Home > Trekking > Stok Kangri trek – some notes, and a diary

Stok Kangri trek – some notes, and a diary

Notes

A long trek sometime around the summer has become a much awaited annual event. As the new calendar year came up, friends who I had done last year’s Annapurna Circuit trek with, started throwing up options again. After a fair bit of back and forth on WhatsApp, we finally zeroed in on Stok Kangri in Ladakh. The chief motivation for some was the thought of a 6000m+ summit climb. If you are mainly a trekker (not a climber) and want to have a 6K+ on your resume, Stok Kangri is supposed to be the one to tick.

For me though, just the lure of trekking in Ladakh was motivation enough. I’d read and heard so much about the unique landscape there, plus the fact I’d never been to J&K before made it really alluring.  July- Aug was the best time weather-wise, so we locked it for then.

For the onward journey, the plan was go by road from Srinagar to Leh to help with the acclimatisation.  We were lucky to drive past just a day before a huge landslide along the route caused a  massive traffic pile-up tens of Kms long. The road trip was super fun, good decision in hindsight.

 

Leh turned out to be a great location – typical trekking-base town, nice to hang out. Visited the lovely monasteries, hung out at the cafes.. even did some rafting  on the Indus (the river’s very muddy, more apt to call it ‘brown water rafting’).

Also took in Pangong lake. Beautiful, spectacularly beautiful.  The scene that unfolds as you reach there after a long drive.. the WP_20150715_13_34_44_Prounending stretch of shimmering, turquoise water framed by gorgeous mountains. Just takes your breath away. Totally worth making a trip to Leh just for this one vista. And you better go there soon, before the 3 Idiots fan base makes this place look like Juhu beach.

The Ladakh terrain is stunning. Such a visual treat. I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy trekking through a mostly barren landscape, but it just blew me away. Couldn’t get enough of the magnificent mountains in their different hues and the saw-toothed peaks, the deep gorges which made you feel like you’ve walked into the set of Mackenna’s Gold. Uff. Will remain etched in memory.

Ate Maggi. In one kutti tea stall near Chang La pass, where the lady owner had a key to use the loo. Divine. (the noodles, not the…. never mind).

Got lucky with the weather. Most of the time. Avoided the landslide. During the trek, made it to camp just seconds before the heavens opened up, two days in a row. Was generally warmer in the daytime than what I had expected, but  the weather changed quickly, especially as we went closer to the top.

Summit attempt got scuttled by the weather, though. We picked the best time of the year for this trek, so it was extremely  unusual to see this much snow near the peak. A 12 hour summit trek in good weather conditions was made almost impossible by thigh deep snow after base camp. Some of the folks in the groups were a bit despondent on coming so close, and not making it to the top.

Didn’t matter much. I sign up for these trips because I love to be in these mountains. Period. (Cue for the cliché  – like life, these treks are about the journey and not the destination – but this line, I totally believe in).  Staking a claim on top of a peak is not what it’s about, for me. Also interesting to see the language that is used in general, for these endeavours – we use terms like  “I conquered the peak” etc. Almost as if we are at war and these glorious creations of nature are an adversary to be defeated. In a way, it’s good to be reminded of our utter insignificance in the grand scheme of things.

Was reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction during the trek. The impact of human lifestyles on the planet is felt most in these high mountainous regions.. Seeing it unfold via these unpredictable weather patterns made her message more relevant.  Climate change is real. Glad I’m not going to be around when we get to the part of scything our own feet with the axe (bad translation, sorry).

A big shout out to Rimo, the outfit which organized the whole thing. The food (by far the best I’ve had on a trek) , guide- member ratio, everything was way above expectations. Got majorly spoilt. Three cheers to Kon Chok, Nono, Purphu and Tserring for sheperding us at all times – you guys were awesome!

Overall, wonderful time spent in the magnificent Himalayas, as always. So many great memories. The usual suspects from last year – Bond,  KV (strutting-her-new-Down) , Ved… and the friends who I trekked with for the first time –   full-of-grit Manpreet, Anto (the boy who wanted to see snow , a.k.a JMMABC ).   Thanks for an amazing time, guys… Here’s to next year.

