Monday, August 17, 2009

Through the Indian Trans-Himalaya

Parang-La trek

27th July – 03rd August, 2009

The land is so barren and the passes are so high that only the best friends or fiercest enemies would want to visit us.

- Ladakhi proverb

The barren Himalayan land of Ladakh, with its inhospitable terrain has been a stimulant for adventure lovers all around the world. The trek from Spiti to Ladakh over Parang-La is a voyage into heaven; also it is a test of fitness to march over 5,578mt (18,300ft). The waters of Tso-Moriri changes colors as the day progress and the barren, snow capped mountains resemble it with an imagination of an artist. Walking over the high mountain passes and revolving the prayer wheels of the fascinating monasteries, words cannot describe its all about experience.

Last month, I also took a remarkable voyage through this awestruck and highest mountain system of the world. Though the trek was to start on 27th July 2009 but we reached there one day in advance from Shimla.

Shimla to Kibber village (4,205mt), the starting point of the trek, is 15- 18 hours of drive through the rough Himalayan roads. Due to some unwanted delays we could make till Tabo for the first day. Tabo wraps up a 1200 years old rich Tibetan Buddhists culture and tradition in expanded complex of monasteries. Continuing further, to Rangreek, a small village at the bank of river Spiti, we met rest of the five Dutch nationals who were the guests for the trek with us. Later on we drove up to Kibber for overnight stay.

They all are members of a Dutch social organization, which adopts an area for five years. They organize medical camps in the villages around the area and distribute medicines to the public, they mainly emphasize for the welfare of the community especially children to these forgotten Land of northern India.

Day 01

The dawn broke behind the snow clad mountains and after breakfast the crew set ready for a week long march through some of the most stunning landscapes and highest passes on earth. I, along with my colleagues Kavi, Jawahar, the cook, and there were three other Horsemen and ten Horses with our five guests. From Kibber we descended into a deep gorge, Shilla Nullah, which pours the glacial deposits of Shilla peak. This is the highest peak in Himachal Pradesh.

Advancing gradually up, we came across small terrace farms loaded with green peas Dumle, a fertile patch of land with abundance of water for irrigation. The sound of the horse bells, walking uphill was in perfect harmony with the solitude of the place. Three hours of serious walk ended at a flat ground on the mountain ridge, 4,740mt, and this place hosted La-Darcha, a famous ancient trade fair held by Ladakh, Tibet and Spiti. Thus we were on the same trek which for centuries remained as a famous trade route.
Descending downhill to the other side soon we came to a flat meadow which concluded our first day walk. The camping ground framed the panorama of snowcapped mountain ranges enveloped with mist.

One of the guests was admiring the landscape with binoculars near his tent and he suddenly yelled that he located a herd of blue sheep that added the sites to be more beautiful. At dusk, the white snow on the mountains turned into golden and the atmosphere around was purely meditative.
From a distance one could senses the delicious aroma from the kitchen tent as our cook was busy to make a taste of the wilderness. The group came for the dinner in the kitchen tent as it was cozy and finally host at their respective tents.

Day 02

Early in the morning we prepared breakfast and lunch for the guests and at eight after breakfast Kavi along with the guests started for the base camp. We started after an hour down into a deep gorge with the river at the base.

This was Chor nullah (thieves gorge), named after the incidences of robbery which used to occur during the La-Darcha with the traders here. Following the river upstream for an hour, it opened into steep and a sharp uphill welcomed us. Kavi along with the team was visible from a long distance and very soon they disappeared high into the mountains.

Unfortunately for the second day of the trek also, we missed our lunch because it was being carried by Kavi who was now not visible behind the mountains. Jwahar (cook) and me had water, admired the landscape and continued towards the campsite. Now the trail become steeper and we could felt the thin air.

Suddenly behind the big rocks a dark face appeared, he was a Laddakhi (native of Ladakh), carrying nothing and slowly coming toward us. We said Julae (means hello) to him he smiled, after a brief conservation he revealed that he started two day before from Korzok (which will be ending point of our trek) along with his friend. And he said they had to reach at Kibber by evening. It was unbelievable; the trek which we are going to do in seven day these people could do it in three days.

