A Strange Pass, an Arduous Descent

Trekking through Ladakh -the Diary of a procrastinator: Day 9

Waking up to a bright sunny day with my tent surrounded by verdant grass seemed surreal after a night of non-stop snowfall. The only evidence of nature’s nocturnal activity was the generous sprinkling of snow on the hills surrounding the camp-site – hills that had been barren until last evening.

The day began with mixed emotions. Today was the last day of my trek. We’d be climbing one more pass -the Yalung Nyau La, which would be the highest one yet for me at 5450m. However, Tashi assured me that despite the altitude, it would be much easier to navigate compared to yesterday’s torturous passes. I tried to believe him even as I mentally prepared myself for the worst. 

Talking about preparing for the worst, that’s something I do all the time. In fact, the first thing I do before starting off on any new venture or task is to think about the worst case scenario and prepare myself and my family for it. Hubby dear thinks that’s pessimism and I think it’s realism – so you now know the reason for most of our fights!

Well, coming back to the mixed emotions, I was told that Namgyal, our horseman, would be not be accompanying us for the rest or the trek -of which only one more day remained. I don’t remember the exact reason for his decision to leave, but it could be that there was hardly any fresh grass for the horses along the route. Of course, it wasn’t that he was leaving us high and dry -he’s far too professional for that. I discovered over breakfast that another horseman, heading towards Korzok, the final destination of our trek, had camped across the stream last night and Namgyal had arranged for his horses to carry all our supplies for the day. So, after breakfast, we watched with a heavy heart as Namgyal packed his stuff and got the horses ready to leave. We then took a quick photo of us all -well, all except George who, for some reason, did not want to be photographed- before Namgyal set off on his journey back home. I stood watching for a while as he crossed over the stream and disappeared behind a far bend in the trail along with the horses.22851917_10214615649130793_4431518431988373803_nIMG_0245Before starting on the day’s leg of the trek,  I surveyed the terrain in the general direction of our trek and promised myself to enjoy this last day come what may. The weather was pleasant and the blue sky had already attracted a slew of mammoth clouds. Climbing a small hill, I could see the gentle slopes of several other hills coming together in a criss-cross manner to form a herringbone trail for us to follow, alongside a gurgling stream.IMG_0250After walking for half an hour or so, we left the stream behind and took a turn and lo! the terrain changed drastically, without warning. For the next few hours, we walked through what would seem like a pile of stones and small rocks dumped on the ground by a garbage van. The slope wasn’t as bad as the ones I encountered the previous day, but the stones made it difficult to trek on.IMG_0256IMG_0257IMG_0258Even in this bizzare terrain, someone had taken the effort of piling up stones to make a ‘lata’ (a simulation of the stupa) to propitiate the spirit of the mountains to ensure a safe journey – a hint that this strange route was not all that desolate. This was made more obvious as I trekked on and reached the top of the pass to find a larger pile of stones supporting several strings of prayer flags. Many of these stone slabs had the names of couples etched on them; it made me wonder about the strange urge people have to leave behind evidence of their visit everywhere they went.IMG_0265While what lay before me was acceptable since it did not defile anything, it reminded me of this horrendous sight from my visit to the Thanjavur Durbar Hall few years ago. I hope all those who took the pains to etch out their names on the historical monument did end up with each other, leading a life filled with love, else this disgrace would all be in vain.P1020287P1020290P1020289Coming back to my journey, I could spot the Tso-moriri from where I stood and that was motivating enough to continue walking towards my destination. Little did I know that the notion of distances can be deceptive when standing atop a mountain and that it would take me more than three long and arduous hours to just get down to the plains, leave alone reach the campsite at Korzok.  The descent down the Yalung Nyau La was several times more difficult than the climb, what with me trying hard not to slip down the narrow trail on a gravelly slope. To makes things worse, the slope along the descent was as steep as the ascent was gentle.IMG_0269IMG_0272IMG_0276IMG_0275Every once in a while, I was offered a breathtaking glimpse of Tso-moriri, as if to reassure me, but once I was more than half-way down, even that view disappeared and there was nothing but sand and rubble to look forward to. Once down on the plains, I realized that as usual, I was trailing behind the others by quite some distance. Tashi was just a speck on the horizon far head of me. With my limbs groaning in protest, a feeling of defeat crept into me, but I reminded myself of my promise to stay upbeat. So, I trudged ahead, trying to distract myself with the sights surrounding me. A settlement along a stream soon materialized, bringing with it a cheerful green almost as a relief to the stark browns and blacks of the landscape I’d traversed until now. I could see tiny houses and hoped the campsite would be somewhere close by. However, it was not so. I passed the green patch, the stream, the wild asses, the yaks and the houses with a look of yearning I’m sure I’ve not sent even my husband’s way in all these years.IMG_0287IMG_0290IMG_0291IMG_0292IMG_0293After what seemed to be at least three more hours, I finally hit a tar road that took me along a curve and revealed the welcoming sight of our blue tent. Oh, how relieved I was to have reached the campsite! Crossing a small metal platform, I reached my tent and kicked open my shoes for the last time. This was it! IMG_0294IMG_0295George was already there, taking bath in the cold waters of the stream. Much as I was tempted to do the same, I decided to just wash my face and change clothes. I’d sustained on only liquids -fruit juices and electral- these last eight hours and was desperate to dig into some tasty food. And boy, was I in for a surprise as I entered the dining tent!IMG_20170831_191339Siddharth had baked this cake (in an aluminum vessel!), with frosting and all, to celebrate the completion of my trek! What an amazing way to conclude a seemingly never-ending day on the slopes . . .

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