I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag. I could hear the menacing wind whooshing against the tent. The freezing cold was getting on my nerves. I was burning with fever and I wanted to get a fair amount of sleep at least so that I could make my way to the next camp the following morning. I had spread the DOWN jacket on my sleeping bag, hopeful that it would keep me warm but it was way too cold. Sleeping at 14500 feet was getting very very difficult. I wondered how I would survive the next 8 hours until dawn. I opened my eyes hoping to find some warm clothing, I tried getting up but something was obstructing me. As I switched on my torch and looked about, the tent was all over my legs and it was wet. And I called out to my friend and whispered “Kesu! I think the tent has fallen off.”
Hemis National Park
Three days earlier we had embarked upon the Trek to Stok Kangri!
With wavering courage we decided to trek a bit of Markha Valley and then trek to Stok Kangri.
We travelled to Zingchen by road from Leh. The ride ended up in a dusty mountain path. The trek trail started from there and we had now entered the Hemis National Park, eastern part of Ladakh, J&K. The park is the abode of snow leopards and the only park in India to the north of Himalayas.
The trail started with a rocky path and with the sun seething hot rays down on us, the trek became very exhausting even with the trail being flat! We stopped for lunch after two hours and gobbled the contents in our lunch box.
Later, the trail had a gradual ascent and before long we were at Rumbak. Instead of moving ahead to the village, we took a deviation and headed towards Ganda La base camp.
The trail to Ganda La was a winding path across the mountains, the flora on the mountains were of various and vivid colours, it was a lovely sight to see.
The last mile from Yurutse to Ganda La camp felt very very exhausting, the sun had already set and I clung on to my trekking pole and strode ahead and thinking about when I would hit the sack. After reaching the tent and gulping down hot lemon tea, I warmed myself in the tent and soothed my aching muscles. We had a quick dinner but sumptuous one with chicken and rice. It was the perfect end to a long day.
The next morning was beautiful. Azure sky, brown mountains all around and the stream flowing very near to the base camp. While some of us deliberated on the trek to the Ganda La Pass owing to a very exhausting trek the previous day, we then finally reached a conclusion that we as a team will move on.
Though I was a little hesitant initially, I finally made up mind to at least get to the top of the mountain, if not the pass. I slogged along the trail, it was a steep climb. I knew my body was giving away. But I wanted to figure out how my body would react and whether I would be able to make it to 16300 feet. Because in the next couple of days I would be trying to get on to 20000 feet, all I wanted to know then was whether I could get myself out there.
It was a hard climb, I was half way up the mountain when the last of the trekkers from the base camp brushed past me. One of the guides, from the other trekking group,on the way asked me,
“Juley! where are you from?”
I replied with my fading breath.
He looked around, “Your team members are already way ahead I see, you got to hurry up!”
I said,”I am trying to.”
He again looked at me and said,” You know, you can find marmots and snow leopards out here.”
I looked at the vast expanse of the valley and obviously I could see Marmots here and there but snow leopards now!
“I mean do you find them here, like now now.” I was excited.
He looked at me and said, “Maybe!”
Wow! This was already one hell of a climb and it was getting all the more exciting!
I was determined to reach the mountain. I could see our guide, Lobzang waiting for me at the top. I panted and trailed past the last winding path and there I was, on the top looking at the beauty all around.
I had no energy to make it till the pass and told the guide to carry on and that I would meet him on the way back down.
The view was mesmerising with mountains all over, the valleys looked beautiful and so did the snow clad mountains. I soaked in the silence and the beauty.
I trudged back down the mountain. My solo trek to Yurutse had just begun.
With no one at my beck or call, surrounded by majestic mountains and the expanse of the valley below, I was all alone but I was one with nature.
I stopped to click a picture or two. I suddenly had a anxiety pang, what if a snow leopard comes along, what would I do?
I buried the thought yet looking out for a leopard to pounce on me but the mesmerising mountains, the winding terrain and the sun high above my head held me onto a blissful thought. I basked in the silence of the place and all I could hear was my heart beating and the wind blowing at my face. I felt so puny amongst the wonders of nature.
