It’s not on any maps, but you know when you’re here, far, far away from everything else. There are, of course, no directions to get here. If anything, this place is defined by a lack of directions, a lack of landmarks. There’s nothing at all out here because this is the middle of nowhere. There are nowheres all over the world: deserts, jungles, mountains and oceans that go on and on to the horizon. You don’t have to go far to find the middle of nowhere, but I found myself in the middle of the biggest nowhere in my life in Kashmir.
There’s one road that leads from Delhi to Srinagar, and it takes 24 hours to ride it. Once in Srinagar there’s another lone road that leads to Leh, and it takes two days to traverse (if you’re lucky). In between, aside from a half dozen villages, and a few dozen military guard shacks, is nowhere, and when you are on this road and all you can see in any direction is the bare rock of mountains for miles, and you remember that the view has been this way for hours, it becomes quite clear that this is indeed the middle of nowhere.
The middle of nowhere, though, is a healthy place to visit. The distractions of the world are stripped away. Out here the even the scenery manifests itself, at best, as white noise. You’re alone, and you’re small in the middle of nowhere. This aloneness reminds you of the scale of things, the relative sizes of the earth versus the world inside your head. This is daydreaming territory, cogitating territory. Besides, after hours in the wilderness, the smallest shop, shack or monastery seems like a miracle, and they are. It’s just that in the middle of nowhere, there’s nothing hiding the miracle.
On the way to Leh we had all kinds of adventures, were delayed by the military, we slept in the jeep, we visited monasteries and dhabas, ate beans in claptrap restaurants. We snaked up and down the sides of mountains, crossing passes decked in prayer flags. But mostly we did what you do in the middle of nowhere: you watch and you think. You don’t have to get quite so remote, though. The middle of nowhere is not limited to geographical isolation. Nowhere is the absence of place, and there are non-places along any American highway, too. Being abroad makes the middle of nowhere seem exotic, but the true beauty of nowhere is that it isn’t exotic, it isn’t anything. The middle of nowhere is a blank canvas, and when you get there you start painting.