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The wife decided to get on a Himalayan trek, after a long break. Goecha La in Sikkim was our last one together, 7 years ago. Leaving A1-A2 to deal with life on their own for 2 weeks was a difficult call, but glad that we did.

Made this one special.

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On the last morning, as we were driving to Leh airport for our flight back, we passed a billboard for the Ladakh marathon. We both had the same thought – 7 years older we may be, but also much fitter – coming back next year, for sure.  🙂

Trek Diary

Day 1: Delhi – Srinagar – Mulbekh

A boisterous reunion of old friends from last year’s Annapurna Circuit trek at Delhi airport.  Ved, Bond, KV and yours truly WP_20150713_10_22_15_Procomprise the usual suspects meeting again – happy memories are recalled,  and fresh ones beckon. Some new faces this time: Vani, Manpreet and Anto, who’s the youngest of the lot and is promptly christened by Manpreet  as JMMABC (Junior Most Member At our Beck & Call ). Anto’s farthest journey north of Bangalore till now has been work trips to Gurgaon and he is left wondering what he’s got himself into. 🙂

Our itinerary has been planned such that we don’t fly directly into high-altitude Leh. Instead, we take the flight to Srinagar and intend to drive to Leh from there over 2 days, to hopefully help in the acclimatisation. Rimo Expeditions, the outfit which we have planned the trek with, has sent two minivans to receive us at Srinagar airport. We load up all the bags in one, and herd into the other one – much more fun to spend two days on the road this way.

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A bonus that I had not expected as we drive through Srinagar is the view of the lovely Dal lake. Ornately decorated houseboats are parked along its banks and a few shikaras gently glide along the placid water. Further on, breakfast stop is next to Naagin lake, which is another scenic setting. Ved has generously carted a bottle of Talisker through multiple airports in the UK and India. Much to the disapproval of Manpreet & Bond (and Avtar via Whatsapp !), it is duly opened and makes a great companion for the overcast conditions and crackling company.

WP_20150713_14_40_00_ProMulbekh, our destination for the day, turns out to be a longish drive whichWP_20150713_15_19_32_Pro pretty much stretches through the entire day. We encounter a minor traffic jam caused by a mini-landslide enroute. Again, Ved is quick to offer wordly pleasures, this time of an err…. slightly organic variety. So Vani gets the chance to have a fairly intoxicating birthday. Luckily, a bulldozer quickly clears the way, and we are off soon.

The drive also takes us via the Drass region and we stop by the Kargill war memorial. My feelings about ideas of nations, borders, wars, etc. are markedly out of place in this kind of setting. Everyone else is overwhelmed with a fair bit of emotion as they walk around the place, especially near the soldiers’ graves.

The “camp” at Mulbekh (Camp Horizon) is actually a luxurious place, more like a resort. I get my first inkling that Rimo is going to provide us comforts that I have not experienced on any other trek before.

Day 2: Mulbekh – Leh

The day dawns bright and sunny. I look up and hope that the rain stays away for the rest of the trek too. Today’s drive is a WP_20150714_10_35_32_Proshorter one, we hope to reach Leh by early afternoon. As we drive through, I get my first visual experience of how different the Ladakh landscape is from other Himalayan treks I have done in India and Nepal. Stark, imposing mountains of various hues with saw-toothed peaks of loom all around us, offering a stunning, and at times, almost surreal experience. We stop at the Lamayuru monastery enroute, which is ensconced in the middle of one such range. As I gaze around, it’s incredible to see the sheer number of colours in a single visual frame. Spectacularly beautiful.

Leh is very much the typical trekking-base-town. A bustling market in the centre with shops peddling trekking gear and itineraries, and smallish hotels all over. We’ve been booked at hotel Kang La Chen – a comfortable place with a responsive staff. Also meet Yangdu, who runs Rimo along with her husband Motub. Go over all the logistics again. Head over to their thumb_IMG_4856_1024warehouse to try out the snow boots & crampons  that we have rented for our summit attempt and get our boot sizes locked. Kon Chok Thinles, who is going to be our guide on the trek, sets low expectations of a successful summit attempt by warning us that there is thigh-deep snow at the top caused by extremely unusual rain and snowfall for this time of the year.

