Passing the ‘Pass’ test

Trekking through Ladakh -the Diary of a procrastinator: Day 8

It’s not always that you wake up in the morning to the sight of Yak grazing outside your tent. So, no prizes for guessing that I was thrilled to bits. P1020754Two passes awaited me today and although skeptical about my stamina, I was ready for the test. Having camped last evening at the foot of the first pass to be climbed -the Kyamayuri La at a height of 5350m above sea level – it was obviously going to be an uphill task today. So I packed my stuff and set off in earnest, taking in the sight of the nomads heading out with their herds.img_20170829_175217.jpgThe climb started off well, with the slope being gentle under my feet. I took in the mountains towering over me on one side and a stringy rivulet snaking through the terrain on the other. But it soon started to get tougher. As the slope grew steeper and the air thinner, I found it more and more difficult to take every next step. Less than an hour into the trek, I was on the verge of accepting defeat. It was so tough, I found myself taking a five minute break after every ten steps. When I got half-way up, I turned back and looked at a swarm of sheep closing in on me. On the adjacent hill, sheep dogs were running up and down the much steeper slopes as though they were flatter than my flat feet! P1020756 (2)To rub salt into the wound, all the other guys in my team and the French team trekked past me with what seemed like considerable ease. In my frustration, I put it down to my being the oldest among them all (which was true!), but in my heart I knew it had nothing to do with my age – I was just not fit enough! My months of training before the trek stood me in good stance on the plains, but the passes were something else!

Well, it took me a rather long time, but I finally managed to reach the top of the pass. And the pass decided to reward me with some of the most stunning vistas spread around it -that and some sensuous curves that I guess only the artist in me can appreciate.P1020758 (2)P1020757 (2)I guess the lost-and-found adventure of the day before yesterday had made Tashi realize that he couldn’t afford to lose sight of me again and consequently, I found him waiting for me at the top. I was glad he did and as we started our descent, we exchanged a bit of info about ourselves. I got to know that he was a student at a college in Jammu and joined trekkers as a guide during vacation time. He also had a girlfriend -Sonam- back home and planned to visit her once this trek was completed. I too shared some tit-bits from my life with him and sparse with words that I am, I was soon out of things to talk about by the time we had descended into the Gyama Barma valley and walked to the foot of the next pass.P1020762 (2)P1020763 (2)Through the route, the ground had a hint of fresh green on it thanks to the grass and patches of these soft moss-like growth. I found out later that these are known botanically as the Thylacospermum caespitosum. Their almost cushion-like form helps trap heat around the crucial growing parts and thus helps cope with not only very low temperatures but also limited soil and water.P1020760After a good amount of rest and something to munch on, we started climbing the next pass – the Kartse La at 5300m. As I took my first few steps up the dark, blackish slope of the mountain, I could already spot the rest of the team approaching the top. At that moment, a voice in my head screamed, ‘What will they think of you? Slow-coach!’ Given the physical and psychological toll the first pass had taken on me, it was easy to slip into a negative frame of mind and I was soon wondering if I had it in me to attempt yet another steep climb.

Tashi had already made a head start and now, when I turned back, all I could see was a vast light green valley nestled between several high mountains. There was not a soul -not even an animal- in sight for as far as my eyes could see. I didn’t have a choice here – I’d just have to climb and get to the other side of the pass to Gyama, our destination for the day. Closing my eyes, I reminded myself that I wasn’t a quitter. So what if I was slow and had to stop after every ten steps? I was still moving ahead, wasn’t I? And I had already crossed one torturous pass, which was no mean achievement. The small self-pep-talk did me good and I soon began my second ascent of the day.

I don’t have any photographs of this leg of the trek since I was a tired wreck and my only aim was to climb that god-damned pass! It was by far the most arduous thing I’d ever done in my life and when I finally reached the top after a couple of hours, I just threw down my trekking pole and lay down flat on the ground, almost in tears. And yet, I knew that the day’s trek was far from over. I still had to complete the descent and trek for several kilometers before reaching the camp-site. Getting back to my feet, I spent some time taking in the sights around me. The snow-capped mountains that had looked far and unreachable from the plains were now tantalizingly close. And the grey clouds slowly moved away, opening up to reveal patches of bright blue.P1020761 (2)P1020767 (2)P1020768 (2)After lingering for a while, I started my descent feeling like a zombie; but I was happy that the worst (at least for today!) was now behind me. Albeit with poor grades, I had passed the ‘pass’ test! All that remained now was to get to the camp-site in one piece. Tashi had been really patient until now – although it must’ve been frustrating for a sprightly 21-year-old, he had slowed his pace considerably so I could remain within his cone of vision. Hoping to relieve his agony, I asked him to explain the route to me and get ahead if he wanted to . . . which he readily did.P1020769 (2)P1020766 (2)Alone amidst the mountains once again, I took my time ambling through the desolate valley – passing a rather lean stream, crossing an arid, stony expanse and finally arriving at another slightly broader stream where I saw his beautiful golden-maned dog, almost blending into the terrain. The French team had set up camp not too far from here, but my blue dining tent was nowhere to be seen. P1020771 (2)Letting out a curse, I trudged along for half an hour more before I spotted the tent. However, it was on the other side of the stream, which meant I had to walk some more before arriving at a spot from where I could cross over easily. I’m so not joking when I say I let out a slew of curses at this point! It seemed like the universe was conspiring to keep me away from the comfort of my little green tent!!P1020773 (2)So no prizes for guessing that as soon as I reached the camp site, I kicked off my shoes and ran into my tent as if to greet a long-lost friend. And no sooner than I’d started to rummage though the back-pack for my book to read with the hot juice Siddharth was preparing, the sky turned grey again and it started to snow! It seemed as though the snow had been patiently waiting for me to make it to the camp before showering down. If that were so, I must give it a nod of appreciation ‘coz I don’t think I could have completed the day’s trek had it snowed earlier. That would definitely have been the proverbial last straw in my case!P1020774At first, the sharp pitter-patter made me believe it was raining, not snowing; but I soon realized it was otherwise. Popping my head out of the tent, I was hit by these small thermocol-ball sized flakes of snow that also stole inside the tent through the edges.

Having zero energy to put on my shoes again along with a raincoat to head to the dining tent, I decided to skip my meal altogether. Siddharth, however, wasn’t pleased with my decision. He’d, after all, cooked a delicious meal for us and didn’t want me to miss it. So he ran to my tent under the snow with a plate of pasta and boiled veggies and a bowl of soup and insisted I call him for another serving if required. Well, this was one of the best dinners of the trek, had huddled in my tent even as the snowfall gathered momentum outside, and it made me understand what it meant to cook with love.P1020778P1020777With the snow busying itself with rendering the entire landscape white, I finished my dinner at a leisurely pace and prepared myself for a good night’s sleep. But sleep did not come easily. Lying on my mattress, with the sound of snowflakes knocking on my tent providing a soothing background score, I was acutely aware of every bone and muscle in my body even as my mind replayed the entire 8 hours of the day’s trek. Today’s was the toughest challenge I’d ever faced and although I was glad to put it all behind me, I also felt that this was one experience I’d miss more than anything else when I got back to the humdrum of everyday life.







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