This year I had an adventure. A great one! Like the one I read in books when I was a little girl. Finally, it was my turn to be the main character in a story and experience all that my heroes did back in the day.

From Taj Mahal to Hemis Monestary in Leh, from the world’s highest motorable road to a mystical restaurant on the side of the road. Here are the stories we found, lessons we learned and self reflections that helped us breathe just a dash lighter.

I am a Treasure Hunter & Kashmir is a treasure to be discovered.

This adventure took me to North of India. I’ve heard many things about Ladakh as well as it’s neighbouring Kashmir. Many call it The Paradise on Earth. If you heard that — would you stay at home and continue watching a random youtube video?

My heart started beating, longing, wishing to see this place with my own eyes.

I started planning the trip six months in advance.
Luckily, I’ve been following one instagram account called Being Kashmiri which always had new and beautiful images of the area. This account sparked a curiosity in my heart.

I’ve started talking with Being Kashmiri team who recommended for me to check out GoKash Adventures Packages and see if anything would be suitable for my trip.

I won’t lie, one thing that I was extremely nervous about was my safety. I’m blonde, tall, solo female western traveler in a country that doesn’t have the best reputation for treating women. This was a major concern for me and I wouldn’t have gone unless I felt that I was in safe hands.

My interests included nature and food. I’ve met some Kashmiri’s in Dublin who have introduced me to Kashmiri cuisine. I fell in love with it there and truly wanted to try out the food at the source.

I started looking for some inspirations on instagram and then came across an account of a Mumbai Chef Thomas Zacharias who did a cooking roadtrip around Kashmir and stayed with Mrs Wanchoo to learn some amazing recipes. After chatting with Thomas for a while, heintroduced me to Mr Amit Wanchoo, the son of Mrs Wanchoo.

Now, meeting Mr Amit Wanchoo has been a true life gift. He is one of most inspiring people I’ve come across. He is full of light energy, works on so many meaningful projects and has done wonders for Kashmir. What stood out the most about Mr Wanchoo was his good heart.

He helped me with the visa application, reassured me about my safety and arranged a beautiful and most authentic few days in Srinagar. We connected like family and I loved hearing him talk about religion, spiritual vibes and his company of Event Management in Srinagar.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to thank Mr Wanchoo for all the kindness he has showed me. Some people we are simply meant to meet in our lives no matter the circumstances. I feel very privileged and lucky to call him my friend.

Journey Begins…

I arrived to New Delhi on 13 July 2018 from Hong Kong.
It was a day where mansoons just started approaching the area.
The day was warm and light rain was cooling the air.
I spent an hour traveling from the airport to a small boutique hotel in West India called Shanti Home. I came across it online because they were doing cooking classes of local Indian food as well as Ayurveda base massages. Upon my arrival I stayed there for 4 days to rest, recharge and readjust to a place I’ve never been to before. I was doing something for the very first time — traveling solo.

On Day 3 in Delhi, I managed to leave Shanti Home to explore one of the key Hindu Temples, Akshardham, with founder of Delhi cycle ToursHimanshu shekhaR ‘आज़ाद’ Spiritual Poet Entrepreneur.

I was blessed to have met him because of all the stories and introduction to the Hindu scriptures that I learned about. What I loved about Hindu Faith is the fact that they don’t criticise or judge other religions or faiths. They respect and accept the fact that other cultures might be having different ways and customs to reach God and that is OK with them.

We spoke about many things, including how our bodies are not ours and onlt the soul is what really matters. We also spoke about importance of teachers. He said “Once you are ready, a teacher will show up in your life. If you are ready to meet your past lives, it will come to you. It’s very important choose your teachers wisely and allow them to show you the way through intuition, be careful who guides you.”

Before I continued with my trip, Himanshu asked me one more question. He said: “I meet two type of travelers, those who are escaping something and those that are searching for something. “What are you searching for?”

My answer was simple and it stayed with him.

We spent entire day with Himanshu exploring the temple. What really caught my attention was the sculptures and representations of elephants. There were many scriptures that kept introducing quotes like:
* Elephants know that they are stronger together
* Unity means family.

Meeting Taj Mahal

In the early morning of Day 4 in Delhi, when I have to travel to Leh, Ladakh, Indian food got me. I got very bad stomach just three hours before my flight.
I was naturally quite nervous to see if I could even make it, but my itinerary looked too exciting not try and overcome the pain.

What was my plan? To meet the founder of Being Kashmiri and go on an adventure for 6 days across Ladakh on a motorcycle. Something I’ve never done before.