Saying goodbye to him we continued and after an hour we were at the campsite. The group had also reached the base camp, Borojin (5,300mt) at the same time. As usual tents were pitched; tea and snacks were served to the group. The blue sky and the mountains above us were suddenly enveloped by thick clouds and it started snowing. The temperature dropped to zero. The entire team was briefed at dinner for the next day and soon everyone returned to the tents.

Day 03

This is going to be a big day, with some unknown reasons I was not able to sleep for the whole night. But still I was confident to make my day. After breakfast, at 730hrs along with the guests we (Kavi and me) left for the pass. But interestingly there were no signs of altitude sickness or fatigue to me; we all steadily advanced towards the pass. The Spanish group which has started an hour ahead of us was visible now. At wide chunk of glacier we all had rest for a while; two of the senior members were slow with the pace so we waited for them too.

The last stretch was almost a kilometer but now at an angle of eighty degrees, amount of oxygen in the air was very low. We all overtook the Spanish group, and in about another thirty minutes we all were at the pass.

In between Kavi assisted the senior lady doctor of our group with her daypack to the top of the pass. 5,570mt, from the mean sea level, at the top of pass there were celebrations, the team were overwhelming with the stunning panorama of the snow capped Himalayas.

I felt myself in a meditative mood; sat down quietly and gazed the mountains for a while, my eyes were moistened, and it was memorable for me and Kavi because we were together for the first time. I was carrying some prayer flags, I handed over to Kavi and with others he tied them as a mark to the holy mountains.

Mountains in ancient days were considered to be holy and often refer as god. There is an old saying that mountains are true divine structure that never moves. I wonder if my faith could move this mountain. For many ages these mountains were remained untouched and largely resembled the purest form of holiness. And some folk reveals that this is the place where sky and mountain meet.

In Buddhism, it is believed that tying the prayer flags on the mountain passes and the places with high winds, the prayers written on them will travel along the winds far.
Soon everybody got indulged in photography and then horses also reached. They also got warm welcome from all of us.
The view on the other side of the pass was equally stunning; it was a long, wide and seems endless. Semi-circular glaciers going deep down the valley. The snow has becoming loose by the heat of the blazing sun.

The next step from the pass was on to a glacier, which provides main source to a fascinating river called Parchu, it goes like a story as one describes about this River. More than a kilometer long glacier, down the valley is being fed by almost eight other glaciers on the adjoining sides. So, the interesting story of Parchu starts from Parang glacier in Ladakh, finds its way down and flow across 45kms long through Tibetan plateau. Again enters India at Sumdo check post, on the way to Tabo from Nako.

As the glacier melted, it was a bit tricky to walk on such surface; it made us to take each step very carefully. Otherwise, these crevasses can turn into frozen graveyards. We all proceeded down but just few meters below, the horses got struck in the deep snow. The horse-shoe injured their hind legs badly, the snow turned red as it bleeds and continue walking. This was serious concern; with the help of other horseman we decided to shift the loads till the end of glacier. Everyone felt pity for the poor animals.

The terrain turned into a loose rocky field as we descended into the valley. From either side of the valley, rattling of the rocks brought by the strong flow of the water left us confused. Leaving the group behind I rushed down to find a safe passage on the other side of the river, which now turned quiet fast with the glacial melting. A glacier made it easy for all of us to cross the river.

Within an hour of walk we all were on the plain by the bank of Parchu River where we decided to host the night. A hot cup of tea along with the some snacks refreshed each one of us. Soon, the sun hides behind the mountains and ended our third day.

Day 04

A glorious morning wakes us up to prepare for the day; we left the camp around eight in the morning and crossed the icy River of Parchu. Leaving the mountainous terrains behind, a lengthy flat ground shaped by Parchu welcomed us to march on its plains.

In the afternoon we had our packed lunch, and continued to descend into a funnel shaped valleys, the cliff was miraculously created by the movement of glaciers. As we walk up on its steep trail later in the evening the valley started to converge again.

On the way we met few groups, some ready to camp while others setting up their camps. Suddenly we saw a herd of yak escorted by a father and a son. The boy disclosed that they were going to sell these yaks in Kibber.

Little worried, I inquired Kavi about the campsite as it was going to be dark after an hour. “An hour” he replied, tiredness was clearly visible among our guests. Crossing a fast flowing glacial stream, we stuck because our trail was thrashed by the river.

