Adventure in Ladakh

Posted On : 1-5-2018
Adventure in Ladakh

A Complete Guide to Adventure in Ladakh

Covering an area of about 60,000 sq. km. and elevation starts from 2,600 mt. to 7.670 mt., Ladakh lies between two huge mountain systems the Himalayas to the south and the Karakorams to the north. Ladakh is the Trans Himalayan region - the region of impact when the Indian subcontinent collided with the rest of Asia, 50 million years ago. One of the several geographic regions formed as a result of this impact is the Rupshu, a dry, high altitude plateau lying south-east of Ladakh. It forms a pan of the larger area of Changihang, which spreads east into Tibet for about 1500 kilometers. It is an area which, due to its closeness to Tibet showcase the character of the Tibetan way of life, with regular trade and barter continuing and trade routes being utilized as they were since they were first discovered. These routes offer exciting avenues for anybody game for a high altitude adventure. One such route connects the Spiti valley with Ladakhi Changthang. and is still used as the main trail for trade and travel in these areas. The Parang La (pass), 5.600 meters, forms the source of the Pare Chu river, an amazing river system which rises to the north or the Panang La travelling 30 kilometers eastwards and turning sharply south to enter Tibet. After flowing 85 kilometers through the plateau, it changes its course westerly to re-enter India near its confluence with the Spiti river at Sumdo, on the Hindustan -Tibet road, 33 kilometers before reaching Tabo.

The Parang La is the traditional trade route between the people of Spiti, Changthang and Tibet. From Spiti, the trail begins in the high altitude meadows of Kibber (14.000 feet), a two-hour drive from Kaza, the district headquarters of Spiti. Kaza is also the venue of the Ladarcha, an annual cultural fair that was initially a trading festival that took place in the surrounding higher meadows. Kibber is the breeding ground of the famous Spiti horses and is also known to be a snow leopard country.

Kibber has an ancient monastery worth a visit and is also mentioned in most guidebooks as the highest motorable village but now the road has apparently reached Tashigang. 18 kilometers uphill. On the way from Kaza to Kibber, one passes Kye village which prides itself on the largest monastery in Spiti. the Kye Gompa, well worth a visit. From Kibber, which is also the road head on the Spiti side of events, the trail descends the scenic Kibber gorge and climbs to village Dumla, a small green bowl arriving in time for the last cup of butter tea for the next ten days - Durnla happens to be the last inhabitation till Karzog, more than a week’s walk away. A stilt climb above Dumla is rewarded with views or Parilungbi (Lingti valley) and Shilla, and the first (days camp at Thaltak meadow below a small pass crossing. the Thaltak La Shilla (6,132 meters) remained as an altitude record forty-seven years after it was climbed in 1860 by an employee of the Survey of India. Inaccurate height computation contributed to the record until the modem survey reduced it by nearly 3,000 feet.

An early morning's start the next day begins with a gut-wrenching descent to Rongchu Nullah followed by a climb upstream for an hour. The actual climb towards the Parang La begins now with a climb on snow for nearly four hours. Camp at Bongrochen (17.800 feet) meaning donkeys corpses, does not come too soon as the altitude begins to tell on the system and the going, however exciting, does get a bit slow. The Spiti side of the divide is extremely dry and sunburnt, but with hardly any snow conditions to be encountered. All along the route, one is held captive by the deep gorges and wind-battered rock formations which characterize the first couple of days towards the Parang La. Hongrochen. the last camp before crossing the Parang La from the Spiti side. is in a bowl surrounded by high mountains on either side. An early start is mandatory the next morning as the other side of the pass has heavy snow conditions. If one is lucky, a herd of sheep crossing the pass with packs of barley strapped on to each of 1hem provide good company. The final gradient to the pass is extremely steep and it takes a good couple of hours to finally haul oneself over the top. But once there, a complete change of terrain more than compensates for the lifetime it takes to climb over this 18.500 feet high crossing. The pass on the Pare Chu side is snow-clad and a broad valley greets you looking down towards the broad flood plain of the river.

