Well after we left Rumbak and Hemis we decided to make some time by travelling in a car for a change and not walking. This meant two things, one we cover more places and second we stop losing weight. Yes the 5 days in Rumbak saw a 2 kg weight drop :D and don’t you think I am complaining. Anyways, one Gulzarbhai came with his Innova to pick us up from Zinchen where we waited for him for a while. Gulzarbhai was a Kashmiri who was living in Leh. Conversations with him were of the most interesting kind, we had a buddhist Ladakhi as a guide, a Kashmiri muslim as a driver and you just know you are in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and so you know where the conversation is headed! Some really wonderful things came through but that is for some other day. Today I will just share a few pictures from Zinchen to Khardungla via Leh, all pics taken whilst we reached the so called Worlds Highest Motorable Road Khardungla!
Unfortunately, we could not spot the snow leopard in Rumbak, after walking like crazy from morning 8 to evening 4-5 for 5 days we gave up. The terrain is so so huge and you can only walk so much. There were no sightings around that area in the past few days and so it was difficult to decide which area to go looking for it. We also realised that probably we came about 10-15 days too early. The snow fall had been scanty and the snow leopard(Shaan in ladakhi) probably was still staying higher as the prey was also available pretty high up like this stud :
However, we made ourselves satisfied with this little toy that one boy had made for him by his mom out of yak wool!!
This was one Shaan who did pose for us! :) Yes this is the only snow leopard that we spotted there.
Standard reply that to all my question of “Bhai aur kitna door hai?” which I would asking in the utmost huffing, puffing, panting, dying manner with half my weight on the walking stick and another hand on my back!!! That is Rigzin for you! On most of the treks Rigzin would be sweeping the group, as in be the back end to ensure no one gets left and that no one gets lost. Invariably whilst returning home about last 1-2 hours it would be just the two of us.
I would stop frequently, “Yaar apne kilometer to khatam ho gaye” and he would tell me, “Saabji aaj to aap bahot acha chala!” Eventually my ego would intervene and I would walk, then I would sometimes stop to take pictures, actually to catch my breath but I would pretend to be taking some exotic photograph where as it was only to catch up some breath.
This fellow Rigzin was our guide for the trip in Leh, he not only booked homestays for us in Rumbak but arranged for sleeping bags, packed lunches, helped cook food in a more spicy manner knowing the people from plains do not eat as simple food as the Ladakhi’s do. The guy would wake us up in the morning and get busy in serving us breakfast and hot water and stuff constantly running around. Then he would join us on the treks and walk with us from about 8 in the morning to 4 in the evening, sometimes he would lead the trek on a tricky slope and actually wipe off all the snow that might prove to be slippery for us to walk on. Once back from the trek he would immediately rush to make some hot butter tea for us, whilst the tea would be boiling he would rush and get wood for the bukhari to keep us warm. After the butter tea it would be time for him to serve us some popcorn and papad and then he would get busy in preparing dinner! Soup would be served followed by dinner that always was so much that we would everyday tell him to please ensure that lesser quantity is made.
Whilst on the trek he would spot the tiniest of movements on the highest of cliffs and show us a Bharal which we invariably would fail to spot, then he would take a picture of the cliff, zoom it and show us and lo we would then discover suddenly the quietly grazing animal. Whenever he would stop and watch some cliff our hopes would go high, did he spot it!? “Kya dikha??, Shaan hai kya?” Shaan is the Ladakhi name for the snow leopard. Eventually we did not spot it in 5 days of tough trekking. Infact other groups camping in the area had also not spotted anything for the past week or so and so without any clue about his where abouts it was really difficult to know which direction to walk in.
“Uppar chal ke baith te hai!” would be his suggestion, meaning lets climb a cliff that gives us a good view of the valleys around. Mostly he managed to take us to cliff’s which gave us a 360 degree view. When I would be the last to reach up there, he would hand me my favourite on the trip Mango treat in my hands and ask me, “Tha(k)g to ni gya?” and I would have no energy to even reply for another 10 minutes.