There was no way except a steep climb which seemed endless as sky at that time. Surprisingly, I noticed a partly ruined passage not far away from where we were gazing. As the sand was difficult to hold the step, I led the team to follow my steps, and finally we all made it to the campsite.

At dinner, we discussed the day and everyone was delighted with their effort. Departure at seven was decided for the next morning.

Day 05

Everyone was curious to cross Parchu River in morning and it took four hours to reach Norbu Sumdo, where Parchu River makes a flat ground and thus easier to cross it.

Following the same trail further sixteen kilometers will leads us into Tibet but our destination was Changtang (Korzok). We all took off our shoes and changed to slippers, Kavi instructed the group about crossing of the river.

Though the water was less and the river was divided by small scattered islands that made us easy to cross.

From the other side we saw a pair of Kayang (wild Tibetan ass) as we were entering Changtang wildlife area.
Now we could see the green patches laid by Tso-moriri Lake but the lake was still in distance. We passed few settlements that have been deserted by nomadic tribe on the way. The day ended by the bank of Tso-Moriri Lake.

As the sun was setting behind the snow capped mountains, deep blue waters of the fresh lake sparkling into golden surface, Oh Lord! Teach us how to make thy creation more beautiful, words cannot describe such a stunning panorama. We camped near the lake for the night.

Day 06

A relaxed day beside Tso-Moriri and a short walk with option to decide the campsite was the itinerary for the day. The area of Changtang (Korzok) around Tso-Moriri Lake is a reserved wildlife sanctuary. The wildlife includes Kayang (Tibetan wild donkey), marmot, blue sheep, and ibex with some rare species of aquatic birds like Siberian crane, a migratory bird that travel thousands of mile and use this lake as their breeding grounds.

After a late breakfast we decided to move further, admiring the never ending blue waters of the lake as if an ocean locked between the Himalayan Mountains. We got enough chances to spot many beautiful birds including bold headed geese and black necked crane. Time fled fast like the shadows of clouds over the mountains and after five hours we decided to camp by the bank of the Tso-Moriri.

Later in the evening, winds were fast, noise of the waves broke the silence around. We decided an early dinner.

Day 07

The trek was going to end after five hours of a walk; this was the discussion at the breakfast. Few of our guests were getting sentimental about our memorable trip, as we continued walking by the lake, there were many travelers coming to see the lake that can never be imagined. Some are here to witness the Lake for a day while others to test their fitness over the Parang-La to reach Kibber.
Our trek ends as the lake ended and from a distance I could see a little mark of the road that shall lead me home. It was a delightful moment as we saw the terraces of the barley fields near a small village Changtang after a week long journey through the wilderness.

The place was so calm and people were so gracious, if I were sent as a soldier to demolish this mighty yet magnificent, powerful yet peaceful and uninterrupted settlement I shall chose to live with them as a warrior to protect them. There’s no enemy other than the gentle noise of the waves that opens your sense to admire them more and more. We pitched our tents on a flat ground near the village and stayed there overnight.

Day 08

Now the trek has e over, we packed our things in the cars, and left Changtang village and drive towards Leh over Tanglang-la (5,300mt).

It was quite a luxury to be in the car after a week long trek through meadows, gorges, cliff, passes, rivers and glaciers. We sang, shout, laughed and shared our joyous experience as we travel on the way home.
We reached Leh at 9 in the evening, we bid goodbye to our esteem guests to leave next morning for a non-stop 32hrs drive home to Shimla.


Jacob Kamei said...

very interesting update...Parang-la
i comment on yr other om.....something also

Jacob Kamei said...

bredamake it to be one of the finest Blog of Himalayas

tim said...

Hi Sanjay,

I just finished reading your blog about our amazing trekking... You did a great job and were really able to describe our journey in such a detailled and almost poetic manner, that I will recommend it to everbody who wants to know about our trekking! Really great!!!

Hope to speak to you soon!

Greetings, Tim Kelder (the one with the long hair ;) )

Jacob Kamei said...

just wonderfullllllllll

Treks in Himalayas in India said...

the Himalayas, home of the snow, is the most impressive system of mountains on the earth, and for centuries the setting for epic feats of exploration and mountain climbing / treks.