Shanti Stupa, Leh, Ladakh, Sept. 2017

Shanti Stupa, Leh, Ladakh, Sept. 2017

My photo-diary of the Buddhist temple, Shanti (“Peace”) Stupa in Leh, Ladakh, India.

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Day 8 to 9: Skyu to Chilling to Leh

Day 8 to 9: Skyu to Chilling to Leh

It is Monday, August 3, 2015. We are in Skyu after a long day of trekking and river crossing yesterday. I am feeling relaxed and relieved that we have almost reached the end. The rains continue to downpour on this high altitude desert. And the end of this trek will continue to elude us.

Markha River Valley. A stormy evening at Skyu.

We are thinking about the school girls from yesterday, and whether they will be able to make it out of the village they’re overnighting at. More rains means high waters. It’s still quite a hike for them to Skyu. There is a guide with two young men here with us, who has decided to turn them back around due to the deteriorating trekking conditions.

This is it – the home stretch. We take our time, walking on a flat wide road for 3 hours. No more river crossings. I couldn’t be more thrilled. I take my time collecting pretty stones. There is such an overabundance of eye-catching stones – pink and green, tiny to over-sized. We reach Chilling at around noon, but the adventure is not over yet. We take rest here at a tea tent and have a snack.

We will be crossing the river in this little cable car suspended on ropes and hand-operated pulleys. But we have to wait our turn. There is a large group of trekkers here who is also crossing – one to two people at a time. Soon enough we’ll find out that this group is also aborting their trekking plans early because of the deteriorating trekking conditions. This is where we part ways with our pony man, and we are on our own with our bags. Talk is that the road on the other side is completely blocked.

Usually, we would be able to catch a taxi from here, but not today. So we sit here contemplating what to do next. My vote is to leave the bags here and return. Ravi is against that. So what do you want to do. We start to argue.

On the other side of the Markha River. View toward Chilling.
On the other side of the Markha River. View toward Skyu. Stuck with our luggage.

It’s hot. I am wondering about the group that’s crossing. What about them. They have a ton of luggage with them. Not enough people to carry it. Their bags are still being crossed over the river. We decide that I will stay and watch our bags on this deserted road next to the river with a mountain of stones behind me.

Ravi goes off toward civilization to see if he can find a donkey or a porter. I’m not sure how long I will be sitting here. At least there is still daylight outside. There is a group of men approaching from where we came from. It’s the guide of the other group with his porters who loaded me up into the cable car. He says, don’t sit next to the rocks. They might slide down. I said, you’re right, I didn’t think of that, and I move across the road closer to the river.

I wait not too much longer when I see Ravi coming with 4 young men. Strange, where did they come from. They were actually headed our way, toward the rope bridge when Ravi ran into them. They are here to work on the road and make some money. Ravi convinces them to help us tow our luggage to the nearest restaurant and homestay. They track back a couple hours just to help us. We will pay them later.

Markha Valley Trek. Young men helping us carry our luggage to Chilling.

Walking this road, we see how bad the blockages are. Massive boulders, rock slides, mud slides, and wide crevasses in the road. This is a pure obstacle course.

Markha Valley Trek. A deep crevasse in the road from Skyu to Chilling.

We make it to the restaurant and try to figure out what’s next. Turns out we won’t be getting out of here tonight. Road is blocked. No vehicles can access. We will stay here for the night, and tomorrow we will be trekking some more – to get past the blockages and to finally catch a taxi.

Markha Valley Trek. At Chilling. The beginning for some. End of trek for us.

It is the next morning and day 9 of this trek. There is a shortage of porters. Many people are stuck here. We will be towing what we can, but we need someone to help carry our heavy duffel bag. Ravi convinces one of the local men to help us. It will be another long day. Six hours long of nonstop trekking. I step ankle deep in mud. It looked solid. Felt like quicksand. Took my breath away. Now I’m wearing boots plastered with wet and heavy mud. No taxis in sight. I feel like we will be trekking all the way to Leh. Our porter is tired. He wants to quit. It’s too heavy. It’s too far. We bribe him with a raise.

Markha Valley Trek. Chilling toward Leh. Approaching a rock slide.

We trek until we reach an area where we finally see taxi-buses, but they won’t take us. They are going into the national park to pick up clients stuck at Chilling. It’s starting to rain. Well what’s there to do. We wait. It’s getting cold and miserable. We are waiting along with the group of trekkers that we met at Skyu at the rope bridge. Their bus shows up. It’s about 4:30 p.m. now. And there we are. The only two suckers about to be left. Maybe we’ll be spending the night here.

Ravi gets the group’s guide to squeeze us in at the last minute in this little bus. The porters sit on the floor. Ravi and I share a seat in the back. I am eternally grateful to be in a vehicle out of here. We are in Leh in about an hour. It’s sunny again as if to reflect our uplifted spirits. It turns out that the group we hitchhiked with is staying at a hotel across the street from our homestay. So, it is a small world. We are just a few steps away from our room. I leave my muddy boots outside. They are nearly dry now. Soooooo looking forward toward a shower. Hopefully there is warm water.

