I had the surprise of my life when I reached the dining hall for breakfast. Mr. GPC Nayar and Prof. Abdul Rahman were at a table with their travel agent in Leh. Mr. Nayar, the founder Director of SCMS Cochin, has been a role model for self financing educational institutions in Kerala. He has built up an enviable reputation in the sphere of education and professional competence. The various graduate and post graduate courses offered by SCMS are much sought after by an eclectic mix of students. As Mr Nayar had read about my travel and was not very surprised at my being in Leh, but the coincidence added luster to the meeting.
After a heavy breakfast I went with George, Tashi and Mishra to residence of the Principal of the Moravian school. After introductions and initial pleasantries we moved to the school. The Principal instructed that the Assembly be called to order 5 minutes before the scheduled time to give me extra time to address the students. The 125 year old institution is prime among the schools in Leh. The Missionary school is the first choice among the elite and the lesser privileged. It has over 1200 students on the rolls. On this day the Assembly for all the classes were combined with the exception of the KG – normally they have 4 different Assemblies.
The Principal had requested me to park the car next to the dais meant for the Assembly. I had also brought it unwashed for the students to appreciate the tough drive she had endured. And she hogged the limelight. I wondered why my wife and car evoke similar sentiments from those who observe them in my company – it is always sympathy for them and looks of ‘brute’ for me! Anyway, I quite enjoyed the gawking and the animated banter among the students when they got closer to the car. A school Assembly is something I dreaded as a student – I saw it as an occasion to be caned in public for being late for it. As requested by the Principal I kept my address short and punctuated it with messages of “No dream too big” and “No task too small”. The Principal had a large map of India brought to the stage and traced his finger over the route that I had travelled. The enormity of the journey hit me then. Fr. Gergen asked me questions for the benefit of the students. A sixth class student expressed his desire to cycle to Kanyakumari from Leh in response to a question by the Principal. The hand raised in firm resolution made feel proud to have driven to Leh and accepted the invitation of the Principal. A few students approached me after the Assembly with questions about the ‘most beautiful’ place in India. A difficult question; but I count Ladakh among the most beautiful places in India, populated by lovely people.
After tea and further talk about various topics – the admission for Mishra’s child was also confirmed during the time - we moved to the Service Station to get the machine tuned and cleaned. The car was once again the cynosure of all eyes at the Service Station. I had penned down the various check points and the staff promised to attend to it. Tashi and Mishra asserted their influence to get an efficient job done in quick time.
I rested in the hotel, further recovering from the strains of the drive to Leh. After I woke up from a nap we had unexpected guests. Mishra walked in with the Superintendent of Police and his Deputy. I had wanted to visit him in his office to pay a courtesy call. He would have one of it and decided to visit me in the Hotel. He promised all help in the return, particularly the certification at Upshi. By 4 pm I was informed that the car was ready. I went with George to pick her up and was told that she was in ship shape. George and I test drove her and found her so. I fuelled up full tank and bought some provisions to last me the return drive to Kanyakumari.
Tashi had arranged a small get together at the Indus Hotel in Choglamsar. The rather commodious surroundings were beside the Indus River – despite the failing light George and I with Avinav Choubey of Muthoot Finance walked to the river and enjoyed its serene and salubrious environs for a while. It was cold and I had to borrow a pullover to tide over it. The residence of the Dalai Lama, when he visits Leh, is just a stone’s throw away from the Hotel. Tashi and his friends had arranged a special cook and laid out an elaborate feast. The food was outstanding. I had another night of excellent rest.