Trekking through Ladakh -the Diary of a procrastinator: Day 5
Today was all about learning from and correcting yesterday’s mistakes. So I made a mental note to NOT sit down, however tired I was, and to NOT try and match George stride to stride. With these strategy changes firmly conveyed to my brain, I got out of my tent surrounded not only by nature’s beauty, but also a large dollop of positivity.
I’d slept for straight 12 hours last night, almost akin to the Hindi proverb- Ghode bech ke sona – which literally means sleeping after having sold one’s horses. During ancient times, horse-traders attending annual fairs to sell horses used to have sleepless nights owing to the possibility of the horses being stolen. But once the beasts were sold and a neat sum pocketed, they could sleep peacefully without a worry. Now, before you accuse me of selling Namgyal’s horses, let me clarify that I meant it all metaphorically. The saying can be interpreted as catching a sound tension/tiredness/distress-free sleep, and that is exactly what I did after yesterday’s strenuous trek. As for the five horses, they were such charming beasts, I quite fell in love with them.Like yesterday, George and I packed our stuff and had an early breakfast. But today, I waited to watch how the campsite was being wrapped up. Vessels were washed, tents were collapsed and packed and horses were loaded with just the right amount of stuff according to their age and agility. Then, we set off for yet another day of trekking. Today, we’d leave the Kharnak Valley behind us, cross the Leh-Manali highway into the Morey Plains of Samad Rokchen and finally arrive in the Rupshu Valley on the shores of Tso Kar.
Once we hit the highway after a couple of hours, I was given a profound insight into my life, thanks to this sign board . . .That was also where I met an interesting person – Mr. Satyen Das. He was on a mission to raise awareness about global warming and his method was rather unique -he was pedaling a cycle rickshaw all the way from Kolkota to Leh and beyond! He’d been on the road for two months now and it would probably take him three more days to reach Leh. While I was in awe of his physical achievement -it’s definitely no mean task he’d set for himself- I’m still not sure how his mission could’ve contributed to raising awareness. Perhaps he’d be featured in the papers and on websites, but what after that? He had apparently done a similar trip in 2014, riding all the way to Siachen. But did I or any of my peers know about it? No. And do any of you know about his trips? I’m not sure. So, how many people have really been made aware of the issue at hand? And even if a substantial number have, how has it affected them? Have they really done something to tackle the issue or have they just read & liked the article or seen a video (here’s one I found much later after returning home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HM8ip4QpuE) and forgotten about it? These were some questions that kept my mind occupied during the next leg of the trek.
As promised to myself, I listened to my body and set my pace accordingly, not bothering about Tashi and gang overtaking me. I had embarked on this trek not to compete with anyone but to enjoy being in the midst of nature and maybe even being one with it. The route itself wasn’t complicated and I was confident of getting to the destination on my own. So I watched on as the crew and George were going . . .going . . .gone.And suddenly, I was all alone in the middle of nowhere! Well, almost alone, ‘coz the mountains and a few stray clouds kept me company. Each mountain, as I mentioned in my last post, had a story to tell, the clouds kept shifting shape and positions so that there was something new for me to discover every few kilometers. The weather was pleasant too -although the winds were as stubborn as ever, the sun was kinder and did not scorch like yesterday.
Through my trek today, I came across several low wall-like structures covered with stone slabs that had something inscribed on them. Later, I learned that these were ‘Mani’ walls. “Om Mani Padme Hum” meaning ‘Behold the Jewel in the Lotus’ is a sacred Buddhist chant that invokes Lord Avalokiteshwara and monks carve this sacred chant on stone slabs as a form of meditation. Then, when traveling, they deposit the slabs at various points on their route and what starts off with just a few slabs slowly grows into a full-fledged Mani wall.
Soon, I was approaching the camp site at Tso Kar. Tso means Lake in Ladakhi and Kar means White. That makes Tso Kar translate loosely into White Lake, a name acquired because of the thick crust of white salt deposits surrounding the lake. Although the deposits have been depleting over the years, it is said that the lake was once the source of salt for the entire Ladakh and Tibet regions. When the lake made its first appearance as a thin blue line highlighting the base of a far-away mountain, I felt ecstatic. This was yet another feature the trek description had promised me – azure-blue lakes.
Also, I was no longer alone. Several horsemen passed by, greeting me with the customary Julley. Their sombrero-like hats and the dust kicked up by their horses lent to a wild-west kind of ambiance that I quite enjoyed. I later learned that they belonged to the group of Khampa nomads of the region and were sometimes also known as Chinese cowboys. Apart from herding and rearing goat and yak, they have also been bartering salt for other goods in nearby regions since ages.
Tso Kar being a protected ecological-zone, travelers aren’t allowed to camp within 2 kilometers of its perimeter. But unlike my previous pit-stops, this is a rather touristy place, attracting several hundreds of tourists each season. Justifiably, a row of white tents greeted me into the camping zone, even before my favorite blue tent did. These, of course, were part of some resort and had all the frills that a regular tourist would ask for. With one group having vacated earlier today and the next group not having arrived yet, the camp wore a deserted look as I passed by. That, however, allowed me to sneak into their well maintained toilet tent later in the day – it sure felt like heaven to use a commode after two days of being left at nature’s mercy!Well, I was at my camp site now and quite early at that! Siddhartha had just finished cooking our late lunch, so I ate to my heart’s content and rested for a while. Then, after tea at around 5pm, there really was nothing to do. Surprisingly, I wasn’t tired today and decided to venture towards the lake and spend some time on its shore. So I informed the crew and set off enthusiastically. Little had I anticipated that the lake that looked so close from the camp site was in fact rather far (I got to know about the 2km perimeter only after I returned from this jaunt!). So I kept walking and walking and walking . . .
Somewhere along the way, I spotted a dog trotting towards me. I was immediately alert ‘coz Stanzin had mentioned there would be wild dogs in the region to beware of. Even the dogs belonging to the nomads, he’d said, were rather dangerous. However, it was too late to turn back to the camp now, so I kept walking towards the lake with my heart beating a tad faster than usual. Thankfully, the dog passed me without much ado.When I reached the shores of Tso Kar, I was left mesmerized. It had taken me more than an hour to reach, but it seemed so worth it. I sat on a small out-crop and watched the sun set behind the mountains. A jeep soon stopped by and two older women and a man stepped out to dip their feet into the lake. Having done that, they got back inside and turned towards the road. That’s when I also turned back camp-wards since it was getting dark. After driving for a few meters, the jeep suddenly stopped and waited for me to catch up. The uncle at the wheel popped his head out and asked me if I needed a lift. I would normally have refused, but I took up his offer today since I didn’t want to risk running into that dreaded dog again.
The threesome in the vehicle were cheerful and gregarious -I soon learned that they were driving back from Tso Moriri to Leh and had booked a home-stay at Tso Kar -and before I knew it, I was at my camp. It had taken the vehicle only 15 minutes to cover the distance I’d walked in over an hour. Well, that’s trekking for you! Back at the camp, everyone was worried since I’d been gone a long time – Tashi was even preparing to go looking for me. Relieved that I was back safe and sound, we all had a hearty dinner fueled by interesting conversation after which we retired to our respective tents for the night.