I had to push my stomach pain to one side. I remembered my trip to Taj Mahal a day before where I got so lucky to see one of the world’s wonder at 5am all to myself. It was simply incredible unbelievable. This gave me hope. I had faith it should all work out.

The day I met Taj Mahal, Taj was silent.
Guarded by three different gates.
I entered through the eat.
When I first saw him, I felt immense silence and peace. The colours were like pastel painting. He was surrounded by fog.

Taj is a memorial. It’s a love story. The beauty is a reflection of how much love the king had for his third wife. She gave him 14 children in 18 years of their marriage and she died during the 14th pregnancy. The king built her white marble memorial with perfect symmetry. Quran ascriptions are engraved in stone, and so are the flower designs. Everything is built to last. How strong his love must have felt.

That morning, my dream came true. Bucket list of a lifetime.

Love Letter to Ladakh

My trip to Ladakh was arranged by GoKash Adventures, upcoming world’s greatest travel company. The founder founded GoKash Adventures & Being Kashmiri to highlight the beating heartbeat of this breathtaking piece of the world. Thanks to Being Kashmiri — I came here to see the paradise myself.

Go Kash helped me with my travel arrangements from start to finish, arranging schedule, travel permits, accommodation, meals and bespoke experience as per my wishes. It was a true privilege for me to see Ladakh and Kashmir through the local eyes.This is exactly the authentic experience that I was searching for.

I flew with Jet Airways, which recently became one of my favourite airline carriers. Due to the fact that I had food poison, the air hostesses were looking after me with a lot of care, providing medicine, warm water, lots of sweets to help me with my 1.5 hours flight.

Leh is at 11,800ft altitude. The flights normally go there in the mornings only to ensure that the clouds are low and visibility is high. My flight was at 5am. When we broke through the clouds, I saw the Himalayas for the very first time, and woa, they were strong.

The airport is part of the army and we were informed not to take photos of the airport in advance. Upon the landing, it was very evident we were in a military occupied location.

There were so many signs around how to deal with altitude, which naively I thought it would not affect me that bad. After meeting my driver, he took me to meet the local representative of the company — Irfran, the first Ladakhi that I met.

I loved getting to know Irfran across the days that I was in Leh because he is filled with stories about his expeditions. A guy that doesn’t have a free five minutes to relax — always on the move and always solving problems. The best thing that Irfran told me when I arrived was:

“The best way to see Ladakh is by bike — it will move your soul” — Irfran

At around 7am, I checked in to one of the local guesthouses and it was time for some rest. And then… after around 10 mins of laying down, the drum orchestra started to beat in my head. Boom, boom, boom, boom like a hammer. The headache started to truly hit me.

Mountain sickness.
It was real.

For the next 12 hours I spent in agony, trying to calm my headache and still ensure my stomach could return to normal. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t have internet connection and I was waiting patiently for things to get better.

Go Kash Team were incredibly helpful with ensuring that I was fine. They provided me with water, local apples, mountain sickness medicine, oxygen and nearly took me to the hospital, when I couldn’t even lift my head. I can’t thank them enough.

Honestly, I really didn’t think I will be able to make the trip in coming days, I felt that I will simply have to spend time in bed for remainder of my trip.

Day 2 — Leh (90KM)

Day two started with the song “I’m Alive by Sia”. I kept saying to myself

I’m still breathing, I’m still breathing
I’m still breathing, I’m still breathing
I’m alive

Over the top? Probably. But boy the it was sweet when the pain was Gone.

The day left like a spring morning in my body. My head was at ease, my stomach was starting to rumble to get some light food, my body felt hydrated enough to start slowly moving.

I met Being Kashmiri founder and after having a light breakfast with masala tea at Oh La La cafe, it was time for us to try and get on the bike to test the waters. A light trip turned into 90km trip around Leh. One of the key visits included Hemis Monastery.

What the mountains started teaching me right away was a lesson on letting go of expectations and being present. Fully. For only now. They were providing solutions as I went along without me needing to worry about my problems. They were solving itself out.

Day 3 — Leh > Nubra Valley

We packed our bags. Had some eggs for breakfast and buckled up for our trip of 160km to Nubra Valley. Like I mentioned before, I’ve never been on the long distance bike journey before, so being a dash clueless with little to know what to expect — we were off.

Higher and higher we went, across one turn to another, surrounded by a sound of horns and the wind in our faces, the adventure began.

Before we set off Danish said that at times it will feel challenging. At times I will question why I’m here, on this bike, on this journey, but I should know that at the end I will feel very proud of this achievement.

