Lamayuru to Padum
Updated 7/2008 with my pics. orig pic
I already mentioned getting my trek on in India – well, I survived the 10 days. But my laptop didn’t, and my iPod ran away. More importantly, I saw amazing mountain peaks and valleys, powerful rivers, crystal clear streams, horses, sheep, yaks, and donkeys, locals, other trekkers, villages and gompas (monastaries). But mostly i stared at rocks at my feet as i hiked 4 to 8 hours a day for 10 days. The exercise, fresh air, and beautiful scenery made this one of my favorite parts of my Round the world trip.
I hiked with 7 others – 4 others who payed, and 3 who got paid. The 4 other trekkers were all from Switzerland – 2 Swiss German, Amir and Patrick, and two Swiss French, Sam and Jo (the only girl). They met each other on the bus to Leh and organized this trip. I just happen to find a sign that said they were looking for more peeps and joined just 2 days before we left. The 3 who got paid were 2 guides and a ponyman. The ponyman is a local dude who carries the stuff – ours had 2 horses and 4 ponies. His english was practically non-existant, but his spirit was great. The 2 guides, Rigzen and Thinles, were from Leh and were quite entertaining. Rigzen was the main guide, young and smart, a bit more reserved than Thinles, and hiked with us every day. Thinles (pronounced tin-less) was his friend and assistant, mostly hiking with the ponyman. Both could speak Ladakhi (local language), Hindi (india national language) and English. Thinles’s english was barely passable, but always entertaining. “Today is much problem, you know?” or just “today is .. you know, by god”. At night they cooked us amazing dishes like .. rice, soup, and vegies (‘amazing’ said in my sarcastic voice). Actually, except for the lack of protein, food was OK – just kinda boring and flavorless. But when you hike and burn so much calories, food cannot taste bad, and i was always thankful to have plenty to eat for dinner.
The route was from Lamayuru to Padum – from north to south, starting in Ladakh region and ending in Zanskar. It is commonly called the Zanskar trek, although there are other routes going thru Zanskar. Total distance was 136km (85 miles), with much elevation gain and loss – 8 passes total. It takes 5 to 10 days (well, locals do it in 5, most tourists do it in 8-10). We technically hiked it in 9 days, since the first day was a wash waiting for the ponyman to show up. Stupid late ponyman. We left Leh on July 4 and arrived in Padum on July 13. The route we took is the same as the one discussed in the previously mentioned book, “Trekking in Ladakh“, pages 197, 269-245. I got most of details from there. I even plotted the places we stayed on google earth. View my hike on google maps. (not as cool as this guy’s google earth video from nepal).
I chose this route cuz it was supposed to be more challenging – a bit longer than most, with alot more elevation gain and loss. Over half the people who come to region do the markha valley, a 5-8 day trek right by Leh. I had the time so i wanted to do something a bit longer and more remote. There are only a handful of options, and this one was sold to me as having more dramatic moutains, amazing river valleys, ancient gompas, and varied geological terrain. I found it to be true, for the most part. The beginning and end were less physically demanding than the middle days. After a blister popped and got infected on the 8th day, i was glad to only have to limp 4 hours a day instead of 8. And yes, it really sux to have an infected toe while traveling.
One thing that surprised me was how brown the mountains were. Hardly any dirt, just rocks – various rock colors – purple, red, yellow, aqua/green, white, black, etc, but mostly brown. I was also surprised to find so many “tea houses” along the trail. A tea house is often a tiny stone house where people stop to have … tea. (never would have guessed, that, would ya?) mostly chai, a tea with milk, sugar, and a few spices. In fact, every night except once we had a tea house. They also had ramen noodles, potato chips, and a few other snacks. A few times they even had beer – a delishous treat after a long day’s hike, even when it was warm. Other interesting things included waking up next to donkeys, horses, yaks, and goats, and seeing a local festival in Karsha on the last day. That was quite cool – hundreds of people came dressed in their best, very colorful, regional clothing to the biggest Gompa in Zanskar.
The worst time on the trek was on the fifth day – the day it snowed. It was the only time in my 6 months where i was seriously asking myself, “what the hell am i doing here?”. It started with an overcast morning, warm as always, but with chance of rain i put on my “waterproof” pants and packed a jacket. As we head out, light rain started, and within a couple hours, as we were close to going over Sengi La (the highest pass on the trek, around 5,000 meters, 16,400 ft) the rain had turned to snow. At this point i my legs were soaked (don’t buy “waterproof” pants in India) as was the rest of my body. But my blood was pumping and I did not feel too cold. The snow got worse, and everybody ducked into a tea house just north of the pass. Weather was too bad to cross the pass, the locals said, so we had to wait for our ponyman to show up with the stuff so we could setup camp. We were there for about 3-4 hours, and i was uncontrollably shivering the whole time – except for a short period where an extra stove was placed near us to warm us up. That was heaven. Besides the 6 of us, there was a team from poland, about 14 peeps, another team from america, about 8, and a few guides or locals. It was cold, but it was worse being soaking wet, not moving, and nothing to do in a small tea house tent. At least i was not alone, and i knew it would end. Eventually it did, i put on my warm fleece and setup tents. Luckily, the snow stopped, and before night the sun came out again. The next day we made it over Sengi La and I celebrated by riding a donkey. Hurray.
My favorite part was just being in the mountains. I’ve always liked hiking and camping, but this last 6 months i could not get enough nature and mountains. And this trek had some of the coolest mountains i’ve ever seen. We would climb 3,000 feet in elevation, from a small valley up to a pass with stunning views of green grass river valleys and snow capped peaks in the distance – almost daily. I love seeing a huge mountain, slowly going up, looking around and noticing how perspective changes. I see things more accurately from above, often seeing things i didn’t even know existed. Very inspirational – i feel like i can do anything when i’m in this environment. Even though i loved my hike and would recommend trekking in Ladakh to all backpackers, i’m not sure i’d go back. If i do, it will be after i do nepal and tibet. I’ve got my eye on the popular Annupurna circuit in Nepal. I also have to check out Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia .. Cuba and Mexico.