the corner, which kept the tent warm.
“Ulrich, where is Ulrich, have you seen the man who was riding with me,” enquired an anxious Durga barely able to speak. Not answering her in words, the old man gestured her, to finish her soup and go back to sleep. Too weak to continue her enquiry she put down the bowl and laid back to unconsciousness, while the old man lit his tomahawk axe-head pipe smoking silently at a corner of the tent.
Over the course of many following days, the old man took care of Durga. He cleaned her, fed her and even removed her excrements. He treated her head would and fractured femur with packs of mysterious herbs, yak dung, mountain spirits, and a concoction of a miraculous soup very pungent.
Then finally one day, Durga felt strong enough to move. The old man gave her a wooden crutch that he had specially made for her and slowly helped her out of the tent. He made her sit on a rock in front of a pile of stones. It did not take Durga long to realise that she was staring at Ulrich’s grave, as some of his personal belongings were placed on top of the headstone.
Not a single sound came out of her mouth only tears rolled down her cheeks as she realised that during that dreadful storm, Ulrich too had met with an accident and he had not survived. She remembered the pile of smoke that she had seen after regaining momentary consciousness after the accident. Now she knew what it had been.
As days turned into weeks and weeks to months along with Durga’s healing wound, a life grew in her womb. She was pregnant with Ulrich’s child, however, there was no way for her to reach civilisation as winter had descended on the lands. It would take another six months before they could try to cross the snow-covered mountain passes and try to contact another human.
Gradually Durga came to understand the old man’s language as he came to understand her’s. Then in the dead of winter on one full moon night similar to the one ninety years ago when Dawa was born, Durga gave birth to a beautiful blonde girl with mysterious blue eyes. The old man named her ‘Amrita’ meaning everlasting life in Tibetan. It was the first baby Dawa had seen in his life. A seed that he had not planted but certainly helped germinate.
After Amrita’s birth, Durga constantly thought how she could take her daughter back to civilisation, however, she had no way of doing so. Though she had managed to repair the Thunderbird, she was not physically fit to ride it across the desert, and there was no fuel to make the machine go. She knew that Dawa could not make the journey to seek help without his tent and things, which was needed here to keep her and Amrita alive in this unbearable cold.
Two years passed and the baby grew up to be a strong toddler of unparalleled beauty with curly blond locks and her father’s mysterious blue eyes. Durga, however, developed a permanent limp due to her fractured bone. Her head injury gave her occasional blackouts, which meant she could never venture out alone.
Dawa understood Durga’s desire to take her daughter back to humanity and Durga was ever grateful to him for saving her and felt bad thinking that one day she and Amrita might have to eventually leave him and go.
After much thinking, one day in a less harsh month in the dead of night, the old man silently left the tent and vanished into the twilight. The next morning Durga searched for him everywhere but could not see him. It seemed the old man had headed out south taking along with him the yak and a few essential survival things.
Many months passed like this, and then one morning Durga saw in the distant horizon four individuals coming. She instantly feared for her and her daughter’s life. Dawa had always warned her of desert bandits, and though she had never seen one, was always scared that one day with them she might meet.
With no option to run anywhere, she took a firm stand armed with her wooden crutch to face the bandits. As the men neared, their attire, however, revealed a different story. They were not desert bandits but officers of the Indian Army.
Captain Bheesham Singh took out a smoking-pipe-axe-head tomahawk from his rucksack and handed it over to Durga saying, “I believe this belonged to the man who crossed hundreds of kilometres of the cold desert to let us know that a woman and her child needed rescuing.”
Thirty years later in the year 2020, once again, two fast-moving trails of dust were seen, across the desert plains of Sarchu. As the mini-tornadoes slowed, one could see the leather-clad silhouettes of two bikers riding on their mechanical mounts.
As the riders dismounted from their bikes, one of them took off the helmet to reveal a breathtaking cascade of beautiful blond hair and a pair of mysterious blue eyes.
The girl took the hand of the other rider into hers and gently kissed him on the cheeks saying, “Today I shall tell you why my mother and I call ourselves the Children of the Moon and why I wish our sons and daughters to be called so. It is here in the cold desert where I was born, the only place where you can truly understand the story and become a part of the legacy.”
Copyright © 2021 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
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