He would make hot maggi or hot tea whilst we would sit on some cliff catch our breath and give our binoculars some exercise. Hard working man I tell you! Never without a smile, always ready to run about and go that extra yard to make us feel comfortable. The epic moment with him came when I asked him about Stok Kangri,
“aapne kiya hai Stok Kangri?” That is one mountain in that range that everyone wants to climb, is at around 22000 feet and pretty tough so I wondered if this guy would have attempted it. My question was pretty nonchalant.
His reply was even more nonchalant, “Tees Paitees baar kiya hai!” trust me that was said without an iota of attitude and he was busy adding wood to the bukhari saying this. Now you know the difference na? How many times have I told you we would walk from 8 to 4, that we walked for 5 days in that high altitude and what not! Trust me had I done Stok Kangri I would have probably ensured Obama would know about it when he came to India recently!
The guy can be found on FB and also runs a camping site in Nubra, if you ever want to visit Ladakh and need a local guide to arrange for some adventures be it climbing some peak or trekking in Hemis or doing jeep safari’s in Hunder sand dunes or expeditions to Pagong take my word this guy is quite reliable. He used to work for the army earlier and has served in Siachen (he has some wonderful stories to tell from his experiences there) and has also worked as an employee of Dream Land which is one of the most popular travel service provider in Ladakh region.
Here are some photo’s of him in action! He was an integral part of our trip there and before we move out of Hemis and head to his home in Nubra I thought he deserves a post! Nope, we did not spot the elusive snow leopard and we left Hemis after 5 exhausting trekking we were all queuing up for a jeep safari!! We all had just about had enough of walking I guess.
So these two ladakhi boys sit with a small stove and pan with water and surprise surprise… Maggi Taste Maker poured on it!!!! Yes… noodles are submerged!!!!
and when one of us reaches he can’t believe what he sees!!!!!!!! Hot Maggi in the middle of a trek at this insane height!?
The forks!!! Freshly cut from a shrub putting the swiss knife to some good use! :D
That is how happy faces look when served with the one food that unites the entire country! :D :D :D
Another one!!! :D :D
After having devoured that delicious and yummilicious maggi it was time to lie down and just soak in the view and the sun!!!!! :D :D :D
Another maggi episode that we noted on this trip of ours. As Monika told me a few days back about what she read about maggi somewhere, there is nothing in India that actually unites us more than maggi from east to west or north to south! :D RM this post you must not miss! :D
Life in the high altitude is made easy by these, the burning wood in the bukhari is one thing that warmed us like nothing. We would sit by it for hours!!
Food would be served around the Bukhari and this is a typical dinner for us. Some hot and fresh from the oven Khambhir(ladakhi roti/bread) some daal, saag ka saag!
Piping hot butter tea being served round the clock whilst we sit and warm ourselves around the bukhari!
I mean loads of butter tea!!!
Sometimes in the noon it would be Merkur (Ladakhi butter biscuit) that we would devour alongside!
This is another classic, they call it Thenthuk, the gujju us called it Ladakhi Daal Dhokli! :D :D
All in all with piping hot food in that weather it was a pleased us who would sit around in the aroma of all the food and replenish ourselves for the next day! :D
About a couple of hours of walking on the route to Rumbak in the Hemis National Park, suddenly the guys leading the trek were hushing us to keep quiet. They had spotted something. Immediately everyone went quiet, a hush fell upon the valley as all the struggling trekkers immediately stopped and took a deep breath. Eyes started to strain and so did the neck trying to catch a glimpse but nothing was visible. Anticipation and excitement gripped us, the silence that suddenly spread across the valley was surreal, we waited for a movement, panting and whispering to each other whilst waiting, what is it? Is it a snow leopard?! Don’t tell me we got to see it so early!!! Its times like these when you feel you should be leading the trek and not be trailing behind for then you just have to live with this suspense and fear that the leaders will probably see the thing first and you just have to wait for it at the back end.
Eventually our guide gestured with his hand for all of us to move ahead. Stumbling on the rocks came out this fella, strutting like the king of the place, poor fella is just fodder for the elusive Ghost Cat!
Here is presenting the Himalayan Blue Sheep also known as the Bharal! You can read more facts about this high altitude ranger here.
