Part 8. The First day

We broke camp really early, budled up our sleeping bags , changed inside the tent and packed our ruck sacks. The arrangement we had was quite convenient to novice trekkers suck as ourselves : Our ruck sacks, sleepingbags, tents, vessels and equipment would be carried by mules/donkeys from one campsite to another. The support staff will clear the campsite, fold the tents, pack the equipment and put them all on the mules to the next campsite. Often, they would leave long after we left and would pass us on the trail around lunch time. It was amazing to see how fit and untiring they were! Without them, it would have been quite impossible for us city slickers to make it from one site to another with all that heavy equipment. This arrangement enabled us to carry only a small backpack filled with essentials like a couple of bottle of waters, our lunch boxes and anything else we wanted to carry on the actual trek

After a hearty breakfast and walk along a stream which was running low. We constantly crossed and re crossed the stream. Very often, the stream was too wide for us to jump across and the guides helped place large stones in the middle of the stream which we used as stepping stones.

Spirits were generally high and we trudged up the mountain to reach Pringti-La. Given the level of fitness I was in, I was the last one to reach the top after much huffing and puffing. Each step seemed tougher than the previous one and my lungs were simply screaming out for attention and I was almost always at the end of the line going up. Prashant and Vivek constantly goaded me up kept my now flagging spirits up. Terbej, one of the guides made sure that the tail end of the convoy, namely me, made it in one piece

Terbej, Karthik, Vivek & Sumanth

Reaching the peak was a momentous occassion and an overwhelming feeling of achieving something took over me. The adrenaline rush was exhilarating as I crawled up the last few meters to the top to see the whole group lying down and recouping for the journey downhill. In unision, we raised our voices to proclaim " Khi Khi So So Lar Gya La" to proclaim our success crossing our first Himalayan pass. At every pass, one can see a little pile of rocks and prayer flags

Lacchi at a pass... note the prayer flags

(Pic Courtesy Lachhii)

We descended fairly quickly and as always, the descent was my favorite part of the days trek. The winding downhill path took us over rubble, under piles of boulders and we had numerous cuts and scratches along the way. The noonday sun was unrelenting, and despite the copious amounts of sun block lotion that we slathered on ourselves, my forearms and the back of my neck were beginning to burn to a crisp. As we reached the town of Wanla, we walked on another stony river bed and stopped to snack, rest a little and journey on.

Once we crossed Wanla, we came on to a tar road ( better than the ones in Bangalore) which proved to be the last motorable road we'd see until the end of the trek. We walked all along a river with a very unique irrigation method. Channels are carved out at river level and slope gently downwards, but not at the same gradient as the river. Gravity pushes down water down the irrigation ditches and waters terraced fields on the barren mountain side. It is really wonderful to see innovation among people who do not have access to basic facilities, driven largely by the terrain. Necessity, truly is the mother of invention

(Click view larger image)

The world's hardest trek route

A couple of hours of walk over the road brought us to another rest stop, where we had a few snacks and some well deserved rest. The walk on the tar surface was quite tiring and we covered about 8-10 kilometers which was quite hard on the knees.

We rested at a campsite along a , in a grove of trees. The camp site was spartan at best, with a single shack housing the watchman and his family. When we arrived a hose was connected to a tap where we washed up and opened our tiffin boxes and ate what we could. The food went down pretty hard and I personally relished the chocolate bar more than any thing. Through the trip, chocolate bars were the primary source of energy for me.

After lunch, Vivek, Prashant and I scouted around and found steps that led down to the river. We washed up, snoozed a bit, and dipped our tired feet in the icy water. Almost instantly, the tiredness and the soreness vanished. Now, I could truly relate to Messrs. Waters and Gilmour when they were describing being comfortably numb.

Sonam.. our lead guide

We were abruptly woken up from this reverie when one of the others called us up for a 'team meeting'. I sensed something was wrong when people were huddled together talking in hushed tones. There were some concerns as to how the trek was going on and it seemed as if there was an in what what people expected to see en route. As the discussion progressed, I was dismayed to see the group getting fractured so early on! I guess it was the good old group dynamics of "forming-storming-norming-performing" at work. There were some who insisted that we turn back, go to Leh and go on an alternate route at the same cost as what had already been incurred.

I guess people expected alpine scenery and a much gentler walk in the park. Trekking in Ladakh is not easy and demands will power over sheer strength. It takes a lot to plod ahead, putting one step in front of the other, expecting the end of the trail to be just 'beyond the bend'. More often than not, coming around the bend shows just how far you have to go and how little you actually have travelled!

I had spent too much time,money and energy in getting to this point and I was not going to let this split in the group spoil my holiday! luckily, a few others felt the same as I did and Lacchi gave the group time till that evening to decide if the trip should continue.

