Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Trek that almost never happened.

Padum-Lamayuru Trek.
After nearly a year of planning, we finally selected our Ladakh trek (Padum to Lamayuru), and traveled to Srinagar to commence our trek. However, the entire trip seemed like a series of misadventures, designed to ensure that we do not go ahead with our trekking plans. If we managed to do this trek, it was because of sheer determination, and a huge dose of luck.

1. The lost suitcase: When we landed in Srinagar, we found that our suitcase (containing key trekking equipment) was missing. Without the suitcase, it would be extremely difficult to proceed with the trek. Besides the trekking equipment, it also contained the Nikon D3200 camera, which I was carrying for a friend, and the money from the camera would be used to partly fund the trek.

After submitting the lost luggage report, we had to wait patiently for 1 day till Air-India located our suitcase in Delhi, and had it transferred to Srinagar. It also meant we were already 1 day behind schedule.

The Lost Suitcase.

2. The missing travel agent: Our trekking plans were supposed to be finalized by our travel agent. When we landed in Srinagar, there was no sign of the travel agent. We were at a complete loss as to what to do next. After collecting our suitcase from Air-India office, we finally decided to take our bags and head to Leh, where we would (hopefully) be able to locate someone who could make the necessary arrangements for our trek.

We hired a taxi and decided to make the 2 day journey to Leh. As we were driving off, our travel agent finally got in touch with us (he had been urgently called to a remote region and had no access to phone). We cancelled our taxi and headed back to the boat-house to wait for our travel agent to return. One more day lost.

3. The reluctant guide/cook: As it turned out, the travel agent had not made any concrete plans for our trek. An elderly person from Srinagar was hastily brought and we were told that he would be our guide and cook. Guides should ideally be local with good experience of the local terrain. Someone from Srinagar is not the right person to act as a guide in the harsh Ladakh region.

Matters got worse as we started our journey to Padum (via Kargil). The guide kept insisting that we will not be able to do the trek. Guides are supposed to encourage us - not discourage us. When we finally reached Padum, I guess he realized we were serious about doing the trek. He finally came clean and confessed that he did not want to do the trek as it was too hard for him. We gave him some money and sent him home.

We were not only behind schedule, but we were now without a guide or a cook.

4. The missing/runaway gas cylinder: We started our journey by car from Srinagar to Padum early in the morning. After about 30 minutes, our reluctant guide realized that he had not put the gas cylinder in the car. We had no option but to turn back and collect the cylinder.

But our gas cylinder troubles would not be over so soon. The gas cylinder had a life of its own - like you see in those horror movies - and it would continue to haunt us every day.

- The cylinder was empty, which meant we had to find a place to fill it up (not an easy thing to do in Kashmir). We kept stopping at every shop but no one was willing to give us a full cylinder. Finally, in Kargil, we found a shop that was willing to give us a full cylinder at 3 times its normal price. We hastily paid the premium and picked up a full cylinder. If we had reached there 5 minutes later, we would have not got that either - as the shop was about to close.

- On the second day of the trek, the horse that was carrying the gas cylinder was getting nervous. When the horseman went to calm the horse, the gas cylinder came loose, smashed the horseman's toe, and went flying off to the bottom of the mountain (a drop of more than 400 meters). We were now without gas, and an injured horseman. It seemed like our trekking adventures for 2012 were over. Without gas, we would be without food in the middle of nowhere. By sheer determination, our injured horseman (the one and only Mr. Shashi), went to the bottom of the ravine, and hauled the cylinder all the way up. I had expected the cylinder to either explode, or be smashed to bits - but it appears that Hindustan Petroleum makes sturdy cylinders (or it was really evil). It survived.

Shashi - carrying the heavy gas cylinder from the ravine.
But the cylinder would not give up so easily. On the 7th day, it repeated the drama, and Mr. Shashi again went to the bottom of another ravine - and retrieved the cylinder.

5. The runaway horses: When we finally arrived in Padum, we expected to find horses to carry our luggage. But every horseman that we checked with, refused to come on the Padum-Lamayuru trek. All tried to convince us to do the Padum-Darcha trek. Apparently, the trek from Padum to Lamayuru is over harsh terrain, without any grass for the horses. Perhaps our reluctant guide was right after all.

We eventually managed to locate one horseman who agreed to do the trek - but once again - at a premium. We had no choice but to give in to his demands and paid him the deposit.

We were getting excited to finally start the trek and went off to get a good nights rest. We were rudely awakened in the middle of the night by the horseman. Apparently, 2 of his horses had run away and he could not locate them. He returned our money and we were once again back to square one. One more day lost.

6. The missing horses: We were on the point of giving up and opting for the Padum-Darcha trek (also called the Ladies trek). We decided to give one final shot by walking to the nearby town of Karsha. We found one horseman willing to go to Lamayuru. We grabbed him and shoved the money in his pocket and agreed to meet up with him the next morning at another village called Pishu. The next morning, as we loaded our luggage and headed off to Pishu, we found our horseman wandering aimlessly in the desert. Apparently, his horses also ran away. But he assured us that he would find them, and instructed us to wait for him in Pishu. We waited patiently for 4 hours. If we did not start off today, we would not make it in time. Finally at around 1 p.m., we saw our horseman (Mr. Shashi) with all his horses walking towards us. We were ready to start our trek.

7. The "Shawn" factor: The last time we did our trek in Srinagar, we had hired a dedicated horse for my son, to assist him while traversing difficult passes. We did the same this year. But we were not told of one key piece of information until we reached the mountains. It is not a good idea to use horses for climbing passes on this trek. It is just too steep and too dangerous. This meant that Shawn would have to scale all the mountains on his own.

My son Shawn scaling one of the passes.
These mountains are big, and the ascents are steep and slippery. I thought of cancelling our trip and returning back, but we were already too far in the mountains. I would not only have to do this hard trek, but I would also have to assist Shawn every step of the way.

When my wife sees all the pictures and the videos, I am pretty confident that I will be forbidden to take Shawn on any future treks until he reaches voting age.

But in the end, we did it. We completed the Padum-Lamayuru trek and we felt a sense of achievement doing this on our own. I have taken plenty of pictures to document our journey, which I will do over the course of the following weeks.

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