A few folks head out for a walk up to the local monastery and the Leh palace, while some us walk through the market area. My sunglasses broke earlier in the day, I pick one up in one of the shops. Dinner is at the nearby World Garden café – thukpa, pizza, hummus with falafel & pita bread, fried rice. Clearly, the fare on offer reflects the clientele that frequents the place. It seems to be a favourite of the firang crowd. The food’s pretty good too.

Day 3: Trip to Pangong Lake

I am usually not a fan of spending an inordinate amount of time on ‘tick-off’ type locations. Today’s plan is a 6 hour drive to see Pangong lake, spend about an hour there and drive all the way back. A large portion of the drive is also through very rocky terrain, so it’s good that we decide to split ourselves into two vehicles, all the swaying from side-to-side would have made it really uncomfortable otherwise.

We cross Chang La pass enroute which is at a height of 17500+ feet. Blustery winds and the altitude has its effect and a few in the group are hit by some mild AMS symptoms. But it’s also good preparation for what lies ahead in the trek. We don’t hang around too long, and set off for Pangong.

And boy, did Pangong lake prove me wrong as being just a tick-off place! An unending stretch of turquoise blue water framed by gorgeous mountains all around.  The unique colour of the water comes from the inter-play of glacier water and the reflection of surrounding landscape. Spectacular sight, words fail to describe what you feel.. you just have to see it to believe it.

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The sour note is that post the runaway success of  ‘3 Idiots’, this once serene and magical place is now becoming a must-see for hordes of tourists. Friends who were here 5 years ago talk about seeing only one tiny chai-ka-tapri then. Now, there are at least a dozen places which have sprung up, with names like Rancho Café, 3-Idiots point , etc. Sad, but inevitable, I guess. If I ever come here again after a few years, I fully expect this place to resemble Juhu beach.

By the time we head back, the little rivulets that we saw on our way up have now become gushing torrents that requires skilful navigation by Lob Zang, our driver. I also notice that he keeps looking out from the windshield from time to time at the mountain alongside. The reason, as he tells us later, is landslides. They are as dangerous in the summer as avalanches are in the winter. Ever so casually, he points to a huge rock that has wedged into the side of the road and says, “isne kal do logon ko maar dala” (gulp! ).

The mountains are gorgeous, and also deadly.

Day 4: Leh to Sumdo Camp (3650m /12000 ft)

A bitter sweet day. We bid adieu to Ved, who had to get back to London for some unavoidable commitments. He’s come all the way till Leh during his India break, just to spend some time with us this year. We’ll miss you, champ.

But after 3 days of mostly being inside a moving car, today is when we’ll finally get to walk a bit on our feet. Of course, we still have to drive for about an hour and half to get to Sumdo, which is our camp for the day. Take in the Thiksey monastery on the way, a 600 year old shrine which expectedly draws huge crowds.

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Camp Sumdo is on a small patch of green next to a gurgling stream. I continue to be pleasantly surprised at Rimo’s levels of thumb_IMG_4945_1024service – the dining tent which has been set up on the camp site has a proper dining table (with a tablecloth!), dining chairs, nice crockery and cutlery laid out. After a sumptuous 3-course lunch, we set out for a short 2-3 hour walk, to acclamatise. It’s a very hot afternoon..  though we are at an altitude of 12000 feet, almost feels like a peak sumer day back home.

A bit of a crisis happens during the walk –  the sole of one of Vani’s shoe comes off (the learning here is that this usually happens if these shoes are left to hibernate for the rest of the year between treks. The glue that binds the sole to the bottom of the shoe is prone to come unstuck during this time).  Multiple options are evaluated. We finally settle on getting a new pair from Leh, since we are still not that far away from town. Kon Chok sprints back to camp to catch a Sherpa who’s taking another group back to Leh, just in time. A deal is struck, and Vani is promised that she will have a new pair by dawn the next day.

