For some unfathomable reason today I am gripped with a longing for Ladakh and find myself looking over pictures from my trips there in 2003 and 2005, trying to relive the amazing experience of that landscape. The trip in 2003 was somewhat ad-hoc but thoroughly enjoyable! It was more of a touristy trip and besides the town of Leh and monasteries of Shey, Thiksey and Hemis, we also visited Nubra Valley along the route to Siachen. In 2005 we returned to Ladakh to attempt a moderately difficult trek to the 6000m peak of Stok Kangri, which, though unsuccessful in the outcome, was a phenomenal experience.
Here is a link to a lovely description of the Stok Kangri climb that appeared in Outlook Traveler last year and got me all nostalgic. And below is a short piece about the 2005 trip written by the hubby, Sri Sri Lekkerbek Swami of “Fart of Living”, so am reproducing it here along with some pictures clicked by Nikhil. Enjoy! 🙂
Ladakh – An Antilogue
This piece is dedicated to my friend Urvashi who like me has a “take it easy policy” (TIEP). I would like to stress up-front that this piece is neither for the faint-hearted nor for the serious-hearted. So read it if you feel fit.
I like to do aimless things in life such as sleeping, watching DVDs, reading, and of course eating and drinking. After all, there is more to life than the drudgery of the day-to-day work. But then there are other aimless things in life which take too much effort and can be hazardous such as bungee jumping, shopping in the mall, nine-to-five jobs, etc. Having said that I would like to classify running and trekking in a different category. These can be hazardous but the fun element (and the sheer aimlessness) in them is enough to counterbalance the associated risks. So it wasn’t surprising that I not only agreed to but also was willing to go on a trekking holiday to Ladakh in September. The fact that I was unemployed swung the case in favor of taking two weeks off from my leisurely lifestyle.
You may not be aware (at least I wasn’t) that trekking in Ladakh involves 3 full days of a bus/taxi trip from Delhi. Paradoxical as it may seem, apparently one has to get used to walking at high altitudes and one can achieve this by riding in a bus/taxi that takes one as high as 6000 meters. I realized that, as a fringe benefit, this road trip can prepare one for a crater-filled moon walk. The ride has also made me appreciate the Bangalore roads a little bit more.
I have to admit that the Himalayas presented the most picturesque sight on this road trip. A beauty of a different type – no trees, not much water, strange rock formations, hairpin bends, steep falls, and no cell-phones at all. A lot of people like to take pictures (popularly called “Patel concept”) of the signposts claiming second highest motorable pass etc. I have a slightly unconventional way to remember such landmarks. I chose to pee in such select locations – similar to how dogs mark their territories. Another way to remember would be to throw up at these landmarks which one of our friends chose to do.
The town of Leh was a somewhat let down after the picturesque ride. It is a highly commercial town as one would expect a major tourist gateway to be. We had a reasonably comfortable hotel (the highlight of which was the apricot tree in the courtyard which had wonderful fruit). We stayed in Leh to get further acclimatized with the conditions and during this stay also finalized the details for the trek. The plan was to go on a 7-day trek to conquer the peak called Stok-kangri which is the highest peak in Leh area. It was going to be a colonial type of trek with guides, cook, ponies and us – sahibs and memsahibs.
I never thought that I could improve my vocabulary during the trekking trip. The two useful terms I learnt were “undie-check” (meaning to check one’s readiness by verifying all the equipment one is carrying including the underwear) and “Submitting” (meaning to attempt the climb leading to a summit). We started the trek with perfect walking conditions. It was overcast and there was no Sun to bother us during the first day’s trek which was a flattish walk for 4/5 hours.
The second day’s trek was tougher and we began the climb. I slowed down considerably not because I was getting tired or out of breath but I chose to enjoy the scenery a bit longer by going slow. That night we realized that the zero degree sleeping bags that we got from Bangalore were probably for zero degrees Centigrade and not Fahrenheit – a minor difference. So we doubled them up. Our cook was a highly skilled fellow from Nepal. I had never imagined eating a freshly made steamed pizza at 4000 meters altitude and our man topped (not the pizza but his achievement) it with some wonderful soup and potato wedges.
The next day we began the hard climb to Stok-la (la means “pass”) and I observed the scenery to an even greater extent. On the top of the pass it was fairly cold and windy but one could get the signal for cell phones. So our guides darted up to make some important calls. While climbing down I don’t care much for the scenery so I ran down on the other side of the pass while the others caught up a bit later. We were back to about 3500 meters and the camp was by a stream. As a kid I had wondered about putting my feet in the deep freezer. I realized that ambition by walking through the stream a few times on my way to marking the territory.
By the next day morning I was missing a hot bath and a nice bed too much so I decided to head back to Leh while the rest of the group decided to Submit. Also the climb was going to be fairly hazardous so it didn’t fit TIEP. As it happened, the weather took a turn for worse and the rest of the group also came back to Leh without submitting (themselves to the climb).
I soon discovered that there was a perfectly acceptable (and within the purview of TIEP) alternative to travel back to Delhi from Leh – there is a flight between these two cities. But one has to be ready for an absolutely thorough Undie-check at the Leh airport. The return trip was uneventful and now I am back to my routine of masterly inactivity. I have already identified one aimless thing which I plan to do in the next few months. I am going to run the Mumbai marathon on January 15th 2006. I am told that Urvashi too is running in it…
– Ranjeet Ranade
Pics (by Nikhil Pednekar):