Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Padum to Darcha

Padum to Darcha : A Trip Diary

Traditionally dressed women near Padum

7/26 Padum to Reru
Please see blog entry “A Zanskar Wedding”

7/27 Reru to Pepula
7/28 Pepula to Purne

At Reru, our laundry soap is stolen. In Pepula, our dish soap and “Mister India” steel scrubber come up missing. Sonam is tearing up the tent, call for Mister India. Finally he concludes that it has been taken from our tent by the campground supervisor while he was taking the horses to graze up the mountain. “Very dangerous place” he tells us. “Many people stealing.” He goes on to describe cook tents being stripped bare of ata (flour) and shoes, just barely peaking out from under tent flies, being swiped during the night. The next morning, the dish soap and Mister India are mysteriously returned to us, laid outside of the tent.

I set off earlier than Tim and Sonam this day, little knowing my peril! I see many wolf prints, and stalking the wolves are huge cat tracks, possibly those of a snow leopard. The prints are nearly 20cm long and I photograph them next to my trekking pole to show Sonam later. On seeing them, Sonam begins shaking his head and moaning. “Oh, Oh, Oh. Very dangerous” he says. “Is Tamo. Walks like man. Long hair over eyes.” It sounds like Sonam is describing the Yeti, or Abominable Snowman!

“You do not see. If see, dead. Tear, just like paper.”

Sonam makes a ripping motion with his hands, accompanied by horror film sound effects. He shows the photo on the camera to a villager who is hanging out by the tent. The villager makes fearful sounds and they begin to converse rapidly in Ladakhi, and after reaching a consensus, Sonam turns back to me, “Yes. Is Tamo, very dangerous.”

The footprint. At the bottom near 00 cm on my pole you can see four toes. at the top a little before the 20 cm mark you see the heel.

Later that day, still hiking alone, I see a boy of maybe 12 to 14 years old walking towards me. As usual, when passing villagers, I call out a cheerful, “Julay” (hello) with a smile. The boy calls out an answering “Julay” with a smile. Then, just as he is passing by, I notice it. His pants are opened up. It is no accident. He is standing at full attention above them! I have run into the Zanskar Flasher! I continue on and don’t look back, refusing to give him the satisfaction of knowing that I noticed (after all, I almost didn't!).

Later this day, danger coming in threes, I saw two horses with riders almost fall off the narrow path and down a steep slope to certain death below. One horse startled and whirled about on the narrow trail and lost not only his own footing, but knocked the horse behind him half off the trail. It was a mad and desperate struggle for the horses to get back onto the trail, with the riders flinging themselves off and pulling on the horses any way they could. For several heart breaking seconds it hung in the balance whether the horses would make it back on safe ground, or fall to their deaths below. They did make it back on, but it was a truly terrifying moment.

Dancers we saw at the school when leaving Reru

Hiking up the river valley on the way to Pepula

The old, fortified village of Itchtar built up on a cliff on the way to Pepula.

A woman with baby I passed on the trail shortly after passing the Zanskar flasher.

7/29 Phuktal Gompa
Please see blog entry “A Day at Phuktal Gompa”

7/30 Purne to Tetha
The people in Zanskar and Ladakh are friendly and curious, with most beautiful smiles, which they freely give along with a heartfelt shout of “Julay, Julay.” The curiosity in Tetha was a bit over the top, though. This was a prosperous village, with many green terraced fields, solar cells and satellite dishes on the roofs, right next to piles of hay and dung patties for burning, and many, many children! The children and the adults alike swarmed around us, peering in the tent, coughing in our faces, fingering our things with fingers just used to pick snotty noses. Sonam tried to show them how to cover their mouths when coughing, but they only laughed at him, so it’s no wonder every child in the village was sick! A villager from the next village stopped and warned that they were looking to steal. “They OK when talking, but as soon as not talking, they stealing. Especially that one,” he says and points to a particularly persistent boy with polio who remained with us until almost dark before hopping away on his good leg, and who hopped back into camp the next morning at sunup. On breaking camp, Tim went on ahead, but Sonam had me stay with him until everything was packed, for fear of all the people stopping by to rifle through our things.

