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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next: Umlung to Markha to Skyu.