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Cradle Mountain National Park

From Walls of Jerusalem we went on to its sister park, Cradle Mountain, which adjoins it. Cradle Mountain is home to the famous Overland Track. Similar in fame to the Milford Track, it is longer and harder. We opted not to do it because it required reservations made almost a year in advance. Instead we took what is probably my favorite day hike of the entire trip. For lack of a better description I'll call it the Crade Lake Traverse.

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Most day trippers stopped here on a rock outcropping with a nice view of the lake.

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Others, mostly "the young ones," decided to try the climb up Cradle Mountain.

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I actually considered it, but it would have been a long day with lot of vert. Instead Bill and I opted to walk around Cradle Lake along the top of a big plateau above tree line.

Bill with Cradle Mountain in background
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Top of the plateau
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Other small lakes visible on the plateau
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Another view of Cradle Lake from above
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Parakeets above the lake
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The great thing about this hike, aside from the expansive views, was that there was practically no one there. I think we saw one other couple the entire day. It took about 5 hours with plenty of stops on a picture perfect day, unusual in these parts.

Posted by jonshapiro 08:20 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes mountains postcards foot Comments (0)

Walls of Jerusalem National Park

From the Bay of Fires we made the rather long drive to the edge of Walls of Jerusalem. Continuing on to Lake Rowallan, we drove down a remote dirt track following a river until the road ended at the edge of the lake. There we found a secluded camping spot with only one other set of campers a hundred yards or more away.

The lake had a ghostly feel to it because of the hundreds of tree trunks that stuck up above the water line, presumably because the lake was damned at some point flooding the area.

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The sunset was beautiful.

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The next day we found the marked track that led up to trappers cabin and then to Herod's Gate and Dixon's Kingdom. It was a long slog up to the alpine wilderness.

Forest view on the way up
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One of many alpine lakes.
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On the way to Herod's Gate
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Passing into Dixon's Kingdom
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Another shot of Dixon's
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Unfortunately I didn't quite make it all the way to the Wall of Jerusalem. It was a long way back and it was getting late. I was however, rewarded with the softest moss you can imagine, and hung out there eating a bit of lunch.

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.
With these views:
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We spent another night at Lake Rowalllan, but unfortunately someone had seen fit to take our camping chairs and our previous spot. The new folks claimed they had seen nothing and perhaps someone else had come along and assumed we had left for good. At least, that is the most positive spin. At any rate we found another decent place to camp and luckily we hadn't left much of value other than the chairs.

Next day we looked for another place to hike. As there were no other marked trails we headed up a steep logging road which eventually petered out. We continued bushwhacking higher and then came upon another road, very steep which appeared to lead somewhere. Eventuallly we got to the top of something, and to a cell tower. Looking down we could see the river that we had followed on the way to Lake Rowallan.

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We decided to take advantage of the tower and make calls to our respective wives after being incommunicado for several days. Ironic that we had just wandered up there by accident to a tower in the middle of the wilderness.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:48 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes mountains postcards foot Comments (2)

Hokitika and Surrounds

After a couple of days in Craigieburn we went back over Arthur's pass to a small town on the west coast, Hokitika. After searching around for a proper camping spot we found this unique place on a bluff over looking the ocean. It certainly was not wilderness, but as it turned out, it was an ex-mental hospital complete with extensive grounds, staff housing, and of course, the main wing of the hospital. It was bought on the cheap by a New Zealand couple who had the idea of turning it into a resort. Well, resort would be a stretch, but they did turn it into a backpackers hangout. The place was fairly run down, but no matter, it was full of young people from all over. Some were staying inside in small rooms that had been part of the hospital, while others were camped out on the main lawn. A few had campers like ours which were spread throughout the grounds.

A portion of the main hospital building
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Campers on the lawn overlooking the ocean
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There was a large kitchen where we cooked our dinner, and yes, hot showers to our everlasting delight. Shortly after we arrived a cold rain had already started and it got harder as the night wore on.