At Leh. Poppy in the garden of our homestay.

And so, we emerged from this trek in one piece. Sitting in the sun feels so much more satisfying after a long journey home.

At Leh. Relaxing in the garden of our homestay.

I hope you enjoyed this story just a little bit. Until next time!

Day 7: Umlung to Markha to Skyu

Day 7: Umlung to Markha to Skyu

It is Sunday, August 2, 2015, 2 a.m. A loud and urgent knock wakes me up. I am disoriented. There is hardly anyone staying here. Who could it be and have they got the wrong door? Ravi is fast asleep. I wake him up to go see who’s at the door. It is the grounds keeper. He is frantically waking every one up.

It’s been raining all night. Heavy rains are causing streams of water to come down the mountain around the house like a turbulent river. The lady owner is scared. I’m scared. Ravi takes our headlamps and goes with the grounds keeper to see what’s happening. There is nothing that can be done though, other than wait for the rain to subside. We go back to sleep, but I wonder what this will mean for our trek tomorrow.

Our breakfast is prepared by the young woman who served us last night. I have tea and fried bread with jam. We are ready at 7 a.m. as the pony man requested. He shows up at 8 a.m. and loads up the pony. We leave at approximately 8:30 a.m. This will be the longest day yet. We are at lower altitudes now, so it is not as much of a challenge as will be the river and the hot sun.

We are able to keep up with our pony man this morning. We trek together on and off with another group of porters and ponies and donkeys. Later on, the same group of younger porters will adopt us as our pony man doesn’t want much to do with us. We reach our first river crossing which will require us to take off our shoes. I take off my boots and socks and stand there not sure how to proceed. The river is about 100 meters wide here, not too deep, up to our knees.

We see a group crossing from the other side, and the guide from across the river noticing that we’re not sure which way to tackle this crossing, motions to us to move to another spot and start there. We go for it. The river is ice cold. The stones hurt my feet. We make it across, and put our shoes back on. We keep going.

The trail is flat and we are focused on pushing it to the next obstacle. We get to another river crossing, and this one can’t be figured out without guidance. It’s wide. It’s turbulent. Our pony man jumps on a donkey to cross the river. We are left behind. The group of young porters is also crossing, and they give us a hand. Literally, we all hold hands and make it across. The strength of the river just can’t be underestimated. One wrong move, and it will take you down and away.

We keep pushing on to get to Markha as quickly as possible. There is another huge river crossing we encounter. The group of young porters takes us on a shortcut over the mountain. Well, we don’t have to risk drowning, instead we will practice being mountain goats on a non-existent trail on the side of a steep sandy slope. One of the guides “wills” me through this hike. I just follow him, don’t think, and do what he says. Ravi is braving it on his own.

After this, I am pretty sure I have had enough and have earned a night of rest. But, we’re not finished yet. We are met with another river crossing. It is noon and the river is high. There is a group of high school girls lined up for crossing. There used to be a bridge here, but it’s gone. The group’s guide is taking two girls at a time to cross the river. It has worked with a few girls, but it’s getting harder as the river gets higher and he – tired. Before they reach the other side, one girl gets pulled in by the river. She gets pulled out to safety.

The guide returns to get two more girls, tries the same approach, and again, one girl gets pulled in by the river. And although she gets pulled out to safety, it is making the other girls scared. I feel like I’m watching a car wreck in slow motion. Things are getting tense. Ravi and I watch on. We still have to cross too. It is past noon and as the mountain glaciers melt in the sun, the river progressively increases in might and turbulence.

The young group of porters who helped us along the way is also here. They pitch in to help. They get some rope out and get it stretched across the river to assist in the crossing. The girls are here from a high school in the U.K. with a couple female teachers and one male guardian. The male is a mountain guide back home. He is also getting concerned about the safety of his group.

Ravi gets involved and suggests a way to cross the river by traversing it sideways. It works with some close calls. Some girls are crying. I am almost crying. I still have to cross. The local guide in charge of the crossing is bleeding from his knee now. He slipped in the river and cut it on a rock. He is resting near me and shivering badly.

Markha River. A portion of group from U.K. safely on the other side.
Markha River. Ravi and guide from U.K. traversing back to get more girls across.
Markha River. Lined up to cross.

All the men assisting with the crossing are thoroughly exhausted, but all the girls have crossed now. I am going next after the two lady teachers. They are walking sideways while holding onto the rope. We are spaced apart, and seeing them make it to the shore, I am confident I will be okay. My shoes are on. My day pack on my back. I start off slowly and carefully. There is a man in the middle holding the rope. As I try to pass him, I let go with one hand.

And before I have time to realize what just happened, I am turned around 180 degrees by the force of the river facing the direction she wants to go. The river is up to my thighs. Sandy and turbulent. Immediately, I am on my back, but holding on to the rope. The flow of the river is so strong, she almost pulls off my pants. I hear people talking, frantically trying to help me stand up, but I can’t. I am being pulled out by hands I have never met. I am in shock, but aware enough to be concerned about being naked from the waist down. Everything is happening so fast. But finally, I am on my feet on solid ground.

