I don’t know what it is about India, but I seem to throw my body in to some intense experiences. It made it through five weeks of yoga, ten days of meditation, too many terrifying bus rides, and days on the back of a motorcycle, so why not through one of the ‘moderate to demanding’ treks according to the Lonely Planet. Referred to us by a yogi friend we chose a young Ladaki guide to lead us for 6 days in the Zaskar range of the Himalayas. Stanzin, named by the Dalai Lama at 3months old, dragged our inexperienced selves 94km (58mi).
Day one started off early, with little sleep, a cold shower, and our trek buddy Brad violently puking. Brad and Charlie (our new friends from North Carolina) planned to join us on it but had to back out last minute. Stanzin brought us to his home to drop off our big packs and have tea with his mother. We took a taxi out of Leh and we’re dropped off 90mins later in Rumchung. After four hours of walking and a rained out picnic, we arrived in Yuruste at our first homestay. A homestay is a family’s home in a small village that offers trekkers a place to stay (mattress on the floor of an extra room) with a home cooked dinner (rice, veggies, momos, etc), breakfast (chapatti’s with jam), endless tea, and packed lunches to eat on the trek (potatoes, pancakes, eggs, juice boxes, chocolate).
Day two was the toughest day of the trek. It’d take us 2-3 hours to slowly climb the steep Ganda La pass at 4950m. I don’t know if it was the goal in sight or my competitiveness but I got up that pass fast with few breaks. I even had the energy to climb higher to a hill covered in prayer flags to get a better view of what we accomplished and what lied ahead. The next four hours were my favorite of the trek. We flew down the steep climb into Markha Valley, the sun was shining and the sky was perfectly blue. At times I’d stop and spin in circles in awe of the beauty surrounding me. Homestay #2 in Skiu was my favorite stop even though Katy suffered some bed bug bites. The home was in a small valley surrounded by wheat fields, flowers, and sunshine. The lady of the house taught us how to make momos and had us laughing for hours though she spoke no English. We learned some Laduki. Julley (hello/gbye/thank you), ju ju (please), chik?, kne?, sum (1,2,3). It was also the only place on the trek that had a western shower (cold of course).
Day three was a long seven hour stretch through the valley to Markha village, also our first river crossing. For these we remove our shoes and slowly try to cross the freezing, knee-deep water. Almost immediately I yelled for Stanzin’s hand as my poor balance couldn’t compete with the fast-moving current. By the end of this day everything hurt. Every inch on my body was sore and I couldn’t imagine continuing for four more days. A few beers and some Old Monk rum helped me through the pain that evening which led us to stumbling outside where the night sky took my breath away. I’d never seen so many stars. Layers on layers of stars. The shadows of the Himalayas surrounding us and a shooting star zooming past every minute. The Milky Way never looked so clear and I will never forget this night how Stanzin, Katy, and I spent well over an hour just staring up.
Day four was my least favorite day because we had two river crossings. The second one my entire ass got soaked and only 10mins later I slipped on a rock in a tiny stream and my perfectly dry shoes were completely wet. I should have just left them on for both crossings…We saw a ton of blue sheep scaling the insanely steep mountains that day. After five hours of trekking we made it to Hangkar where we drank Chinar Rum (or regular use medicine as Stanzin calls it), Godfather beer, and played cards till dinner time. Our host made us Chutayee, a local dish of dumplings and veggies in a thick broth, and it was delicious. Oh and at that place Jess and I decided to wash in the outside ‘sink’ (water from the stream). We shampooed each other’s hair, washed our arms and legs, and laughed our asses off as we cooter-dipped, literally pulled our pants down in the wide open. This is how the people in these villages clean themselves and the dishes.
Day five we headed up to Nimaling (4747m). We moved slowly, out of breath most of the way. We had lunch at a gorgeous little lake where wild horses roamed. The Kangyaze snow-covered peak was my motivation for the day. It was mesmerizing to stare at and I often tripped over rocks in awe. I’ll admit I was also looking for snow leopards (my favorite childhood animal who live in this area but migrate to the snow during the summer). Sadly I only saw horses, donkeys, and sheep. This night we stayed in a tent and holy Shiva was it cold. Jess, Katy, and I wore every layer we had and started drinking rum in the tea tent to keep warm. Two Aussies and a Canadian showed up later after being lost for a few hours. We drank, chatted, and played a card game called Shithead. To stay warm through the night, Katy drunkenly decided to do a switch-a-roo in the tents that put her in between the Aussies and the Canadian with Jess and I. Needless to say, I was still shaking cold and only slept an hour or two. But the cold wasn’t the worst problem on this night. The bathrooms were what made me go Diva on the ever-so-gentle, soft-spoken Stanzin. See toilets are the worst part about this country, but I’ve put up with a lot and I’m hardly scared of any of them. On the trek and in the homestays the bathrooms are 2-story hole that you squat over and use a shovel and dirt to cover your shit. They are usually outside the home and a big annoyance to use in the middle of the night. Torches (head lamps) are necessary. This ‘toilet’ on day 5 had both holes filled to the top with shit. So our option was to pee and splatter everything all over you or attempt to hide behind a small rock in a huge open valley where everyone was visible. Stanzin didn’t know what to say when I flipped out about it so we just went with the latter choice.
Slightly hungover and cranky from the lack of sleep, we headed out for our 6th (2nd most challenging) day. In two hours we crept up Kongmaru La, our highest pass at 5200M (17K+ft). It started snowing near the summit and turned quite chilly. Jess and I took our time and at the top decided to make our 7 day trek in to 6 days. We were tired, cold, and craving a warm shower. Standing at the top of Kongmaru covered in prayer flags, we looked down at our next path and saw a gorgeous array of color. The valley below lit up in purples, pinks, blues, greens, and golds and it looked as if it were spinning below us. It took almost 9 hours to complete that final day. The last 2 hours were brutal and our bodies were fighting us to give up. We finally ended in Karu, a small Army base where a cab drove us back to Leh. We thought we’d get back to the Leh and get to Peace Guest House for a warm shower and clean beds but at some point there was a miscommunication with Stanzin. He told his family we were staying with them in the village in Leh. Very similar to the other homestays his family overfed us with momo’s, bread, and butter tea and made a comfy bed for us on their roof. In a tent. Only a situation I can laugh at now and be glad for the experience. We ended our trek cuddled in a tent, listening to dogs fight, the calls to prayer, and enjoying Basketball Diaries and Cast Away on Stanzin’s laptop.
It was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. I’m extremely proud of us three for surviving with only a few nasty blisters and some sore muscles. A trek through the Himalayas can now be checked off the never-ending Indian bucket list (which includes being an extra in a Bollywood film).
We’ve been in Leh for three weeks now and it’s time to move on. The season is over and the place is turning in to a ghost town. We had hoped to fly out of Leh at a low cost, but back to Manali we go via a mini-bus. Charlie and Brad are coming as well and we plan to continue to travel together heading to Parvati Valley and the crazy city of Kasol.
Much love, Tor