It was still raining the next morning, but seemed to be letting up as we ate breakfast in the main dining hall. The forecast was for improving weather so we decided to head on to our next hike, maybe an hour away. This was the Toaroha Valley Tramp as they say in Kiwi. We were told about it by the ranger at Arthur's pass as a place with possible hot springs and very few people. When we arrived at the trail head it was still drizzling, so we sat in the van for a while hoping for the best. Eventually the sun did come out. This was to be two day venture into the Cedar Flats hut, a 3 or 4 hour hike, or so we thought. Because of all the rain, sections of the trail were flooded and we had to ford numerous streams. Not wanting to get our boots wet, we stopped often to take them off and wade across in our sandals. All of this took a lot of time. After an hour or so, we came to a juncture that indicated a high water trail that went up higher in the forest. Since it was so wet down below, we figured this to be our best bet. It turned out to be a highly rugged path that was poorly marked, but slowly we persevered, seeing no one. In spots it was also damn slippery and muddy as it went up and down the steep hillsides of the canyon, staying away from to Kokataki River down below us. In the late afternoon we got to a spot where the trail just seemed to disappear. No markers could be seen, although there was a small cliff leading down from where we stood. Bill got out his gps app and we tried to figure it out. Surely it couldn't lead down that cliff. We must have been there 10 or 15 minutes when a family came by. There were two teenage boys and a couple that looked to be in their 40's. We chatted with them as they seemed to know what they were doing, especially George who was a helicopter pilot with the conservation department. He laughed when we told him that it seemed much more than 3 or 4 hours to the hut especially because of all the time we wasted taking off our boots.

"You don't take them off. Just wade on through. They're going to get wet anyway."

He seemed to think the trail did indeed lead down the cliff, and scrambled down to take a look. Sure enough, there was a marker down below hidden in the trees. We helped each other down with some difficulty, and then hiked together for a while until it became apparent that Bill and I couldn't keep up. We said we'd meet them in the hut in a couple of hours. Unfortunately that was not to be.

Despite not taking off our boots again, we made slow progress through the steep and dense terrain where route finding was a continual issue. True, we didn't start hiking until about 1:30 PM, but figured that gave us plenty of time because it didn't get dark until close to 9. Well now the light was already beginning to fade in the dense forest and we seemed to be nowhere near the hut, but we plodded along. There were more streams to cross despite being on the high route, and we didn't stop to take our boots off. As the light continued to fade we both wondered where the hell the hut could be. How much further? And then, suddenly, or so it seemed, the light went out entirely. We had already put on our headlamps, but unfortunately I had lost my good one on Mt. Cook, and only had a very small one that was practically useless. Bill would go ahead 10 or 20 yards and shine his lamp back towards me so I didn't slip on the boulders and wet ground. Once again the trail seemed to disappear into one of the numerous streams. We got out the gps to try and figure out the way, but that slowed us down even more. Both of us began to think we might have to spend the night out. Yes, we would probably survive without a tent, but it was starting to get cold and it would be damned uncomfortable. Every time Bill got out the gps I worried that we were wasting more time since it was still very difficult to find the trail, but I kept my mouth shut. Whatever we had to do, we certainly had to stick together. By now it was close to 10:30 and we were both feeling somewhat desperate. Above all, we didn't want George to have to come out looking for us as he probably would if we didn't show up. Finally, wading down another stream, we saw a trail marker, and then in he distance a narrow suspension bridge leading across the river to Cedar Flats and the hut. Crossing the bridge was the coup de grace. It was a one person bridge, extremely narrow and shaky, dangling some 20 or 20 feet across the raging river. Bill went first and then shined his light back so I could cross. And just so you know, I am actually afraid of heights so this was not an easy crossing for me and I had to take it slow because of how shaky and slippery the bridge was. Obviously, I did eventually make it ,and the hut was right there as we stumbled in, exhausted. Our 3 to 4 hour hike was more like 8 or 9, almost two hours of which was in the dark. George and his family seemed quite relieved to see us.

Just another Bill and Jon adventure.

Bill crossing back over the bridge the next morning. It doesn't look particularly threatening in the light of day
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The water levels looked to be much lower the next day, and so we decided to take the low route back. Route finding was still quite difficult, as was all the boulder hopping we had to do to stay out of the water. It didn't take quite as long as the previous day, but it still wasn't easy.

