On the trail of the Ghost Cat

It seemed like a completely crazy idea

“Lets do it man” Jay’s voice cracked the silence that had enveloped the nervous me.

“They come down only in the peak winter months, when there is too much snow at the high peaks, they come lower in search of food! December is the best time to go!!!” He affirmed.

To be honest, the idea was fantastic, thrilling exciting but like most such idea’s seem many times to me, it seemed unreal or undo-able for the common me.

Chasing a Ghost Cat (snow leopard) in the peak of winters, in Hemis National Park in the Ladakh region of J&K seemed exotic but unreal, it appealed and at the same time, December, Winter, Harshness kind of weighed on my mind. I wanted to do it, yes, for sure, but, could I? Seriously?

The problem with common sense and common knowledge is they bind you into your limitations, I have done a few treks, but this wasn’t just about walking, this was about braving the conditions. Amidst all my quandaries Jay had already roped in Nigam and another friend Shital for the trek. Eventually I decided to join the bandwagon fully prepared to return in a day if I felt it too difficult!

This plan was being made in August, come December we were equipped with all the gear thanks to Decathlon. We had waterproof shoes, waterresistant socks, waterproof trousers and jackets, water proof camera bags and all set with many inners and warm clothes. Whilst trying all my gear once to see how it fits, my wife couldn’t help but remark,

“It feels like you are going to man a post in Siachen!”

By the time it was to leave, I was too excited to worry about the conditions, everyone I told was gushing with amazement and looking at me bewildered. Most of the guys were like,

“You lucky Dog!”
“Man are you freaking serious?! Ladakh in December?!”
“Snow Leopard dikhega?”
“Won’t it be freezing??”
“Dude, that is one hell of an adventure you are upto!!!”

The guy is not relaxing, do not be mistaken, he is leaning back and absorbing the view!

The guy is not relaxing, do not be mistaken, he is leaning back and absorbing the view!

All these remarks I must confess fuelled the excitement that much more. I was flying much before we actually flew to a fog filled Delhi that had absolute chaos, Flights all delayed and being cancelled left, right and centre. However, after a few hiccups we finally boarded our flight to Leh! Finally I was going to the place I have always wanted to go to. This would be my first visit, albeit by air, but surely not the last, a road trip would surely happen and soon!

The flight to Leh was relatively empty and the way the four of us clamoured for different window’s in the flight somehow reminded me of my childhood days where we three brothers would rush for a view from one window to the other, only this time the view was absolutely warranting that sort of reaction from us! Its like you are flying above heaven! πŸ˜€

Yup thats heaven down there!

Yup thats heaven down there!

The views out of the window are reason enough to take that flight to Leh and back!

The views out of the window are reason enough to take that flight to Leh and back!

As we landed in Leh, excitement gripped us, we took out our bags and started putting on our jackets, head caps, mufflers, glasses, warmers and stepped out of the flight, the first step into Ladakh! The weather was amazingly bright and sunny, a BLUE sky welcomed us, as we spoke smoke appeared form our mouth, I actually didn’t feel that cold, I was comfortable, I asked what the temperature was like and I was told it was -3 degrees. Phew! It was not that cold eh, it was bearable, however, by the time I reached to the hotel, I was trembling. As you stay more, the cold starts getting to you, first up we are all hunky dory and brave. We stayed at the Siala Guest House, which amazingly at this time of the year had running hot water and that shower, I tell you was so amazing, after the shower we had largely settled and though it was terribly cold we were beginning to get used to the teeth chattering. DSC_0193-2

The first day was to rest and get used to the high altitude air and the cold, we stayed in our hotel largely drinking loads and loads of butter tea, tea, black tea and coffee that was served with biscuits at all times. By evening one of us was wanting to actually buy some booze, but my friend Jay who has been to Ladakh for Chadar trek too advised against it on the first day. We did venture out to the town for a short walk in the evening to test our lungs and get a feel of the pinch of cold in the late evening.

