Kanda La Pass – 5000 m. (16 405 feet)
We get up at six in the morning, boil 15 eggs, have breakfast and pack our things. The people from the guest house turn out to be really nice and don’t want to take our money for the yesterday’s breakfast. In addition we used their bathroom, took a hot shower everyday and laundered some clothes. The guesthouse is called Zal Guest House and if you pass by Leh and want to stay in authentic home-like atmosphere this is your place.
Our rucksacks are dead heavy and till we reach the place where the mini buses stop my legs are shaking. We took a minibus to the village Spitok where the trek starts – it costs 20 rupees (15 eurocents). The altitude is 3500 m. above sea level (11 480 feet), the sun is quite strong and at noon is really hot.
It turns out that the asphalt road continues 15 km. more after Spitok to Zinchen Village. A truck drove us there and after that we start walking. There isn’t any shadow where one can hide – all is rocks and desert. We walk very slowly because of the heavy rucksacks and the heat. At a certain moment the situation became unbearable and we had to stop under a small shadow cast by some rocks. There are no cars passing by and the bus Leh-Zinchen travels only two times a week.
But our hitchhiking luck works again and a pickup with local people comes our way and takes us. The road detours and enters the defile of a small river and recedes from Ind River (I forgot to mention that wherever we go in the last two months River Ind is always next to us – Leh was also on the river).
Just before Zinchen the way becomes dirt road and we got off before the next village Rumbak. We are very lucky to get on this car because we don’t see any more vehicles passing our way. We stop and have lunch on a glade with trees (it looks like real oasis) among the vacant lands surrounding us and we even sleep for a while.
Right before Rumbak Village
An hour later the weather is not so hot and we continue. The pathway follows a canyon up the river. After an hour we reach Rumbak Village but don’t stop and continue walking for two more hours till we reach Yurutse Pass. We walk slowly and good that the path is not steep and there is shadow. In the late afternoon we pass Yurutse and pitch our tent after it on a glade full of fat marmots located near a small spring.
On the road
We cook some potatoes and the stove DOESN’T explode to our satisfaction. During the night temperatures fall significantly (which is normal at 4200 m. above sea level – 13 780 feet) but for now the clothes we bought keep us warm enough.
I want to tell more about the feeling one experiences while walking around these places but I am not sure that it is possible to describe them and sadly the photos can’t show how thing really are either.
We have never been in such a place where everything looks like a dream – the sky is blue in its fullest, the sandy rocks around us are colored in red, orange and yellow and it looks like we are on the moon. The desert views are in high contrast with the snowy white peaks in the distance. There are no people here, only some fat marmots and snow cocks run around from time to time. The mind can’t conceive this dream like scenery and all this happening at 4000 m. (13 130 feet) above sea level – we are truly enchanted by Ladakh.
… and the moon
It is totally worth it to leave one’s job and everything and come to this magical place which is more real than any stifled office.
Second day of the trek. In the morning we storm Kanda La Pass. The slopes are not steep and climbing is easy and short – it takes us 3 hours. These time we don’t have any symptoms of altitude sickness only at the end we have difficulties taking a breath. The trek is quite popular and we see 10-15 tourists coming with their guides. It caught our attention that there is not a single Indian mountaineer – all are foreigners.
Though the trek is easy we still get tired by the heavy rucksacks. After two hours we reach Shing Village that has 4-5 houses. On the road there are constantly snow cocks running around. They have a specialty – when you start walking they walk 10 m. before you, when you stop they stop too, when you start they start. The fat marmots aren’t also afraid by people and you can get pretty close to them – 15-20 m.
Crossing the river
After Shingo we stop for a long rest with tea and lunch and we even take a nap while waiting for the temperatures to fall down. In the afternoon we go on the already shadowy path down the Canyon of Shingo River which pours into Markha River. When we reach it we will go along it for a few days till we turn to Leh and pass another pass at 5200 m. (17 060 feet). Markha Valley goes along Leh but is separated by it with the mountain chain Stok which we passed today. All the trek is in Hemis National Park which teem with wild animals.
Walking down is difficult though the path isn’t so hard. We reach Skyu Village after three hours and a half. Some part of the canyon are very narrow and it extremely beautiful, there are wild rose blossoming everywhere. We had to cross the river at least 20 times because we lost the path several times. At certain places the flow was strong the water was freezing cold.
At some point the canyon start seeming endless – after this bend there is another and when you think you go out there is just another, and another… I noticed this thing the canyons have 10 years ago when I first walked one in Tenerife – there I remember clearly that it seemed to me that the canyon (barranco in Spanish) had the magical ability to prolong itself endlessly.