 

Day 5: Sumdo to Shang Phu (4300m / 14100 ft)

WP_20150717_08_15_59_ProOur first proper day of trekking. Kon Chok did the drill with us the previous evening – bags to be packed and ready to loaded on the horses by 6.30, finish breakfast and leave by 7AM. Like good, obedient  children, everyone is raring to go by that time. Today is estimated to be a 6-7 hour walk. The higher altitude probably makes for some cooler weather, so it’s nice and pleasant to walk. We stop for chai at a local village home where we are offered barley seeds along with the tea. Nono, our other guide, describes it as RedBull for treks. Way healthier than Red Bull, definitely.

The highlight of the day are the multiple river crossings enroute, which WP_20150717_10_22_19_Proinvolve first changing from trekking shoes to sandals, negotiating the swirling currents and freezing water while desperately clinging on to our guides for support, and leap to the other side with joy. Much fun.

Rimo’s delight-your-customer routine means that we don’t have to trudge hungrily and reach camp site to earn our next meal. Instead, lunch has been carried inside hot boxes by Kon Chok/Nono. We are served burgers, salad, baked potatoes and freshly cut water melon in what must be among the most picturesque setting that I have had lunch in. The lovely meal definitely deserves a post-lunch siesta.

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Shang Phu seems fairy occupied, there are other groups on their way back from Markha valley who have also camped here. The wind is blowing hard, good ambience for gup-shup, chai and feasting on baakarwadi & other munchies that we have carried along.

Late, we get to witness a remarkable scene. In what can only be described as the ‘The Great Farm animal Migration’, hundreds of sheep, rams, horses, cows, mules, etc. descend from the slopes of the adjacent mountain to (presumably) get to their home on the other side, with our camp site right in the middle. A few of these brave souls also visit our kitchen tent to say hello, much to the irritation of our cook and other staff.

Day 6: Shang Phu – Shang La (4950m) – Gyanpoche (4350m)

This group scores high on punctuality, we are all set to go at 6:55 AM, catching Kon Chok a bit off guard . Sheepishly, he tells us about a desi group that he came with earlier in the season, where folks would start stirring inside their tents at 7 AM. Today is thumb_IMG_5030_1024 expected to be a long day – a steep ascent of 600m to cross Shang la pass, then another smaller pass and finally some more distance to cover before we hit the next camp site at Gyanpoche. The trek up to Shang La totally lives up to its billing of being a bloody tough one. The gradient meets us as soon as we start and breaths start getting shorter. I adopt my tried and trusted method: walk 100 steps, stop, 5 deep breaths, repeat. By the time the pass is in sight, 100 has become 75 steps and then 40 as I close on the final climb. Dead tired but exhilarated, everyone lets out a whoops of victory on making it to the top. A fierce gust, the cold and the altitude mean that we don’t hang around for too much time there. A quick huddle for a group picture, and we are off.

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The next section though, is a real pleasure. Mostly descents or flat stretches, with rolling hills and green meadows. Traipsing merrily, humming along the way, a happy bunch reassembles for lunch at one such pastoral point, raring to finish the rest of the day’s schedule. As I discover later, this is easier felt than done.

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The smaller pass (without a name), though not as high as Shang La, is not a pushover by any means. Bond sprints ahead of everyone else as always. After a fair bit of huffing and puffing, when I finally get there myself, I am surprised to find him plonked on the ground, disappointment writ large on his weary face. He points ahead and shows me why – though we can clearly see our camp from where we are (a distance of only about 1.5Km as the crow flies), the actual route to get there winds its way across several mountains, which will make it about a 4-5 times longer journey.

WP_20150718_12_35_36_Pro The trail is a tricky one too. An extremely narrow path, just one shoe-wide, with the steep slope of the mountain alongside almost causing vertigo, forcing us to tread gingerly at every step. By now, an already long and ardous day was becoming worse for me – a bad sinus and headache led to its usual outcome, and I throw up my entire lunch from earlier in the day. Dark clouds have begun to form overhead, and there are loud claps of ominous sounding thunderclouds. I straggle into our camp just as the raindrops begin to fall, which is also followed by a hailstorm. I spend the rest of the day flat inside my tent, save for some soup at dinner. The pelting rain has made it impossible to step out, so KV takes over Ved’s role from the previous trek and becomes chief entertainer for the evening with some skilful DJ-ing .