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[i]An example of the rugged terrain[i]
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Posted by jonshapiro 11:08 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes mountains postcards foot Comments (3)

Craigieburn Forest Park/ Lake Pearson

After Mt Cook, our plan was to spend a few days at Arthur's Pass but the closer we got to top the more the weather deteriorated. The east side of the island is generally drier than the west and the pass marks the transition from one to the other. This was quite noticeable in terms of the vegetation which was considerably more lush and green the higher we climbed. We stopped in the ranger station to check about the weather in the coming days and indeed it looked to be rainy and very windy for the better part of the week. The east side appeared to be a much better bet, and so we drove back down and managed to find a fairly secluded spot near Lake Pearson. There were plenty of other campers on the lake shore, but further back far fewer. We spent a couple of nights there and hiked during the day.

Views from our camping spot near Lake Pearson
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Our first hike was a few hours up to Helicopter Hill. We started out in the forest and were almost run over by a group of kamikaze mountain bikers near this spot. The tell tale red marker denoting a mountain bike trail should have tipped us off.

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The 360 views from the top of the hill were superb.

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It was extremely windy cooking dinner that night, and because we were now in our Wicked Van there was no place to cook inside. We had to make due with a one pot butane stove which kept blowing out. Finally we managed to rig something up behind the tire of the van and managed to cook our lamb burgers. You have to make do with what equipment you have. As Bill would say, "It is what it is."

The next day was also clear and warm and we ended up, more or less inadvertently, hiking up to the Cheeseman Ski Field. Starting out in the forest, we came up to a steep and what felt like a road to nowhere.

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But rounding the bend here is what we saw

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The only lifts were poma style up some rather steep terrain. Falling off the lift, easy to do, would not be an option unless you want to slide down backwards several hundred feet. This was bare bones skiing where even getting up the road would be an adventure with snow and ice. There was nary a condo in sight

We sat on the floor of the porch outside the lodge and ate lunch. It was difficult to stand in the nearly gale force winds

Posted by jonshapiro 10:30 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes mountains postcards foot Comments (4)

Trekking

As the days went on, it became obvious that we would not be able to proceed with our original trekking plans. Tashi had prepared a somewhat ambitious journey of 12 days in which we would first go to his village of Kabban, and then over a high pass, roughly 17,000 feet, and then back a different way, through other villages such as Dongel, Lossani, etc. However the snow is late in melting this year, and the weather continues to be unsettled, very likely with more snow higher up on the passes. Instead we will do it in reverse, up through the villages, and then, weather permitting, over the pass. If not, we will return back by the same route and make the trip shorter.

Prior to setting out I talked to Ramdee, Tashi's mother, about the history of her people. She didn't know very much, but she said that four generations of Tashi’s family now live in Kabban. The village was originally settled by four families, who came from the other side of the mountains in Lahaul and Zanskar, some 300 years ago. They moved because of better growing conditions on this, the wetter side of the mountains. Kabban eventually grew to have 60 families.

Legend has it that there was a feud between a Buddhist King,and a Hindu king. The latter said he would marry the Buddhist King’s wife and apparently made a secret agreement with her. She hid her husband’s arrows and bows and prevented him from sleeping. He was tied to the bed and killed by the Hindu King, who then killed his wife. Many of the the original settlers left Kabban after this and settled back in Lahaul in Darcha Marwa. They moved there and became Muslims, but still speak some Ladakhi. Not everyone left, or else more people came over the mountain passes, and the population of Kabban increased once again.

The day we started our trek was fair, and we hiked 15K or 20K up the well traveled path through a steep sided river valley. We spent a pleasant night near the river where the valley widened out in a grassy and sandy area. Despite the warm sun, my attempt at bathing was thwarted by the ball shrinking coldness of the water.

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Not long before dark, a very voluble Hindu man showed up from Mumbai who spoke English fluently. He asked if he could spend the night, as he brought no camping equipment other than a blanket. I didn't particularly want him in my tent, but said that if it was okay with Tashi and the porters, I had no objection. He stayed with us, sleeping in the cook tent, and gushing about how wonderful it was to meet Tashi and I. He was a bit over the top, and by the time he left early the next morning for Machel, I was glad to see him go.