During our 4 days in the Hemis national park this is one ranger that came to see us the most, the way this fella runs on the steep, sharp cliffs is a sight to be seen and the balance that these people have there is unbelievable, I am pretty sure they do not ever suffer from vertigo!!! They don’t just balance but actually perform aerobics on cliffs and I am almost tempted to give you a warning!
Do not try this at home!!!! :P :P Here are some pictures of it.
I mean when you walk long distances that test your endurance and you successfully complete those treks you don’t just surprise yourself but actually discover a completely new self of yours that you didn’t know exists.
After the 5 hour walk to Rumbak and not being able to really eat much apart from a few bowls of soup the first night was slightly uncomfortable. All evening was spent shivering as most of the Bukhari was already surrounded and I had to sit slightly away from it. When eventually I got my chance near it I actually managed to snooze for a good hour. That one hour of sleep probably made matters worse as the night was quite uncomfortable. We were 4 people in a 15ft by 15 feet room with a Bukhari in the middle. Sleeping inside sleeping bags with 5 layers was not a good idea. Infact I was advise to remove all layers and socks and sleep in one layer inside the sleeping bag and blanket. However, the fear or feeling cold in the night ensured I didn’t take that advice.
Already whilst walking that day in the end I felt like I had twitched something in my leg and I was already feeling a bit of pain so I slept in full layers and that night was actually odd, I felt warm, so warm and suffocated that I could barely sleep, however, early morning I actually managed to catch about 2 hours of sleep.
At breakfast we learnt that 4 guys were actually going back to Leh, that group of 4 had come a day later and one of them was quite sick and another one actually wanted to go back from the moment he landed in Leh as he felt it was way too cold.
I would be lying if I would say I was not tempted. The sick one got a horse whilst the other 3 decided to walk the distance. Walking is a better idea than the horse trust me. Because when you walk you feel warmer. Even sitting in the sun sometimes chills ran through your body. Whilst you are walking you are fine.
I don’t know what got into me and I somehow decided I would give myself one more day to adjust to the conditions. That day we started a tad late around 11 and walked all the way to Stok La near the base of Stok Kangri the tallest peak in that vicinity. The walk apart from being scenic and adventurous was actually my attempt at walking through the pain and checking out my leg and also tiring myself enough so that I would plonk in sleep at night. Amazingly my leg was not giving me any trouble in walking but only when I decided to fold my leg and sit that it would pain me. I was just glad that I did not return that day and gave myself time.
We walked till about 4.30 that day when we finally came back to the Bukhari at our homestay back in the village. The second night was a lot better, as I removed the layers and slept much more comfortably, the next morning the pain of the leg had disappeared and I walk up with a grumbling stomach that was ready to devour some heavy breakfast!
I forgot to mention about the village Rumbak, with a population of 72 including kids as we were informed, it is set beside the Rumbak nullah from which it derives its name. Picturesque, serene, almost sleepy and pretty much empty at most times thanks to the winter cold it keeps gazing at Stok Kangri all day long. At times you get amazed and infact wonder what are these people doing living here in these cold dry conditions? But then our guide Rigzin told us that this place in summer is quite different that you could even see some people in shorts in summers. It is a base for Trekking and expeditions to Stok Kangri in summers and in the winters it becomes a place to make your base for tracking the snow leopard. The Snow Leopard Conservancy has helped the locals convert their houses into decent homestays. Each homestay charges you Rs. 800 in summers per person and 1000 in winters, the 200 extra is because in winters you burn wood in the Bukhari’s whilst in summers the Bukhari’s are dismantled.
All the homestays have a pretty decent dining room, they have also been now equipped with beddings that are quite comfortable and blankets. The folks with whom we stayed were quite shy and soft spoken, keeping to the kitchen and their work mostly not disturbing us. It took us almost two days to break the ice and get them to actually sit and talk and share their experiences with us.
Not only did the locals serve us what amazed us was their ability to work so hard in such conditions, whilst we would always would be delegating some work to one another and constantly evade the same work, these people never had any qualms on their face no matter how many times you told them to make butter tea or black tea or heaten some milk for coffee or get some extra wood for the Bukhari they just got on with it. Trust me even the best of hotel’s wont be serving you this well.