There are a few well-camouflaged deep crevasses directly below the pass, which invariably claim a few sheep each year as they are shepherded over the ‘la'. Spiti horses are taken over the Changthang side where they are sold to the Changpas (nomads of Changthang), for money or pashmina (a rare variety of wool) in return. Sticking to the right of the pass on the descent, one crosses the Pare Chu at the mouth of the glacier over a not so stable snow bridge. The horses need to be coaxed here as they invariably show a little reluctance while crossing what with the river raging a couple of feet below.

The advantage of starting this trip from Spiti is that after the first few days of continuous ascent, the descent is fairly continuous for the next few days though not entirely effortless, making the walk really enjoyable. The camp is set a few kilometers below the mouth of the river at Dak Karzong, a green meadow on the banks of the Pare Chu. A chance meeting with a traveler from Karzog is not ruled out though they usually are in more of a hurry, going the entire distance in four days.

The river begins to divide itself over several channels now and the valley is nearly a kilometer and a half wide. Crossing its many channels is a pan of the days work as one works one's way downstream. The next two days are spent walking along the river through green meadows and wind formations (called kathpa boozae).

A week after having left Kibber, we reach the confluence of the Pare Chu with the Phirtse Phu at Norbu Sumdo. A river crossing here brings one to an almost incredible change of landscape as we walk north towards the Rupshu plains of Changthang. Camp for the night is at Chumik Shilale, a parrot green meadow set in wide green plains and low rolling sun-kissed hills. From now on, spotting the chang tang wolf remains a very good possibility.

At Norbu Sumdo. we part company with the Pare Chu, which flows south from the confluence to flow into Tibet, flowing past Chumur, India’s last outpost along its border with Tibet.

A few kilometers from Chumik Shilaic lies Kiangdom. named after the abundance of kiangs, the Tibetan Wild Ass found here. The walk towards Tso Moriri over a scree slope with the lake and its delta visible sends the adrenalin levels up as the enormity of the lake sinks in. Kiangdom lies at the southern edge of the Tso Moriri (15.000 feet), a high altitude lake 27 kilometers long and nearly 8 kilometers wide. This lake is the breeding ground for the bar-headed geese, black-necked crane and the Brahminy duck. Kiangdom needs to be visited to realize the immense beauty of this area, opened only in 1994 to visitors.

The track goes along the Tso Moriri till Karzog. The lake makes a fitting finale to a trek through landscape seemingly out or a picture postcard. A day or two spent here is a great idea to take in the sights and sounds of the Buddhist way of life. A worthwhile visit is to one of the Changpa settlements in a bowl high above Karzog, where living in their yak-skin tents, this hardy race breeds yaks and pashmina, one of the trade items to go over these high passes.

A four-hour drive from the Tso, passing through equally scenic terrain lies Tsokar, a salt lake which was once the source or nearly all or Ladakh's salt supply. The road climbs away from Karzog to Kiagar Tso. a smaller lake above Tmo Moriri which, according to locals was part of the latter till both receded. The jeep-able road passes through hot sulfur springs at Puga, well known for its healing Powers, as several locals and also people from Leh will gladly testify. The dusty road climbs on to Polo Gonka, a small pass before the descent to the huge bowl or Tsokar. Large salt mounds litter the lake and the water is expectedly extremely uncomfortable to taste. There is one convenient spot to camp next to a freshwater source on the banks of Tsokar. It is not surprising to see Kiangs run along and overtake the vehicle one is traveling in. On the opposite bank from the campsite is the village of Tugche, which boasts of a massive wolf trap and an ancient monastery. From the monastery, one can see the watermarks of the lake which at on time was nearly 200-300 feet higher than what it has presently receded to.

Four kilometers from Tsokar one meets the main Manali-Leh highway before the climb to Taglang La. the world’s second-highest motorable pass. A comfortable four hours drive away lies Leh. (be capital or Ladakh, the highest and largest district in the country. And justifiably so having witnessed firsthand the enormous scale and the rugged weather-beaten beauty or a region which remains much or a magical mystery and for some of us, the end of a rainbow.