Archive for the ‘India’ Category:

Lamayuru to Padum

July 28th, 2007

Updated 7/2008 with my pics. orig pic

Between Sengi La and Margun La

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.

Unloading at Lamayuru - Day 1

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).

Baby Sheep and Wanla Child

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.

Chad Rides The Donkey

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.

Karsha Gompa and Mountains

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.

Trek On

July 3rd, 2007

It’s settled – Tomorrow i leave for a 10 day trek from Lamayuru to Padum – the Zanskar Trek. It’s supposed to be one of the most scenic treks in the region, views of mountains, river gorges, gompas (monasteries) and remote villages. I’m going with a group organized by Nature Explore, headed by S. Rabsang(Rabzang). We got guides, cooks, 6 or 7 ponymen, and 4 other paying trekkers like me, all from Switzerland. I’m siked. It turned out to be the cheapest around – $25/day per person. Other places were like $35, $50, and some up to $80/day. It took several days to sort this out – I did my homework and read Lonely Planet’s “Trekking in the Indian Himalaya” and Charlie Loram’s “Trekking in Ladakh” books. I talked to many travel agencies (Ladakh Ecological Footprint, Little Tibet, Wild East Adventure, Yak Tours ..) and had several options, but in the end it came down to this route and these dates worked best for me. Its amazing how much work it took to sort this out. There has to be over a hundred travel agencies in Leh, maybe 20-30 do shared group tours, but they don’t appear to coordinate with each other. You just have to go to each one, or goto popular spots in town where people post signs say “looking for peeps to join this trek on these dates”. I guess i’m just spoiled by things like craigslist and tribe.

Lemme tell you a bit more about the area. I flew from Delhi to Leh, the main town in Ladakh. Ladakh is the region in northernmost India, between China and Pakistan, and separated from the rest of India by the Great Himalayan range. Now part of the Jammu/Kashmir State in Northwest India, Ladakh used to be an autonomous kingdom for 9 centuries. It’s unlike the rest of India, Culturally and geographically it is very similar to Tibet. Ladakhi buddhist monastaries are similar to Tibet, the people are similar, and since the 1950s it has been the home of many tibetans fleeing Chinese rule. I really love the buddhists – they are very compassionate, truly wanting to help and not harm others, and have simple but reasonable ways of viewing life. I could go on, but that’s for another post. Ladakh gets little precipitation throughout the year, making it dry but good for trekking – don’t have to worry about rains messing up your hiking plans.

So wish me luck. Not sure if i’ll be back online before I leave India on the 20th.

India Found

June 29th, 2007

Hooray!! I made it to the India Subcontinent, and it already feels different. I was in SE Asia for over 3 months, and altho countries vary alot, the jump to India is my biggest jump since i left Australia.

I love India. My love is driven by the food – the tons of spices, curries, vegetables, naan, regional differences – all good quality. Its like a billion people live here, and all they think about is food. Heaven. But i also like (and dislike) the people. Communication is easier, I appreciate their businesslike manner – except when it becomes impolite. I love the colorful clothes, jewelry, and henna. Oh, did i mention the food?

Leh is great. Totally different than SE Asia. It’s basically a cool, dry, desert-like town in the Himalayas. Hardly anything green, brown rocks and dirt everywhere, snow-capped mountain peaks in the distance, and a small but bustling town center. I’ve only been here a day, but i’ve walked thru most of the town. Like many small towns, the people in Leh are more friendly than delhi and other places i’ve been in India, and hardly any beggars (big problem in some parts of India). But this is also a tourist town – a jump off point for treks in the region. The most amazing thing about Leh is … the air. I’ve been walking around with a buzz (good) and a headache (not good). There’s zero polution and little oxygen up here – It’s 11,500 feet, over 2 miles high. This makes the sky super blue, and the mountains miles away seem like they are right in front of you.

My plan is to take it easy, get used to the air – I wrote most of this blog yesterday when i first arrived and i felt almost sick – i barely slept in 2 days. Today i feel better, so perhaps try to find info on some treks. There are dozens of places leading treks, signs posted in restaurants describing where, when, and how many peeps they are looking for. There are several internet places, but connections are slow, so don’t expect many pictures for a while.

One last note – At the bangkok airport i bought this book “The Story of Tibet” by Thomas Laird. Its a history of Tibet thru the Dalai Lama’s eyes, based on 18 conversations Laird had with him. So far its excellent – good intro to Buddhism, Dalai Lama, TIbetan people and history. Might have to write more on this when i finish.