MICHAEL'S  STORY

PHOTO GALLERY:   TREK TO LADAKH
Some of the best of Michael's photographs were taken on the trek to Ladakh that he undertook in July and August 2001.   In the foothills of the Himalayas, with its magnificent mountains, valley and glaciers, all in stunning colours, Ladakh is truly a photographer's paradise.   The people living there, the village people, the herdsmen, the lamas in their gompas (Tibetan Buddhist monasteries), and many others, all added to the colour and grandeur of this location.

Michael's family now has the stained and dog-eared copy of the Trailblazer guide book "Trekking in Ladakh" which he took with him.   He undertook the three week "Across Zanskar" trekking route, with three Israeli companions and two guides, starting from Manali and ending in Lamayuru.   This route is well described in the guide book, in a summary on page 37, and in detail between pages 231 and 263.

This is the summary:

Starting from the south, the trek begins at the small village and road-side halt of Darcha on the Manali-Leh road, north of Keylong in Lahaul.   From here you follow the Barai Nala upstream into the mountains to a pasture called Zanskar Sumdo.   A tributary stream is followed to the Shingo La (5000m) amid fine mountain scenery.   The trail drops into Zanskar to a beautiful high-altitude valley inhabited by marmots, wolves and grazing yak.   Gentle walking takes you past the sheer-sided Gumburanjon Mountain to the first village, Kargyak.   Most trekkers make the side trip to the beautiful Phuktal Gompa suspended above the Tsarap River on a vertical cliff face, before continuing on to Padum.

The large village of Padum is joined by a rough and long road to the Suru Valley and Kargil.   It is, therefore, a convenient place to stock up with more supplies to continue on foot into the mountains.

The second half of the trail continues past Karsha, the largest gompa in Zanskar, and then follows the Zanskar River downstream, heading gradually north.   The first of the eight passes to be crossed between Padum and Lamayuru is the Parfi La, not too much of a struggle at 3900m.   Beyond lies a corrugated landscape to test your stamina.   Having crossed the Hanuma La (4700m), relax by the gompa in Lingshed before summoning strength to cross the Margun, Kiupa and Sengi passes.   The latter is known as the Lion Pass and is the highest on this half of the trek at 4900m.   Easy walking takes you over the Bumiktse La (4400m) to the spectacularly-located village of Potoksur, below a vast rock wall.   The trail winds over the Sirsir La (4800m), down to Hanupata, and through a spectacular gorge to Phanjila and Wanla.   A small canyon rises to the Prinkiti La (3700m) from which you descend to Lamayuru.

Michael was overwhelmed by the splendour of it all.   His description of the trek is much more graphic and personal!

Michael (email 13 Aug 01):  . . . Well we made it . . . 3 weeks, 400 kms and 10 mighty mountain passes led us slowly but surely into the dusty Buddhist kingdom of Ladakh.   The things we have seen!   There were days when we would almost stagger into a village that was like an oasis amidst towering razor-backed mountains of dirt.   Perched high up a nearby cliff face would be an ancient gompa.   We would climb a ludicrously steep and precarious path to reach the top and be warmly greeted by beaming, wrinkly faced old lamas who would solemnly take us inside, feed us endless cups of gur-gur chai (butter tea with tsampa) and then go about their nightly puja (mostly the reciting of mantras in Tibetan, very fast!).   I was amazed at the change of landscape after we passed our first pass, the Shingo La, and entered Zanskar.   The mountains lost none of their sheer sharkfin-like steepness.   Tthe Himalayan range blocks nearly all moisture into the north so we entered a kingdom of dirt and rock, punctuated by startling valleys of green.   These were usually fed from mountain streams that came from glacial snowmelt.   I've fallen in love with glaciers, we had to cross a couple and we saw many from afar.

The land of Yaks!!   I'll never forget my first yak!   We had pitched our tents near a raging stream that was near a small village called Kargyak on about the 7th day.   We were woken by Tashi, our guide, shaking our tent and telling us to get the fuck out of bed.   The whole village, with its herd of yaks, donkeys, horses, cows, goats and sheep in front, was headed straight for us, the smiling men whistling, yelling and throwing stones so as to keep the herd from straying.   Somehow, they managed the herd over the rickety log bridge while the children played with firecrackers (!) and we took photos with huge grins on our faces.

Our horsemen were 2 Zanskars, both Buddhist, one middle aged and one my age. They spoke pretty much no English but smiled easily enough.   I remember Chetin alternating between devoutly reciting Tibetan mantras and then teaching us dirty Zanskan drinking songs the next.   A funny little man.

After ending up at Lamayuru, west of Leh, we hopped on the top of a truck for a 9 hour ride into Leh   (It would have been 8 if the driver and his friends hadn't stopped to pray at the Sikh temple and sip tea while we sat on the roof and tapped our feet to no avail).   A bit touristy was Leh, so I got out pretty fast.   I also decided not to do any more trekking in Ladakh as it seems to have become a bit of a French trekkers mecca . . . it kinds of takes the fun out of going to any gompa when a busload of overweight froggy tourists rock up with their handycams and fluoro T-shirts.   Tonight (in 1 hr in fact) I go to Rishikesh.   By train thank god.   I've spent 3 of the last 4 days on a bus and have developed an unshakeable fear of bus drivers . . . I'm not talking about the fat, potatoish little man you see slowly and calmly driving the 400 to Bondi, but an adrenalin-charged demon of the
mountain highways who laughs in the face of all reason and probability as he overtakes round blind corners on a one laned road while smoking a fat hashish joint.

Michael went through six rolls of film, over 200 photographs, during the trek.   A selection of these is displayed in this photo gallery.


Links

 
Stage 1                Manali to Kargyak

 
Stage 2                Kargyak to Purne

 
Stage 3                Down the Zanskar River

 
Stage 4                On to Lamayuru

 
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