Day 7: Gyanpoche – Matho La (4940m) – Manrkarma

A good night’s sleep can do wonders, plus waking up to this gorgeous sight of misty clouds floating over snow covered  mountains, is a WP_20150720_09_26_27_Propanacea for almost anything. I feel refreshed and ready to take on the day. Toda’s effort is a slightly easier version of yesterday. We first head to Matho la pass which is at the same height as Shang la. The rain from yesterday has made temperatures dip, so out come the thick jackets, beanies, gloves, etc. The cold weather makes it longer for the body to get warmed up, it’s tough to get going. But maybe the previous day’s experience helps, and the gradients are not as steep today, but Matho La feels a bit easier relatively. Vani starts to get some AMS symptoms and slows down considerably, but we all make in good time to the pass.

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In contrast from yesterday, the latter half of the trek is a breeze. There are a couple of river crossings to deal with, that’s all. By now , we have become pros at this stuff. No more doing the shoes-to-sandals, etc.. now it’s just hop, skip and jump over some stones across the water (of course, with dollops of hand holding support from Kon Chok and Nono – they deftly place some large rocks to make it easy for us to cross). But just so that we don’t carried away, the last crossing before we hit Gyanboche camp turns out to be beyond even their abilities, so it’s back to the sandal routine again.

Incredibly, for the second consecutive day, we make it to camp just before the rains come down. Our horses haven’t reached, but luckily, there is a small tented dhaba kind of place where we open our packed lunch, along with much needed garam chai.

The Stok Kangri peak is supposed to be visible from this site, but the cloudy day rules out any chance of a dekko. Now that we are two days away, conversation during dinner that night veers towards the chances of making a successful summit attempt. Being the practical realist (or cynic, depending on which way you look at it) that I am, I am already dealing with the fact that it’s going to a very tough ask – a 11-12 hour trek in biting cold, a 1200m climb in unfamiliar gear (boots, crampons, etc) combined with Kon Chok’s earlier comments on unusually heavy rain and snow at the top.

Being able to summit or not doesn’t bother me much, though. For me, these treks are about a lot more than just trying to stake a claim atop a peak. I just love being in the mountains, and every time I come to this part of the world, I always carry joyous memories back with me. This one has been no different.

Day 8: Mankarma to Base Camp (4900m)

Overnight rain gives way to a clear morning, which gives a clear sighting of the Stok kangri peak. Today, we  will hit base IMG-20150728-WA0021camp. It’s a short 3 hour trek, though the increasing altitude will make it imperative to be alert to any AMS symptoms. We also sight some of the fauna that resides in these altitudes. We are traversing marmot territory now.. furry, largish-squirrel like creatures that dart across from time to time, and quickly dive into their holes if we try and come too close. After the pass crossings of the previous two days, today’s effort feels much easier, though it’s the same climb ascent-wise.

WP_20150720_11_45_40_ProAs soon as we hit Base camp, it is christened as ‘downtown Stok’. It’s quite obvious that multiple groups have been camping here over the last couple of days. The place is teeming with tents of all hues and sizes. The sun’s out as we troop in, but Kon Chok advises us to be well protected as the weather in these parts can vary significantly within minutes. So out come the Downs and the thermals. A few of the guides start kicking a foot ball around, and others join in.

Here too, there’s a dhaba kind of place, where we meet Jay from Ahmedabad. He’s come riding to Leh on his 150cc motorbike, all alone (unlike the numerous ‘Bullet bikers’ that we had seen down below).  Jay has just returned from a summit attempt the night before. He had to turn back because of too much snow and bad weather, but isn’t too disappointed. By his own admission, the coldest temperature he had ever experienced before this trip was 7 degrees C, and he had never seen snow before. He’s been travelling all over the country over the last couple of years, and has been through 17 states. Interesting character.

Surprisingly, base camp offers network connectivity, while none of the places enroute while coming up had any signal. (Note: WP_20150720_13_52_09_Pro BSNL and Airtel only. Vodafone didn’t have coverage even in Leh, so Vani & I were both pretty much unreachable throughout this whole trek). The word going around is that the best spot for getting a clear signal is a short hike up a nearby hill. Worth the effort. Luckily, Bond and Anto both are on Airtel, so calls are made to reassure near and dear ones that all’s well.