After 10 hours of walking we are exhausted. We stopped at a place but we had a nervous breakdown because of the exhaustion and had a fight for where to pitch our tent In the end we went to bed without even having a dinner.
Camping at Skyu
06.07 – 07.07
For the last two days we can’t organize ourselves to start walking early in the morning and we usually leave around noon. We continue along Markha River. The trek is not completely into the wilderness, every 2-3 hours there is a camping for the tourists or a small village with 4-5 houses. There is plenty of vegetation in this valley so the feeling of being on the moon weakend but it is still extremely beautiful. The tourists wearing light backpacks and following their local guides continue coming. Most of them don’t bring food on themselves because they eat at the campings or villages at the so called “home-stay”. Anyway some of the tourist were pretty nice fellas.
With a tourist from New Zealand
We try to walk at least 5-6 hours a day but today we feel tired and walked only 3 hours to Markha Village – the main village of the valley with 25 houses and a small fort. At the entrance of the village we saw a girl who was showing the tourists which house to go to – the idea is all the guest houses to have equal number of guests.
Other thing that is typical for this valley is the big number of horses that transport all the goods among the villages in the region. Also the temperatures are high during the day but unlike the other high altitude place they don’t fall significantly in the night though we are still at 3800 m. (12 470 feet).
Buddha statue at Skyu Village
We have a slight problem with water because we usually drink it before reaching some village or camping (we have two bottles 1 l (33 oz.) each) and this morning we almost die of dehydration till we reach a clean looking spring. Good that before that we saw some Belgian people and asked them for a few sips. The foreigners here never drink from springs or rivers even if they are really clean. But we have no intention of increasing the plastic bottles garbage and we had diarrhea so many times already that maybe we have an immunity : )
Stupas at Skyu Village
In Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh is forbidden to sell plastic bag and instead they use paper or cloth bags so they are thinking ecologically.
The valley of Markha River
Today we get up at 6 a.m. with the idea to walk in cooler weather. We walk for four hours and pass by a small Buddhist rock monastery and a village. Finally we reach Hankar which is the last village of Markha Valley. After the village the scenery changes – the trees and the bushes disappear and there is only grass. We are pretty tired and we stop at a glade to have lunch. The sun is very strong – good that we have enough water this time.
Kang Yatse in the distance
We eat and we continue walking. The views around us resemble more and more desert. Two hours later we reach the tent camping at Tachuntse’s grazing grounds and we pitch our tent a little after the camping.
Since yesterday I have some big corns on my feet’s little fingers that are full of liquid, and I am limping for the last two hours. Yesterday I had taken the liquid out but today they got swollen again and it is quite painful. I think the corns formed because yesterday we corssed the river many times and all the time I was walking with wet sandals.
All the afternoon we sleep heavily and when we wake up we start preparing tea. At this moment a guy comes to us and says we must pay 150 rupees (2.50 euro) for the tent and we have to pay no matter which glade we choose to stay in the region. We don’t have any intention to pay him because we are outside of the camping and there is nothing like bathrooms, lavatories or whatever that we use and therefore pay for.
Camping at Tachuntse
We gather our tent and get out of there but there is a surprise waiting for us – we have to corss a river in order to continue walking but doing this here after 3 p.m. is quite dangerous. The reason is that during the day the sun melts the snow in the higher parts of the mountain and after noon the level of all rivers rises a lot. What is a small spring in the morning turns into black, fiery river in the afternoon.
We look for a spot where we could cross for 20 minutes and finally succeed. The water is freezing cold and the current is strong but we made it. We climb the hill before us and see an incredible stone hut that looks abandoned. We are now happy that we left the camping of the “whities” (that is how we call the Europeans) and we start preparing dinner.
Day six of the trek. Today we plan to only climb for three hours till we reach the next tent camp Namaling which is situated in the foot of the pass that leads to the valley of Leh. We are woken by a local who says we have to pay for the tent and we refuse to do it. The reason is that there is no camp here, we are at an abandoned shepherd’s hut and there isn’t any kind of water around us. Luckily he isn’t very persistent and leaves in a short while.
We start walking and from the very first steps I breathe heavily. We climb the steep part somehow and the pathway is level for the next hour and a half of walking. We reach a lake where we meet the other trekkers who we saw yesterday. Most of them are Americans.
We are close to Namaling now and we pass by a glade that is full of holes of mice and there are Himalayan mice running around. On the left we see rose mountains and in the right is the massive peak Kang Yatse.