Once more the day started out fair, although the weather began to deteriorate in the afternoon as we approached Lossani. The trail meandered up and down along the river and the adjoining slopes, and a few times we had to make our way across avalanche debris, ice and snow.

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Villages, mostly Hindu, dotted the landscape, including Machel, which is the site of an annual pilgrimage in August when thousands of people show up and camp for a few days near the temple. There is even a helicopter service for those who can afford it. The temple was not all that impressive, though it was locked and we didn't get to see inside.

Small village festival
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I am now in Lossani, a small village of mud and straw houses without many windows. Snow is still visible, not only on the summits, but also the remains of winter avalanches.

Approaching Lossani
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Old Buddhist temple, Lossani
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It has started to rain, a cold, icy drizzle, and Tashi and the guys elected to sleep in an abandoned school and cook there as well. Tashi's brother in law showed up, fairly drunk, and spoke in broken English about all the friends he has in the US and Canada. Doubtful. Another of Tashi's older brothers also lives in Lossani, and we went to his house for a brief time, and then on to a local wedding party. Actually, it was after the wedding had taken place in Manali, but now the couple had come back to the village to celebrate. It was the daughter of the brother in law. Virtually the entire village was crammed into one small room, sitting cross legged on the floor. There was barely room to eat, and the brother in law kept plying everyone with booze. On one end of the room, the cows were nestled in their wooden cages, so their warmth would help keep the room warm. Usually by now, they are put out to pasture, but because it still felt like winter with temps in the upper 30's and a cold wind blowing, they are still inside. Although it was difficult to make our exit, my legs had started to cramp up in the very tight space, and I needed Tashi to find my way back to the the tent. Luckily, as promised, the tent did not leak, as it rained steadily all night long.

In the morning it was still overcast and chilly, with a weak sun trying to shine through low hanging clouds that totally obscure the peaks. Going over the high pass seems increasingly less likely, as it will require 4 or 5 days of snow camping, and with the weather being what it is, it might be dangerous. It seems every time I trek with Tashi I bring the bad weather.

After a few hours of hiking, we arrived at Dongel, a village further up the valley. The weather has only worsened over the past two days. The rain is steadier and heavier now. I am safely ensconced in the house of a distant relative of Tashi's. I have the penthouse, aka, 2nd floor room, all to myself, and I am dry, if not warm. I can see my breath, and the temps inside are only marginally warmer than outside where it is just above freezing.

House where I stayed in Dongel
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Couple inside their house. In the back is where the animals stay for the winter
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Not far up, less than 1000 feet, fresh snow has fallen. Just now it is difficult to see it, because the clouds and mist have descended almost to the valley floor. A profound sense of gloom pervades the pine and cedar forest around this tiny village. Mist swirls amidst the lower trees, blending into the greyish, blank whiteout beyond. Rock walls and wooden posts, strung together with wire, separate the muddy tzo- shit strewn paths and fields that separate the dozen or so houses.

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The dark mud of the paths contrasts with the tawny colored mud of the houses, constructed of stone and timbers cut from the surrounding trees. They are then packed with mud and straw, both inside and out, a surprisingly effective form of insulation, though temporary I suspect. This is not, after all, the dry climes of Leh or New Mexico, where adobe can last for years. For some reason the roofs are mostly flat, and so need to be shoveled in the snows of winter, some of which still remains in the thick forest.

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One of the younger porters, Modup, has been taking good care of me, although Tashi has disappeared into another nearby house to visit other relatives, no doubt imbibing more of the local brew. Hard to refuse in this weather. He reappeared this morning when I asked one of the men to wake him.

There is nothing to do but wait. Hiking in this cold, wet weather would be uncomfortable at best, but it is hard to be patient.

