Sunday, 20 October 2013

The World is a playground

My mission was to find a group to climb, and it was Zingchen to Chilling thro' the Hemis National Park. It was all about the trek. The primary rule of trekking is to know how fit you are, and access your fitness levels before even considering trekking. I wanted to climb the Stok Kangri (6100 mts), but after talking to a few people who had just completed the expedition, they advised me to take it easy. I realised I have been pushing my limits riding a motorcycle all this while. But nevertheless, I believe no matter how comfortable technology makes our lives, its always refreshing to walk thro' the valleys of awesome, and Kand La, the 5000 mt pass was no joke.

People packing for the Stok expedition at Zingchen

Hemis National Park

"Its a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step into the road, and if you dont keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to" - Tolkien

I accept the perils of the great outdoors are high, keeping ones feet busy is a far more necessary thing, even if you aren't carrying a ring to burn in a volcano to save middle earth. We all look forward to a vacation. For some it means checking in to a beach resort, or going on a pilgrimage to a 'holy place' ..etc, but for some its a trip to the mountains that wins the vote.

I think, the mountains have a knack of making people active even if you are someone who has been riding a motorcycle relentlessly through 8 high altitude passes and counting. If you are on the younger side, and have intentionally come to walk, trek, climb and explore, there is no end to the wonderful possibilities the Indian Himalayas provide. Its truly a rewarding experience. At every step you witness the throbbing heart of nature and billion year old mountains walking beside you. Studies show that a week spent outdoors hiking or camping will reset your body clock. A circadian rhythm is any biological process that displays an endogenous, entrainable oscillation of about 24 hours. These rhythms are driven by a circadian clock, and rhythms have been widely observed in plants, animals, fungi and cyanobacteria. More about that here.

The Fauna map of Hemis - Prime snow leopard territory people !

Our trekking route - We camp in Urutse on Day 1, Photo taken at little before Rumbak

We were a group of 5 accompanied by a trust worthy guide who was a good human being. A hike or a trek would remind you of a caress of gentle stream on your feet, or the birds chirping in the crisp mountain air, but this is nothing like it. The Hemis with its steep routes that climb thro' vast high altitude, sand swept, tree less plateaus, valleys and dizzying passes, is a 3 day hike to the other side to Chilling which is located in the Zanskar valley. Which means, 2 nights of camping in the wilderness and a varied pattern of terrain. Each of these terrains comes with its own set of challenges, but the basic principles remains the same.

The packed meal we were carrying included - 1 Roti, 1 hard boiled Egg, 1 Chocolate waffer bar, 1 boiled potato, 200ml terta pack juice and thats it. Just by consuming this, you are expected to climb 400 mts on Day 1 and almost 1100 mts on Day 2. Whoa !

A place where you could enjoy the view and eat your packed meal in peace, and may be get some water refilled as well. If that's not enough, they have Rum and beer. Don't ask me why.

When in the mountains, you are walking in the shadows of geological giants. Humility and respect are of paramount importance here. Sir David Attenborough made a documentary about the wildlife in the Himalayas for BBC 4. Here, he talks about a species of the 'langur' monkeys that kill each other and the alpha male concept, but in the mountains, there is no such concept. The exact same species were compassionate and never fought, caring for each other, where survival mattered because of the harsh conditions. We all definitely have something to learn from these monkeys.

Far beyond those mountains is our base camp - Urutse

Slowly but surely, we start to climb and there are some chances of rain...

Our base camp was a barley field, we drank the night away talking about the treacherous climb we would encounter the next day. Chhaang or the local dry wine like local supply does the trick.

The single little tent on the left corner was my castle for the night. Sub zero temperatures in the night are not so welcome in a cloth tent.

What seemed to have started as an easy climb in the morning turned in to havoc and chaos, mainly due to the lack of oxygen.

The last leg of the climb to the kand la pass @ 4980 mts

Urutse is somewhere in the bottom of the valley. Time taken - 5 Hrs, climb - 1100 Mts.

Its was really chill with gutsy winds in the pass

A Ladhaki lady told me that cleaning up the mountain would bring me good karma, and that's exactly what I did...

The easier part - Down hill..

Yep, Wild poisonous berries..

Towards Kaya ..

The beautiful village of Kaya, accessible only by feet..

Nomad remains

Nomad remains

Entering the little village - Skieu

Skieu monastry

Finally, the home stay for the night

A Typical Ladhaki kitchen

An awesome morning at Skieu

Broken bridges call for drastic measures. Drastic measures include river crossing on a wooden box.

Did I mention that the trek concluded with a 4 hr raft ride to the sangam point of the Indus and the Zanskar rivers ? Rafting is pure bliss in the beginning, but at the end of 4 hrs everyone had something to complain about.

After the adventure of covering the Hemis national park and rafting in the Zanskar, during lunch that day, I came back to reality. It was a good switch. When I returned back to leh, my friends were already on their way back and had left the earlier day. Our initial plan was to ride to Kargil from Leh. However, the last few days had been devastating for the indo-pakistan border with soldiers killed in poonch. It was bad news. The highway was closed and one could go only till Nimmu (40 kms from leh). Things were quite uncertain at the moment. Because of the whole situation, my friends rode back the same way we came, The Leh - Manali highway. With just a few days of holidays left, I decided I will parcel my motorcycle and find my way back home as I did not even have return tickets booked.

Good ol' Gati to ship my motorcycle back home on Airport rd. I bid farewell to my motorcycle.

