Trekking North India

Hello Friends and Family, and welcome to my India blog. This is where you will be able to find info on me and what's going down with me while I trek across the North of India and the Indian Himalayas. Although I probably won't be able to update this site very often, I hope to do so at least a couple of times during my trip.

My Photo
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Environmental Studies and Communication grad, public servant slut, music lover, intermittent DJ, avid cyclist, intrepid Earth enthusiast, and life warrior.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Leh to Kargil; Kargil to Raru; Trekking Zanskar; Shingo La; the Road to Darcha and Manali

Julley Everyone!

"Julley" is Ladakhi for "hello, goodbye, thank you, and sorry" depending on the context of the situation! In this context it's obviously "hello". But we won't be using "julley" anymore because we're no longer in Ladakh. After two and half weeks of driving, trekking, and busing through the deserts of Ladakh and Zanskar we're finally back in Manali for some much needed r&r.

To get to our trek start point we had to loop along the northernmost road in J&K. In both Leh and all along the road there was heavy military presence and many (annoying) tourist checkpoints. Basically all that had to be done was fill out our names, passport #'s, visa #'s etc in a little book. But after so many, and knowing that they were in no way computerized, it just got really annoying.

The road to Kargil was like an expressway compared to the road from Manali to Leh. This is due to the strategic importance of Kargil as a connector city to Srinagar, the jewel of Indian controlled Kashmir. Anyways, Kargil was a SHADY city. Our original intent was to blow through Kargil and stay in the next town, because the road breaking off from Kargil into Zanskar is NOT as well maintained and was considerably longer than the one from Leh. But FĂ©lix turned a pasty white when we stopped in Kargil and wasn't looking like he could continue on.

So we decided to stay in Kargil. Sooooo shady. As soon as we stopped, people started crowding around the car inquisitively. But it wasn't friendly inquisitive, it was very agressive inquisitive - very threatening. In no other city, not even in Delhi, had we been accosted as such. And what made it even more threatening was that all of these people were young men with sour looks, hanging over our shoulders listening to our conversations. Sketchy. There was no incident, but still, it was very tense. Add to this and the fact that the downtown area where we were staying did not have any street lights, and it makes for a very disturbing combination.

Having said all that though, I met three groups of amazing people at the hotel. Two Muslim foresters (Kargil is in the predominantly Muslim area of J&K) who were headed to Zanskar to plant medicinal herbs; two Spanish girls, one a doctor, who had been travelling for almost a year; and wonderfully nice couple from Leh and their daughter. Separately we spoke of "salaam", travel, life, and origins. It really made me more at ease and toned down the high frequency squeal that the earlier evening seemed to emit.

That and I got to hear the morning prayers from the main mosque in Kargil. It was one of the most surreal, beautiful and haunting experiences. We woke up around 4:30am because we had such a long road ahead to Raru and that's around when it began. It started as a low humming, almost imperceptible, and then over the speakers outside the mosque, a male voice chanting the morning prayers echoed across the dark and sleeping city. I had to stop and listen until it was over.

So that was Kargil. And sorry, this is gonna be quite the entry I suppose. I'll try to keep the rest short and sweet.

Kargil to Raru was looooong, and the road was nothing more than a dirt road in the middle of the desert. There was so much dust that our nostrils were black by the end of it. It was so bumpy people were getting sick. Near the end we were quite the sorry lot, coughing, gagging, puking, picking, and every other sort of human excretia you can thing of, we were it.

Originally we had planned to start our trek from Padum to Darcha, but given that the road was extended to Raru we decided to start from there. Then we began our 8 day trek across Zanskar.

Zanskar is the most remote area of India, and to emphasize this, the only way to reach the intereior is by foot or horse. The road is being extended to Darcha though, and will be completed within the next 5 years or so - the dirt road that is. Anyway, Zanskar is one of the most spectacular areas I've seen. Picture the desert, closed in by gigantic and jagged mountain ranges, with aqua blue rivers running through deep valleys; picture trails that are scarcely wider than two feet, with sheer slopes on either side to the bottom of the valley and to the top of the mountain; picture snow capped peaks amongst these; picture rocks, of all sizes and shapes everywhere, kinda like the surface of Mars; now picture tiny villages nestled high above the river beds, surrounded by fields of barley and other hardy roots - and rickety (nervous) bridges connecting the trails and river banks.

We stayed with random families in the villages we stopped in, asking for food and a place to stay for whatever money we could offer them. We were always welcomed whole-heartedly and treated with utmost hospitality. We stayed in a monestary, Phuktal, which was literally built into the side of a mountain some 300 metres above a river. We camped underneath the stars of this area of the world and froze our asses off.

Our starting altitude was around 3500m at Raru, and we climbed steadily until reaching Shingo La at 5100m. Shingo La is the pass across the Great Himalayan Range that we had to achieve to reach Darcha. The whole trek builds up to it, then it's the relatively quick descent to Darcha. For five days we hike slowly up to the base of Shingo La, then the last two and a bit days are the ascent to Shingo La and the descent away from it along the glacial river born from her nearby peaks of over 6000m.

Reaching the pass at that altitude was quite the challenge physically. The air at that altitude is very thin, and we had even taken time to acclimatize. Our base camp was at about 4800m, so we had an ascent that morning of about 300m to the pass. As a side note: the base camp of Everest is around 5500m, one of the group members said! The top of the pass was impossibly cold with a wind that howled and bit at any exposed skin. Needless to say, we stayed for a few pictures, then made quick our leave.

Then we walked to Darcha, across the rugged landscape of Jankar Sumdo - the land where giants warred. In this place the trail was all but lost. Huge boulders littered the valley for kilometers, as if a whole mountain had been torn assunder and left there in ruins. Clambering over these was quite the task and the only way to know if we were going in the right direction was to follow the river heading down Darcha.

I'll never forget the stunning, stark beauty of Zanskar. It has truly touched me. There's so much more, so many things to tell. But not here.

Salaam everyone, and Julley until we talk next.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

yo chris, the trip sounds amazing! glad to hear you are surviving out there! how far have you trekked so far? have you even been able to count?

things here are swell... chuba is treating me fine, although i havn't been riding in the rain, and it has been raining a lot!

next moth i am moving in with johnny... it should be good i am thinking.

i guess thats all i've to report. and yeah, i definatley enjoy the morning sun... but have gotten more accustomed to your 10 o'clock alarm!

cheers pal! and enjoy the rest of the trip! wayne

1:22 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home