If I want to get warm, I go down a set of very steep stairs, past the wood pile to one room on the first floor, where there is a small wood stove. Though vented, the draft is poor and the room is smoky. There is no furniture, only blankets on the mud floor, which thankfully, is much warmer than the cement floor of Tashi's house in Gulabgarh. After two hours in my sleeping bag, warmed with the aide of a make-shift hot water bottle, I will venture down now and continue writing from there. The walls of my upstairs room are papered with old English language newspapers and sexy pictures of Hindi movie stars, posters of Kashmir, and one larger picture of a boat and harbor, stating, ironically to me at least, God LOVETH THE CLEAN. On another wall there is a half page ad for Nestle chocolate, emphatically stating, "IN TWO DAYS, 100 CRORE(100 million) WILL WORK HARDER FOR YOUR DIGESTION. Hmmm. I never knew that chocolate bars, or a lot of money for that matter, would do wonders for my digestion. I am convinced, however, that if the outhouse, which is perched only a few feet from the water supply, were to be moved 50 yards in the other direction, and pit was dug to contain the shit, most likely this would do wonders for the digestion of the villagers. I have thus far, and rather miraculously, avoided any major stomach upset. I insist on having all my drinking water boiled, but others still cook and handle all the food. I do seem to have developed a cough which is similar to many others in these parts. I hope it will be short lived.

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Well, nature calls, and I have to make my way out to the shitter. After my short, but perilous and very slippery journey, I am back inside the warm room. One of the porters is here, along with some other young men from the village. The man of the house , who looks damn good for his 74 years, sits cross legged to my right, eating rice and mutton with his fingers, as is the custom. He has short grey hair, face wrinkled from the sun, and is garbed in homespun woolen clothes. His right ear is adorned with an earring. His daughter looks to be about 35, and sits on the opposite side of the stove. With high cheek bones, a kerchief on her head, and smooth, reddish brown skin, she is quite attractive. She wears a pearl necklace and a 2nd one of coral and turquoise, which is somewhat similar in color to her machine made orange sweater. Underneath the sweater she wears a flowered tunic and baggy pants, and is barefoot. She has just now finished the laborious process of making roti. The walls of this room are unadorned, though there are wooden shelves built into one side, which hold dishes, pots and pans. On the other wall, a solar powered light and clock, which seems to keep accurate time. A single small swastika is painted on the main soot darkened beam, and there are two drafty wooden windows, letting in the dim, grey light.

Every one sits waiting.

Waiting for the weather to clear so they can plow and plant their fields, several weeks late already.

And we are waiting to hike.

The clock ticks

The cock crows,

but the distant drone of the river is soft and soothing.

There is desultory chatting in Ladakhi, and some laughter. Always laughter. One of the young men, perhaps not from this village, takes out his cell phone and puts on some Hindi music. Cell phones are useless here for calls as there is no service. I can't imagine why a villager would have one, but you can never tell about these things. Actually, he has not one but two, and seems to be comparing them.

Tashi has told me a story about the forest here, which is one of the highest in all of Jammu district. A prince of Zanskar, on the other side of the Umasi La pass, four or five days of hard walking, was going to marry a princess from Dongel. The forest was going to be a dowry present, since Zanskar is much drier and has no forest of its own. When the prince arrived in Dongel, the princess held her nose because he was so dirty and smelly. A wolf intervened, and said to the the Zanskar prince, that the princess must not have a nose if he couldn't see it. Enough doubt was sewn by the wolf that the marriage did not take place, and so the story goes, that is why the forest remained here and was not cut down. Exactly why the wolf didn't want the marriage to occur is something of a mystery. Tashi says that no one knows this, but perhaps, in my mind at least, the wolf, who lived here, wanted to continue to roam the forest, and did not want it taken to some far off place.

There are still wolves here. A few days ago one killed a sheep in a nearby village.

Lunch is served, curried cauliflower and rice, not my favorite. They seem to have a lot of cauliflower here, almost every day it seems. Somewhat dutifully I managed to finish most of it, but wait, before I can refuse, in typical fashion the daughter is already refilling my plate. Just then she has a series of sneezes. Yah, just what I need. In their generous spirit, more cauliflower and more germs. Everything, and I mean everything, is shared here. There is no way to avoid it.

The rain continues on unabated, clouds menacing from all sides.

The clock ticks.

Slowly, very slowly.

The cock crows.