The next day morning we all left our homestay at 7.45 am sharp for our trek, yes like I told you, when you walk and walk and walk through exhaustion you will surprise yourself with the new guy you suddenly realise you are! :D :D :D
Here are a few pictures from the day one of the trek and of the homestay and Rumbak village!
*Unfortunately due to some communal disturbances in our city we did not have any internet for 2 days and hence the delay in the posts.*
However, I am back with renewed vigour!
After spending about 2 days in Leh and allowing ourselves to acclimatize as much as possible we left on day 3 for Rumbak, a small village inside the Hemis National Park. The main purpose of the trip in any case was to try and locate the Ghost Cat and so we set ourselves for it. Starting early at 8am we left from Leh to a small town named Zinchen where the road ended.This is where we alighted our vehicles and were supposed to be on foot for about 4-5 hours depending on our speed of walking. The luggage was loaded on mules and we armed ourselves with our small day packs full of food, energy bars, hot water and camera’s along with a few extra woolens in case the weather got rough.
As soon as the trek began the mules fast overtook us and went ahead, we marveled at the Rumbak Valley, the landscape there is breathtakingly vast and huge, the cliffs around you are so high and intimidating that it cannot be described. In many ways it somehow gave me a feeling like I was walking in the Grand Canyon, the colours somehow seemed similar to me. Let me confess I have never been to the US let alone the Grand Canyon!
Here are some pictures as we walked up to Rumbak village into the Hemis National Park!!
Thanks to having Jay guide us for the trip who has been to Leh several times we knew one thing, acclimatization was important to conditions of this high altitude and air that has a little less oxygen than the plains. However, its quite easy to be a little over confident and think and say nothing affects me. Well, for the first day we had planned to do nothing but to sleep and soak the cold in, sip in as much hot liquids and take it easy and just be happy that we reached Leh. So on day 1 whilst I caught up with a bit of the 3rd Test largely we stayed put in Siala Guesthouse the place where we were booked. In the evening we took a small stroll to Leh Market and fed ourselves some momo’s and thukpa to end the day on a content note! :D :D
The second day we had a group of another 4 people joining us, unlike us, they came a day late not giving enough importance to acclimatization, as fate would have it, one of the 4 fell sick, eventually they departed in another 2 days and could not enjoy their trip. I myself on the third night had an urge to leave the trip midway and actually head back. So my advice to all those who read this is, do not take the acclimatization bit lightly. People ask you to acclimatize in summers as well, this was peak winter. Oxygen is low in summers as well and in winters I assume it must be even lower because in the 11 days that I was there I did not see one green leaf!!!!! Yes, all trees are bone dry and no leaves are there in such a vast area at such an altitude no wonder the oxygen levels are low. You pant and pant and pant more. So take my advice, give your body a little time to acclimatize to the conditions and you will be able to enjoy the place like you should be doing.
Let me also tell you that we usually walked from 8.30 in the morning to 4.30 in the evening whilst in The Hemis National Park and climbed altitudes of about 2000-3000 feet every day with our base being almost 12000 feet and I did it without any Diamox or any other medicine. I am not a regular trekker or supremely fit and I could do it all just because I allowed my body to acclimatize. Just heed to the advice that Ladakhi’s or more experienced people of this terrain give you and you will not suffer or else the conditions could take you down. This is not to scare anyone but to inform about the care one needs to take.
I guess I have been enough of smart alec for the day, the next day we saw India save the 3rd Test Match whilst sipping lots of green tea and butter tea and that perked up to move about. We set out for Shanti Stupa and also managed to find a punjabi restaurant Neha Snacks that served really warm delicious Punjabi fare in a tiny place that seemed to attract a lot of visitors! With full bellies and slowly but surely getting used to the pace of life in Leh we were setting ourselves up for Rumbak in The Hemis National Park. We were to start early next morning and so we called off the day 2 early.
Here are a few pictures of around Leh and from Shanti Stupa! :)