The reward for the walk in the freezing evening at Leh was this amazing Thupka

The reward for the walk in the freezing evening at Leh was this amazing Thupka

The weather was cold, but bearable, especially whilst you walked. We decided to sleep without heaters as we were going to be sleeping in sleeping bags without heaters during our trek and I packed myself in 5 layers like crazy in the night below three layers of blankets, as it turned out the night was uncomfortable till we removed some layers that we could manage some sleep.

The next morning when we opened our curtains this is what the window looked like.

The next morning when we opened our curtains this is what the window looked like.

Unreal ain’t the window looking?! The snow flake design was what we discovered this day, the second day was more relaxed and we moved about to Shanti Stupa and had lunch in the market at Neha Snacks that served yummy Kadhi Chawal. Slowly but surely we were getting over the cold and getting used to the conditions. We were to leave for Zinchen the next day morning.

The Namgyal Tsemo Monastery makes for a wonderful picture from Leh.

The Namgyal Tsemo Monastery makes for a wonderful picture from Leh.

Early next day morning our guide Rigzin Wangdus came to pick us up and we left for Zinchen, the drive was for about 90 mins where we alighted the vehicles and our luggage was piled onto ponies and we were to begin our trek on foot to Rumbak, a settlement inside the Hemis National Park that was to be our base. It was a stiff 4 hour walk for us, the locals do it in about 90 mins. The area actually is a little difficult to describe in words, for a minute you would feel you are somewhere in the grand canyon, suddenly you would find frozen rivers, dry bushes, loads of dry poplar trees, huge tall cliff’s surround you, I guess its better if I let some of my pictures do the talking about the way to Rumbak.

actually entering the area around the Rumbak Nullah was breathtakingly beautiful, we had numerous stops on the way as we couldn't help but exercise our camera's and give our lungs a breather.

actually entering the area around the Rumbak Nullah was breathtakingly beautiful, we had numerous stops on the way as we couldn’t help but exercise our camera’s and give our lungs a breather.

Some spaces looked like the grand canyon, not that I have seen the place.

Some spaces looked like the grand canyon, not that I have seen the place.

Crossing Frozen Rivers! :D That bridge called for a picture!

Crossing Frozen Rivers! πŸ˜€ That bridge called for a picture!

The vastness of the place is just amazing, you feel like a tiny ant in this grand canvas that nature has created!

The vastness of the place is just amazing, you feel like a tiny ant in this grand canvas that nature has created!

At Rumbak Sumdo (Sumdo meaning meeting point of three major routes) a symbol that somehow seems pretty eerie! :P The Yurutse Valley, Stok La and Rumbak paths get together over here. We took our way to Rumbak from here!

At Rumbak Sumdo (Sumdo meaning meeting point of three major routes) a symbol that somehow seems pretty eerie! πŸ˜› The Yurutse Valley, Stok La and Rumbak paths get together over here. We took our way to Rumbak from here!

Finally after 4 hours of a tiring walk we reached Rumbak, a settlement of about 130 people.

Finally after 4 hours of a tiring walk we reached Rumbak, a settlement of about 130 people.

Sometimes you wonder, what could these people living here be actually thinking?? I mean, why would someone actually live here in these harsh conditions, we did ask one lady who was kind enough to serve us warm water as we entered her house, “Its our home” she said. That summed it up for us. We did learn that they can wear shorts here in summers and that it does become pretty green also at a lot of places which sort of explained how they managed to fill up their food stocks.

This was our abode for 5 days

This was our abode for 5 days

Apparently the people in Rumbak village have worked out a homestay system, where each house has a huge sitting area, where in food is served and they let out bedrooms with ‘Bukhari’ (a firewood heating system pretty common in these parts.) They have a rotation system so they all get an equal number of guests and they people there were quite warm and friendly and evenings actually became a super feast time for all of us. We chalked out a schedule of starting at 8 in the morning everyday in the hunt of the Snow Leopard (Ghost Cat) also called ‘Shaan’ by the locals and return by around 4-5pm. Lunch would be Maggi on most days that Rigzin would cook for us as he would carry a mini stove with him.

