Passing the highest road for cars in the world, birthday party at the top of the world, first symptoms of altitude sickness and walking around Leh

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View from the peak

25.06

Today we wake up at 5 a.m. again. This time it is because some people tell us that they will take us to Keylong – the capital city of Lahaul region. We get up and start packing. The people told us they will wait for 5 min. more to gather our tent but when we were almost ready they ran off. We decide not to go to bed but instead have a breakfast. Outside is raining and is quite cold so we decide to hitchhike in a new way. We sit on the couch and when we hear that a car is coming Mr. Shushtari runs out and tries to stop the car. We wait till 9 o’clock when a small truck full of rice takes us to Keylong.

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Street in Keylong

We find a hotel with a yard right away where we pitch our tent and start going around the city. There are four Buddhist monasteries here some of them date back to the 12-th century. We intend to visit them all but before this we have more urgent things to do – namely to buy mountain equipment for the treks.

We also buy a gas stove because there are no trees at this altitude – it is only grass and snow. Then we buy rubber boots (for 6 euro each) with plush and some really thick sweaters. We wan’t feel cold now! Up to this moment we had only thin jackets, one wool shawl and a cardigan that the Bulgarian girls we met gave us.

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Peaks at Lahaul

The prices here are normal so we can eat whatever we want. We like the town very much. There is everything here and not much tourists. It is cheap and the views are extraordinary. People are strange, they look like Tibetans and all the women wear traditional clothes. I think we will stay a day or two more.

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Local women

Here is the last gas station before Leh which is 350 km. away. We are about to pass the highest road on Earth accessible to vehicles. Upwards there are only temporarily inhabited villages and passes – the altitude of which is 5000 m.(about 16 500 feet).

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Keylong Valley

The sun peers in the afternoon and shortly there are no clouds. We met a French couple at the hotel who gave us a fantastic idea – to buy a yak or a donkey and cross the Himalayas on the not so popular roads east that reach as far as Nepal. The French couple was considering seriously putting this plan into action. It turns out that the Bulgarians we met earlier are also here. We gathered together with the French in the evening and had a great time.

All the tourists who have come to Keylong are stuck here because there is still no transportation available to Leh. Probably vehicles will start travelling next week. People have already started organizing their means of transportation but we plan to hitchhike as there are many trucks and jeeps.

26.06

Today we sleep till late – 7 a.m. After breakfast we go to the Buddhist Temple Sheshur Goma where the traditional June festival will be held.

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Buddhist Temple Sheshur Goma

 

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Monks blow horns

In the morning the monks read sutras and blow horns and the people in the village prepare food. The ritual dances start in the afternoon. The monks are dressed as daemons, wear giant masks and dance around an altar. At a certain point four of them dressed as skeletons bring a small casket and start performing rituals around it. They stab knives in it, pour water, fix sticks and perform other strange ceremonies.

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The stupa above the monastery

 

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“Daemons”

 

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Ritual dance

The dances continue for several hours without a break. The people who come from Keylong are being served food: rice with vegetables, tea and biscuits. But the monks never stop. They blow the horns, beat gongs, play traditional instruments and read sutras. The lama stays motionless in the middle for 5 hours. In the last part of the performance the daemons are finally defeated and the monks finish the ritual exhausted. The old Tibetan religious paintings called thangka are taken off the walls and are stored. After we spent all the day at the monastery and watching the hypnotic dances for hours we too feel tired.

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Skeletons carry the casket

 

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Dancing “daemons”

 

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The warrior defeats the “daemons”

 

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The audience

27.06

Today is Mr. Shushtari’s birthday so we decide to celebrate it at the peak opposite to our hotel.

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The peak we climbed for Mr. Shushtari’s birthday

We get up at 5 in the morning a started a hike that unexpectedly continued for 14 hours. A dog from the village joined us and walked with us the whole day so we had guests at our birthday party.

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Our valient friend

A local guy told us where the track is but we detoured somehow and started walking on a steep slope. We met two Buddhist monks who were also climbing because there was a sanctuary at the top, but they also didn’t know the track.

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Climbing

 

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View from the peak

 

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More views

Finally we reach the peak and we see this: hundreds of stupas made of stones and covered with Buddhist flags. All around one can see the mighty Himalayan peaks covered with snow.

Walking on the crest is difficult. At a certain point it starts blowing freezing wind and is hard to breath.