Hay and dung patties stacked on the roof of homes

The boy with polio pearing into our cook tent (and Sonams sleeping tent)

One of the villages

7/31-8/2 Tetha to Kargyak and rest days
We reached Kargyak around noon. After safely crossing six mountain passes, it was here, on a flat grassy river valley, that one of the horses was injured. Nori was kicked by the crazy horse, Poru, hard enough to crack the bone in her upper leg. The rest of this day Nori circled the tent, putting no weight on the front leg. Sonam was beside himself and kept peeking out of the holes in his tent at Nori, silent, unable to eat or sleep that night. For the first time, he took us up on the offer of some of our brandy.

The next day, Nori, was just as bad. A horse doctor from the next village came and diagnosed her with a cracked bone and did some traditional Tibetan treatment on her. The treatment was horrible, but it helped! First Nori was hog-tied and brought down on her side. Metal rods were heated up over the kerosene stove and used to burn the flesh around the wounded area. Then, with a pocket knife (our little Swiss Army knife!) the horse doctor punctured the wound. Fluid and blood poured out and Nori was untied and allowed to stand. Immediately, she was walking better, cautiously putting a little weight on the leg! Sonam spent the rest of this day organizing for a villager to keep Nori for 2-3 months to heal. He said he would try to do this trek again in September to retrieve her.

I left then to hike back a valley we were camped near. This was a gorgeous valley that jutted straight into the heart of the Himalaya. That evening, Sonam was excited and said that maybe Nori was walking well enough to go home if we went slowly. We agreed and asked if another rest day would be good for Nori. Sonam was overjoyed and agreed on a “rest day for pony, no charging.” This worked out well for us too, as I had left the camera case behind in the valley when I put the camera in a waterproof bag for a large river crossing. Tim rested most of the previous day so he hiked back to get it while I took a rest day.

Woman on the way to the fields check out our campsite

Nori, being treated by the horse doctor

Yaks in the valley

Himalayan peaks

Fireweed, which also grows in Alaska

8/3 Kargyak to Shingo La base
8/4 Shingo La base to Rumjak
8/5 Rumjak to Darcha
Kargyak to Shingo La was a gorgeous day, hiking towards a huge unclimbed granite peak and up to the base of Shingo La, which is a pass over the Himalaya range. We woke up early the next morning for crossing the pass. It was foggy and rainy this whole day, but we were afforded small glimpses of the glaciers and peaks. It must be fabulous in clear weather! Nori made it safely over the pass and back down the other side. Often we were walking on a large boulder and scree covered glacier. The weather remained rainy all the way to Darcha, so we hiked as fast as we could and cut three days of hiking into two, covering 23 km on the last day. By crossing the Shingo La, we entered an area that was affected by the monsoon.

The scariest part of our trek came walking the last 1.5 km on the road to Darcha. Trucks came roaring up behind us and did not stop as Sonam chased the horses up the banks of the road. Often times the trucks barely missed hitting them. Afraid for Nori’s leg, I led her to camp and let Sonam worry about the other three horses. It will be difficult for him going home. It is over 300 km from Darcha to Leh, and most of it he will have to travel on the road.

Our last night in Darcha was sad saying goodbye to Sonam. We took him out to dinner, drank beer until late, and promised to send him photos of the trek. This has been the longest trek we have ever done at 25 days. It was definately a very rewarding trek with beautiful views, friendly people, and interesting culture.

Unclimbed peak

Looking back as we go up Shingo La

Tim on Shingo La. Check out his shaggy beard!

Our farewell night with Sonam


Anonymous said...

I hope you left Sonnam with some of your gear! A hard way to make a living. hound dog

Anonymous said...

Now the front paw of the wolf is = in width to length, or is it the back paw. The cat's pads are obscured by the fur growing inbetween them, or is it the snowman! hound dog

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your blog on Zanskar.

arindam said...

I loved your post on Padum to Darcha. I visited Leh this year, just before the floods, and though I didn't do any treks this time, your blog made for some fascinating reading. And, btw, I have been to Alaska 4 times (live in Seattle).

akroadweed said...

Thanks Arindam. I really enjoyed northern India and look forward to returning someday.