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The rain continued heavily all night. The wind blew so hard one of my windows flew open at about 6 AM. Now it seems to have stopped and the clouds have lifted somewhat. What the rest of the day will bring is hard to tell. We will wait another few hours before deciding, but at $100 a day for the porters and Tashi's fee, I can't really see the sense of continuing with conditions being what they are. The pass is clearly out of the question, and I am getting tired of waiting and the spartan life of camping in this weather.

Once again the old man of the house is sitting near me, this time with an enormous ball of yarn that he is winding onto a wooden stick. I was told that his wife is in Jammu getting some kind of medical treatment. Tashi said that he doesn't drink much now, but I think yesterday must have been an exception as he seems a bit hung over.

The day has continued on without any decisions having been made, though once again the village is socked in with clouds. In late afternoon, I sought out Tashi for some company in another house, his real brother in law's, as he put it, since he calls even his wife's distant cousins his brother in law as well. There was drinking going on again, and naturally they tried to fill my glass repeatedly, which I resisted.

Tashi and his brother in law wearing my unneeded sunglasses
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As always, there was a lot of laughter, and this time, it seemed as though the women were drinking as much as the men. Someone put on a music tape powered by a car battery, and since I wasn't drinking much, I encouraged everyone to dance, which eventually they did. They all got a kick out of it when I joined them. There wasn't a lot of room to move, but we managed to weave in and out of the bottles of hooch and the wood stove. There were several generation of relatives there, including young women nursing babies, as well as the old man of the village, my host, who after a time began to sing in that same sing-song voice, about how guests bring sunshine to the village. He must have been drunk, because in my case, nothing could be further from the truth.

Tashi's real brother in law, who did look like Puti, kept repeating the word nothing, when I said no booze, no food, hence nothing. I literally had to shield my glass with my hand to prevent him and others from refilling it. After a time, the pressure to drink got a bit much, and despite the obvious pleasure they took in my company, I returned to the other house. I asked Tashi if he could make it over to join me for dinner. What I didn't know was that about half an hour later, he would bring the entire party to "my house." More chang and wheat wine was consumed, but thankfully, the brother in law did not show up. The porters started preparing my dinner of chow mein, basically ramen noodles with a few veggies thrown in. They asked if I wanted any mutton. To be polite, I said a little, but meanwhile another porter took out an enormous leg of mutton, mostly raw, and began chopping away at it with an ax. This was bit much for me, and though they only added a few pieces to my dinner, I did not eat them. I asked Tashi if there was ever a problem with spoilage, and he said they dry the meat, but yes, some of it did spoil. That was all I needed to hear with the ax chopping away at the bloody leg, a piece of firewood on the floor serving as a chopping block. My gut was already giving me a few problems from bouncing around the dance floor earlier, but having the ax, thwack, thwack, right next to me did not improve matters. I had my dinner, or some of it at least, and made my way back up to the refrigerator that was the 2nd floor. I crawled into my sleeping bag, shivering from the cold, but my hot water bottle, held tight next to my femoral artery was a big help. I may be turning into a wimp, but I am looking forward to a few western comforts, especially a hot shower and clean clothes. It will be several days before that is possible.

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The rain finally did stop the next morning though it remained party to mostly cloudy.

A brief sunny moment, fresh snow on the mountains
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I was all for starting back, as I didn't want to be stuck in Dongel with more rain. Tashi said the porters wanted to stay, and I finally agreed, but I didn't want to spend money just to sit around. He spoke to them, and they decided to stay anyway, even without getting paid for the day.

He suggested an excursion to Somchen, the highest and most isolated village at around 3000 meters. I was happy to finally get out and walk again, but I had to talk him into coming as the porters and other relatives wanted him to stick around and drink with them. We finally set off around 11 for a pleasant two hour uphill hike. We stopped first in Deschedi, another tiny village about 1K from Somchen, where I was fortunate to meet and take pics of a 93 year old woman. She gave me a toothless grin when I showed her the picture afterwords.

Mother and daughter
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We had some tea with her and continued the rest of the way.

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Somchen looked a bit like the monasteries in Ladakh. The village consisted of one large stone and mud structure of several houses, built one on top of another, like an apartment building.