Yes, thats our lunch being made at around 13500 feet in the midst of a trek! Can you see the delight on Shital's face at watching the maggi!? :D :D :D

Yes, thats our lunch being made at around 13500 feet in the midst of a trek! Can you see the delight on Shital’s face at watching the maggi!? πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

For 5 days we roamed the area venturing to different directions. The walks were crazy, we would pant like mad, we saw frozen rivers, frozen waterfalls, pugmarks, a Tibetean wolf that we couldn’t photograph, loads of Bharal (blue sheep) but the Ghost cat evaded us, we couldn’t spot it but hell the experience of walking about there, feeling like the owners of that vast landscape, gazing, gaping, panting, gazing again, soaking all that up was an experience we will not forget for the rest of our lives.

Here are a few more pictures of the landscape and the animals we spotted whilst walking about in the Hemis National Park :

Some shades of the Hemis National Park

Some shades of the Hemis National Park

Every part of dirt in the snow also seemed like it was the Snow Leopard!

Every part of dirt in the snow also seemed like it was the Snow Leopard!

This lady cooked for us during our 5 days in Rumbak. She was pretty happy to see her pictures! :)

This lady cooked for us during our 5 days in Rumbak. She was pretty happy to see her pictures! πŸ™‚

Some more shades!

Some more shades!

A Lammergeier hovers over us!

A Lammergeier hovers over us!

A chukar patridge bosses the area!

A chukar patridge bosses the area!

This Bharal came to this pedestal ala Simba in The Lion King! I hope you can spot the Bharal! :D

This Bharal came to this pedestal ala Simba in The Lion King!
I hope you can spot the Bharal! πŸ˜€

Times when you didn't spot any animals or birds, which was most of the times you could still shoot the surroundings as they were surreal!

Times when you didn’t spot any animals or birds, which was most of the times you could still shoot the surroundings as they were surreal!

A Bharat stands tall!

A Bharat stands tall!

The Bharal would jump and run on these cliffs like we would play soccer on flat fields. The noise of their hoofs in this amphitheatre will reverberate in our ears all our life.

The Bharal would jump and run on these cliffs like we would play soccer on flat fields. The noise of their hoofs in this amphitheatre will reverberate in our ears all our life.

A unique way of drinking water that Rigzin showed us. No! We didn't give that a try! :D

A unique way of drinking water that Rigzin showed us.
No! We didn’t give that a try! πŸ˜€

One Bharal would catch a top position and it seemed like he would keep a watch whilst the others would graze peacefully!

One Bharal would catch a top position and it seemed like he would keep a watch whilst the others would graze peacefully!

Its traces were everywhere but it wasn't visible to us, I am sure though he did see us!

Its traces were everywhere but it wasn’t visible to us, I am sure though he did see us!

The nights there were terribly cold, before sleeping we would take two bottles per person, one would be a thermos of hot water the other a plastic mineral water bottle as you had to mix the two and drink, by the time we would wake up in the morning the plastic bottle would be frozen. πŸ™‚ Yes, I think the lowest we noted the temperature was -17 degrees celcius. Frankly after the first day I had wanted to return, but gladly I stayed and I managed. After 5 days of crazy walking and no showering, we eventually decided to give up the walk and opted for the comforts of a car. We then drove off to Nubra for a few days via the Khardungla and back.

The fact that I completed each day’s trek was an accomplishment for me, that I did not give it up and did not return, even when 4 of our co-trekkers gave up after one day in Rumbak makes me feel good about myself, the experience of being out there at such a high altitude was enriching. We did garba on a high cliff, yea gujju’s you know! I even posed topless at 13500 feet in bone chilling cold, yes we did do all the wild stuff as well. πŸ™‚

The tale of Khardungla and Nubra will stories will feature in the next post, till then,

Xplore more! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

Shaan!