The weather has been a show stopper for almost everyone at base camp. We hear a few accounts of groups abandoning summit attempts because of heavy snow along the route to the summit. Apparently, amongst the 70-80 people who have been up here, only 5 or 6 were able to successfully summit in the last couple of days. This puts a bit of a dampener on the general mood in our group. Personally though, I am happy to just spend the couple of days that we have here and just deal with whatever happens. Summit conquests are not what I trek for. To use a cliché, I strongly subscribe to the idea of a trek like this being not about the destination, but about the journey.

While I have only trekked in these mountain ranges and not done any “climbing” myself, I find it interesting to note the kind of language that we use in climbing – conquering the peak, etc. –akin to terms used in war. Maybe we sub-consciously see these mountains and peaks as an adversary to be defeated.  Probably, in our sub-conscious, a summit attempt is like fighting a battle – pitting our physical and mental abilities, with victory establishing our hegemony over these magnificent creations of nature.

As afternoon turns into evening, rain clouds gather and soon it starts pouring. From a summit attempt perspective, not a good sign at all.

Day 9: Hiking around Base Camp

It’s been a case of incessant rain from yesterday afternoon, all through the night. Scuttles any chance of a summit attempt for anyone who had planned for it. While having breakfast, we see the French group who had camped with us earlier on, packing up and heading back after 2 unsuccessful night at the summit attempt. Anyone who has gone up talks about thigh-deep snow, conditions which make a peak summit attempt almost impossible. Others are leaving too, and suddenly base camp looks much less crowded.

WP_20150721_11_20_19_Pro Today, our plan is go up a few hundred metres along the route to the peak, and get a feel for the  snow boots, crampons, ice axes, etc.  The boots feel heavy at first, but I soon get used to them, and can imagine how useful they would be in conditions like the one we have been hearing about, enroute the Stok kangri peak. An ardous climb up a hill to start with, offers a clear sighting of the Stok Kangri peak. After continuing further for about an hour and a half, we reach the area designated by our guides as the ‘get-used-to-the-equipment-and-also-have-some-fun’.  We tie up our crampons beneath the boots and start practising uphill and downhill drills on a small hill. Some one snows a snowball, and it soon catches on. The ‘Çharlie Chaplin’ walk with crampons results in a fair amount of slipping and falling, and there is mirth and laughter all around. The grand finale is for everyone to go up the hill, and then slide down the slope in free fall while lying flat on your back. Overall, great fun. Getting back to camp is much faster, it’s all pretty much downhill.

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Since we now have a feel for the gear to be worn for the summit attempt, it’s now time to decide who all are actually going to give it a shot. A couple of folks are uncomfortable with the heavy snow boots, and wary of trying to walk for upwards of 12 hours in them. After some deliberation, Bond, Anto and KV decide to make an attempt starting later at mid-night. I decide to join Vani & Manpreet and start later in the morning, to see if we can go for some part of the route. The big X-factor is the weather of course, conditions have proven to be very unfavourable for any attempt.

The rain stays away today. A bunch of British teenagers (who’ve been hanging around here for 2-3 days, and getting bored and fidgety, I suppose) , start playing volleyball, and one of them unfortunately dislocates his shoulder. Some hastily arranged first-aid is administered, but the boy is wincing in pain.. not a pretty sight. Kon Chok, who’s been watching all this unfold, wryly shakes his head and quips “mountain mein masti accha nahin hai’’.

We have an early supper instead of dinner, so that the three folks who are planning to give a shot at the summit at midnight can go to bed early.

Day 10 : Base Camp  – Stok Village – Leh

I wake up at dawn and see a cloudy sky. My first thought is that it’s going to be really tough going for those who have braved the cold and set out at midnight for a summit attempt. The three of us hike up the familiar route from yesterday, but the misty clouds make even a last sighting of the Stok Kangri peak difficult.  We then see our other trio coming back with heavy hearts. Thigh-deep snow from the glacier onwards has made them abandon any chance of making the summit, and trudge back.  It’s a similar story for almost everyone who decided to go up, except for a couple of Norwegian looking types who also seem like seasoned, hardy mountaineers. In the two days that we have spent at Base camp, among the almost 100 people that were/are around, only a handful of folks have managed a successful summit attempt.