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The reason for this is that they need to keep the arable land free for grazing, and they are very close to a major avalanche zone. It is quite chilly up here. Fresh snow had just fallen last night, but had melted by the time we arrived. We stopped for more tea,rotis, curd, and fresh eggs, talking with the brother of Sonam, who lives next to Tashi in Gulabgarh, and who had lent me a trekking pole. This brother spoke a bit of English, and told me that his three children attend the Himalayan Culture School. He and his wife stay in the village and run the farm. In the village, life is difficult, he said . This year there were more than 15 meters of snow, which lasted more than 6 months. Temps were often minus 20C, and so all they could do was stay inside with the animals. Staying warm was their main preoccupation. He seemed quite eager for company, and encouraged me to spend the night, and to come back the next year and spend 5 or 6 days. Needless to say, I was not interested in either proposition, but his friendliness and hospitality were contagious.

As the afternoon wore on the clouds looked more threatening. Tashi went out to take a leak or so he said, and then disappeared for an hour. He had apparently met some other relatives.

We made it back just as the rain started anew.

I made it clear that I wanted to leave the next morning, rain or shine. Also, I wanted to get an early start, and if possible, make it all the way back to Gulabarh, about 30K. I didn't relish another chilly and damp night in a tent.

Although overcast, the next morning was dry. I was up by 6 and more than ready to leave by 8, but Tashi and the others were staying in a different house and they didn't seem to be in a hurry. When they arrived about 8:45, the donkey had still not been loaded. Tashi's brother in law, whose donkey it was, literally tried to grab and drag me into another house for more drinking. I was not amused and said no, which he ignored.

No, NO NO NO, LOUDER AND LOUDER. He eventually let go, but Tashi had to stay behind to help load the donkey. He had doubts whether the porters would leave at all if he didn't get them going. Modup, who had done all my cooking for the past few days was ready to leave, and Tashi suggested that I start with him and that he would catch up.

We kept up a pretty good pace and I wondered when or if Tashi and the others would catch up. The clouds thickened, and sure enough it started to rain shortly before noon. We stopped in a crude little dhabba in a small Hindu village. By then we were both pretty damp, and I had stupidly left a rain jacket behind with Tashi. I had a cup or two of very sweet tea and cookies, and huddled up to a tiny fire to try and stay warm. We waited over an hour, but the rain continued. Finally a donkey man and one of the porters showed up. Tashi had apparently stopped in Machel, so when the rain let up a bit we decided to push on, but after another hour or so it was back. Eventually, after two more hours of wet, cold walking, we stopped in another village at a small dhabba, with nothing to eat except ramen noodles. At least it was hot and not sweet. I played out the various options in my head. It was still about three more hours walking to Gulabgarh, and I wasn't sure we had that much daylight. Hiking in the cold rain in the dark did not seem like a good idea.

Finally Tashi showed up, nursing a toothache that had been bothering him for several days, but had clearly worsened. I was not happy that we had to wait so long because of his dawdling, especially without a rain jacket. I was also pissed at the porters, who had obviously been drinking, and told them that they should easily have been able to keep up with me, someone twice their age. It was obvious we weren't going to be able to hike more that day, and the rain had only picked up in intensity. Tashi found us a couple of basic rooms that would at least keep us dry, or so I thought. When I returned after drying my jacket by the fire, I found the rain was dripping in steadily on one side of the room. Luckily it was not on my bed. Later, the porters made a cooking fire in a leaky barn, and knowing I was angry, ran around asking me if I wanted tea or soup or something to eat. It didn't help with my foul mood.

We left early the next morning which thankfully was clear. Tashi could barely talk because of his tooth. I was still upset with all of the waiting around, but he and I go back a long way and I didn't want this to ruin our friendship.

We arrived back in Gulabgarh before mid-day.

Assuming the weather holds, the school will make a picnic in my honor the day after tomorrow. On Sunday, Tashi and I will leave for Jammu, where it will be warm. I will spend a few days there helping him check out computer tablets, and then fly to Mumbai before heading home.

Posted by jonshapiro 07:19 Archived in India Tagged landscapes mountains buildings foot photography Comments (2)

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