Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Trekking in Ladakh

Having spent a couple days in Leh acclimatising, it was time to head out into the hills and get some trekking done. With the Annapurna Circuit trek being my big one, a shorter 3 day/ 2 night trek seemed a good idea to whet my appetite for the outdoors.

Decided to just get a guide for the three days, cheap enough and just makes things hassle free, plus there's nothing wrong with being lazy once in a while.

Day 1: Leh (3400m) to Urutze (4150m)

This first day was a breeze, just the thing to get you in the spirit of things and make you think you never lost any of that fitness you ever had. Started with a meandering drive from Leh to Zingchen, a small area where there is the odd guesthouse/ place to get some tea and the start of many treks into the Markha Valley range.

The walk was only about 4 hours the first day, negotiating small streams and gently easing into a walking style that suited you accompanied with the odd stop for photos and all important chai (milk tea) stops. By the time we were warmed up though, we had reached Urutze and that was it for the day. Literally one local's house which is used as a home stay for many trekkers, with dorm rooms on the roof, tents and smaller rooms adjacent to the main sitting room.

Road to Zingchen

Valley through the hills

Pack horses carrying supplies

More rocky terrain

Approaching the homestay at Urutze

Homestay at sunset

Day 2: Urutze (4150m) via Kanda La Pass (4900m) to Skui (3450m)

This was a dog of a day, nothing like the gentle warm up of yesterday. Started with a simple breakfast of butter and jam on chapati, a real stimulant and energy boosting meal. Needless to say the going was tough from the start, unlike the first day where it was a slow and gentle pace with hardly any noticeable increase in altitude, this day was just a brutal assault when we had to go 800m up to reach the pass and then 1500m down to the village of Skui at the end of the valley.

Going up was slow. After about 30 minutes we reached a local encampment where porters and guides were tending to the equipment they were hauling up for their respective clients who had gone on ahead by this stage. From here on it was just up.

Looking back was depressing for the longest time because the tent in the encampment never seemed to shrink in size, whenever you turned around it was just there swamping your view. Eventually, we rounded a corner so we knew progress was being made but still, the track just went up and up with no respite, no flat sections at all.

After what seemed an eternity, four hours, we reached the top of Kanda - La Pass and our max altitude of 4900m. As usual with these passes, there were Buddhist prayer flags and chortens erected by the locals which always look beautiful in the stiff peak breezes.

Going down was horrendous. Not sure if it was the blazing heat from the sun where there was no escape or the sudden change in altitude but my body wasn't having any of it and pretty soon my going was seriously slow, I had a crushing headache and everytime I looked up the end was never nearer. In short I was having a nightmare and was really struggling.

Managed to force some water in me and get a little more hydrated and but even still, by the time we reached Skui I was totally drained and what should have taken around six hours was more like nine hours.

Lying in a bed I was able to get some rest and after a few bowls of soup and Indian staples of dal and rice I was feeling much better. Couple that with a decent enough nights rest and come the morning I was a whole person again.

View from behind as we climbed to the pass

View up to the pass

More paths up
View from the pass

View down the valley from the pass


Day 3: Skui (3950m) to Leh (3400m) via Chiling (3400m) and the Zanskar River

Having pretty much passed out and gotten some sleep, I was feeling much better about things today. That, and the fact it was a doddle walk to where we were getting picked up to go rafting  as well. The walking was a relaxing pace and there was minimal to no change in altitude during the walk so maintaining a steady rate was easy enough.

From Chilling we were organised into groups for the rafting. It's just about the season for it here and apparently the rapids are Grade 3 so there would be some excitement on the water but nothing too crazy. Grade 4 or 5 rafting somewhere else maybe later.

Once everyone was kitted out and the safety precedures had been shouted out, everyone got in their respective boats and began the 28km journey downstream to the little village of Nimu. Halfway along we had a ten minute break, not sure what for, before finishing off the ride. There was an all you can eat lunch organised at the end and with a belly full of grub after a fun day outdoors I was feeling much better.

More green now at lower altitude

Suddenly the green disappeared again

The barren lanscape we're used to while crossing the river in a crate

Boats on the Zanskar

Posing during our 10 minute break

Shot of the group
There's plenty of trekking available in the Ladakh region with excursions ranging from solo to group, arranged to self planned and all with varying degrees of length and difficulty. Unfortunately, with only a short amount of time planned for the region due to my future Nepal commitments, I only saw a small amount of what Ladakh has to offer. However, with more time I would love to have explored more of this unique and picturesque area.

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