India 2017: Ladakh & Nubra

This summer I went to the Himalayas once more: for 7 weeks in and around Ladakh. Here is the first bunch of photos!

I flew to Leh via Helsinki and Delhi, and after a couple of days to acclimatize to the elevation of 3500 meters, took the bus north to the Nubra valley. This area is close to the ceasefire line with Pakistan, and so one needs a permit to go there. It is mostly a formality, quickly and cheaply obtained with the help of a local travel agency, but still soldiers often check it, and so I was a little nervous when I found out that my permit listed me as Danish. Luckily no one seemed to bother beyond comparing the listed passport number, and only one guard asked me in a friendly way “So you’re from Denmark, eh?” which I proudly confirmed so as not to raise any suspicion.

Anyway, with the permit I took a shared taxi over the 5400 m high Khardung La to Nubra, and there first to Turtuk, the last village before the hot border with Pakistan. Unlike the rest of (Buddhist) Ladakh, the village is Muslim and in fact used to be part of Pakistan until 1971, when India captured it. Muslims are often unhappy to be part of India (for example in nearby Kashmir), so I was very surprised when people in Turtuk were telling me that they were in fact happier there thanks to better roads and shops. And it was a friendly place, with lots of children (who were only sometimes shy), but also unfortunately not so few tourists.

Afterwards to Sumur where I chanced on a strange and fascinating ceremony. A group of monks prepared a mandala, placed on it some wood, and then – while chanting sacred texts in Tibetan – started a fire on it, in which they gradually burned huge amounts of all kinds of grains, lentils and seeds. And I really mean huge – it must have been at least several hundred kilos! I saw the first two or three hours, but it went on for all day, with villagers helping to buy and prepare the grains, making food for everyone (even I was invited for lunch), a couple of musicians blowing their trumpets… and (from what I heard) a drinking party in the evening. Apparently they do this every year at the end of the summer to bring good luck for the next one.

Then I returned to Ladakh and went to Kanji, a village of maybe 100 houses hidden in the mountains at 3800 m – although they have a school, a medical center and recently even a rough road. I stayed there for three days which were maybe the best part of my trip this year! First of all, the village and the mountains around are really beautiful, but I also had a great time with the locals. I stayed with a family, where the parents go away to town for 3-4 months each summer to earn money from tourists, and leave the kids to themselves. So the house was run by two boys, 16 and 17 years old, who were also taking care of a 4 year old baby boy, the son of their eldest brother (they were from 7 siblings, which seems like a common number there). And everything was running smoothly, although (or because!) the house had no running water or heating, and electricity only once in a while.

So I chatted sometimes with them, sometimes with the other schoolkids who were hanging around in the afternoons and playing cricket. And the young school headmaster was not only friendly, but even spoke good English, just like a small group of volunteers who were there around the same time as me running some programs for the kids in school.

From Kanji I wanted to go over a few passes and other villages to Zanskar. So one day I set off, safely managed all the rived fording and meetings with yaks, spent the night at 4400 m outdoors under wonderful stars (I didn’t bring a tent to save on weight)… and then the next day I was trying to find the way to the 5300 m high Kanji La pass for three hours, walking not far below it around a pretty glacier, but finally had to give up and return back when it was getting late and beginning to snow a little. The most frustrating part came now home, when I was looking at the pictures and saw the correct trail to the pass on one of them, quite clear and not far from where I was searching!

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