It was exciting to feel that I was living Being Kashmiri instagram feed. The landscape images kept on coming up, the ones that I have been before. I kept imagining what it was like to be in this place for so long, and now I was here, living it. It felt incredible.

We stopped along the way breath in the beauty that was surrounding us.
We met some fun characters along the way including REENA, a bubbly personality who photo bombed us and we became friends 😃

Then… the drama began.

We starting climbing up to the highest road in the world with minus temperatures. We were on the way to Khardung La.

I must conference — the mountains scared me at first. Fear started to kick in and my mind continued playing the tape about “what if, what if, what if we miss the turn?” The roads were so skinny, tight and bendy.

I’m a women from a tiny country in the centre of Europe. We have lakes, rives and a sea, but all our nature is flat. We never see such high mountains, such high drops. It was comforting to be with a local who knows every bend and every corner like his own. It was comforting to have the road all to ourselves. Himalayas were powerful, tall, impactful, silent, stable and mystical.

We went to the top of the world and then drove for another 30–40 minutes through one of the roughest roads. If you are a fan of mountains and forest riding, then I felt like that road took all the devils out of me. The feeling of relief and happiness that I got upon arrival to the good road was simply ecstatic!

After Khardung La, we stopped for lunch at what I think is the best restaurant in the world — The Mid Way Restaurant. It’s situated in the best possible location, greatest scenery, the chef is hilarious and makes delicious simple food, the family that runs it are one of the kindness people I’ve met. This place — is a treasure.

We continued riding into the night and it started to look like the mountains were really starting to show their greatness and their magnificence. We were driving quite fast and I was starting to get tired. The road kept on being more and more bendy which became challenging to handle — to stay awake, to hold on and the fear continued to knock on my door.

Around 8pm it started becoming hard to stay on the bike and I was getting extremely tired. And then we reached Nubra. It was time for some deserved rest.

The next morning I woke up early. This time my nose wasn’t bleeding and my head wasn't performing a drum solo performance. My body did feel a little stiff but it was a great opportunity to stretch it out. I repacked my bag, left behind my old clothes (strategic packing advice) and went into the courtyard to meet Masala Tea for some 1:1.

I don’t know the name of the place where we stayed and I consciously decided not to ask. I was OK with he mystery, but one poster near the breakfast table said: Pathfinders. I connected to that immediately because it took me back to 6 months prior to remind me why I made a decision to come and explore these grounds.

It wasn’t to find myself.
It wasn’t to find my pursporse or to sit silently for 10 days.
The rason was to let go.
The reason was to find a key for me to enter a new cycle.

This morning I was asking myself if I felt that I was where I hoped to be, and the answer was simple. I’m still on the journey that is teaching me variety of lessons, which included:

  • That the only way to live is to be present.
  • Acceptance of self is a first step wards accepting humanity.
  • Having expectations is ismply being unhappy with aspects of our lives and a way to breaking through is to work on improving self.
  • Fear. Invite it and ask it to leave.
  • There is a solution to every problem that arrises, ust need to relax.
  • Take care of the guides, teacers, friens that come to your path. Long term relationships and deep connections is what truly matters in this world
  • Simplyfy, simpliyf and declutter. Having less is ruly having more.

This morning I was also watching a local to go through his daily chores. Daily chores is something that I have seen so many people do with such grace, dedication and care. In Europe I developed a bad habit of wanting all, quickly, without patience, without needing to wait, to build to create or to struggle. I have developed a habit of not commitment of quitting just when it got hard. Not following through, not allowing myself to complete the circle fully because my hands were in so many pots, in so many different tasks and the easiest tasks would always take priority. Is that a way to live?

That is why i’m here. Thats why i’m in the mountains. Mountains are here to teach me just that. Those qualities that I’m seeking. My teachers this time are not only humans, not spiritual healers. My teachers at this moment in time are the mountains.

I’ve asked the universe to bring change. It ripped me, it removed all things, it made me have food and mountain sickness, it made me face my fears and that’s how it responded to my wish fo a change.

Time to move forward to the WHY.

Love letter to Turtok

A land of aprictos, high mountains, fresh and light blue rivers and waterfalls, children running around, natural freezing piont and sounds of a Mosq. This is Turtok .

The last village in India, before Pakistan. The army live here up in the mountain tops and yet it’s one of most peaceful places I have been to.

The natural swimming pool in the village is one of the key joys for so many chilcren. I was very fortunate to see this town through a local eye. I was able to experience the ins and outs, to visit local houses to understand what is accustomed, and what’s not, to taste the apricots from the trees, climb the trees and climb the mountains.

Turtok has a sortage of power supply and its only available from 7:30pm to 11pm. WIfi ofcourse does not exist here, which makes it liberating for constantly connected westerner.

