Prologue

The early hours of a Sunday in June. Delhi Airport. The 37 degree heat outside doesn’t seem capable of penetrating Terminal 1D though. Pretty soon a considerable queue builds up for a domestic flight. It consists of a motley group of Irish and Australian teenagers, Indians of all age groups of course, a few Europeans as well as a handful of Tibetan monks in their scarlet and brown robes.

In no time, the flight is up in the skies, watching dawn break across India from 30,000 feet. For much of the 1 hour flight, a contiguous cloud cover prevents anyone from making out the landscape below. It is only a few minutes before landing is initiated, that the plane dives below the clouds. All of a sudden, craggy faces of an unbroken mountain range, mostly brown in color but with a sprinkling of snow, make their appearance. The descent to the landing strip is uneven, jumpy and the passengers hold on to their armrests in a bit of a fright sometimes. Gasps, cheers and nervous laughter accompany the landing at what is the most difficult civilian airport in the country. Some even break out into applause before the pilot makes his announcement, one that includes the only phrase that matters.

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“Ladies and gentlemen”, said the pilot, “Welcome to Leh.”
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