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Glaciers

We climbed the peak (4500 m. or 14 800 feet) and started going down immediately. Next to the stupas we arrange a small Bday party with biscuits, chocolate and sandwiches but it starts getting dark so we prepare to go down. It took us 9 hours to climb the mountain and it looked like the peak was close by.

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The ridge

 

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Keylong below

 

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Beautiful isn’t it?

 

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Wearing sandals in the snow

Normally you can climb it for 5 hours but this is if you don’t lose the track and don’t go to sleep for half an hour from time to time as we did. On our way down we lost the pathway again and it took us 4 hours instead of 2. We found ourselves at the Kardang Gompa Monastey which is known for its monks (both male and female) who meditate for long periods of time – 3 years, 3 months and 3 days in total.

It was already dark when we reached Keylong. We bought the dog some meat from a nearby shop as a gift and it ate and went to sleep next to our tent. When we wake up in the morning the dog is gone.

28.06

We rest during the last day at Keylong and only go to seek for gasoline for our stove which actually turned out to be kerosene stove, not gasoline. We couldn’t find anything and the gas station is 7 km. behind us so we decide to rely on providence.

We are at the hotel in the afternoon and suddenly people with colorful dresses start going out of it and there is a big fuss – it turns out that there is a folklore festival ate the town and all the dancers are accommodated at our hotel. There were different groups representing their respective local culture. We go to see the festival and we like it a lot – there we see dances from all over India that are amazing. In the evening the people from Punjab province invite us at their room to drink whiskey and give Mr. Shushtari a turban as a present.

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Party with the Punjab dancers

 

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Rajastan dancers

29.06

In the morning we go out of Keylong and after walking only two kilometers a jeep full of motor bikers stops and takes us. We are really lucky because they will take us directly to Leh. Our new friends from the states Asam, Punjab, and Utrakand turn out to be really great people.

The road up is horrible it is off road and there is a menace of landslide. At some places we have to cross quite big rivers.

The first pass Bara Lacha La is at 4800 m. (15 800 feet) and after it is the naked desert like land of Ladakh. Himachal Pradesh end here and we enter the next state – Kashmir. While in Lahaul region there was some grass and even bushes, Ladkah is a vacant land.

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The lake at Bara Lacha La Pass

We are shaken up by the scenery around us, feel dizzy from the thousands bends and the constant jolting, we breathe with difficulties because of the altitude and sit numbed in the jeep while everything around us is still, eternal and real. The Trans Himalayan desert stretches endlessly in all four directions and one cannot fathom how any human being could decide to live here.

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Bara Lacha La Pass

After Bara Lacha La Pass we go down to the tent camp Sarchu at 4200 m. (13 800 feet) where the weary tourists, truck drivers and locals can rest and drink tea. Most of the people stay here for the night before the take off to the even more difficult next three passes. But our friends decide that there is still enough daylight to travel and they plan to reach the next two passes after which is Pang 4700 m. (15 420 feet).

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Pavilion for rest

After a short break we continue and after 30 km. starts the giant serpentine leading to Nakila Pass. Down we see a river with blue waters flowing and this combined with the orange rocks and the blue sky make you feel dizzy. This time the high altitude symptoms feel stronger. Our hearts miss a beat from time to time and the feeling of discomfort are overwhelming. Only 20 km. after Nakila is Lachung Lang 5017 m. (16 460 feet). The driver’s face looks really pale and he doesn’t want us to stop to take some photos. Finally we reach the high altitude camp Pang where we plan to sleep.

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On the road

The driver and his wife rush to the hospital to breathe oxygen with masks and we go to look for a place to pitch our tent breathing heavily and staggering. In the day the sun burns your skin in an instant but during the night the temperatures fall below zero (below 32 Fahrenheit). We are freezing and even the slightest gust of wind makes us shiver. We barely manage to wash our faces with cold water and start preparing our dinner – noodles cooked on our brand new kerosene stove of which we cut some parts to be lighter and put new hose for the fuel.

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Tent camp Pang

After a long wait the noodles are almost ready but sadly the stove explodes and with it our dinner. It looks like our inventions is not that successful. Disheartened we go to the local restaurant and order fried noodles that are quite expensive for our budget.

30.06

Around 9 o’clock we are again on the road. Nobody dares to have breakfast before passing the last pass – Tang Lang La, (La means “pass” in the local language). This is the second highest pass in the world – 5360 m. (17 585 feet). We eat only chocolate and candies but this seems to help.

