I was booked to stay at the Old Circuit House (OCH) upon my arrival into Leh yesterday afternoon. However, the allotted room was dusty and I soon developed an allergic sneeze. As if to top the woe, the bathroom was a virtual exhibition room – large windows without curtains. People sunning on the terraces of the neighboring houses had unobstructed views into the bathroom. The assurance of the caretaker that people are not voyeuristic in that part of the world did not blend well with my concerns. I bothered Mishra of the CRPF to get a room allotted in the New Circuit House (NCH) near the Airport. I had stayed there during my visit of Ladakh in 2007. He pulled all the strings he had at his command and finally managed a room in the NCH. The room was on the ground floor and was not maintained well – it was a wee bit better than the OCH. I had to make do for the night and I was tired. However, heavy traffic on the road bothered me till late into the night and the sodium vapor lamps pried my eyes open through the curtains.
Being a Sunday, my first thought upon waking up was to locate the Catholic Church. I had been told that it was within striking distance of the NCH. After a couple of cups of tea I set out in the direction pointed out by the caretaker. In a short while I spied a cross on top of a building and drove in its direction. The gate to the church complex was closed, but I knew I was in the right place. An elderly person came to me from a house nearby and demanded to know my business there. From him I confirmed that the service would begin at 10 am. When I got back to the Church at the said hour a few faithful had taken their seats. The branded car immediately made a splash – the priest had a small chat with me and ascertained my ‘mission’ in Leh; he himself was from Kanyakumari district and I had driven in from Kanyakumari. The senior nun in charge of making arrangement for the service requested me to do the first reading. The service was in Hindi and English. I marveled at the ease with which the Tamilian priest handled Hindi and the mellifluous voice of one of the younger nuns –I later learnt she was from Vellore, in Tamil Nadu - who led us to sing in both Hindi and English. I interacted with the priest and the nuns and a few of the laity – many from Kerala – after the service. I promised to look up the priest and the nuns at the St. Patrick’s School at a convenient time.
I had woken up in the morning feeling a bit tired. I had to find a suitable alternative lodging if I were to recover and do a good job on the Record Drive. I had arranged with Tashi last night to check out a Guest House. I gave him a call after breakfast only to discover that George Jacob, a good friend of mine from Bangalore and who had offered the help of Tashi in Leh, had landed up in Leh this morning on business. He offered to share his accommodation in the Grand Dragon Hotel. Despite my protestations that I would be in his way and that I could impact his business requirement George dismissed them and I moved into a large room of the best hotel in Leh. Since I had to service the car the next day I moved all the luggage from the car into the room as well.
The comfortable room, the service of the hotel staff and the hospitality of George, one of my Guardian Angels in Leh, were ideal settings for resting my weary body and recouping mental strength. George has been a frequent visitor to Leh and the colder parts of Ladakh over the past 4 years. He used Ladakh to test out one of his inventions – the ‘heating panel’, which is more energy and cost efficient and is the best fit for rarified climes. This invention, marketed and presented well, will impact the defense requirements positively and make life easier for those defending our frontiers in the colder regions. His genteel and honest manner opens sensitive doors easily. His altruistic nature has seen him use his invention to benefit schools, hospitals and churches in the area. Using the valuable feedback he got from them he even improved his product.
I used the rest of the morning and early afternoon to catch up on my writing. George visited the Moravian School, the biggest school in Leh, whose Principal was a personal friend of George. He came back with a request from the Principal to address the Assembly of students the next day morning. I immediately accepted the request and it was arranged that we would meet him at the Moravian Church after 9.30 am the next day. In the evening George and I went to the St Patrick’s school – George had done some work for them too – and spent a half hour with the priest and nuns. Over a high tea we exchanged views and had many good laughs.
I had not been hungry during lunch and George had suggested Cream of Asparagus soup with toast as a light meal. What passed between my lips was the most delicious soup I have had my whole life. The fresh Asparagus added to the richness of the brew. The Hotel was fully booked out – the efforts of George to get a room with twin beds did not fructify despite his apparent clout tempered by his insistence on not disturbing the schedules of either the hotel staff or the occupants of the hotel. The capacity crowd meant that the dining hall was packed. George expected a few guests over dinner. I requested for an early dinner and turn in as the sleep deprivation was catching up. I tucked into large portions of roast chicken and mashed potatoes – they were mouth wateringly delicious. I slept like a baby, without any cares in the world.