I have been reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction through this trek. It’s a compelling account of what she defines as the ‘anthropocene’ era, which basically is a nice-sounding word to describe the trail of destruction that homo sapiens has been leaving on the planet. The highly unusual weather at Stok Kangri for this time of the year is a stark manifestation of the havoc that we are wreaking by just being who we are, as a species. We urban dwellers bemoan our unseasonal showers and increasingly hot summers, but it is in the mountains that the true impact of our carbon footprint is felt. Climate change is undeniably something humans are wholly and solely responsible for…and  when nature conspires like this, scuttling well laid plans, our grand ambitions of conquering the mountains, etc. ,  in a way,  it’s good to be reminded of our utter insignificance in the larger scheme of things.

We decide to head back directly to Leh by evening, via the shorter route down.  After passing Makarma, a different  route will lead us directly to Stok Village. Walking through this section makes you feel as if you’ve wandered into the sets of Mackenna’s Gold –  deep gorges flanked by the now familiar mountain landscape with the qunique, saw-toothed peaks.. I walk along, totally spellbound by the spectacular visage all around.

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Its late evening by the time we hit the village. Turns out that there is a transport strike in Leh, so the vehicle which is coming to take us back will be delayed. We while away time with some beer, omelettes and conversation at a local restaurant.  The hotel that we stayed in at Leh more than week ago is fully booked this time, but Kon Chok manages to get another place – Goba Guest house, which doesn’t sound too inviting. Turns out to be perfect though – after 10 days of living in tents, we are longing for a nice room, cosy beds, clean bathrooms, and it’s got all that and more.  After a sumptuous dinner in the warn dining room, we crash out.

Day 11/12: Chilling in Leh

WP_20150723_08_58_46_ProWe have 2 days before our scheduled return flight to Delhi, and everybody makes their own plans. Bond has to attend some event a his daughter’s school , so we bid adieu to him. KV and Anto decide to head out to Nubra valley and spend a night there. The rest of us hang around in  Leh. There’s enough to do. We have leisurely breakfasts in the balcony of the guest house which overlloks a lovely vegetable garden, make a visit to the  famed Hemis monastery, hang out at the local cafes, do some touristy shopping. Rimo  also organises white water rafting on the Indus river, so we sign up for that  on the morning of the 2nd day   – te rafting is  a 25 Km trip down the Indus, with decent rapids (Grade 3 ish)… great fun.  KV & Anto return to Leh by late afternnon, and we have dinner at this Tibetan Kitchen, a popular restaurant in town, which incidentally is owned by the chap whose guest house we are staying in.

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So finally, two weeks after we came in, it’s time to say goodbye to Leh. As we drive to the airport, we see posters advertising the Ladakh marathon, which is scheduled in a couple of months. Vani and I look at each other, identical thoughts running in our heads.. Coming back to run next year, for sure!

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Categories: Trekking Tags: , ,
  1. August 13, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Hey Satish,
    Great writing..as casual as it can be, and I had fun living the experience vicariously.
    Hope to relive the experience, and get as lucky as your gang did with the landslides.
    It better stay the same when I visit it.
    Looking forward to more such pieces.

    P.S. – The pics are awesome, especially the one with the doobie 😉

    • August 13, 2015 at 5:48 pm

      Thanks, Divyanshu. Yep, its a great one to do. Get going on it soon. PS: V doesn’t know this pic made it to the blog 🙂

  2. Kartik
    August 13, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    Awesome blog, Satish. Felt as if I was there with you all the way. Would absly love to accompany you guys for your next adventure hopefully sometime in the near future. Till then, I will satisfy myself by reading your blogs…!

    • August 13, 2015 at 5:49 pm

      You and Aruna should just come off for the next one, mate!

  3. Palu
    August 13, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    Loved reading this. Felt like I was there!! Love your writing style – I could imagine the entire landscapes!