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Tang Lang La Pass

On the road through the icy vacant scenery we see interesting rock formations and giant sand dunes. Soon we reach the More Plains. We notice nomads with enormous herds of sheep just before the pass. At the last pass we don’t feel any discomfort (thanks God) though it is the highest on the road Manali-Leh.

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Desert

But one can’t say this about our friends Zitu and Mona – they start vomiting and have difficulties breathing. The boys at the back are also half dead and have strong headache.

We somehow manage to reach the first village after the pass which is called Rumtse and everybody lay on the beds at the first tea house we see. After an hour sleep we feel refreshed and continue our trip to Leh. Near the road we see many Tibetan villages with thousands of white stupas, Buddhist rocky monasteries and there are even some trees. We find ourselves in a new and exciting lunar-like Ladkah and this makes me want to scream from joy.

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Tea house Rumtse

At noon we reach Leh – the capital of Ladakh and our friends accommodate at the first hotel they see and we continue to look for a place for the tent. In the beginning we find ourselves in the old city – narrow streets and the fort rising above us, people dressed with traditional clothes, little restaurants for tukpa (Tibetan pasta) and momo (dumplings) and all this looks so charming to us.

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Street in Leh

In the afternoon we find a small family hotels and the owners let us pitch our tent in the yard. In the evening we go to say good-bye to the people who took us and to give them part of our luggage which they will take to Delhi to store and we plan to take it back when we finish with the trekking around Himalayas.

We also see the French guys from Keylong who continue looking for a donkey for their trek to Nepal and then we see the Bulgarian girls – so we have a quite nice company while we stay here.

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Leh

01.07-03.07

We spend the next few days at Leh which turns out to be quite small and one can see everything in it for several ours walking. The landmarks are just a few – the fort, Shanti stupa and a monastery. There are many mosques here and even a Moravian church which is very strange. The Muslim Kashmir people from Srinagar and Jammu come here for the tourist season and have their own neighborhood where they prepare the most delicious flat bread we’ve eaten so far in India. People also sell dates and sheep milk.

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A stupa

 

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Moravian Church

Most of the time we do research for the one month journey we plan to do in the mountains of Ladakh. It takes us two days to fix the kerosene stove – if it explodes during the trek will we die from hunger. There is nothing here one can use to set fire and you meet nomads or villages every two or three days at best.

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Local restaurant

We must foresee the exact amount of food we will need and to make a detailed map of all the rivers, glaciers and passes above 5000 m. (16 400 feet). We buy a map and everything we think we will need because the mountains here are really raw and one needs to be well prepared.

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Old house

In the evening we go to see the fort. We arrived there quite late because we had waited for half an hour at a queue for Kashmir flat bread which they baked in front of us in a big earthen jar. The baker pastes the bread on the walls of the jar and at the bottom there is a little live coals.

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Leh’s fort

 

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Kashmir flat bread

The fort was built 16-th century for protection from the Kashmir invasion but nowadays is in decay but still very impressive. There are 9 levels and the corridors inside it are like labyrinth. We ran through it because we were in a hurry and entered some hidden places where it said visitors are not allowed – but we had a lantern.

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The temple at the fort

 

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The library

The interesting thing to see inside it is a photo gallery of Ladakh people from 20-th century (at one of the photos there was a magician with his eyes crossed who was performing some kind of exorcist ritual pinching a figure made out of dough, that represents the ego, that entraps the people in the constant illusory wheel of samsara). The other interesting thing was the royal temple with a library and there was also an amazing view of Ladakh.

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Magicians

 

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Description of the magicians and their practices

Unfortunately we were out of time and couldn’t go to see the monastery but we plan to return here after the trek and maybe we would have time then. On our way back we passed thorough the cheap restaurant where all the westerners eat and we saw the French guys who almost found a donkey – maybe we will see them somewhere in the mountains.

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Local women

 

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A local

 

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At the market

Today we bought everything for the first trek which would take us 7-8 days and we barely brought the bags to the tent – I don’t know how we will walk with such a heavy rucksacks. We plan this to be our test trek to see how we cope with altitude, whether the kerosene and the food will be enough, are our clothes thick enough, will we be able to find our way using the maps and the likes. We chose a relatively easy trek with only to passes at 5000 m. (16 400 feet). There are villages on the road (within 7-8 hours walking distance and we will pass by ancient temples. I can’t wait to see Markha Valley where people live at 20day walking distance from any civilization.

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Praying wheel

 

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Quartz seller

 

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Leh at night

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