The girls are so nice, asking me if I need anything and offering me water. My crossing must have been the most dramatic, probably because it was the last, and everyone was watching my slow motion car wreck. The last to cross is one of the porters on a horse with our packs and duffel bag on it. The horse is moving erratically but the porter mounted on top of him gets them across safely. I take off my wet boots, wring out my socks and put it all back on. I will be trekking in my wet boots. But, it is hot, so it is not so awful. Also, I almost died. So, wet socks and shoes are nothing.

We trek along with the girls on a narrow and sandy path at a slow pace for a couple hours. The sun is shining on. The girls will rest in a small village now. Their teachers feel they have suffered enough. I agree. I was done a long time ago today, even before this near death experience. We are another 2-1/2 hours away from Skyu. We will keep going, mostly because we have a pony man who likely wouldn’t wait for us.

After a short break and goodbyes with the girls’ teachers and guides, we move toward Skyu. Unfortunately, we are not done with the river crossings. I just go in with my shoes now. I can’t think, so I don’t. Just keep moving. Up the rocks and down into the river. More rocks. More river. It’s so hot. I am so tired. Maybe even delirious. My body is still walking. We reach Skyu before sunset, ready to collapse.

Next: Skyu to Chilling.


Day 6: Nimaling to Umlung

Day 6: Nimaling to Umlung

It is Saturday, August 1, 2015, and I am up early. We are packed by 7:30 a.m. I am ready to move ON from here. There is a group of trekkers headed toward Shang Sumdo. They have plenty of porters and ponies and they could accommodate our pack and duffel bag. If we don’t move now, we will be staying at Nimaling for another day and night and I am very much against that. Let’s just go back the way we came from, I say to Ravi. I’d rather do that than stay here again. Ravi finds out from the group that is about to leave for Shang Sumdo that there is a local man who owns a pony. He will be coming back this way and will be heading toward Hankar. He could probably take us. I am very nervous that we’ll be stuck here again. Where is this man, while everyone is leaving. That’s it. Our last chance. Gone.

Here we are. The only ones left. Again. Waiting for this phantom pony man. I am getting steamed that we did not just turn around and take a pony that was here a minute ago. Too bad anger doesn’t heat you up too well because we packed up our tent and standing out in this open field makes your cold. We wait 10, 20, 30 minutes. There is someone coming. In the distance. He is on the other side of the river, and there is a pony next to him. The man parks his pony at the nomad farmer’s place and goes in. I tell Ravi to get over there and talk to the man. I stay by our bags. And wait. Ravi returns. The pony man returning to Hankar has agreed to take our luggage. At a price. Demanding 5,000 rupees to start off, which is 10 times the going rate for a 2 day hike. Well, what can I say, we placed ourselves in this situation. Beggars can’t be choosers. The rate gets reduced. We have a pony.

Nimaling toward Umlung about 30 minutes into the hike.

This will be a long trekking day, but we are descending in altitude. So, in theory, trekking is easier. Honestly, I’ve never considered any part of it easy. We leave Nimaling (4,800m) at 9:20 a.m. and we will arrive at Umlung (3,880m) at 4:30 p.m. We will go from freezing temperatures to hot scorching desert sun.

map - intro photo
Map of the Markha Valley trek.

My nose and hands were sunburned on the first day. Today, the desert sun makes the skin on my hands bubble. The skin on my nose is fried to a crisp. In Nimaling I was wishing for the sun to come out from behind the clouds. In Hankar, I was wishing for the sun to hide.

Nimaling toward Umlung. “The Lake” about 1 hour into the hike.

We reach Hankar at approximately 2:30 p.m. We stop here to rest and have something light to eat. The Hankar home stay is run by the village women. We meet Zoe who is volunteering at the home stay. She is an American blonde in her 20s from Washington state. She tells us there are 15 families in this village. Their income is from tourism 3 months out of year. For the remainder of the year, they are self sufficient. Men are pony men, and the women take turns running the home stay. There are 10 children in a local school which goes up to grade 5. Afterwards the children are sent to school in Leh.

Markha Valley trek. Approaching Hankar.

Zoe and a local woman take our orders. Three young children are curious about our presence. A 2 year old red cheeked boy with a runny nose and a couple fingers in his mouth is with 2 older girls. One of the girls wants to see my cell phone and eagerly swipes through the photos I took. There is also a European mountaineer here taking a break. He is headed in the opposite direction. In about an hour of rest, we get going again, heading toward Umlung. We will be there very soon. Altitude is much lower and I can breathe more easily but the trek is still challenging.

Markha Valley trek. At Hankar with a view of Mt Kangyatse in the background.

We reach Umlung at approximately 4:30 p.m. Our pony man reaches before us. Our things are here. He is gone. We sit and rest on plastic chairs underneath a canopy in the front yard of the home stay. I am tired, but feeling better that we are closer to our destination. One more hiking day, and we’re “home” or so I imagine.

