I wanted to go to Ladakh for years. So, when my river-guide boyfriend told me he wanted to work there through the summer, it sounded like the perfect work-travel combination for me, a freelance editor.
That’s a 30-hour bus from Kathmandu to Delhi, through Nepal’s bumpy west, and along the smooth-but-stifling north Indian plains.
An overnight in blistering Delhi.
A night bus up to cooler Himachal Pradesh.
Two days in Manali, which is overrun by Indian tourists and far from an idyllic mountain retreat.
And the final push to Ladakh: a 24-hour, juddering journey from Manali’s 2,000m to Leh’s 3,500m; over three 5,000+ meter passes, and some of the most exquisite terrain on earth.
I found a cheap hotel in central Leh, where I intended to stay all summer. I planned to hike, visit monasteries and glacial lakes, and trek in isolated valleys.
My job required uploading articles to a website, so I needed daily internet access. But, I soon realized that my plan of fitting work around travel wasn’t going to fly.
Sometimes the internet worked, sometimes it didn’t. Often it pretended to work, but was so slow that it was useless.
I spent every day moving between my hotel, a couple of restaurants and an internet café, but there was only one internet provider in Leh.
The closest town with reliable internet was Manali, 450km away over some seriously high mountains. I contemplated making the return trip a couple of times, but the connection always came right. Temporarily.
I didn’t want to give up on my Ladakh dreams, but I was becoming very stressed.
One reason for Ladakh’s poor internet is its high, remote location. Another is that it’s in Jammu & Kashmir, a politically problematic state of India.
Even when tensions aren’t high, telecommunications there are tightly-controlled.
The worst violence in six years erupted that summer in Kashmir, coinciding with an urgent job I had to email. Not sending it would have cost me over $1,500 – enough to fund my entire summer.
It was ready four days before it was due, so I tried attaching the documents to an email. No chance.
Then the internet died for a full day.
Then I added the job to a shared Dropbox folder.
Four hours remaining until synchronization… seven minutes remaining… 48 hours remaining… No internet.
I bought a ticket back to Manali after a sleep-deprived, nail-biting, and deeply stressful month in Ladakh.
I hadn’t sent the email, and I couldn’t trust the internet to come back to life in time. I calculated that if I left Leh on Wednesday night, I’d make it to Manali by Thursday afternoon (as long as there wasn’t a landslide en route, which was possible).
The bus was uncomfortably bumpy and the driver blared Bollywood music non-stop to stay awake, but every rattling kilometer was one closer to sending that email!
Arriving in Manali was exhilarating. I sent my email within ten minutes of stepping inside a hotel overlooking the damp, green Kullu Valley, and spent the rest of the day soaking in the hot springs of Vashisht.
I will return to Ladakh one day for all the things I missed. But next time, I’ll leave my laptop behind.