Power it up!

In Culture, India, Places, Travel on October 5, 2011 at 1:29 pm


It has been three years that I am living in Europe now and I have all but forgotten what it means not to have electricity in the house for hours. It does happen sometimes during the summer when we are in the countryside and that too not for very long. But when it does, it does not bother us much because there is light till very late and we anyway don’t need a fan. Things have become better in India too but its far from over and I do remember load sheddings in India. It was definitely not pleasant especially during the summer but then I also have some good memories of it. I remember sitting on the veranda with friends, with a glass of whiskey or vodka in hand and listening to Pink Floyd on the radio-powered audio player. It was bliss because it was so dark and the only source of light was the moon and the stars and it felt like time had stopped especially for us. I remember in my grandparents’ village where the electricity would be gone for hours, sometimes days and the evenings were always time for us to sit outside under the stars and chat the night through because well, there was nothing else to do. Darkness has a way of making things more intimate and even a small spark of light can make you feel warm and cosy inside.

But inspite of load shedding etc. we do tend to take electricity for granted. So many of our gadgets are today dependant on electricity that we would be completely helpless without. It was during our trip to Ladakh when I realised to what extent we took this commodity for granted.

Look at the cables zigzagging across the picture. Power cables that provide Kargil with its much-needed power supply. The fact that the Indian military camp is quite close to here probably explains the presence of this luxurious commodity.

We were travelling through Kashmir and on to Ladakh by road. We stopped at Kargil for the night and then the next morning we took the road again. After 4 or 5 hours of driving, we reached Lamayuru where we had decided to stay on for the night. Since we had started early morning, we reached around afternoon and there was still enough time to freshen up and go out sight-seeing. Having visited the monastery and having done our fair share of excercise for the day, we stopped at the Restaurant owned by the monastery to partake some well deserved momos. You would imagine that being in Ladakh, in a serene and peaceful place like Lamayuru, one would forget the rest of the world and enjoy the disconnection…but helas, no, we wanted to check our mails.

The owner of the restaurant laughed and said but no, sorry no electricity so no internet.

Having been out in the sun, climbing and descending all the time, we were also quite hot and wanted a nice cool drink.

He replied with a smile : No fridge. No need. Natural cooling here. Natural AC.

🙂 He made us smile too. Used to the icy chilled drinks coming out of the fridge, we had forgotten what natural coolness was all about. It reminded me that as a kid when I first tried the reputedly cool “Ghada ka paani“, I had found it too warm for my taste. When people mention Ghada ka paani etc. they forget to add that they are not comparing it to what one would get from a refrigerator. Anyway.

However, all of this was making me quite nervous. I had already taken a thousand pictures, the camera’s battery was close to zero and it would definitely not survive till next morning. Argh! And on top of that no electricity in the village! Catastrophe!

We asked the person if there was any hope of electricity being restored and crossed our fingers for his reply. He seemed taken aback by our question. Uh huh, not a good sign.

“But of course, electricity always comes at 8pm and we have electricity till 11pm. ”

Huh? What? Everyday? You mean, its normal, like some kind of a routine? Electricity everyday for 3 hours? Errr, OK.

True to its word, electricity was restored at 8pm that day and also true to its word, it “went away” at 11pm.

The next day we made our way to Leh but not without stopping over at Rizong, Alchi and Basgo.

At Alchi, we found this beautiful puppet with two faces each representing the buddhist and the hindu religion. We wanted one but we were running low on cash. We had not seen an ATM since we had left Kashmir and after two days on the road, our cash was dwindling. Knowing that finding another ATM before Leh was impossible, we wanted to conserve what we had. So we asked if one could pay by card?

“Of course”, came the prompt answer, but a little more hesitatingly he added, “I will try my best.” and he disappeared.

Perplexed and left to ourselves, we waited in the shop wondering if he was off to offer prayers or something when we suddenly heard the loud roar of guess what….a power generator…one of those machines so common everywhere in India, which comes to life every time there is a load shedding and if I might add is such an awful pollutant. Anyway, only then did we realise that this is to be able to power the machine which is used for card transactions. Frankly, till that day, I had never even thought of this insignificant machine as running by anything at all…it used to be just this “thing”. To think that the village has no electricity and to ensure that your customers can pay by card, you need to equip yourselves with a generator was seriously mind-boggling. Add to that the fact, that in spite of this, if the machine does not work (like in our case), you risk losing clients. Electricity : the machine behind economic progress. Thesis anyone?

Thankfully, we had enough cash to buy the puppet anyway although I will admit that at that moment, I was slightly uneasy having so little in my wallet and knowing that we were still  far from Leh and the journey was going to be as lonely as it was spectacular.

On our way to Leh, we stopped for petrol at this deserted petrol station in the middle of nowhere. I was about to tell our driver that “hello, it looks like its shut down”, when I realised that he seemed to know what he was doing. Next to the petrol station was a family making bricks. Our driver whistled to one of them and a man came wiping his hands on a towel, he exchanged a few words with our driver and then went to start a power generator. I was wondering what the hell was happening? Once he started the power generator, he was able to activate the machines for petrol and within a few minutes we were on our way again while this guy shut down the generator and went back to his brick making.

Having been on the road for a couple of days and stopping over only in small villages, it was weird arriving in Leh, which resembles much more a modern Indian city than any other place in Ladakh. For one, there is electricity throughout the day, there is even a geyser and hot water when we want. Luxury! But that is the story in hotels and maybe even in some guest houses but it’s definitely not the case for all the locals.

One can make out the limits of “civilisation”, even as a tourist passing by when one looks at the long queues in front of the ATM machines. There are three in the entire city and with some luck, one of them will work but you will invariably find yourself stuck in a queue, a mile long. We had been waiting for more than half an hour in the queue on the evening after our arrival in Leh and the end still seemed far away. Since it was so difficult to actually get inside the sacred cubicle, once inside, people made the most of it, withdrawing as much as they could in one go and using more than one card if necessary. Needless to say, the queue moved at a despairingly slow pace. A young traveller, who finally managed to withdraw his money, after almost an hour of waiting in line, came out and gave a roar of victory, he held the money in his hands like a trophy and yelled in triumph. And all of us still waiting in line, who could relate to exactly how he felt at that moment, gave him a resounding cheer!

  1. […] if the subject interests you, you can always read my earlier post on my travels in Ladakh, Power it up! which is about my impressions of one aspect of daily life there. Share […]

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