Sometimes I reflect and think back upon the year I spent (21 years ago) in India and Nepal. And what a fantastic year it was. Nothing but adventure immersing in such diverse cultures all the while trying to fit in as respectfully as possible. I had few responsibilities, my whole life ahead and was ready to experience life in the Eastern cultures. Prior to the trip I had spent the past 10 years studying Indian classical music and culture so I was more than ready to embrace and absorb the experience. We (my ex husband and I) had a plan...since we'd be arriving in June and that was the time of monsoon, it was smart to head to the hills. So after a week in Delhi, getting acclimated and making connections with friends, we were off to Kashmir. We chose to fly as the Punjab was still a bit tense since since the siege upon the Golden Temple in 1984.
In Kashmir, I easily fit in
yet at times got many strange looks as I got away with certain activities local women could not. Srinagar and all of Kashmir were on the the brink of political unrest. Most of the population is Muslim and therefore pro Pakistan anti Hindu and the locals were very vocal. For the most part things were as usual but a few days we had to lay low as there was a "bund" or public strike. Everything closed down and we were warned to stay indoors. Just a few years later Islamic militants would make frequent attacks in the area. I feel so fortunate to have been able to stay there before all that.
It was time for a real adventure and head into unchartered territory. Off to Moonland AKA Ladakh. Geographically Tibet, but politically India it has always been a bit sensitive since it borders on both Pakistan and China. Since it is officially India, the Buddhists have been left alone and all the monasteries are intact. It isn't an easy region to get to as altitudes are 12,000 ft and above. The people are a hearty lot who have adapted to the harshest conditions but somehow thrive. The Buddhist monasteries are the focal point of each village/town/hamlet and are all still thriving and at this point probably huge tourist attractions. Back 20+ years ago, the region had just re-opened to foreigners so there were some organized tours in the area. We were on our own (and that was unusual). As far as trekking, we saw NO other loners, just a few organized groups from the UK.
We were young, naive and crazy. Through maps and books, we decided we wanted to trek across the mountains, walk along the ancient silk routes, as well as climb and pay homage to the holy monasteries. We had a 2 week trek in mind going from Lamayuru to Padam, Zanskar.. All good to me. :) We were young, strong and infallible. We were to do it ourselves with the help of a local guide. I had no idea how intense the elements were at these altitudes, I had never been so high up but it wouldn't have mattered if I did. I knew I could do it. Ignorance was bliss.... So, while In Kashmir, we got a name of a local Ladakhi man who we were told MIGHT be able to guide us on a 2 week trek across the mountains to our final destination. We were certain he would abide.
It took 2 days to traverse 270 miles in an antiquated Indian bus over the Srinigar Leh highway. Besides the fact that this bus was haphazardly maintained as it slowly trudged up and careened down along narrow winding dirt roads, we were constantly stopped by army convoys which made the long trip even longer. Then comes the overnight stop in Kargil which was nothing that I can remember as being spectacular. I just wanted to get to Leh and off that dreaded death mobile. As the decrepit bus finally made it's way to the 12,oooft capitol of Ladakh, I was tired
but elated. The town is beautiful..the old palace rises above the city and behind that high on a steep rocky crag lies the monastery. The town below is fertile green with spring water channels running along the paths.
We spent a week acclimating and plotting our oncoming excursion. I felt fine at 12,000 ft but my ex was not so lucky. It took him several nights of sleep apnea to finally come around. It was time to make the journey to Lamayuru....We were told by our Kashmiri friends that the way to get to Lamayuru was to head to the local truck stop and pay the sikh truck drivers to let you accompany them en route to there deliveries. Sure enough a couple of friendly Sardars gladly took us on. The adventure was about to begin.. After a number of hours driving in the Sikh's Lorri over the dusty dirt high mountain roads speaking a jumble of Hindu/Bengali/Urdu and English to a couple of Sikh truck drivers, I'm sure they thought we were crazy Americans. Why would we want to come up to this vast moonland on our own accord??
ah good question, but hard to explain with a bit of a language barrier. Nonetheless, they dropped us off at the only teahouse in the small town of Lamayuru where we were off to find Scarpa. We were told he was the local postman and often traversed the old trade routes delivering mail. Seemed logical to ask him to take us along....After about an hour of
explaining in our new dialect of Bengali/Urdu/Hindi/English with a new smattering of Ladakhi words, we somehow found him. We approached his home which was located on a steep cliff just underneath the cliffs which the Monastery dwell. His home was a typical Ladakhi mud hut, dirt floors yet clean where the kitchen was the focal point. Unfortunately venting is somewhat non existent and smoky kitchens are the norm. As we sat drinking Yak butter tea, we tried to explain our request. somehow after a few hours of communicating via our language blends and maps, he got it! He agreed however only to taking us halfway to our destination. From what we could disseminate, he had only gone that far and wasn't interested in exploring any farther. Ok, we agreed. Steve and I figured we could find another guide at that point and continue on. After all, this was an adventure....
That night was spent upon the rooftop of our guides home. I shall never forget laying in the sleeping bag staring at the brilliantly lit sky with no wires or lights to distract. Just the silhouette of the monastery above highlighted by a billion illuminated stars. Shooting stars were abundant. Satellites circled the sky. I had n
o idea there was this much activity. I had never slept so high. This was the rooftop of the world. It was quite a show and coupled with the excitement of our impending journey, it was difficult to sleep. We watched the night show in awe and finally fell out.
Morning came. It was time to get ready to go. We were the minimalist trekkers. All we brought with us was sleeping bags, warm clothes, water purification tablets, canteens, lighter, Cadbury chocolate bars and glucose biscuits bought in India, tin cups, black tea, sweetened condensed milk in cans and a Swiss army knife. We thought we could get provisions along the way and basically live like Ladakhis. And that we did.....
12 days, a number of passes above 16,ooo ft all to come.
To be continued.....................