The incident left a sour taste in the mouth, but I was determined not to let it spoil what was to be one of the most exciting things I've ever done in my life. We walked on and a few kilometers down the road, we reached the campsite at Phanji-La where the porters had reached ahead of us and had begun to set up camp. Once we washed up and had coffee and snacks ( we truly were a pampered lot). We brought out the frisbee and started tossing it around, taking care not to throw it into the portable potty! Somewhere in the background, a goat decided to take matters into its own hands (horns) and enter the tents. we quickly shooed it away and continued with our game.

When it became too dark to play, we retreated into the main tent where we played cards by kerosene lamps, candles and torches. Cards, dumb charades, antakshari and general gossip was the only evening past time that we had for the next few days and I for one, did not miss TV one bit !

The cooks made dinner for us and I as much as I could possibly shove down. The bad food did not account for the lack of appetite... it felt as if I hadn't completely acclimatized yet and altitude sickness had some lingering effects. Also somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that input = output and any intake of food would mean subsequent output and usage of mountain money. Over the next few days, I learned how to be a very very efficient machine, burning up almost all the food during the hike.

The post dinner session brought back the issue of continuing from thereon and a poll was taken as to who wanted to continue and who didn't. I have never understood the idea behind all the scheming, back biting and deal making in reality shows like Survivor and Amazing Race, but this one instance when people were making cases for themselves and means to seek the ends they wanted was fun and quite an eye opener! I stuck to my guns that the I wanted to continue with the trip and we had enough of a quorum to go ahead with the trek, with the option that who ever wanted to opt out, could turn back and head to Leh, but no refund will be made for having hired the guides, porters and equipment for 6 days. Faced with having to dish out extra money (journey to leh +extra days in hotel+food) , the people who wanted to change plans, decided to go ahead with the trip.

To clear my head and put all this nonsense behind me, I took a walk with Prashant and Vivek along the road. The deafening silence was only broken by the rush of the river in the gorge below. By the dim starlight, you could see the sparse patches of vegetation dark offset against the light brown/khaki background of the mountain side.

That night, we made the decision to sleep under the stars and we arranged for a ground cloth to be laid out and we pulled out the sleeping bags. I must have spent hours just gazing at sky, but after a while, I had to retreat under the tent. I do not remember if it was because it was cold, becasue of bugs or if it started drizzling. The fact was I went back in, and now I wish I had spent the whole night outside! I put up with the snoring in the tents around us and slept blissfully till dawn, awaiting the rest of our journey.

Trampled byY Trip at Saturday, March 28, 2009 2 comments Links to this post

Part 7. The Road to the Long March

The morning ride took us through mountain side beautiful not despite its barrenness, but because of it. The various hues of greys ,browns, blacks and even purples made up the dramatic scenery all around us. A couple of hours out, we came upon the confluence of the Indus and the Zanskar close to Nimoo. The difference in colours was really apparent as the Zanskar brought down a lot silt and mud as it cut its way through deep gorges on its way down stream.

Far down by riverside a film crew had set up camp and we made our guesses as to who the actors were down there throwing tantrums. After a few photo opps we decided to move on and face the rest of the trip. We descended to Numi(?) where we picked up a few bottles of overpriced mineral water of dubious origins. Water was a concern as everyone of us were pampered city brats who drank bottled water. We had made extensive plans to conserve water through the trip, drinking when necessary and being willing to pay Rs. 25-50 for a 10 rupee bottle. But, as we were to discover in due course, bottled water was not at all necessary right through the trek.

After a quick lunch (yucky dal chaawal )at a roadside stop under some shade, we proceeded to Alchi gompa (monastery) set besides the Indus and a beautiful apricot orchard which was just beginning to ripen. Although there were plenty of other tourists, the setting was really peaceful and I could have spent the rest of the day lying down on a rock under the shade and listening to the river run below us

We set off for Lamayuru and arrived at our campsite to see that the tent had been set up and we enjoyed a hearty snack, followed by rounds of frisbee and a quick hike to the Gompa at Lamayuru

(Pic Courtesy Lacchi)

We snuggled in to the tents after dinner, where the cook managed to whip up some cake and roti and fruits. We walked around along the road near the campsite as we pondered what lies ahead. We stopped by at a shop to listen to the shopkeepers radio for the latest news.

At that moment, then and there, time did not matter.. news did not matter. No one cared for performance reviews or managers or deadlines. No body bothered about work. We were among simple people who lived their simple ways and for a brief period of time, we attempted to be simple folk.

The next morning, we woke up early to get to the outhouse to attend to call of nature. Now, you might wonder where did this come from.... the porters who came along with us dug a hole in the ground and erected a small tent around it to provide for privacy. As can be imagined, if 15 people use the hole, it fills up pretty fast and becomes really really yucky... I learned my lesson and vowed to find my own corner of the world and do my business.

Trampled byY Trip at Saturday, March 28, 2009 0 comments Links to this post