Kang Yatse Peak
We see some tents in the distance and we turn aside in order not to be seen by the locals. The last few meters are very difficult to walk because my feet hurt a lot. We finally reach a spot where we can pitch our tent and we go to sleep. Maybe the strange tiredness these last two days is due to the altitude we walk on – 4700 m. (15 420 feet).
Bivouac at Nimaling
Seventh and in theory last day of the trek. We couldn’t sleep well this night because we felt lack of oxygen and had headache. I woke up several times and then when I tried to fall back to sleep again I felt like I was forgetting to take a breath – which was extremely unpleasant feeling. In the morning all these symptoms were gone. It took us some time to prepare to leave and the weather that was bad got even worse in the meantime.
We started climbing Kongmaru La Pass 5200 m. (17 060 feet) but I felt like someone is sitting on my chest so we had to stop every few meters. Finally I felt better after a series of deep breathing. Mr. Shushtari on the other side doesn’t feel anything and yesterday ran to Kang Yatse peak feeling attracted by it. It took us around two hours to climb.
At the beginning of the climbing it started raining and when we reached the top it was already foggy and snowy. But I prefer fog and snow to burning hot sun and lack of shadow for kilometers of walking.
Kongmaru La Pass – 5200 m. (17 060 feet)
The view on the other side was very different – brightly colored green and red rocks, thick grass on the ground and many nicely smelling herbs. After an hour of descending we reach the first tent soaked as rats. The ground had become muddy and slippery and we almost fell down on several occasions. There was a group of Czech students and a Polish girl at the tent. The girl plans to climb Kang Yatse Peak alone – and it is 6400 m. above sea level (21 000 feet).
The guys at the tent hadn’t hired local guides, were bringing their heavy rucksacks by themselves and weren’t following any itinerary. The Czech guys wanted to buy a bottle of rum and got drunk but they gave up at the last moment.
After a while the rain stopped and we continued our way down for two more hours. We were thinking that the trek is over but were in the wrong box. We enter a narrow canyon with some interesting rock formations. It was 4 p.m. and the river was full. We had to cross it for 15-20 times because the pathway changed directions because of the vertical rocks on the bends.
Down the canyon
The water has dark rose color and the current is very strong. The stones we stepped on to pass the river are sometimes underwater and we have to make big jumps from one to another and be careful of the strong current.
Going down the situation starts getting really extreme and it takes us more and more time to find a place to cross. We cooperated with the Czech guys in order to go faster. At a certain point we see an old stone pathway that goes on the rocks across the river. Bu it turns out the pathway is not well kept and at some places we have to climb sandy slippery rocks in order to continue. After two hours the canyon finished and when we reach the tent camp we are soaked and freezing.
Mr. Shushtari and I continue on the road and we find another abandoned hut which is perfect for bivouacking. We feel very cold and after a fast dinner we go to bed. Our sleeping bags are also wet but we put two heated on the kerosene stove rocks inside them and we are saved from freezing to death this night.
Camping at the shepherd’s shelter
From here to the first village we have only two easy hours of walking so we decide to do it tomorrow. The day was exhausting: 5200 m. (17 060 feet) high pass, than cannoning, snow and wet sleeping bags.
We walk the last 2-3 hours, we had left to reach Shan Sumdo village, through a very beautiful valley with red sands contrasting with brightly colored green rocks. The road is easy with no obstacles. The only problem is that we had run out of food and when we arrived at the village in the late afternoon there were only two pavilions where they are selling only instant noodles. We had “fishies” – this is our name for boiled dough with onion and spices, the dough is cut in small bands – “fishies”.
We bought two packets of biscuits and continued walking on the road that was now asphalted. The village itself is ten kilometers inside the valley and has 7-8 houses. This is the reason no cars pass on the road. We saw two minibuses parked in the village with the drivers sleeping in tent. But they told us they are waiting for a group of hikers to come down.
We walk for 20 more minutes and suddenly a minibus with young nicely dressed Ladakh boys comes our way and stops. This is so very lucky. They leave as at the fork for the Hemis Monastery where we plan to spend the night. We can’t see anything that resembles monastery here so we continue to the canyon.
Getting closer to it started appear giant piles of rocks which had mantras engraved on them – the most often one being “Om mani padme kum” – the most sacred and quoted Tibetan mantra and we also see giant chortens (stupa with the mortal remains if a lama or other spiritual leader). After the first curve we see hemis Village which looks like being pasted to the rocks and after the other curve we see the monastery itself – hidden from plain sight. This is the main monastery of Ladakh, built 17-th century and is now under the patronage of the royal family. Lamas for the royal monasteries are educated here and all the other monasteries in the region are under the administration of this one. It belongs to the Drukpa Order.