Umlung. View from up above of the “front yard” of our home stay.

My hands are quite burned but I will take care of that after the trek. There is no pain. There are two 1 to 2 inch spots on each hand that look raw. We have to hike up an incline to get to our room. One of the women picks up my pack which Ravi has been carrying and puts it on one shoulder as if it were filled with weightless down. Every time, I am impressed by the strength and stamina of both the men and the women here. A young woman and her mother prepare our Ladakhi dinner of lentils, steamed bread, and mint tea.

Umlung. Our room at the home stay.

We rest for the night and are planning on being ready at 7 a.m. as our pony man requested. I walk around the compound just a bit before the sun goes down, mostly to find the outhouse for when I need it. It’s much tougher to get oriented with just your headlamp when you don’t know where you’re going. Looking toward Markha, the view is amazing. What an awesome “back” yard.

At Umlung. An evening view from our home stay of a monastery in the mountains.

Next: Umlung to Markha to Skyu.

Day 5 (Part II): Kangyatse base camp to Nimaling

Day 5 (Part II): Kangyatse base camp to Nimaling

It is still Friday, July 31, 2015. We are making our way back from Kangyatse base camp to Nimaling. It’s a hard trek back, just as it was on the way to the base camp. It is a more relaxed hike though because we know we will arrive relatively early and we aren’t being chased by a storm. You just have to remember to keep moving because no amount of rest is enough rest. The body will never feel as it does at lower altitude.

Markha Valley. Ravi hiking from Kangyatse base camp to Nimaling.

But, if you try to set aside your fatigue for just a moment, you may be able to imprint your body and mind with a deep cellular memory of the surrounding beauty, peace, and silence – for years to come or a lifetime.

Markha Valley. Hike from Kangyatse base camp to Nimaling.

And don’t forget the little things, but only if they make you feel more peaceful and beautiful on the inside like when you witness a growing heart.

Markha Valley. A heart growing on stone.

We return to Nimaling from base camp by 11:30 a.m. This will be day 3 at Nimaling, and I am ready to move on. But we won’t be moving on today because it is already too late in the day. In addition, we need to find a group who is going our way and who has a pony we can rent to carry our gear.

At Nimaling. The large tent with a green top is where the trekkers eat and socialize.

I don’t feel well when I return. Nausea. This is the third day at 4,800m. Most likely the high altitude is responsible. I am taking my diamox. We hang out at the restaurant because that’s where the action is at. A French-speaking Swiss lady trekker arrives. I guess that she is in her 50s. She says she’s done other long walks but with the Markha Valley trek she is in over her head. It’s a tough trek and the high altitude can’t be underestimated. You never know what it will do to you.

The Swiss lady’s guides put her on a horse when she was feeling worn out. The lady trekker is headed toward Kongmaru La pass tomorrow, and that is a steep climb plus the highest point of the trek. I think that being on a horse is not much easier though. With narrow paths and slippery slopes, I’d rather be on my own two feet.

In the next day or two, I will witness a donkey slip and almost tumble a few hundred feet into the river together with our gear. It didn’t happen, but there is always a chance that whatever you are carrying will be damaged. Maybe you will never see it again. You have to be okay with that. But so long as I return in one piece, all is well by me.

The Swiss lady says to me, you don’t look well. I say, yeah, not well. She is very sweet and soft spoken. We all have our reasons for undertaking these treks. She says she is walking to leave some things behind. She leaves us with a package of her biscuits and goes to rest in her tent. Later on we see her again, and she is in need of some batteries. Batteries are in high demand in the mountains. We have more than we need. She offers to pay us, but biscuits for batteries seems like a fair trade.

Evening approaches fast and it is still uncertain as to how we’ll move on from Nimaling. Several groups are here with plenty of ponies, but each group is headed toward Shang Sumdo, the direction which we came from.

Next: Nimaling to Umlung.

Day 5 (Part I): Kangyatse base camp day 2

Day 5 (Part I): Kangyatse base camp day 2

Today is Friday, July 31, 2015 and we are at Kangyatse base camp. After the rain storm and the hail beat us up the night before, I am ready to greet a brand new day. Ravi reminds me that there was a dusting of snow all around us last night too. Our things are still damp from being caught off guard by the rain, and I am ready for some sunshine. Lucky for us, the sun is out, and it is very pleasant on our little deserted – what I call – island. We take our damp things out of the tent to dry in the sun. We spread them out far on the periphery like the base camp is our own backyard as far as the eye can see. Pants here. A sleeping bag way over there – on a nice large boulder.

I take a little hike around the area, maybe a mile out or so, to see what else is out here. It’s hard to keep track of distance. Very quickly our tent is no longer visible to me. It’s just the sun, the river, and the mountains all around. Really, so serene. I mentioned in my previous post, that there is no one here, not even an animal. Ravi reminded me though of what I saw on the way here – a partially chewed-on baby yak or sheep thigh bone. According to Ravi, the predator was possibly a snow leopard. There is life here – just not so readily visible.