I caught a glimpse of Marmots running around and it was a wonderful sight to see, it looked as though they were racing me down the path. Before I got on to the other side of the stream, I could hear something on the ridge of the mountain- was it a marmot…. snow leopard?, I don’t know even to this day. 😉
I reached the stream enthusiastically, I could now see the Ganda La base camp nearby. I almost sprained my leg, the rock on which I took support fell into the stream but somehow made a quick jump in the nick of time. Music was being played at the canteen but the valley was silent and I could hear only the gushing of water.
I moved past the base camp, I could now see a gaggle of geese running ahead the path and up the valley. I contemplated on the flora on the mountains and the green coloured mountain looked weird but beautiful. Before long, I reached Yurutse to catch up with my team members. After about 30-40 minutes the others came along with the guide.
We marched ahead to our next camp for the night- Rumbak.
Rumbak is a village at 13200 ft with a few households and also has a number of home-stays. After reaching the village we still had to walk a lot to get to our camp. It was on the outskirts of the village. I could sense my legs on the verge of giving away and my willpower was on the last reserve.I trudged along to get to the tent as soon as possible. The tents were put up near to the stream and we refreshed ourselves with hot lemon tea and biscuits.
My body ached and I was way low on energy and I wanted to get back to Leh.
Daunting STOK LA!
But the morning had different plans for me and now filled with hope, I strode on with new zest and energy.
The mountains were utterly fascinating, each step of the trek brought me face to face with the splendour of the mountains. After walking for about an hour, we lost our way and we waited for the guide to light our path. As the guide took us on to the valley and then up a mountain, I could see the big daunting mountain. I could not make out the path way ahead but it seemed like a big wall.
I rested a bit before I could take on the gigantic mountain. I initially thought it would be a straight path obviously uphill but after heaving myself up the winding path I knew this was a serpentine trail and with each turn of the path it would get all the more difficult. I dragged my body up the path, rested a bit and then got on, the trail was never ending.
It was with great will power that I scaled up the mountain. My body was now numb to the pain and cold. My breathing was getting worse. I could feel my lungs yelping for more oxygen. It was the toughest climb of my life. But when I reached the top, the Stok La pass, the pain, the difficult climb was all worth it. The pass was at 15900 feet and it was very windy. We had literally climbed about 4000ft. Phew! Had a quick lunch before we headed down the valley to reach our camp. The Ladakh range now was colourful with bright orange and yellow flora. It was beautiful.
As we headed down, the valley was utterly cold. After meeting the team at the camp, we all rejoiced our strength and patience to make it to Stok La.
We started off around 9AM the next day. As we trekked across one of the mountains and reached a pass, I saw some white particles floating about. As I turned back, it was SNOWING!
My heart skipped a beat, it was my first snowfall experience and that too on the Greater Himalayas! I could see the mountain tops covered with snow and it was snowing right into my face. I sunk in the moment because this was one memory that would be very close to my heart forever. The wonders of nature take your breath away and all that remains is bliss and love for nature, in your heart. We made to the next pass to catch up with the entire team and rejoiced the snowfall.
We later trudged down the valley. The last mile took a toll on me. I was literally shivering and down with fever. I could feel my body giving away. All I wanted was warmth and the luxury of a bed and pillow.
And yes the tent was way down on us. We called out to our trek leader. And then the guide with the helpers came along and set up the tent. As we got out of the tent, the brown mountains we had seen in the evening were all covered with snow and it was the weight of the snow on our tent that had sagged it. The mountains looked splendid, each with a snow cap! The rest of the night was a struggle to keep myself warm and waited for the morning, to make up my mind on my next course of action. As I walked out of the tent, I was welcomed with the beautiful sight of snow clad mountains. It was marvellous.
We were all dejected that we could not go any further as there was a thunderstorm and as the guide pointed out, the path to Stok Kangri would be dangerous and could turn out to be fatal.
So we took an unanimous decision and packed up and headed to Stok village. The trek back was a straight path with a few uphill trails. Before long we were at one of the mountain passes where we could see the Stok village nestled in between the mountains. On the trail we saw footprints which seemed to belong to the leopard! Well the leopards seemed to be around.
We were happy we were closer to civilization and as we reached the outskirts of Stok village and our camp, we rejoiced the night with sumptuous food and sung our hearts out into the night.
Though we could not complete our trek to Stok Kangri, we all braved enough to take the plunge. It was one of my personal toughest trek and I have learnt a lot more about life in these 5 days of the challenging trek.
Well hoping to make it again when the chance comes along and rightfully get stoked at Stok Kangri!