    • August 13, 2015 at 11:03 pm

      Thanks, Palu! Yeah, it was a beautiful trek.

  4. August 14, 2015 at 6:53 am

    Really Enjoyed reading this ! Hopefully i will be able to experience it too some day 🙂
    I always look forward to reading your travel blogs !

    • August 14, 2015 at 7:19 am

      Thanks, Anandhi. Good to hear from you. Hope all’s well. You should plan one too, you’ll really enjoy it.

  5. August 14, 2015 at 8:59 am

    By the time I came to the end of the blog I was hoping for some more. It was really descriptive and made me feel as if I was right in the middle of it. Splendid writing!
    By the way, were you making diary notes while on the trek, if not, I must say you have a fantabulous memory.

    I made it a point to note down all the major locations that you have mentioned in the blog, from the brown water rafting to the pangong lake to the lamayaru monastery to last but not the least “The Ladakh Marathon”. It will surely come in handy if I decide to start going on treks in some later part of my life.

    The animal farm migration where some brave souls peeped into the kitchen made me suppress a laugh as I am in office.

    About punctuality, did you tell your guide that we long distance runners are early risers and mostly punctual if not always! 😀

    I am curious about the slightly organic variety of intoxication vani experienced on her birthday! 😀

    And by the way “Ladakh Marathon” has caught my fancy! Maybe next year if I manage to get a long leave, but certainly in a few years down the line.
    That sixth extinction book you’re reading seems interesting. Can I borrow it sometime later when you’re done.
    Pictures are all so beautiful. That furry animal is cute.
    Also added a few new words to my vocabulary thanks to this blog.

    P. S. Have to read your other blogs too!

    • August 14, 2015 at 10:39 am

      You are my most diligent reader, Santa! Thanks for reading the entire post, and for your inquisitive questions. Like I said, lets look at running at Ladakh next year.. and you should also join us for one our treks sometime. Looking forward!

  6. vijaya
    August 14, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    Hi Satish, excellent writing… i have heard a lot about Leh but felt being there…

    • August 14, 2015 at 5:52 pm

      Thanks, Vijaya.

  7. August 15, 2015 at 10:51 pm

    What a engrossing read! And some of the shots are truly spectacular!

    • August 17, 2015 at 9:53 am

      Thanks, Sambrita!

  8. K Ram
    August 16, 2015 at 10:07 am

    Satish – you know I love making ‘pictures’ – be it drawings, paintings or photographs. In this long post where you have really managed to hold the hand of the reader and take them through the trip (simply wonderful) one photograph kept distracting my attention by it’s sheer beauty and quality.
    The one where in the foreground – you have the chequered verdant green fields, and the cold mountains in the background, with the luminescent brilliant blue sky in the background.
    Kudos !! I have saved this pic in my collection. Thanks for this wonderful write up and the pics.

    • August 17, 2015 at 9:54 am

      Thanks for the nice words, Prasad. Yes, this one really captures the essence of the splendid landscape in Ladakh. Its my favourite picture from this trip.

  9. shrikanth yadav
    August 17, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    Just totally loved it.:)
    I was almost right there with you 😉

    • August 17, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      Thanks, Shrikanth. Now you should actually go for it. 🙂

  10. Haripriya Chinnaswamy
    August 17, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    I don’t usually sit down to read until its bedtime. It’s Monday morning, we have just returned from our trip to India, my house looks like, it’s been through a storm and i am still assessing the clean up action. Loved the write-up with all the beautiful picture inputs, specially the ones with you & Vani showing the joy and carefree feeling that such a lovely place brings onto oneself. Definitely makes me want to make a trip. Glad i sat down to read 🙂

    • August 18, 2015 at 9:58 am

      🙂 Thanks for all your nice words, HP.

  11. Dhileep
    August 18, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    Have skimmed through.. will read later as I am on vacation from Wednesday 🙂

  12. August 22, 2015 at 8:35 am

    Wonderfully written Satish, great trip and great photos…

    • August 26, 2015 at 9:48 am

      Thanks, Gopal. Are the boat race pics up at your blog?

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