Driving the same road – does it vary?

Some, but it’s the road from Manali to Leh and it’s magic stays undiminished no matter how often I travel it. There are more people on it, at Gramphoo the chai shop has got left up above the road and Koksar is almost merged, there are a few more dhabas. The meat curry was just as good and the overheard biker conversations just as lurid! The Lahaul valley is greener and more prosperous and utterly beautiful. Jispa is almost a township of many more camps and small hotels. The Padma lodge was nicely located and quite comfortable, though the camp across the road by the river looked much more inviting! Bara Lacha Pass brings back so many amazing memories, not least being of chocolate pudding and cream! The plains of Sarchu and the sculpted rocks beyond are timeless. The Gata loops and the spot where we crawled out from trekking the Tsarap gorge to be discovered by the nice Military policeman, oh so many moons ago. All so familiar, well remembered and so very relivable.The road to Ksokar is paved and what was an abandoned village is a thriving homestay enterprise, though I doubt any of the original owners are there. The lakes themselves have diminished, but the bird life still seems to thrive. Didn’t see the ubiquitous marmots – nor heard the whistles, but there were a lot more Kiangs than in the nearer past.Met some young people doing studies and comparisons – intense and interesting, sure we must have been so too at the stage…..now it was just nice to sit and stare, remember and build a new memory.The intention to go to Tso moriri was canned as some of the team was not feeling upto the altitude, but we drove to Leh via Mahe and enjoyed the drive. The Indus, that grand river, that always gives a thrill…the name evokes tales of travel, romance and adventure! I have never seen it like this – blue and green, such low water levels for this time of year. Lovely to look at but a harbinger of not nice things. Leh is a changed town that I am getting lost in, but it seems a lot of good, positive things are happening and so many young people doing interesting homestays, cafes and trips. The one’s that made it happen for us were Hajra and Mayas friend Jigmet of Mantra Himalaya with his happy cafe and interesting concepts. Behzad with his photography tours and super homestay in Nubra.A lovely meal at a really rather special restaurant called Bon appetite – Jigmet walked us up and up tiny alleys to emerge out into a lovely garden and quaint restaurant. It was dark but I am certain the views were spectacular. The food was excellent – lasagna, Mediterranean Nan was my favourite. Chocolate momos for desert.Driven over the Khardungla into one of my favourite valleys, Nubra. It is a gentle space of vastness. Cross the highest motor able pass into this Shangrila of spreading silver waters and sand. Striated and screed mountains and beautiful vegetation. It’s like land before time, a garden of Eden where all the so called super foods grow in wild abundance. Thorny thickets of ———-abound, Alfa Alfa is fed to cattle, hillsides of springing lavender scent the air. Wild garlic gets crushed underfoot as you walk. It’s an uncanny mix of sere brown mountains and this lush abundance. Clean, clear water and vividly blue skies. I cant get enough of it.We walked slowly up to the monastery where the Dalai Lama is coming next week to hold teachings. The burbling stream ran alongside, the myricaria and roses blushed pink and the lavender sprayed up in beautiful bushels of….I guess..lavender. Spires of poplars spear the blue, blue sky and the willow woven fences make most interesting dividers. You can fill your water bottle from the stream like in the old days. There doesnt seem to be the usual plastic blocking every water way and tree stump. I think I fell in love with a perfect spot. Dinner al fresco surrounded by wild garlic, swaying trees and lanterns, life does not get much better. I say that so often and how blessed it is to be able to do so.A drive across a river bed, a walk up a rocky outcrop in the middle of the river just short of Panamik and found a lovely lake in the middle. Came back to a marvellous picnic laid out by Sajjan and forgot his name. Perfect day – then the dunes at Hundar and hordes of people to see the camels and the dunes , but it is organised and clean most impressive. An evening around the bonfire with excellently crafted Rob Roy’s and a ‘Gajjar Chillum’! Most interesting and utterly hilarious. This is Behzad and Voygr hospitality and it was brilliant.The drive back from Nubra was very quick and we were back at our hotel in record time. The fatigue is setting in and I slept. Dinner at bon appetite again – Behzad invited Kendrup who is the warden at hemis national park and a snow leopard tracker cum conservationist. It was a tremendous honour to meet him and hear of all the work that is now happening in these amazing mountains with both the people and the other life that still manages to co exist. Good to know all these great people that add to the experience. Had an uneventful if beautiful drive to spend the night at the plains of Sarchu in a windy tent. I must say I do not fancy tent living any longer unless it is my own. Woke to rain on the roof and the thought of the Baralacha nalas made for a swift departure. Rained all the way but thankfully we crossed Bara lacha with just a smattering of slippery snow. The icing on the cake was an empty Rohtang it being Tuesday – pure bliss to not have to ask men, women, children in deep winter overalls, sweltering in the hot sun up high, avidly looking for non existent snow! Home by 4 with no crowds at all. Blessed that everything went so right.

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Ladakh – A drive over high passes

I love this drive and have done it myriad times. Am doing it again this June with some friends – if there are others that would like to join us please call 9810184360 or mail :

I have copied below the descriptions I wrote years ago – this land stays the same and still touches the soul. This will be our itinerary:

22 June 2018: Arrive at Manali and stay with me at The Lama House.
23 June 2018: Day in Manali for acclimitization – a short hike through temple woods or a picnic and a relaxed day.
24 June 2018: We drive across the Rohtang Pass into Lahaul and stop for the night at Jispa on the banks of the Bhaga river.
25 June 2018: Drive on over the grand Baralacha la – and a wholly changing landscape to camp at Tsokar Lake.
26 June 2018: Tsokar to Tso Moriri – a lovely back trail through meadows filled with Yak herders to the beautiful lake. Both these lakes are breeding grounds for myriad birds and high mountain creatures.
27 June 2018: Tso Moriri to Leh. Hotels and hot baths and wander the shops.
28 June 2018: A day to visit some of the famous monastries, explore the town.
29 June 2018: We drive over one of the highest roads crossing into the Nubra Valley – where the terrain changes again and we see another aspect of these amazing mountains.
30 June 2018: In Nubra – exploring.
01 July 2018: Drive back to Leh.
02 July 2018: Fly out of Leh. ( If you are even thinking of coming book this flight – it can be cancelled but gets harder and more expensive as it gets closer)

No of persons on the trip 3 4 6
Costs per person 96870 89720 89780

I will send the details of what the costs include if you decide to come. Most of us don’t read so much in one go.


LEH MANALI DRIVE.
GRADE :MODERATELY DEMANDING

SEASON: JUNE THROUGH SEPTEMBER

This spectacular road through the highest mountains in the world is open for only 3 or 4 months in the year – from mid June through September – crossing the Pir Panjal, the Greater Himalaya and the Zanskar ranges, it reaches a maximum elevation of 5304m. Calling this a road, maybe conferring more than it’s due, that it is a drivable route: a grand testament of human endeavor is the truth. The 476 km journey over four high passes and some of the most awe inspiring terrain in the world starts from Manali, along the green valley of the Beas river, up the steep switchbacks of the Rohtang Pass at 3978m. The Rohtang forms the divide between the verdant Kullu valley and the stark expanse of rock and glacier, in the rain shadow of the Pir Panjal range.

From Rohtang, the road descends to the Chandra River and follows it to Tandi where the Chandra meets the Bhaga River, little villages with groves of poplar, willow, and potato fields irrigated by glacial streams dot the landscape. The road continues past Keylong (district headquarters of Lahaul) and the last town till Leh, 360 kms beyond. Following the Bhaga River through Darcha and past the pastures of Zingzingbar, starts the ascent to the Baralacha Pass (4892m). “The Pass with the crossroads on its summit” – this grand pass straddles the meeting point of gigantic ranges, offering passage down four different routes, along the valleys of the Chandra and Bhaga rivers and into Ladakh and Spiti.
A rough stretch of road descends to the pastures of Sarchu 107 kms from Keylong. Now begin the wide-open spaces, dotted with the amazing textures and colours of craggy mountain faces, the gash of the Tsarap river, with it’s mud sculpted sides. The awesome world of nature’s timelessness dwarfing Man.

Once across the Tsarap river starts the grueling ascent to LachulangLa Pass (5059m), 54 kms from Sarchu. The amazing shapes and colours as you reach the top compensate the hard drive, descend along a little stream to Pang. Beyond Pang, the road crosses the Sumskyal, a deep gash marking the edge of the great Kyangshuthang plains – a massive plateau at an altitude of 4500m. Across the vast expanses of this plain are chances to see the Kyang (Tibetan wild ass), the Nabu (Blue Sheep), lots of marmot, as well as the Pashmina sheep of the Shepherds of Rupshu.
We take an interesting diversion at this point, short of the Tanglangla Pass – at 5325m, the highest point on the highway. 136 kms short of Leh a dirt road east leads to the Tso Kar Lake. We camp at this lake and see the breeding Brahmini ducks, Grebes and Black necked cranes. From Tso Kar we take a little used dirt road past hot springs and meadows where yak herders and goat herds have their summer pastures and taking a circuit north meet the highway in the Indus valley, and onto Leh and the comforts of hotels and hot baths.

(Along the regular route, once across the plain, at Dibring, the road starts climbing across the snowy reaches of the Tanglangla and descends into more inhabited Ladakh, meeting the Indus river at Upshi. Passing the Monastries of Hemis, Thikse and Shey, The road reaches the Bazaar of Leh.)

Leh is located in the Indus river valley at a crossroads of the old trading routes from Kashgar, Tibet, and Kashmir. Its importance as a trading town slowed down with the partition of British India, and ended with the closure of the border in 1962 during the Sino-Indian war. Since the 1999 war with Pakistan, and the consequent development of the Manali-Leh highway, it has become a bustling tourist town, the sights to visit are the Palace and the monasteries, and a wander through the bazaar is essential.

We can do two trips out of Leh: to the Nubra Valley and the Pangong tso lake.

For Nubra we cross the highest motorable pass at Khardungla (elevation 5359 m or 17,582 feet). Khardong La is historically important as it lies on the major caravan route from Leh to Kashgar in Chinese Central Asia. About 10,000 horses and camels used to take the route annually, and a small population of Bactrian camels can still be seen at Hundar, in the area north of the pass. It is an area that has only recently opened to the world. Still only about 45 kms of the valley are accessible. It is a tiny bit of paradise, orchards and wild flowers, the bactrian camels, wide meandering river. A discovery, leading to the highest battleground of the world – the Siachin glacier.

Pangong tso lake: situated at a height of about 4,350 m (14,270 ft). It is 134 km (83 mi) long and extends from India to Tibet. Pangong Tso can be reached in a five-hour drive from Leh, most of it on a rough and dramatic mountain road. The road traverses the Changla pass, where army sentries and a small teahouse greet visitors. The lake is spectacular, we spend the night in a camp on the banks, you get to see breeding Bar-headed geese and Brahmini ducks. If you are lucky enough to be there on a moonlit night and brave enough to weather the cold, there is magic there too, as there is all over these mountains.
wind sculpted

 

 

 

The Lama House

IMG_0677Sometimes I wonder at how to say this? All my life my dreams have come true – in some form. I remember awaking one morning in the camp that I had on the banks of the Ganga thinking – this is one of my dreams – a home with mountains and the sea, it was not the sea but the grandest river in the world and it was a camp, not a permanent structure, however my home for more than 20 years. While in that camp (which I loved and enjoyed whole heartedly) I sometimes thought I would like a proper home in the mountains by the water again. I sit here today in this huge house, the stream gushes outside and provides us with pristine water. The house is what I would term a folly, built by a Rinpoche as an advanced learning center, on blessed ground on the principles of buddhism and fengshui – amazing energy.

How did I get here? I have a crazy, beautiful family! My brother, Girimer bought this property off the Rinpoche and let it lie. Some months ago I said, I would like a place to grow pretty flowers and organic vegetables, a place to write stories, make pot pourri like my grandmother did. A place where I can knit hot water bottle covers and people will enjoy warm toes.

Giri said, ‘do it, I have just the place’. Here I am, doing it, in just the place. The neighbours call it ‘The Lama House’, so do we. It’s a beautiful space, with astounding views and amazing energy. That I have been snowed in, dis electrified and dis

watered are some of the disadvantages of getting this place up and running. That it will be up and running and amazing in very short order is a given. That all my friends from far and near will want to visit – I hope. That I have an amazing neighbour who provides fresh milk and eggs, plus looks after the apple trees is a blessing. Doubling it is the fact that he pops up every morning and plants, kiwi tress, gladioli, cherry trees, apricot trees, daffodils and irises. Promises to help with my vegetable garden, suggest exactly how the compost pit must be and in all is a store house of all the knowledge that I need.

That I have had no time to write is something that will change. That dreams come true is a given.

CASA BELLA VISTA, Manali

Manali, located in a place of absolute beauty, is a tiny town that explodes with visitors come summer. However, the valley of the Beas river never fails to enthrall, the very drive up starts to make you smile as you come through the tunnel and the high mountains open up ahead.

I have been coming here for many years, first in an old standard herald driven all the way up from Coimbatore in the south. Later on the night bus with a backpack, ready to go exploring the many amazing treks and trails that this and the adjoining valleys offer. Then on driving safaris, crossing over the high passes and into the magic mountains of Spiti or Ladakh. Every time this tiny town was the beginning of an adventure and a haven at the end of it.

In this little town, tucked away out of the hub of the Mall and the honking horns, is this haven of tranquillity, good taste; whispering pines and mountain views.

We have two self contained cottages with 3 bedrooms each (one has a kids attic too), a drawing and dining room with a kitchen. You can be self contained if you choose 0r sample the amazing food at our restaurant.

There are also two stand alone rooms.  10 rooms in all and we are open for bookings. The cottages are great for family and friends. We offer a minimum 3 night package, you can’t come to Manali for less.

View more pictures at trip advisor.

Giri created the cottages and Marta, his spanish wife came along and created the most delicious menu of all the best foods that she missed from her Mediterranean home.

If you are looking for a great holiday place this summer. We welcome you.

Call or mail at: +91 9810184360

pavanemann@gmail.com

Everest Base Camp – a trek.

Given that in all my trekking years this was never on my list, I have now done it twice.

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To me, it seemed more a trophy trek than an exploration. It is still a trophy trek for many, however, it is also an exploration of a valley of amazing beauty. The opportunity to be surrounded by some of the world’s highest peaks. A look into the local culture and enterprise of an intrepid people that inhabit the villages along this route. What stays in my mind are the many women of quiet substance that run the lodges that provide such comfort to weary trekkers, under harsh and difficult conditions. Everything is carried up here by porter or pony. First, to build some of these lodges with their crazy luxuries. Then to cater and supply almost anything that one could ask for. The logistics, the planning, the costs – and the goodwill, it is awesome.

It upsets and angers me when I see or hear  trekkers being rude, demanding and unreal about what they are getting and what they assume they should get. Every little bit in this area is a bonus to be thankful for.

‘This cake is really dry.’ complains someone sitting in the bakery at Dingboche.  At 4300 m, the fact that you can sip a fresh brewed coffee and eat a melting chocolate brownie, in a lovely warm space, is an unheard of luxury. You bless yourself and the hard working couple who smilingly make this possible and swallow the, really not dry cake, with a smile and look out at the majesty surrounding you. Marvel at the fact that you are here and able to be a part of it all. 

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The bakery at Dingboche

 

There are many day by day accounts of this trek with heights and distances and trail features. This is just a rambling from both my journeys.

The groups I led were varied. In 2014, we had a majority of women and two men. That was divided by the physically young ones and the other young ones. So though the departure times every morning were the same, the arrivals greatly varied. Also, we did this trek as per the regular itinerary, which did not work at all with the average Indian trekker – we are not the people that go off every weekend hiking up some hill in our backyard and prone to long walks in all weathers.

All those western traditions that make hardy walkers that step out briskly, seemingly conquering those ‘little bit up, little bit down – nepali flats’, with supreme ease. Of course, they succumb to the altitude same as us. Which is what many of that 2014 group did at various stages. It was mostly due to exhaustion, carrying too much and not being sufficiently hydrated. Most people do not take the hydration seriously. There is also the problem of – ‘where will I pee?’ In the loos of the many tea houses that abound, behind a rock, a bush, a tree. You seriously have to lose that inhibition and drink lots and pee lots. However, we all got to Gorakshep, which is a great achievement in itself.

This year, 2016, I had, again, a very varied group. Varied ages, varied purposes for the trip and disparate personalities. They more or less came together after a few days. However, half of them felt enough had been achieved by the time they got to EBC and chose to shift their itinerary and helicopter out after descending 2 days and getting in an extra night at the beautiful ‘Rivendell lodge.’ The other half completed the trek back to Lukla. Where bad weather finally delayed our departure, whereby most of them chose to helicopter out too.

There is nothing like a long, exhausting, pushing the boundaries expedition in an unfamiliar habitat to showcase human nature at it’s most exposed. There is also nothing that equalises people better. When your only option is get with it or get out, and sometimes getting out may not be so easy – you get to see people at their best, there worst and everything in between.

On this route, however, that little red helicopter does manage to get almost everywhere in double quick time. As was evidenced by the one crisis we encountered this trip. One person with acute AMS developing at Gorakshep. Snow falling and low visibility meant the helicopter may not be able to come in. There was no way to get her down in that weather on foot or horse. The terrain is too treacherous to be carried or to ride through that huge, boulder strewn morraine. Besides it was snowing. Administering oxygen helped as a stop gap and we would have had to keep it up through the night if no evacuation happened. I have to say, I prayed very hard for a clear window for that helicopter and badgered the insurance company, the helicopter company and all the Gods I know, like a nagging fishwife. That saviour of a helicopter appeared as soon as a tiny window of weather allowed and off she flew to the great relief of all concerned. Those pilots must be earning many points with whosoever up there is counting.

My highlights –

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Lukla airport

 

The most amazing flight into Lukla. The little aircraft, propellors whirling, flying lower than the towering mountains. Slipping over a pass almost grazing the trees and being buffeted by the cross winds to land at the edge of a cliff. I imagine my father must have felt a little of the same when landing on his aircraft carrier. Except we could not run off the runway – just run into the mountain, because the runway sloped up the hill and just as you thought you would hit, it U turns onto the apron and the craft slows – disgorges one lot of passengers, immediately loads another waiting group. Whirrs up and off it goes down that slope and launches off the edge. A quick turn around and they do this in relays all morning as long as the weather holds. Those pilots have got to be good!

What a beginning to a journey.

Lukla is a little village of red green and blue roofs most of which are family run lodges.

The first introductory walk taught us about that ‘little bit up, little bit down – Nepali flat’.

You hit the Dudh kosi river and are walking along it. Every few minutes you find pretty tea houses with flowers in pots, little gardens, growing vegetables and all so clean. It is remarkable. There are large trash bins along the way for segregated rubbish. A pretty, pretty valley. I am going to discover if these are traditional families who have converted their homes or have more come and settled this road to Everest.IMG_9560

On our first trip we stopped at Phakding which was a 4 hour walk. This made our next day a hugely challenging one. The morning was beautiful. We walked along the Dudh Kosi, climb a little, drop a little, then climbed and suddenly came to this gate. Decorated and painted in true mountain style, making sure you realise the significance of the great space it announces – the Sagarmatha National Park. On passing through an amazing vista of the valley fell below us – and of course the path fell straight down the mountain to the river far, far below. So that’s what we did, rolled down the path trying to keep the gospels of downhill walking in mind.

Many long years ago a village woman in the hills carrying that huge load of grass on her head helped me learn; keep the spine straight, hang yourself off the sky and swivel your hips – great way to save the knees and looks rather exotic too. We now call it the ‘Garhwali Matak’.

Well we descended to the bottom and hit the Dudh Kosi to walk along this raging river that originates from the Khumbu glacier and the legendary mountain, Everest.

Our group was divided by age and ability – the ‘young adventurers’ who forged on ahead and we the ‘slow and steadies’ who are diligently practicing the ‘Nepali Shuffle’, another gem of information gleaned from an old Nepali porter on a long ago trek. Take very small steps, never climb a high step if you can do a shorter one – and always walk with your breath. So the ‘Nepali shuffle’ and the ‘Garhwali matak’ allow me to walk many miles in the mountains with great ease. It is something I try and impart to anyone who walks with me – it has been a large part of my enjoyment of the mountains – they make for tireless walking which you can keep up for long hours.

So we shuffle and try to spot the young ones up ahead only to see the marvellous sight of two unlikely looking bridges, suspended in space high above the valley. Do we have to cross those and try and climb that ever rising path that goes straight up the mountain across the bridge?  We surely do and the sight makes many a heart stop. What feat of engineering created these?

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Bad photo of an awesome bridge!!

 

That bridge was awesome. Blowing wind tunnel of a gorge, swaying bridge with prayer flags flying. Crossing it was a hat holding, heart holding affair, and after came that awful, continuous climb.

Time out to introduce our great guides for 2014 : Kudumbir, Nima Sherpa and Bir Bahadur.

Kudumbir is a young man of about 27 years who runs up and down to Everest Base Camp about six times a season. ( After getting us safely on the flight back – he went back up to run the Everest Marathon.) He knows everything about the area, mountains, well being et al. An extremely well trained, well spoken, fit young man who gauged our group immediately – the ‘Hot shot young bloods’ and the ‘Aunties’.

With him are the other two, Nima speaks some English and is a great guide with a sense of humour. Bir is a trainee who has still to become proficient in communication but knows the trail like the back of his hand, and they are all willing, smilling and so hard working – it is a safe, happy feeling to be with them.

This year we had a string of support staff – all smiling and willing and guides who worked very hard. The quality that comes from having the right certification and knowledge, however, is supremely important in these terrains. With Kudumbir, I had very little to do. This year, though the trek was easier, I worked harder.

To return to the story. Somehow we finally did get to Namche. We had to leave one sitting on a tree trunk. KB came running down because I decided to call for a horse and he stayed and took care to bring her up. The rest of us plodders, put one foot before the other to finally see: first the forest check post, then a series of stairs once again and finally after many stairs – washing women – The Irish Pub – many exciting shops and at long last the NAMCHE HOTEL – just short of dark.

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Namche Bazaar

 

This year, we did not stop at Phakding that first day, but continued another 3 hours, easy walking to Monjo. Thus starting our walk for Namche the next day, just short of that lovely Sagarmatha gate and getting to the great NAMCHE HOTEL with ease, in good time for lunch!! And what a hotel! – you walk straight into this warm dining room, great rooms with attached loos. ELECTRIC BLANKETS! Such a blessing to aching backs and legs.

At the entrance to Namche the washer women and their little ghats are gone. In their place are being built gates and structures of ‘importance’ to announce the entrance to Namche.

I have trekked all over the Himalaya for many years, never have I trekked into a place like this – mid trek.

Namche Bazaar must have been a tiny village, today all but two homes are lodges – and good ones. There are shops that can kit you for a complete expedition, a bakery that sells Strudels to Chocolate croissants as good as any big city. It’s a thriving little community which runs for about 6 months of the year and seemingly does good business.

IMG_9558What strikes one along this whole route is the cleanliness, the care for the environment, litter sorting, organic farming. I spoke with this lovely lady called Maya who owns and runs the Namche hotel – my curiosity about local families or outsiders was satisfied. They are all local people who have converted their homes and created good businesses. They send their children to Kathmandu and even to India to study. The children come home to help with the business. There is a community movement for keeping the area clean and carting all the waste out. They grow their own crops of vegetables – potatoes, greens, onions, garlic.

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Maya of the Namche hotel

 

We all spend an acclimatising day at Namche and walk up to the viewpoint to look at Everest, Ama Dablam and the grand array of high peaks. The highlight, for me, was to actually see a Monal pheasant in the wild – the first I have ever seen – it was a wonderfully healthy specimen of glittering jewel colours, that just regally walked away from our crowd of ignorant, noisy viewers.

Then is was like a holiday – shopping, bakery, wifi and a jolly good foot massage from a young man who went all the way to Sri Lanka to learn the art – his name he said was Simba, later it became Sim Bahadur. He is across the street from the German bakery for any who want to try him.

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Ama Dablam ( I only do phone photos!)

The next day is just a marvellous walking day! 10 hours of it but gaining only about a 1000 feet – from Namche to Deboche via the Tengboche monastery. It was level and smoothly paved, ( a most well set up track ) around a bend suddenly the huge mountain vista opens – Everest, Llotse, Ama Dablam that stayed with us the whole day as we walked through pine, juniper and rhododendron – an explosion of sights and smells. It was the usual Nepali flat – little bit up and little bit down – though it felt more like a lot of up and down. Down, down, down to the river, across another of those long, swaying bridges. Lunch at a tea house by the water turned prayer wheels of Pungi Thanga and then up, up and up to the Tengboche monastery. Sit and listen to the monks chanting and playing their big resonant drums. All climbers of Everest stop here for blessings and so did we. Sitting in that prayer room was a transportation. The sounds fill you up and soar you out over those splendid mountains – you can manage any feat at that moment, there is so much pure energy resonating through you.

 

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Tengboche Monastry

 

From the monastery down to the Rivendel lodge was a fairyland of pink, flowering rhododendrons, interspersed with glowing white and gold Bhojpatra. A magic walk to the beautiful lodge. The dining room was warm and welcoming with the inimical wood burning stove – wooden benches and tables – really good food ( beefsteak for Rs.950 and Johnny Walker whisky at Rs.400) and comfortable beds once more.

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Rhododendron and Bhojpatra

No one mentions how beautiful this walk is. The view from my window gave me Everest, Llotse and Amadablam. The lodge sits in a lovely meadow surrounded by glowing Bhojpatra or Himalayan Birch, the peeling bark shining gold in the sunlight. Trailing fronds of lacy moss hang from the branches. The rhododendrons are a canopy of white and pale pink, sprinkling petals on the enchanting path and making a fairy scene. You walk through this forest, with the big roots of the trees criss crossing the path, prayer walls and then the river. The big bridge lies broken and atilt – evidence of the power that nature often displays. A smaller bridge fords the river and the dry, sandy trail goes up the valley till it emerges onto the early moraine of the Khumbhu Glacier. Above the tree line, the juniper turns scrubby and gnarled, and the valley opens up with the river breaking into various silver streams below. A meandering walk gets us to Dingboche – a spread of roofs watched over by the stupa – across the valley from Ama Dablam.

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The Debochhe, Pheriche area

 

From here on, you are in high, high mountains – the walking is slower, the breath is shorter as are tempers. However the vistas are unsurpassable! Ringed with mountains, cloud shadows march along shielding you from the hot sun. Mists rise and make a wonderland to stop and stare at. Which the breath makes very necessary – anyhow. The terrain now is glacial moraine, boulder strewn, harsh and rather mindless. A very steep and tiring climb brings you out at the memorial to all who perished trying to climb the mountain of mountains. If the wind chill and fatigue allow, this is a great place to spend some time reading the inscriptions and spending a moment of silence in commemoration. It’s probably better done on the way down than up.

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Khumbhu glacier

The most amazing sight is getting over a rise and suddenly seeing the whole of that huge river of ice spread out before you all the way up to the orange tents of the base camp and that phenomena – the khumbu ice fall. Littered with debris, cliffs of blue ice, milky blue lakes, ice shards like buildings, spiking up from the mass and all of it creeks and groans if you stop and listen enough.

 

This is also the area to find the snow cocks with their guttural glocking. Himalayan thrushes with their tuneful whistles abound. The call of the marmot can be heard and the pikas with their shy inquisitive faces peep out if you sit still enough. Myriad flowers of most exotic shape and colour bloom all over, potentilla, gentians, delphiniums, anemones, asters, primulas and a hundred others that I only know as scientific names that I cannot recall. You just have to make the time to sit and stare.IMG_9855

In 2014 there were no climbers at EBC, no city of orange tents, not a soul, but the cairn of rocks with the fluttering prayer flags. Thus, going and touching that barren wilderness, struggling over those enormous boulders for a photograph of black rocks, it hit me so forcefully, why would i want to do this? Stopping at every two steps, exhausted beyond measure from waking at 4.00 am and walking from Lobuche to Gorakshep in bitter cold, with icy winds and darkness. Getting there, having breakfast and heading out to this empty EBC. It was done by half our number and the rest were satisfied by having gotten to Garakshep at all.

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EBC tent city photo by Amit Singhal

This year it was different, it’s still an unassuming area of dirty black rocks – but it was littered with those little orange tents, pitched higgledy piggledy wherever a tiny flat could be found. All the group did it. But it was because we had a rest day to do it in. Not straight out of Lobuche and back down. Snowy ground, but a clear, clear morning, everyone fit and ready to go, other than the one person who we had to finally evacuate. There were climbers to be met, stories exchanged and lots of photos and excitement. Perhaps this is the whole purpose of EBC, if there is one?

 

We returned to the tragic news of the death of climbers that were met at EBC. May they rest in peace.

George Mallory said many different things about climbing Everest – but the last few words of this quote resonate:

“For the stone from the top for geologists, the knowledge of the limits of endurance for the doctors, but above all for the spirit of adventure to keep alive the soul of man.

― George Mallory

Confusions of alone.

IMG_8080Lonely – the heart or the mind? Neither actually, physical loneliness is what I think it boils down to. The heart can be full of love, the mind can be happy with the day, the flower, the circumstance, a book, a movie, the very air.

No one to sit by, no one to turn and smile at, no hand to hold. Physically alone.

Such a happy place to be when you need to make a decision, get up and go, not seek an opinion, not worry about anyone, no one to ask and no one to tell anything at all. So much ease and bliss.IMG_8365

I love travelling alone. You can decide where to go, for how long, what you most want to do there and it’s easy.

I love being home alone, wake, sleep, lounge, grunge, eat, not eat. No answerability.

Perhaps, when you sit in that cafe in the evening, it might be nice to chat about your day, what you each saw – if it was different, or what you each experienced if it was the same. To perhaps discuss what to do the next day. To even share a bad moment or a IMG_8415magical sunset.

Perhaps, wake to a smile, share a breakfast, feel a touch, walk a walk, cuddle a goodnight. Throw a tantrum even.

I actually tend to think alone people would be very good companions to have. Alone people have had lots of time to think, grow and gather experiences. They have leisure to introspect and understand. They have the ability of silence and observation. They have the value for a companion.

Perhaps, I would like to find another alone person to be alone with.IMG_8148

Trekking the meadows of Kashmir

Kashmir, always evocative of romance. The last time I drove through on my way to the Zanskar, I found the magic of the houseboats. This time was closer to the childhood Kashmir of cottages in Gulmarg – picnics in the meadows et al.

Dilshad said, ‘you have to come on this trek.’ There are no have to’s for me when you offer me a walk in the mountains – I would live my whole life out of a tent opening to incredible vistas every morning. That I manage to do it more often than not, is the greatest blessing.IMG_8250

The first time I ever flew into Kashmir, the airport was the beginning of the enchantment – there were fields of red poppies nodding in the jetstream of landing aircraft all along the runway. I don’t know if that still happens in summer, but there were certainly no poppies this October day. It was cold out and nice to anticipate the, brisk weather, walking. We had what was meant to be a quick car ride to our trek start point in Tangmarg – unfortunately – it was delayed by a traffic jam at road works blockaded by trucks. Just the usual fare. We started our trek from Tangmarg rather late, down to cross the river where the bridge has been swept away by the floods last year. The bridge still not fixed, but the large pipes that carry the water from the small power house were all in order. We scrambled over pipes and slippery boulders to the village of Drung. IMG_8138There IMG_8139was produce being dried in fields and on rooftops, corn and vegetables, getting set for the winter. We moved on through, being greeted by so very polite school children, all rosy cheeked and clean.
Our first stop was in a meadow surrounded by pine and fir, close to a now abandoned Gujjar hut. The family and buffaloes having moved down for the winter.

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IMG_8280IMG_8142We stopped to eat our lunch. The air was crisp and clean with the smells of pine and fir. There were remnants of daisies and buttercups reminiscent of the passing of summer. Our trek continued crossing burbling brooks and through forest and meadow – we passed an ancient Hindu temple, built by the Mughals apparently, now in ruin
s and shelter for cows it seemed. It was beautiful with fall colours on the few Chinar and wild Walnut trees. Carpet of green, gold and red. I was also imagining it in summer, the riot of wild flowers and colour that we could see remnants of would be in full bloom and make for an element completely different to the one we were experiencing. It never ceases to amaze – how well nature clads herself with impeccable style, colour and taste – perfectly suited to the seasons!!

IMG_8226IMG_8227We did a two day route in one and were rather hurriedly clambering up hills and down dale to get to camp before dark, which took away some of the enjoyment of stand and stare time, which is what I savour most when on a walk like this. However our guide Wali Mohammed would saunter off way ahead of us and then lie on a rock meditating, while we scrambled to catch up. He would look pityingly and ask if we were ‘ok’ or needing a rest? We did not dare need a rest so on we would trudge – him with his easy loping stride and us with our ‘Nepali shuffle’ slowly up the mountain. IMG_8146We did make it well in time, coming up below the high Gondola wires and through a large Gujjar and ‘Ghorha wala’ settlement to descend down into a charming meadow surrounded by firs and bordering a stream.IMG_8264IMG_8149Our camp was set and waiting and the fire was lit to warm our frozen selves. A new moon appeared in the twilight blue sky and all was oh so good with the world. IMG_8148It’s that moment that one breathes a sigh for the magic and gives thanks to whatever has led you to be here now.

To wake to the sun gilding the mountains and emerge into this brightening world out of a warm cocooned tent – it is one of those special joys of the trekker along with sweetly sore muscles. IMG_8224-1We were going up and over the ridge to the Frozen Lake. Crossing the tree line and up into the barrenness of browning meadow and giant scattered boulders, is not so exciting in biting cold. Then the clouds came and blocked out the light making for more ‘Drear’! Totally joyless walking when it’s meant for pleasure is no one’s idea of fun. We diverted through an enchanting forest of Bhojpatra, bone white tree trunks with flaking, paper thin bark.IMG_8239
Myriad coloured leaves that crunched underfoot, we stopped for our picnic lunch in this wonderland. Continued traversing the ridge and climbed down to the Cable car – which zoomed us up to the ridge we would have been walking across. Short cutting totally. IMG_8259By the time we reached the top it was hailing and raining and an absolute white out. The frozen lake would have to wait for another time, when perhaps the meadows would be a burst of interesting wild flowers to make that trudge more palatable.

That night as we lay snug in our marvellous tents it rained and rained and rained. I woke to the call of nature, which went unanswered because I kept waiting for the rain to abate. It didn’t at all and I finally put on my rain jacket and emerged into a breaking dawn – the toilet pit was flooded making for a natural water closet – no details here. The dining tent had stuff piled up on the table and water channels crisscrossing the floor. We had a makeshift breakfast and decided to abandon a further trek to Ningal nalla and just clamber down into Gulmarg. It turned into another enchanting walk through the rain with the mist enshrouded trees and the streams bursting their banks.
IMG_8282I must admit I could have walked some more – it was so beautiful. Unfortunately we very shortly reached the roadhead where a car and driver awaited us – he surreally appeared out of the mist holding a placard. IMG_8283We transfered to the posh Khyber hotel – where admittedly the bathrooms and the rain showers were a very acceptable luxury as was their spa. A steam and deep tissue massage were very welcome to cramping, cold muscles.

We then wandered into a lovely old village near Tangmarg to visit an old home where carpet weaving was taught. All handicrafts are essentially winter activities in most hill areas – the short summers being used to grow a crop or do outdoor work as required. The kashmiris along with having the most spectacular scenery to dwell amidst, also seem to have the most beautiful crafts and artisan work. From their fabulous carpets to the gossammer woven, intricately embroidered shawls. Beautifully carved and crafted wood work and furntiture. Papier mache art with it’s skilled painting – they truly are a talented people. Watching those spinnners and weavers sit in that old room with the misty daylight that barely penetrated the dusty windows was a fascination.IMG_8286 Their strips of pattern strung in the threads above, their nimble fingers didn’t seem to pause and obviously they made no mistake to the intricate pattern they wove. In turn we also seemed to fascinate the whole family who came to peek at the strangers peeking at them.IMG_8293IMG_8296

Our day ended with hot chocolate at the Highland Park bar, I needed to go check out an old haunt – it was much the same and it was nice to see that though Gulmarg is unrecognizable from when I knew, all the new structures have the same old architectural style – it is still the large meadow of memory and has not been high rised and built into oblivion.

This is what I would term the perfect short trek,  – it is utterly beautiful country, comfortable walking terrain, great campsites and ends with an option of opulent luxury.