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 :

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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! πŸ™‚ Yes this is the only snow leopard that we spotted there.

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Inna door nai hai!!

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.

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Thats Rigzin with this parents and his son!

Thats Rigzin with this parents and his son!

Here he is showing us a unique way to drink water in these parts!!!! Well its safe for you to assume we didn't try that! :P :P

Here he is showing us a unique way to drink water in these parts!!!! Well its safe for you to assume we didn’t try that! πŸ˜› πŸ˜›

Maggi at 13500 odd feet!!! :D :D

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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!!!!

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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!?

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The forks!!! Freshly cut from a shrub putting the swiss knife to some good use! πŸ˜€

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That is how happy faces look when served with the one food that unites the entire country! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

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Another one!!! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

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After having devoured that delicious and yummilicious maggi it was time to lie down and just soak in the view and the sun!!!!! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

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! πŸ˜€ RM this post you must not miss! πŸ˜€

Here is the maggi story that we read at Khardungla Pass the highest motorable road in the world! :D :D

Here is the maggi story that we read at Khardungla Pass the highest motorable road in the world! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

Himalayan Blue Sheep – the first sighting!!!

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!!!! πŸ˜› πŸ˜› Here are some pictures of it.

The first one strutted out like an emperor, the lens had to be changed and fast from 18-55 to 55-300!!!!!! Busy times for the camera folks you know!

The first one strutted out like an emperor, the lens had to be changed and fast from 18-55 to 55-300!!!!!! Busy times for the camera folks you know!

I am the king of these places he seems to be saying... and I am going higher! :D

I am the king of these places he seems to be saying… and I am going higher! πŸ˜€

Apparently the first one was just scouting the territory and checking if we were safe for his mates to appear! As he passed by...

Apparently the first one was just scouting the territory and checking if we were safe for his mates to appear! As he passed by…

the remaining folks in his herd appeared

the remaining folks in his herd appeared

Then we spotted these two stuck on a cliff... it seemed the one behind was complaining to us that his mate is a sissy and not moving fast enough!

Then we spotted these two stuck on a cliff… it seemed the one behind was complaining to us that his mate is a sissy and not moving fast enough!

and then the other fella decided to show what he is made of!!

and then the other fella decided to show what he is made of!!

Just to give you an idea of how far and wide they were! It was a free fall of about 300 feet if even a centimeter of his calculated step went wrong!!!

Just to give you an idea of how far and wide they were! It was a free fall of about 300 feet if even a centimeter of his calculated step went wrong!!!

This is what they call living on the edge... never mind us humans who claim it!

This is what they call living on the edge… never mind us humans who claim it!

You talking to me??

You talking to me??

Yes... they do behave like they rule these places... they find the highest perch to pose!!!

Yes… they do behave like they rule these places… they find the highest place to pose!!!

When you walk…

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! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

Here are a few pictures from the day one of the trek and of the homestay and Rumbak village!

That is the Rumbak settlement a pretty picturesque setting eh!?

That is the Rumbak settlement a pretty picturesque setting eh!?

Tarchok! Thats the name of our abode for 4 days! :)

Tarchok! Thats the name of our abode for 4 days! πŸ™‚

Another homestay besides our abode. The hues in the place are something else. Its  a kind of barren beauty!

Another homestay besides our abode. The hues in the place are something else. Its a kind of barren beauty! Top cliff on the top right hand side has a stupa on top. The places where these guys build stupa’s is absolutely crazy!!!

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We set off on day 2 towards Stok La!

We set off on day 2 towards Stok La!

The view alongside!

The view alongside!

The shades!

The shades!

Some more colours!

Some more colours!

Well...

Well…

This is where we ended our journey for the day and returned!