People out here keep themselves busy with farming, having guest houses, producing productions of aprictors to sell to Leh.

What I loved about this place is the simple joys of life: people live in a community, they do their daily chores in ease and great attention. They aren’t distracted with the million meaningless things that living in a big city might do. Nature! Mountaints. It’s beauty.

As part of my time in Turtok, I met a cool italian Carlo Di Todaro. He is taking a year out to travel the world around with his bike. He got to Turtok from Italy with his bike and he was on his way to Australia. Impressive guy. His journey is being recorded on his Youtube Channel here.

Day 7 > Return To Leh

After being lost in the beauty of Turtok, it was time to return to Leh to continue the expedition. It was really great feeling on the way back because it felt like a rewind and a reminder of the adventure coming in. At different points I reflected how I felt the first time and the change I was seeing myself in already. I was enjoying the ride, where before I was fearful, I was checking out the mountains up and down, where before I kept my gaze straight, I was have the sensation of free flowing freedom. Lovely feeling indeed.

We stoped at new cafe for some breakfast and received a box of apricots as a present from the locals, we drive fast through the coolest looking bridges and vicious rivers, we stopped to play with the wind at a long stretched road between the mountains. It was magical. It was beautiful.

And then… after having lunch at the coolest restaurant on earth, we were setting off to Khardubg La. One minute into the ride, it was time to turn around. Our motorcycle brake was broken and it was too dangerous to ride.

We returned to our friends at The mid way cafe and after the genius husband of the family who knows how to build everything and built everything, confirmed that there is no way for us to continue. We would need to go to Nubra Valey (100km on way) to the nearest shop to buy new breaks.

The family has kindly offered us to stay in the restaurant as there was enough space and we would be safe there. The chef and the youngest son of the family were to drive to Nubra in their little car, while we were offered to rest and relax.

I kept thinking just how lucky we were to have met these people. I appreciated the skill of Danish to make such great connections no mater where he went. He is an entrepreneur and I witnessed his relationship building skills first hand. Simply human.

I had such a peaceful evening that night. The only worry that I had in my mind was my family and friends wondering where I might be. Updating them about my where about was a daily thing and I haven’t been in touch with them for five days now due to lack of internet. However I did feel that it will all be OK.

We spent the night cooking, playing cards, warming up next to the fire and trying to talk with no language. Well at least I did :)

The next day we woke up early and headed back to Leh. We enjoyed the music along the way and returned safely to Leh for some rest.

My Love Letter to Kashmir is available here.

#Grateful

There are so many things I’m grateful for from this adventure.
* Generosity of all the characters that I met and heared their stories
* Sharing my adventure with Danish
* For trying Egg Maggie
* Eating Apricots to my hearts desires
* Meeting the mountains
* Playing in the wing
* Feeling safe across entire journey
* For doing something that people would dream of for the lifetime. Biking
* Living my dream.

My Experience Conclusion.

I’ve come to appreciate just how authentic my experience has been while visiting New Delhi, Ladakh, Kashmir. Going on 400km Bike ride has been a true bucket list item for me. Meeting many locals along the way, talked about different ideas and how e could implement them, stayed with locals when our car broke down.

Service is something they don’t compromise on and it’s very evident. I felt safe, looked after at every step of the way. This is the future of adventure tourism. Being Kashmiis is a travel company and GoKash Adventures makes those dreams come true.

I did many things for the first time. I felt alive every moment.

For me this was an adventure that will set a new benchmark for how I travel — journey to self discovery, challenges, breathtaking beauty, human connection and deep conversations with nature.

Directed by Danish Mir
Produced by Gintare Karalyte
Travel Partner Go Kash Adventures
Media Partner Being Kashmiri

Tips for Packing

  • Pack an adapter. It’s not the same socket as in Delhi
  • Note that power shuts off from 11:30pm to 11:30am. No wifi, no opportunity to rechard your batteris and no light when you need to go to washroom at night. Get a torch.
  • Passport and documentation
  • Toilet paper
  • Oxygen tang
  • Oaracetamon + mountain sickness medicie
  • Gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • waterproof top and bottoms
  • solid shoes — i went with my Nike’s
  • Good company and present mind.

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A Man Behind Being Kashmiri

An article about my interview with Being Kashmiri & Go Kash Adventures is available here. For your own chance to experience Ladakh, Kashmir in your own authentic way, get in touch with them and quote “counting starts” to receive 15% discount.

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Ninety86 is about helping the world to feel more alive. It’s about discovering every day as something of magic and wonder and being grateful all the way along.