I should apologize that this has been a long post. After shipping the motorcycle, Leh went thro some terrible weather. This meant that my flight to Delhi was cancelled 3 days in a row. Apparently this was common. The November of 2012, only 1 flight took off. Secretly, deep inside I was happy that I could extend my vacation and stay in the mountains for longer and blame it on the airlines.

Apples in my reach.

Turnips and Cabbage in the farm

Nothing like fresh cabbage

& Turnips..

Oh, I forgot..Cauliflower too...

Apricot tree

It was August 15th that day, and I managed to tag along with a few locals to see the celebrations hosted in a government school. Then, seeing how bored I was, My hotel owner offered to take me to his village where he had a small organic farm. On the whole, even without my motorcycle to take me places, it was a wonderful experience. I struck an hour long conversation with a 90 year old, bartered for a kilo of Yak cheese from a nomad, got wet in the rain, fed cows apricots and had the most interesting conversations with people who mattered.

More organic garden stuff..

As a city dweller, I have to accept that I am a consumer. I am not a fan, and I try not to be one when there is an option. The World is tending to be more and more materialistic and the last word of everything is money and profit. Hence, young people choose high-fetching professions. I feel, the same bunch of people should be prompted to leave aside their slogan of money and embrace a new ideal which would help them understand their fellow beings and thus emerge as better individuals. Humility and respect are certainly a crucial part of that learning. I don't expect everyone to go to the mountains and come back a changed person. A possible solution can come from our teachers in our schools. A plausible answer is compulsory value education.  Most educators confine themselves to a few well known and thus borrowing moral stories from the Mahabhartha or the Ramayana or even the Bible. Naturally, children remain passive in the class or use that time to solve mathematical or scientific problems. Besides, its not something that can be learned the way in which one learns J2EE or advanced programming.

 My Father is the greatest storyteller I know, and I believe values are to be imbibed by individuals. Assuming that children do not derive the required support and guidance from their home because of the characteristic social set up of working parents, It is one of the most important responsibilities of a teacher to inculcate an effective value system as part of the formal education. Children should be taught that mere material prosperity will NOT gratify the finest desires inherent in us as human beings. Kids needs to be taught how money was maliciously introduced as a tool for enslavement, and money did NOT evolve out of barter and trade. Like what Jim carrey once said "I sometimes hope everybody could get rich and famous and will have everything they ever dreamed of, So they will know that it's not the answer" ..

Hasta la vista. Hopefully, 2014 is going to be another Himalayan year and an even bigger adventure.

Thursday, 17 October 2013


K-top or Khardung La pass, the “Pass of Lower Castle” at a height of 18,380 ft is the Bee's knees for anyone who travels to this part of the world. I was no different. 

There is some serious history behind building the highest motorable pass in the world. The story goes like this, A Lt. General who was also the Chief Engineer of Northern Command then, was given the charge of constructing this road post the 1971 war against Pakistan. An exchange of territory took place in the mountainous terrain of the north of the Himalayas. India acquired about 400 square miles area, and the border being "Turtok" sector by the Shyok river. Earlier Pakistan used to maintain supplies and facilities for the folks living there from the west, but now the need was to arrange supplies to them from the east. Also the Shyok river ran for several kilometres through a very narrow and steep gorge which was earlier thought to be impassable. 

In order to solve the region’s supply problem and also to construct a road connecting Chalunka and Thoise the decision to build a motorable road through Khardung La was taken. On 17th August, 1972 the 201 Engineer Regiment, Madras Sappers belonging to the Indian Army started work on the project and on 27th August, 1973 the road was completed and opened for traffic. I was there almost 40 years after the pass was built. 

The roads are well maintained with Tarmac till South Pullu, where you have to sign in, show your permits to the army ..etc and be on your way to the top.

The valley is as gorgeous as it can get and reminds you of nothing you have seen before.

The "Board of Caution" at South Pullu...

The terrain becomes unforgiving, a true back breaking journey all the way to the top.

Its simply amazing to be able to see the roads winding from up top, and you can see the entire 40 odd kilometers that you have covered. A feeling of "Amaze-ballz"

Sooner than I thought, We were up there.

As usual, Royal Enfields every where. It seemed like a ritual for people to bring them up here. I still thought they were all a little crazy to do this, on machines that were absolutely not built for the task. But, I guess I am wrong.

A special mention to coolest cat in the world. I am an animal lover, especially canines and felines. Back home, over the years I have had many cats as pets. Firstly, I never knew that cats can be considerate and "shanti" to travel on a motorcycle, and definitely did not know that I will meet one at 18400 feet.

Owner of the cat - Crazy Cat lady from Goa who has ridden her motorcycle all the way from the west coast to the awesomeness of the Himalayas. Respect.

After a few cups of hot tea, it was time to split. My fellow riders were heading towards Hunder on the other side of Kardung la. I had to go back to Leh. I had to go back and figure out my climb with an agency, find a group and so on. Just as I bid them good bye, we realised that we were not going any where with land slides getting cleared on either side.

I was pretty much stuck uptop for almost 3 full hours. ~ Big respect to the team who had scaled the pass on their cycles.

Sticker Graffiti by the tourists

Finally, the landslides were cleared and my friends were on their way. I was hanging in there as the direction I had to go was still under maintenance. I did not realise that this would the last time I see them before returning home. With a week of holidays left, I had to quickly plan my return journey back home, book tickets, ship the bike and climb a mountain.

Interesting times & sky was the limit.