It all started rather innocuously. As it usually does.
A good friend, S, suggested we do a trek. Something light and easy, nothing challenging, she said.
A call to Vaibhav ( www.aquaterra.in ) to explore options ended with a single suggestion.
The Ladakh-Kashmir Traverse.
“ But that seems to be a challenging trek !”
“ Oh but you will love it ! Speak to Solly.”
And, Solly, insisted.
It has to be the Ladakh-Kashmir Traverse.
What can a man do ?
The good friend, S, got summarily dropped and the Ladakh-Kashmir Traverse got etched into the annual plan…with another good friend :)
The Walks :
“ How many hours do we walk tomorrow ? “
“ What altitude gain will we see tomorrow ?
The group stretched out, a few in the front, trotting at a faster pace trying to understand why the guide was perpetually unhappy with our pace. A few stragglers brought up the middle, usually preferring to be their own companions and, then the rear, those happy souls who cared a whit about pace and all about soaking (in) the environment.
Brutally steep inclines, treacherous descents, proved to be not as difficult as they seemed and similarly, green meadows often proved deceptive, hiding the numerous ups and downs under the daintiness.
We met not a single other fellow trekker. Not. A. Single. One.
Rather selfishly and definitely not regrettably, it was as if the entire world was spread out only for our enjoyment.
And, we walked. And walked. And kept walking.
River Crossings :
Ever crossed a river with your shoes tied around your neck, in sandals ?
But, ever crossed a river where the knee deep waters were freezing cold ?
The cold delivered such exquisite pain that icy slivers of pure agony ran through our feet that left most of us quite voluble in our response.
Other river crossings were less dramatic. At most, we needed to find rocks to place in the stream which will enable everyone to nimbly skip over, sometimes with a reassuring helping hand.
One rock at a time, that's how we build 'em bridges
Those rocks aren't exactly stable platforms, an occasional hand can be reassuring
There were the morning cups of tea that we had in the cold, huddled in the cold, both hands grabbing the warmth of the metal cup.
There are periods of time when you could be walking beside someone.
There are the evenings where you sit in the warm, dining tent waiting to see what tasty dishes have been conjured up.
Talk we must.
Polite, sometimes hesitant enquiries of each other soon gave way to a more familiar tone as the days progressed. Its amazing what the doing away of concrete walls does to inhibitions. Gory details of decibel levels of snores and of digestive powers ( or more importantly, the lack of ) were gleefully exchanged.
Memories from earlier treks were brought up. Brand names of trekking gear and their functional values were exchanged. Books, web series, films got recommended. Why, even the usual elephant in the room, the Voldemort of discussions – politics - was talked about a lot more openly.
Oh yes, and many of us felt equipped enough to fly a plane. Shall we say that we heard a little about what it takes to be a pilot ? :)
The Views :
You are on a trek. To the Himalayas. It is expected that the landscape will be stunning.
With such a high bar of expectations, for the landscape to still stun you, well, that should give a sense of how truly incredible it was.
Insignificance. If ever a word can be apt, it is here.
Insignificant enough ?
Stark. Desolate. Stunning.
One can simply sit and get lost
The stark, bare landscapes of Ladakh gave us company till the Boktol Pass. Majestic. Intimidating. But, at least something that I have experienced before. Once we crossed the Pass and stepped into Kashmir, the change in scenery was jaw dropping.
How to get dwarfed - visit the mountains
We walked through meadows and valleys bathed in a mesmerizing range of shades of green which the horses and the wandering goats feasted upon. Curious, wispy clouds often dropped down to take a closer look at us. The rushing waters of the river was a constant companion, pretty to look at, but with serious dangers lurking in its speed and depths.
When clouds descend for a chat
As we neared the end of the trek, we walked through places that looked as if it had no business to be in this world, so untainted and postcard perfect they were !
And, thus the world spread its wares around us
Our last lunch stop was next to a bubbling brook. We sat in the shade, our naked feet dangling in the refreshing waters. The puris and chhole tasted even better.
Hum Aana Chahiye :
What does one do when each turn reveals a new and impossibly, grander view ?
Take more group pics.
Pretty soon, just crowding around for a pic seemed rather boring. Interesting poses, zany poses started being conjured.
Of course, when it’s a 13 member group, it can get a tad difficult to get everyone in the frame and with equal clarity.
Which explains the plaintive request delivered a perfect example of the disservice Mumbai has done to the Hindi language – hum aana chahiye. :)
A lil crazy...but, why not ?
The walks have been challenging in a very positive way. The landscape, uplifting for the soul. But Nature always tries to provide balance. In this case, that balance is provided by – moraine.
Its grim. Its soulless. Its evil. It lurks around, its sole intention being to trick you into misjudgment. Occasionally, it is spread out all around you. Endlessly. Draining every ounce of joy out of you.
That flat stone, which looks perfect for your foot to land on, will most certainly not have a flat base. That large, sturdy rock looking the very picture of stability would be anything but. And as a result, as soon as your foot lands on it, you will wobble dangerously, yet in a clownish manner.
Just as I was despondently looking ahead at the miles of moraine I still had to navigate, someone skipped gaily past me, whistling an insouciant tune, clearly having the time of her life.
Maybe its not the moraine.
Maybe its just me.
Easing back :
Treks often end abruptly. Before we know, we are out of the heavenly locales and stuck in a traffic jam outside the Delhi airport.
And then there was this trek.
We started seeing more of the Bakharwals, the nomads who roam around these desolate regions. We even played cricket with a few boys at one campsite. Fences appeared. Then we saw a few stray houses, a small settlement. Curious residents stepped out and with a warm smile welcomed us indoors for a cup of tea. As we walked on, the settlements grew to larger villages. We ran into roadblocks in the form of goats and cattle. Soon, we saw the first car parked proudly next to a dirt track. Then the dirt track made way to tarred roads.
Our last campsite was also the place where the locals congregated in the evenings to play and socialize. We had our dinner listening to fervent appeals by a small group playing cricket.
Yup…we were getting ready to step back into our world.
If you want to know more about the itinerary : https://aquaterra.in/the-great-ladakh-to-kashmir-traverse/
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