These Himalayan regions are sacred to the locals, and it is difficult to not feel a heightened sense of belonging to something greater here.

Kangyatse base camp. Prayer flags.

You may say, there is not much here, and yet, there is SO much here. Sometimes, we need to leave our four concrete walls behind to really witness the beauty of our true home.

Kangyatse base camp. Sun, river, and mountains.

When I become overwhelmed or lost in the nonsense of everyday things which take us away from our balance and serenity, I try to notice beauty in little things. They could be right underneath your feet.

Kangyatse base camp. Little flower.

The river created obstacles for us every step of the way on this trek. She can be deep and devouring. Turbulent and muddy. Or calm and sweet. Watching sunlight play with smooth pebbles in clearest water can make one feel surprisingly fulfilled for no reason.

Kangyatse base camp. River pebbles.

As I watch the river from many different angles off her bank, I see yaks heading our way over the ridge and into the base camp. They are here to graze. I am relaxing, enjoying the sunshine very much, when I hear Ravi yell, hey! Who could he be yelling at. Hey, he’s eating my sleeping bag! One of the yaks got a taste of Ravi’s sleeping bag which we laid out on the boulder. Ravi runs over to the yak to chase the animal away and comes back hugging his coveted sleeping bag. There is no damage, just some harmless licking. Ha ha.

Me at Kangyatse base camp.

It is mid-morning and we are all packed up and ready to go back to Nimaling. Our porter is late. The weather is still holding up but we are getting anxious. It rained as early as noon the other day. There is no way to contact the porter. There is no cell phone reception here. At last, we see our porter on the horizon. But he is here without his horse. He can’t find his horse. I said, what. Oh, the horse is out and about. I have to laugh. Of course, there are no fences here. And the horse will return when she’s ready.

So the porter takes on both the pack and the heavy duffel bag and with some handy rope work gets the load situated on his back. He carries exactly what the horse carried on the way here. I am amazed by the strength and stamina of the locals here. They are not muscular people, but strong and resilient, and not affected by the high altitude.

Next: Kangyatse base camp to Nimaling to Umlung.

Day 4: Kangyatse base camp

Day 4: Kangyatse base camp

It is Thursday, July 30, 2015. I am up at 5:30 a.m. No need for an alarm clock. I check the status of my facial swelling in the mirror: minimal. I put my contacts in. The year before, during the Goechala trek – my first one – my eyes were so swollen, I had to pry them open to get the contacts in. I take 125mg diamox.

Here, it’s not so easy to go to the bathroom. It requires some planning, like get your shoes on, lace them up so that the laces don’t get muddy, put your jacket on, and grab some toilet paper. I am ready to walk 400m to the outhouse. Darn. Someone beat me to it. I wait my turn watching the target. The toilet seems to be vacant. Success. I return to the tent with a runny nose. It is icy cold outside and both Ravi and I have colds. Skies are partially overcast.

Today, we will have breakfast, pack up, and wait for the home stay keeper to take care of his departing customers. The keeper and his horse will help get our stuff over to Kangyatse base camp. We will make only a slight gain in altitude from 4,800m at Nimaling to 5,200m at Kangyatse base camp, but the terrain is more rocky and breathing is more difficult. It’s a slow 2 hour or so trek.

Nimaling to Kangyatse base camp. We have to get over these boulders and stones first.

There has been talk about how unusually rainy it’s been in Markha Valley. In a way, I am glad to be leaving Nimaling. The weather here just isn’t nice. Maybe base camp will be different. The hike is tough. It’s difficult to go fast. Your own lungs hold you back. We left ahead of our porter with his horse. He catches up with us. They always do. This is a walk in the park for the locals – well, it is definitely easier for them than it is for us.

We see the base camp from up above. There is a river we’ll need to cross. It doesn’t seem very deep. The porter takes off his shoes and, guiding his horse, walks right through this icy cold water barefoot over the river bed unevenly lined with stones of various sizes. We watch him drop off our things. And that’s how it’s done.

We look for a way to cross the river without having to take off our shoes. We go one way, the river is shallow but wide and peppered with little stones jut below the water’s surface. We go another way, it is more narrow there but much deeper with big uneven boulders requiring big jumps and good balance.

Kangyatse base camp. A view of Mt Kangyatse.

We make it across the river. It is as if we have reached an island. There is no one here for miles. Our porter is gone. There are signs of previous trekkers and mountaineers though – wrappers, juice boxes, batteries, coke bottles – humans leaving their mark. Mt Kangyatse is a just a little bit closer. We look for a good spot to pitch the tent. Before we get to decide on our spot, it starts to rain. And hard. We try to hurry to get the tent up so that our packs don’t get wet. It’s hopeless. Now it’s hailing. Ravi is doing most of the work.

Kangyatse base camp. A feeling of eerie remoteness.

My fingers are frozen. My face hurts from the hail. My jacket is soaked. This dreadful weather. We throw our things inside the tent and crawl in exhausted. Aspirin. Nap. It’s only early afternoon. The rain stops but the sun won’t be coming out. Everything is damp. I crawl out to move around. I encourage Ravi to come out too.