This is where we ended our journey for the day and returned!

Once back from the trek... this is the most popular place to sit...

Once back from the trek… this is the most popular place to sit…

A walk in The Hemis National Park

*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 smallΒ 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!!

The thing about Ladakh is that where ever you click a picture its a post card. This is shot from a moving car from behind a glass and yet it appeals, doesn't it?

The thing about Ladakh is that where ever you click a picture its a post card. This is shot from a moving car from behind a glass and yet it appeals, doesn’t it?

The rumbak valley has a natural gate to welcome us!

The rumbak valley has a natural gate to welcome us, can you see the tiny us in the picture, that gives you an idea of how huge the cliff’s were!!!!

The Rumbak Nullah that was completely frozen!

The Rumbak Nullah that was completely frozen!

The road from Zinchen to Rumbak is slowly but surely going to be made... perhaps in another 4-5 years time you can drive to Rumbak and not walk a crazy 5 hours like us!

The road from Zinchen to Rumbak is slowly but surely going to be made… perhaps in another 4-5 years time you can drive to Rumbak and not walk a crazy 5 hours like us!

So begins the trek into a rocky terrain...

So begins the trek into a rocky terrain…

We weren't the only ones there, some other people were already there camping near Husing Nullah!

We weren’t the only ones there, some other people were already there camping near Husing Nullah!

The sky in Ladakh sigh... and the contrasts!

The sky in Ladakh sigh… and the contrasts!

Phew!

Phew!

Standing on bridges is common, standing on bridges that are made on a river in thick ice is not that common... inn'it? :P

Standing on bridges is common, standing on bridges that are made on a river in thick ice is not that common… inn’it? πŸ˜›

The valley and its crevices were a delight for a photographer! It engaged, enchanted and captivated us totally! :)

The valley and its crevices were a delight for a photographer! It engaged, enchanted and captivated us totally! πŸ™‚

and when you climbed some heights you just felt like a King!

and when you climbed some heights you just felt like a King!

At Rumbak Sumdo (Sumdo meaning meeting point of three major routes) a symbol that somehow seems pretty eerie! :P The Yurutse Valley, Stok La and Rumbak paths get together over here. We took our way to Rumbak from here!

At Rumbak Sumdo (Sumdo meaning meeting point of three major routes) a symbol that somehow seems pretty eerie! πŸ˜› The Yurutse Valley, Stok La and Rumbak paths get together over here. We took our way to Rumbak from here!

Julley!

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Julley!

What else would be a better way to start the tales that I have to tell from the past 11 days of sheer bliss in the land of high passes, Ladakh! Julley is the word we used most! πŸ™‚

Julley is what you say to get smiles, nods, waves from unknown people here! Be it hello or good luck or thank you or you wanting a pretty girl to smile at you, this word worked like magic! Trust me that is the first thing you want to learn before you head for Ladakh!

Above is a picture that is what you will find outside most village homes in Rumbak, a remote village that has some wonderful homestay’s and is a base for the snow leopard trails in winters and lots of trekking programmes in summers. The ornamental looking thing is supposed to bring good luck for the house and also keep bad “nazar” away! Rumbak is a small settlement of people the population of the village does not exceed 100 and yet, we felt we had everything that one would need to survive! Very gentle, smiling, hardworking people who live in this arid land keep busy whole day doing chores. No road reaches Rumbak and so you have to walk a good 4 hours to get to it. No electric cables reach Rumbak too but the authorities have arranged for a generator that powers the village with lights from 6 to 10 in the evening.

Serene, picturesque and calm this village was our base for 4 days whilst we tried to photograph the elusive Ghost Cat! Over the next few weeks I will try to recollect as much as I can from our trip to Ladakh and try to invoke enough greenery among all my readers and hence I had to start this series with this picture above to stave off any bad “Nazar” πŸ˜› πŸ˜› :mrgreen: