Three days on a 10-day trek across Karnak

Well, this was maybe my worst trek ever! I was planning to go on a quite tough and remote trek across the Karnak region to the south of Ladakh. Most of the 8 – 10 days of the trek are (well) over 4000 meters, so acclimatization could be the main problem – but I was already well acclimatised from Spiti, so I thought it should be fine. As long as there is not too much water (then some rivers would be hard to cross) or too little (then I wouldn’t have anything to drink).

I got off the Keylong – Leh bus on Friday the 25th near Pang where the trek begins. Of course the sign at which I should start wasn’t there, but I got off the bus somewhere reasonable, looked around for a while and decided to try to go a little further along the road, just to be sure. I hitched a ride very quickly and after some 5 kilometers saw a horsemen who told me that I was indeed originally at the right place for Pongmaru La, and so I caught another ride back, this time in the driver’s cabin of an army truck together with 5 Indian soldiers. It may sound surprising at first, but especially here in the mountains the soldiers are very friendly and helpful (and have no motivation whatsoever to try to cheat you).

So I walked on the wide, dry plains past the nomad settlement Narbu (now empty, but full of discarded shoes!) and then had to decide which pass exactly to take. Anwyay, as I was starting to climb, it went extremely badly, probably due to the combination of high altitude (~ 4300 m) and my heavy backpack. With all the food for 10 days and several liters of water, it had well over 20 kilos. That mostly decided the question of which pass to take, I went for one of the lower ones, traversing as much as possible so that I wouldn’t lose much elevation. Well, it was a lot longer, but eventually I ended up in some valley, which looked more or less right (but had no water), went down it until it finally joined the correct valley and finally found water and some other trekkers in the deserted Pogmar village.

The night (and my new tent and stove together with the illegally bought kerosene) was fine, although I had some weird dreams and sore throat (probably from the dry air). And so on Saturday I continued, first down the valley to Sangtha, another empty village with lots of mani walls and chortens. Crossing the river there was easy with water just till my knees. But after there the real fun started!

It was crossing of a very dry, almost desert landscape, some 4 hours walking slightly uphill. The sun was nicely shining, so it was very, very hot, and again walking uphill was a big pain. Plus again the dry air and since this is quite far in the south, the sun was shining almost perpendicularly, creating no shadow in which to rest. I had enough water to drink (but which was also adding to my heavy backpack, of course), but still it was extremely tiring and in the second half I had quite a trouble breathing. Well, at 4500 meters there is just a little over 50% of the oxygen that there should be, and I was breathing maybe at 50% of my capacity, which together was quite some problem.

And the region is not so remote anymore – they have already built a jeep road through some of it, and now it seems they are going to even pave it! And all that in a huge area where only the nomads live with their animals – they certainly have no use for roads like this! But at least I found some rest in a shade under a small road bridge.

Finally, before 4 in the afternoon I reached the village of Lungmoche (again empty in the summer), found water, built my tent and cooked some pasta. But I was very tired and thinking what to do next, whether to try to rest for a day, or to go back immediately, etc.

This got also decided for me: around 7 I heard some noise and saw a gasoline truck of the road builders, going down the road. I stopped them and managed to convince them to help me quickly pack and take me with them. So around 8 I built my tent again a little lower in Zara, where they were working on the road, just – as they told me – some 5 kilometers away from the big Manali – Leh road.

And so on Sunday I packed again (while a Nepali road builder curiously watched me), walked the 12 kilometers to the road, luckily avoided all the rain and thunder going around, and after some waiting caught a ride to Leh, the big center of Ladakh. So my whole famous trek was just 3 days, but still I walked some 40 kilometers at around 4500 m with a 20+ kilo backpack, which is maybe not so bad :)

Now I’ll just stay here for at least 5 days, rest and get well – and then maybe go on some easier hike with homestays, so that I don’t have to carry so much. But Leh is really super touristy, I even already met a bunch of Czechs. At least I found quite a nice guesthouse (Lardak) with a local family, which is not too over-priced (I’m paying 250 rupees per night, around 6 USD).

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5200 meter high hill!

In the last week or so I’ve been in Spiti, first travelling around a little and then spending a couple days in Kibber, at 4200 meters one of the highest villages in the world. Fortunately I’m already well acclimatised, so I haven’t been having almost any problems with the altitude.

Yesterday I went on a hike, first quite randomly, but then I saw a nice hill before the 6000 meter Kanamo mountain, and so I thought I’d try to hike up there. At first I was going up on a ridge which seemed to be going the way I wanted – but when I finally got higher up, I didn’t get only wonderful views of snow covered peaks all around me, but I also saw that I’m not really on a ridge going up the mountain I wanted to go to, but that I’ll have to descent a few hundred meters and cross a small valley first.

That was no fun, but I didn’t give up, after crossing the valley spent almost an hour climbing up a nasty, steep scree slope, until it finally leveled out and I reached the top of my hill, at around 5200 meters. It was really more like a hill, at the top there was an area of several hundred meters, which was almost entirely flat. I even tried to go for a run there and heroically managed to run 200 meters in a little over a minute (in my heavy hiking boots, of course)!

Kanamo wasn’t too far from there and looked even quite accessible through a path avoiding most of the snow on the top, but I’ve had enough for the day and just went back down, this time taking a much better path than going up. At some snow patch a little lower, I built a wonderful seven-ball-snowman! And lower still I saw some yaks, then a couple of Indians with a guide, planning to climb the mountain tomorrow, lower still quite a nice lake and ugly clouds and even some sound of thunder forming up over the mountains. And that was almost it for the day!

Tonight I’m in Kaza and tomorrow I have to get up at 4.30 to catch a bus towards Leh, the center of Ladakh. If all goes well, I should get there in the evening on the day after tomorrow – it’s gonna be some long bus rides!

Zvířata

Poslední ráno v Šimle mě probudila nějaká divná rána v pokoji. A když jsem
se rozespale rozhlídl kolem, vidím, jak zrovna oknem mizí opička a něco
nese! Pořádně jsem se lekl a běžel zavřít okno, opice se na mě ještě
výhružně zamračila – naštěstí ale sebrala jen pár banánů, co jsem tam měl.
V Šimle vůbec byla spousta opic, třeba jsem viděl 3 roztomilá opičátka, jak
si hrají a perou se na jedné střeše.

Při jednom výletu (se Španělem Sergiem) kolem Čitkulu jsme nahoře v údolí
občas slyšeli bečet ovci. Dívali jsme se kolem, ale pořád jsme ovce ne a ne
uvidět. Až po porádné chvíli jsem je našel – vysoko v protějším svahu údolí
jich byla fakt spousta, z dálky ale vypadaly jenom jako malé černé a bílě
tečky.

A předvčera jsem šel na výlet do hor nad Nakem se Švýcarem Richardem. V
okolí tam pastýři mají různé kamenné boudy, často zakryté žlutou igelitovou
plachtou a občas i s nějakým jídlem uvnitř. Když jsme se už vraceli, zrovna
jsme na jednu narazili, vevnitř byla docela luxusní, třeba se tam ze
solárního panelu nabíjel mobil. Kolem boudy bylo pár kamenných ohrádek pro
zvířata a z jedné z nich se ozývalo mečení. Bohužel to bylo malé kůzlátko,
vedle kterého v boudě ležela jeho mrtvá máma koza. Bylo to dost smutný, tak
jsme kůzlátku aspoň dali nějakou trávu a vodu – snad pastevec už brzo
přišel.

(Moc tu nefunguje net, takze tohle je uz skoro tyden stary. A jestli nekdo neumite cesky a cetli jste to s nejakym prekladacem, mate u me zmrzlinu!)

Roads, mountains, and temples (in Chitkul and Nako)

The roads here in the mountains are crazy! Imagine a sheer, steep rock face almost 1000 meters high – and in the middle of it there is the road. It’s unbelievable what effort it must have been to build these, and as they are high in the mountains, every once in a while, especially during the winter, there is a landslide, making it even narrower and more precipitous. And so workers are repairing the roads almost constantly. Riding the local buses for hours on these roads is a shaky experience, with the driver occasionally showing his confidence by texting in the middle of sharp turns.

I went first to Chitkul, a village at the end of the road in the Kinnaur district, some 3450 meters high. It’s still mostly unspoiled by tourism – there are just a few tiny shops and basic guesthouses (although more are unfortunately being built). During the 5 days I stayed there I did some great hiking in the valleys around. There are some trails and stone huts used by the local shepherds. Curiously, on a birch tree tilting over a steep cliff, there were quite a lot of dry leaves and grass, as if someone slept there at night – maybe to protect themselves against wolves who live around?

The Kinnauri people wear traditional green hats all time and follow a mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism. Foreigners unfortunately can’t go inside the temples, but I at least happened to chance on a ceremony when they were taking the deities out. Some friendly locals have tried to explain it to me, which is always tricky, with their bad English and my almost non-existent Hindi. They were for example happy when I at least put on my wide brimmed hat, as one shouldn’t have uncovered head.

Two days ago I took some more buses to come to Nako (at 3650 meters), still not a too touristy place which is already in Spiti. The local stone houses and buddhist temples are really beautiful – and old. A while ago I sit at a puja (ceremony) in a 950 years old temple (as all here, in the style of Tibetan buddhism)! There are really lots of temples, stupas, and mani walls for such a small village. Today I also visited another old one, which sits at the top of a hill. The door to the shrine was locked, but the key was conveniently just under the rug, so I managed to have a look (buddhists have nothing against people visiting the temples).

And I’ve been meeting many people, both nice tourists (with some of whom I went on some hikes) and not-so-nice groups of tourists (often from Israel, travelling after the end of their military service), for whom travelling can’t be too different from just being in their country. And of course many locals. But all this has to wait for some other time, several Indians are loudly talking behind me in the internet cafe, not very aiding sensible writing :)

Marriage, two worlds and cellphones (in Shimla)

This is a record! Just some 40 hours after arriving to India a man on the street in Shimla offered me to marry his daughter. Here’s how such a thing happens: As is quite usual here, he started talking to me, asking where I was from, what was my job, if I was married, etc. When he found out that I was single, he just said “Oh, you could marry her, she’s pretty!”, pointing to his daughter who was walking next to him. Of course he was joking and we laughed, but you never know what would happen if I said yes :)

Shimla is a strange city – it used to be a British capitol for each summer, nowadays it’s a capitol of the Himachal state, and lots of (mostly Indian) tourists visit it to escape the heat of the plains, and so it’s quite rich. The “Mall”, a central street, is full of expensive shops, Adidas, KFC, LCD televisions, … – which is fairly unusual in India. Most of the shops and restaurants here even have real registers and pay tax! But walk just a few meters downhill from there, and you are in a normal Indian town, with narrow streets, small stalls, street sellers and all else. It’s really strange how these two worlds exist so close to each other. You can even tell just by looking at the people: the rich ones have big bellies, whereas the poor ones are just smallish, thin and muscular like everywhere else. And they for example carry the fridges and other heavy stuff to the rich stores up the hill on their backs.

In the last few years, cellphones became ubiquitous in India. The tariffs are very cheap (a few dollars a month), and so everyone has one. Even the “priest” had a call while giving prasad (a little food blessed by the god) to devotees at the Jakhu temple at the top of hill here.

Tomorrow I’m taking the bus further to the mountains to Rekong Peo and Kalpa. I’ll maybe get to write something here once a week or so, I don’t want to be spending to much time in an internet cafe while here!