The ground is wet and covered with snow all around. The river is gushing but it’s full of sediment. I walk higher up the river to find cleaner water. I find a spot and we fill up our water bottles. We use water purifying tablets just in case. We brought some precooked and prepackaged rice meals with us. We decide to heat up our dinner on our little gas stove but first we have to get it to light. Everything is a challenge.

We are here because Ravi is planning on ascending Mt Kangyatse. I think we are both discouraged by this weather. I don’t say anything, but I don’t think it’s a good idea because of the weather. This place is also so remote and so eerie without other people around. Not even an animal. Except for that partially chewed-on yak thigh bone I came across up on the hill. According to Ravi, the attacker could have been a snow leopard. Ravi decides not to take on Kangyatse and honestly I am relieved.

Next: Kangyatse base camp to Nimaling.


Day 3: Nimaling

Day 3: Nimaling

It is Wednesday, July 29, 2015. We are in Nimaling at 4,800m (15,750ft). I sleep on and off throughout the night. It is raining. Cold and damp. I am thinking the dampness is compounded by the Indus river flowing alongside our camp, plus another river stream on the other side coming down from the mountains. There is a continuous hum as if a dam were nearby. In the background, mules, sheep, and cows play the bells hung around their necks as they stroll and graze. Sunrise comes at last. It will dry out the dampness.

I look at my face in the mirror. I notice some facial swelling due to the high altitude. I’ve been taking 125mg Diamox twice a day. Today I decide to take it 4 times. I stick my head out. It’s sunny but cold. The group with which we tagged along packs up and moves on to Markha. It’s an 8 hour hike from here. We are staying behind taking rest. Both of us have colds now with runny noses and sinus headaches.

Today we go for a little hike up toward a better view of Mt Kangyatse. It is a steep grassy hike peppered with stones and boulders and a trickling stream. Cold winds, but sunny. We stop to take some photos.

Nimaling. A rocky hike up toward a better view of Mt Kangyatse.

Looking back at our campsite, across the river, a nomad farmer is cultivating a piece of land. Our blue tent is tiny from here, sitting halfway between the home stay tents and the outhouse. Hmm. Perspective. No need to feel small though. We are a part of it all.

Nimaling. Nomad’s farmland, Indus river, home stay camp, and our tent.

Now, a dark cloud looms directly over us. There is thunder in the distance. The sprinkle turns into cold rain and quickly turns into hail. The pleasant warmth of the sun is gone. I want to go back to camp.

Nimaling. Quickly changing weather.

We come down a bit and the rain passes in about 30 minutes. It’s sunny now and quite pleasant again. I enjoy this warmth while my sinus headache is kicking in. We rest, have water, take some aspirin.

Nimaling. Ravi resting, a sheep grazing, with our camp in the distance.

As we descend, we notice that someone is setting up camp. This morning everyone, but us and the home stay owner, has gone. The campground looks empty. We get curious and happy at the same time. As if a new playmate has arrived. It’s a one man tent. Later on, we find out that the man is from Spain. He is a mountain guide there. He trekked from Markha to Nimaling in 7 hours. He made good time.

I had Ravi ask the restaurant owner in his language if he gets customers every day and he does. We were the lone trekkers left behind until 2 male German trekkers arrived in the morning as we were having breakfast. One of them said that he was intent on climbing Kangyatse 1, but since it is a super technical route, he would need horses which he couldn’t arrange in time. He will be attempting a neighboring mountain. They were gone by the time the solo trekker from Spain arrived.

Nimaling. View of Mt Kangyatse.

Another group trickles in one by one. The group is large and comes from Israel and Belgium. Some get caught by the afternoon rain. Muddy shoes means a slick trail.

Later, at dinner time, 3 “local” men come into the restaurant tent. Ravi strikes up a conversation with them. They started from Leh at 9:30 a.m. and arrived at Nimaling at 5:00 p.m. I asked Ravi, on foot? Yes. They walked the distance between Leh and Shang Sumdo in the same amount of time that we took in our taxi. In addition, what has taken us 2 days, they walked in one day. Amazing.

The men are here to earn some money by constructing additional outhouses. There is only one outhouse here currently. They will be sleeping in the restaurant tent on the “seating” which is made up of smooth stacked stones layered with thin foam and covered with a blanket. I also notice they aren’t wearing all the technical clothing I am.

There isn’t much to do here except hang out in our tent, or the restaurant tent to meet other trekkers, or go wondering around if the weather is nice. The weather was spotty though. Nice in the morning, but changing rapidly throughout the day. It started out sunny with a guesstimate of upper 30s F. Then around 1 p.m., there was rain and hail which cleared up within 30 minutes. After this, it was very pleasant and hot at times with cold mountain air not too far behind.

