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Published: June 28th 2008
Back from the first trek...
10 days ago or so, a Ladakhi picked me up at my guest house with some kind of a Jeep, with what I would call an interesting suspension and squeaky brakes, and my guide Puntsok and I were on our way to Rumtse, where our trek was to start. On the way we stopped in a village for tea, then I visited the Chemrey Monastery, always interesting, especially when you ask questions to the monks or the locals... Then you realize that the buddhist iconography is very complicated... No wonder I am lost. Then we took another break, and meanwhile I was watching an Indian guy cleaning the ears of another guy... This is a normal job here, "ear cleaner". Didn't look like fun. When he was done, he realized I was watching and he offered me his services... Unfortunately (!), I had to go...
The drive was quite interesting, not just because of the vehicle, but also the scenery. This is where rocks are manufactured for the rest of the world. It is very brown, all the different tones of brown, sometimes mixed with purple, and white, and grey and sometimes, all of a sudden, there is a patch of green. Along the rivers, at the bottom of the valleys, this bright green, some vegetation or fields, and it is so localized and surprising, that it really looks like God dropped some green paint on his way to Vietnam or some other green place. Very scenic. And along the road, we met the "highway crew", a bunch of men and women heating some tar or some other mix, black black smoke, and these people are black too from that smoke, and I can tell you the color of their lungs too. Incredible. They do everything by hand, and they patch the road. Then the next crew paints the white lines in the middle of the road, all by hand too. Fascinating.
Then there is all the signs along the road... "Better be Mr Late than Late Mr", or "I am curvaceous, be slow", or "Darling I like you but please not so fast" or "speed is a knife that cute a life" (I know, there is a spelling mistake but that's the way it is!!!). Also "India is a bouquet and Ladakh one of its flowers".
Anyhow, enough about the drive.
We reached Rumtse and set up the camp. Rumtse is already at 4200m so we stayed there one night so I could acclimatized. I very much enjoyed that evening, I sat on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a river, and it was so quiet and beautiful. My guide prepared a very good meal, and then I went to bed. Slept like a princess in my new sleeping bag. The next morning, I met the horseman. We had two horses with us, to carry gear an food. Tashi, the horseman, didn't speak a word of English, Puntsok, the guide, some... It was going to be interesting. So that morning, 5-6 people came and helped us to get going. All smiley faces, dressed half traditional-half modern. All a foot shorter than I am.
So we started walking, and soon we had to cross a river. There was a bridge not too far so my guide said I should go. They were going to cross with the horses. So I went to "the bridge". Well, it wasn't really a bridge. It was a good start, but there was only a few metal beams. I was glad nobody was around to see my legs shaking while I was walking over... I ended up on my bump just sliding along the beams!!!
Then shortly after, the white horse went crazy. He started jumping and running and got rid of his load. Including the 4 dozen eggs. Needless to say we ate omelet the next morning.
The day was short and soon we were at our camp site. Again, I went on my little solo trip and explored the hills around, sat down and looked at the scenery for a couple hours, very beautiful area. Puntsok, worried that I was bored ask me "Are you boring?"...
Then he prepared another great meal. He could cook for 3-4 hours per night. I couldn't believe it, as for me, cooking for half an hour is already something... The food was amazing, but sooooo much! Way too much. Typical breakfast would be 4 chapatis, a bowl of cereal, 2-3 cups of very sweet milk tea, and of course, an omelet to finish it off, made with 3 eggs... That is just breakfast.
Anyhow, the next day was supposed to be the hardest, but it went very well, except that it was the grey horse this time that had enough. He also got rid of his load, this time it was the kerosene that spilled. Thank God we didn't loose it all and had enough to finish the trek. That night we camped in a huge valley, and I was reading in the tent when Puntsok came and said "I think you should go take pictures". He was right. A big bunch of yaks were walking down the valley herded by two nomads, one spinning his praying wheel. The sun was also coming down at the time, it was really beautiful.
Then the next day I got attacked by the sun... For 3 days, we were walking in a desert-like area, and it was very very hot and I got totally sun burnt and also dehydrated to the point where every night I had major headaches. But the scenery was so beautiful and I really enjoyed walking in these big valleys, going up high passes and down in the next valley. I was walking alone mostly, my pace being different from the horses' and I could hardly communicate with my 2 companions anyway. We only had a few hours of walking everyday, of course with a group it will be slower, and I spent all my afternoons reading and writing, or trying to get rid of my headaches! In the late afternoon, I would sit in the tent with Puntsok while he was cooking and we would try to talk. We both had trouble to understand each other but we laughed a lot. Watching him cook was probably not a good idea though. Ladakhis have 4 food groups too. One is salt, one is sugar, one is butter/oil and the other one includes everything else, I suppose. A very rich and sweet and salty diet. But very tasty. Amazing they can cook anything, including cakes and pop corn on a little stove.
This is getting a bit long now, so I will go straight to our last day. Because the day were so short, I decided to do a 2 in 1 once, so we reached Korzok a day early. I was hoping to phone our local contact in Leh to get a ride early. It didn't work. The phone was apparently just for the military. So we had a day off in Korzok. There isn't much there, but I had lots of company. Cows and furry donkeys were walking in the camp non-stop. And of course some locals were curious and would come and visit too.
And finally this morning we drove back to Leh, a 7 hour drive on a good but a bit crazy road. More highway crews, more cows, more donkeys and many Ladakhi hitch hikers that we picked up and dropped off on the way. My guide said "Nomads smell funny". I thought "me too". After 10 days, I very much enjoyed the "bucket shower" at the guest house.
So this is just a brief story of the trek. Of course there is much more little stories, like the yaks almost walking into our camp one morning, but it would just take too long to write and I don't want you guys to be "boring"!
So, my clients show up in two days, until then I have to figure out all the buddhist symbols and the history of Ladakh. And in about a week I will be back in the same area trekking for 16 days this time. And then drive to Delhi, a 2 day trip that promises to be very interesting...
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