It starts getting dark and there was only one quite expensive restaurant at the village and we can’t find a place for the tent. The road up the canyon is blocked and while we are walking around we see a monk who sits near the laminated iron door of his house. We see that after the door there is a concrete pathway that leads to the canyon. We ask him where it goes and he asks if we wanted to go to “Gotsang”. We don’t know what this means but we say we want to go there.
He lets us in and we continue climbing through a forest. After a short while we see vacant pastures that look perfect for camping – we even have a small river with little waterfall right next to us. We cook “fishies” again and as usual go to bed exhausted.
Long “mani” wall
In the morning we wake up hungry as bears and we start running towards the village. We left the tent with everything inside it on the pasture-ground (we hoped that there won’t be any thieves in the area of a Buddhist monastery – and later this proved to be so)
We decide to enter the monastery for just a short while but inside we get lost in the labyrinth of corridors, stairs and small rooms. It is so mystic and strange that we forget our nudging hunger and we start exploring. There were praying wheels everywhere but this ones are made of leather – a kind we have never seen up to now. Some of them are pretty worn out and torn by the constant usage and inside them one can see the handwritten paper in cylindrical form – something really amazing.
Praying wheel with sutras
If someone doesn’t know: it is believed that when the praying wheels are being turned the mantras hidden inside are broadcasted in space helping enlighten all sentient beings. We slip inside the monastery’s kitchen where we see giant cauldrons with fire ovens below them. At the upper floors we see small rooms-temples with statues of different deities – Padmasambhava, Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and other.
The walls of the main room are covered with beautiful Buddhist painting – the wheel of live a.k.a samsara, held by the god of death, reminding everyone that all: from the creatures of hell through the animals and humans, are prone to changes and are mortal and there is no escape from that circle. The only way out of samsara (the eternal cycle/circle of life, then death and then another reincarnation) is to see clearly the illusory nature of the world and the hollow conceptual constructs of the mind. At the temple there are also golden stupas and a gigantic statue of Buddha and some daemon-scarecrow.
Hemis Monastery main room
After thorough investigation (we didn’t see only the museum because we were going to faint from hunger) we enter the restaurant and decide to treat ourselves. We order potato fried balls with milk sauce and herbs and raisins with almonds – everything is very delicious.
Later we go down the village and we see that the two dusty shops are closed – good that we ate at the restaurant. We go back to the tent and decide to explore the canyon up the path. We see a big stupa up in the forest and 15 min. later we reach a cave-shelter for meditations separated with rocks that formed slam chambers where one can sit.
The atmosphere is strange. Just right in front of it there are a few bushes with blossoming wild roses – here one feels like sitting in a box and meditating for eons. We climb for an hour more but the path becomes narrower because of the vegetation and the sky is covered by clouds so we decide to go back. On our way back we plan to follow a concrete path that leads in a forest.
After a few meters we see that on the top, hiding in some rocks are situated some monastery buildings. It takes us half an hour to reach them. Fog comes down and it starts raining. The place looks vacant and abandoned. Suddenly a monk appears on the roof. He shows us a small temple with very potent energies and then takes us to a room to drink tea.
It is getting dark, there is no electricity here and it looks like we are thousand miles away from the outside world. The monk tells us that at the moment he is on duty at the monastery and takes care of the ceremonies and the cooking. He says there are nine more monks at the monastery but they meditate and stop only to eat. One of them meditates for the last six years without a break and the other ones for three years.
He showed us some words in Ladakh language. It turns out that this is the place called “Gotsang”. We start climbing down in the silence of the rain and the setting sun, thinking of the strange world of Gotsang Monastery (gotsang means eagle’s nest).
The rain gets heavier and we enter the restaurant again because we can’t cook in this weather. While we eat another exquisite meal with chapatas and with the rain pouring on the sheet iron above our heads we think of the tourists who visit Hemis Monastery every day. Most of them don’t even climb to the upper floors of it where the small temple rooms are situated. Not to mention the meditation caves and Gotsang Monastery where there is nobody coming for days. The place that holds many secrets for us is the next monastery with a room with statue of a golden Buddha for others and they just pass by it and make a few photos rapidly.
We put our coats on and go back to the tent in the night rain.
It rains all day long – something that is not typical for Ladakh. In the afternoon it gets better but it is already too late. We go to see the golden Buddha that is opposite the monastery and there is a nice view. There is no electricity for two days now and our camera’s battery is dead so we can’t make any photos. So the mysterious monastery and the caves are now only for our eyes to see.