Around 3:30 p.m., it started raining with a hardy dose of hail. The dampness made it feel much colder. The temperature felt like it was in the 30s F. The rain continued for about an hour. By this time, evening was approaching. It starts to rain again after dinner. It’s cold and damp, and even colder when you’re not moving around. I am wearing an underlayer, two woolen layers, my winter jacket, hiking pants, lightweight liners, a woolen bandana, a wool hat, sock liners, and wool socks.

We sit in the restaurant tent as much as we can having hot tea. The owner is busy. The tent is bursting at the seams with incoming trekkers and guides who are thirsty and hungry. Tomorrow, breakfast is at 7 a.m. We will be moving on to Kangyatse base camp.

Next: Kangyatse base camp.

Day 2 – Chuskyurmo – Lartsa – Kongmaru La – Nimaling

Day 2 – Chuskyurmo – Lartsa – Kongmaru La – Nimaling

It is Tuesday, July 28, 2015. We wake at about 6 a.m. It’s cool outside and overcast. No wind or rain. It’s calm. I take a walk and look for a place to potty. It’s just me and Ravi and the group we are trekking with – 3 males and 3 females – their porters and ponies. There is plenty of privacy.

Chuskyurmo. At camp.

I walk several hundred feet away from our camp for privacy. It is stunningly silent here. A vast canyon lies below us. It is so silent here that I almost hear a hum. Is it a hum? Are these ancient rocks singing or is it something about this canyon that is making me hear things.

Chuskyurmo. View of the Markha River Valley canyon.

I almost forget I have to potty. I come across this most unusual rock formation. I admire these stone statutes for a moment. Wow. I read on that these “rock mushrooms” were created by a powerful geological erosion.

Chuskyurmo. “Rock Mushrooms.”

I took a little long with my hike, so I hurry back to our campsite also eager to show Ravi photos of what I discovered. We pack up, have breakfast at the home stay tent and restaurant, and we leave Chuskyurmo at 8:50 a.m.

It’s a nice day for trekking. Overcast and not too hot. We are at an altitude of 4,080m (13,380ft) headed toward Lartsa camp at 4,600m (15,090ft). Gentle and cool breezes flow toward us from over the river. I count a dozen or more river crossings between Chuskyurmo and Lartsa. Most are little. Some are bigger requiring confident jumping lunges. By now, I almost don’t care if my shoes get wet. I just go for it.

Hike from Chuskyurmo to Lartsa.

We reach Lartsa at 12:20 p.m. There is a tent with restaurant here. We are the only customers. We buy a quick lunch of instant noodles. Drink some water. I have a slight headache. I am monitoring myself for signs of high altitude sickness. The year before, while on the Goechala trek, my face swelled up due to the high altitude. So far, so good. We move on toward the Kongmaru La mountain pass by 1:00 p.m. We are told it will take 3 hours to reach there. Kongmaru La is high at 5,100m (16,730ft) and will be the highest point for us on this trek.

On the way to Kongmaru La, we are making good progress albeit slow. It is much tougher on the lungs to be fast, plus there is the steady climb up. One hour into our hike, we take a break for about 15 minutes. I look for a flat stone to park my butt on. It’s difficult to sit because of the incline. It is so pleasant here though. Sunny. Gorgeous views. Ravi even gets a signal here on his phone and makes a call to his mom.

Ravi resting. We will reach Kongmaru La in 1 h and 20 min.

We hear distant thunder claps coming from the direction we are headed. It is approximately 2:20 p.m. We gather our things and move. Unfortunately, we must head toward the thunder.

Sudden change in weather. Not too far from Kongmaru La.

A few minutes into our hike, there is a little sprinkle. Quickly the sprinkle changes into rain. We stop again, this time to get our rain jackets out. Before we even get to put the jackets on, the temperature drops drastically and rain turns into hail. I put on my gloves to protect my hands from the prickly hail. We get moving again. It’s not nice. Cold. Windy. We keep moving at a snail’s pace, but there is no going faster. The hail stops after 30 minutes, but now we are greeted by gusts of cold wind. Head on.

From time to time, I look up to see where there might be an end. I don’t see it. We’re on a narrow path which winds snakelike from left to right and upward to the top. It’s a steep grey rocky wall with a path made of fine gravel. I try not to look down. No more greenery here. I see little birds though. I take that as a good omen.

It’s stop, catch a breath, and go. Ravi is a few minutes behind me. Easy to see from here. I look up and see two figures descending toward us. They are in a jog, a skip and a hop down. They seem to be locals. Maybe guides. Jullay, one says. Jullay, I say. Where are you going. Kongmaru La, I say. He says, not too far.

We reach Kongmaru La at 3:40 p.m. The wind here is absolutely brutal. Strong. Icy cold. I get out my cell phone to take a few photos. We are here less than 10 minutes. I can’t wait to get away from this wind which seems to be an old friend of this mountain pass.

Me at Kongmaru La. Closer to heaven at 5,100m.
Ravi at Kongmaru La (5,100m) pointing toward Nimaling.

Now we descend toward Nimaling. Sometimes in a slow jog. The winds ease up in severity but continue as we descend into the green moraine. The ground is muddy and wet. It was raining here too. At times we’re not sure if we’re on the right path. It’s a wide open field and previous trekkers’ tracks are hard to see.

