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Trekking in Ladakh, Part One

First a disclaimer. Unfortunately all of my photos and copious notes from the trek were stolen upon our return to Delhi at the end of our trip. Now the old Delhi railroad station is a microcosm of the urban Indian environment in all its glory. Surrounding the station are several square blocks of sleeping bodies, waiting bodies, and for all I know, dead bodies. There are child beggars with missing limbs, families with what appear to be all of their belongings spread out around them, and hawkers of various kinds selling chips, soda, fruit, etc, to those waiting for their train to come in. For some, an indeterminate number, this is home. They seem to be permanently camped out, sleeping on scraps of cardboard. You more or less have to wade through all of this to get in and out of the station.

The cab shack, such as it is, is on one side of this mass of humanity and the station is on the other side. If you want a regular cab, usually a 30 year old Ambassador as opposed to a three wheeled tuk-tuk,you have to wait on line in a separate place and buy your ticket in advance. On our late night arrival from Rishikesh, we got our tickets and then dutifully went over to the cab queue where we hoped to find one which would take us to Hitesh's house. He had graciously offered us accomodation and a ride to the airport the next day. Queue is not the right word to describe the chaotic scene. We thought we were on the right line, but before we knew it we were being told to get into a waiting tuk-tuk.

" No,"we said, "we've already paid for a regular cab."

" No regular cab," someone said, "only tuk-tuk."

We looked around and couldn't see any Ambassadors. Before we knew we knew what was happening, we were whisked into a waiting tuk-tuk, whch took off like a flying mouse on a kiddie roller coaster. Nanette barely managed to get both legs in, while I managed to grab our backbacks.

It took a very long time to get to our destination, partly due to construction, and also because our driver didn't have a fucking clue. This necessitated several calls to Hitesh's cell phone in an attempt to get directtions, and of course our driver's phone went dead after two or three calls. "No minutes, Sir," he said in a manner which was somehow obsequious and patronizing at the same time. By the time we got to his neighborhood, Hitesh was running around the streets with his phone and somehow managed to spot us. As we got out, I realized the camera was missing. I frantically looked around the tiny cabin, but to no avail. Our small daypack was gone and with it my camera and notes. I still have no idea what happened, but whoever was hustling us into the tuk-tuk and perhaps our driver, was probably in on it.

So rather than getting my daily logs about my epic trek, you'll have to settle for a series of vignettes, reconstructed from my spotty memory. Luckily, Mari-carmen had photos taken during the days she accompanied me and I will share some of them with you.

Now, I've said in other posts that Ladakh is a high desert getting only a few inches of rain a year. That all changed shortly after we started hiking. It more or less rained, or iced, for most of the initial eight days and then some, As you recall, this was a repeat of my previous trip with Tashi, when I started on the other, that is the wet side, of the mountains.

Actually the day we left was a teaser. It was sunny and hot. Our first campsite was a few hours drive and then a relatively short hike away.


Unfortunately Tashi had problems finding horsemen to carry our gear and so we had to spend an extra day and a half here. This created problems when we went to meet our next horsemen at the end of this part of trek.

The weather deteriorated shortly after that.


There are a few highlights that come to mind. One day we had climbed to the top of a high pass. The skies were threatening, but no rain. On the descent, always the hardest part, at least for me, we had a rather long traverse on a steep scree slope. The trail was narrow, a foot or two wide at most, and when we got about a third of the way across a thunderstorm moved in. We were in a fairly exposed position, but there was little we could do except continue on our way and hope for the best. The thunder reverberated across the narrow canyon walls and it was deafening, as the lightening flashed above our heads. In fact the sonic shock waves felt like a punch in the gut and we became concerned that it would loosen some of the boulders above. Even Tashi was worrried, I could see it in his eyes. This was not supposed to happen, and what with my fear of heights, it was scary. Well, we obviously made it. It took more than an hour or so and we all got soaked despite our rain gear, but not crushed by a rock or struck by lightening.


Another day we again ascended a pass. This time the rain started on our way up and continued for hours, turning to wet snow at the summit. We were all slightly hyperthermic as the temps were in the mid 30's and a 40 MPH wind was blowing. The way down was not steep, but it was very long. It must have taken another two hours to get to our campsite, and by then we were all shivering, trying to keep our wits about us. It was almost dark when we arrived at camp. Luckily Tashi and the crew were able to find a small shepherd's hut made out of stone, and were able to dry off some of our clothes with a yak-dung fire. Or was it cow-shit patties? Hard to remember, but there was not much wood up there, and of course we smelled like you imagine for the next few days until we had a chance to wash them out again in a rare sunny hour.

Sheep Crossing with a photo of Nanette, still in rain gear, Sheepherder, and our fearless leader, Tashi

Occasionally, Very Occasionally, we were Rewarded

Posted by jonshapiro 06:54 Archived in India

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