As we find ourselves at a safe distance from the mean windy pass, we take a little break by a big rock. It is about 4:20 p.m. It is too cold and damp to sit though. My head hurts from the wind and maybe from the high altitude, too. I take a couple ibuprofen. We get going. We must be close to Nimaling. In another 20 minutes we see the campsite below us. Relief. We continue to descend even more quickly. Happy that we made it home for the night.

We reach Nimaling by 4:50 p.m. There is the signature home stay white tent with a restaurant for trekkers passing through. We set up our tent, and head over to the kitchen for some hot tea and dinner. It was a long day.

Next: Day 3 – Nimaling.

Day 1 – Shang Sumdo – Our entry point into Markha River Valley

Day 1 – Shang Sumdo – Our entry point into Markha River Valley

Yikes and I thought 4 months in between posts was a long time. This time 7 months have passed, and another trek awaits me in less than a month. I must finish this story first.

This is day 1 of our trek, Monday, July 27, 2015. We spent Sunday night at our home stay in Leh. We are up at 5:30 a.m. We finish packing, and sort through a few things to leave behind at the home stay. We will return here after the trek. We have the young grounds keeper fetch us some black tea and hot water. We have tea with a Cliff bar and some gelly vitamin candies for breakfast. I don’t enjoy Cliff bars too much but they provide a good energy boost without overfilling the stomach. I can tell I will be tired of this trekking food soon.

Ravi arranged last night for a taxi. The taxi driver picks us up at 9:00 a.m. We have 2 backpacks, 2 day packs, and a large and heavy duffel bag with Ravi’s ice axe, rope, boots, cooking utensils and some food. The taxi driver takes us on a couple more last minute errands to a grocery store and a supply store. At last, at around 9:30 a.m., we are off toward Shang Sumdo – our entry point into the Markha River Valley.

Brown and orange mountainous rocks surround us all around with a river the color of orange-brown mud briskly hurrying down. It is hot, not humid. As we get closer to Shang Sumdo, our taxi has to make some slow and easy passes over what seems more like a trekking route paved with rocks rather than a road. We get stuck in mud almost immediately before we reach Shang Sumdo. Our driver doesn’t seem to be worried and gets us back on track. We arrive at 10:30 a.m. and are greeted by an open field, a check-in tent, and a plastic chair that says in hand writing “Shang Sumdo entry point.”

We are hitchhiking without a guide or an agent. This area feels so remote. Is there anyone even here. There is a tea tent and a grounds keeper. A few hundred meters away, I see a group getting ready to take off. Their mules are nearly loaded up. We need a porter and a mule. We don’t have much choice. There is no other group here. I don’t see anyone else arriving. In addition, we are trekking in the opposite direction. People usually end their trek at this point. We start here because the road was blocked at the other end. Heavy rains, flooded roads, mud slides.

Shang Sumdo, and the group we will tag along with for a couple of days.

Ravi walks over to talk to the porters. They agree to take us on last minute if we don’t have too much. They take one backpack and the heavy duffel bag. We have to pay them, of course. Relief, we can trek. Ravi will trek with my full sized pack while I will trek with my smaller day pack. We set off at 11:30 a.m. The sun is hot, but at the same time, cool breezes come and go. The trek starts off easy. There is almost no sign of the Markha River right now.

Shang Sumdo to Chuskyurmo. The very beginning.
Shang Sumdo to Chuskyurmo. Markha River. Distant and non-threatening. For now.

In about an hour and a half of easy trekking, we reach a tiny oasis with a pink rose-bush. We sit here, rest, and eat a snack. There is no one else around. Silence.

Shang Sumdo to Chuskyurmo. A short break next to a lone rose-bush.

We move on. It is a remote part of the world, and yet old friends can be found.

Shang Sumdo to Chuskyurmo. Ravi chatting with a friend. The river flows next to them.

We keep going. We will reach Chuskyurmo, our camp for the night, soon. But before we do, we will get a taste of crossing the river, and first signs of tension and friction will arise between us as I have to learn to jump boulders and rocks so as not to get my shoes wet. I get my shoes wet.

Shang Sumdo to Chuskyurmo. Markha River.

We arrive at at Chuskyurmo at 2:30 p.m. We made a small gain in altitude today. Shang Sumdo is at 3,660m (12,000ft) while Chuskyurmo is at 4,080m (13,380ft). We pitch our tent. The temperature drops drastically. No sun here. There is thunder in the distance and ice cold winds pass through. My wet shoes feel cold now. I put on my woolen balaclava to keep my head warm. We get into the tent by 4:30 p.m. to snack and rest. The winds pick up in gusts so strong, I’m afraid the tent will go down. There is a home stay tent here as there will be one at each stop. We order dinner from the home stay “restaurant” – a small luxury for the hungry, cold, and thirsty trekker.

Next: Day 2 – Chuskyurmo to Lartsa – Kongmaru La – Nimaling.