Ladakh has its on calling to the souls who want to get merged with the cold wind and the tall yet naked mountains. There is a sense of calmness once you enter Ladakh region of Jammu Kashmir, India. The calmness can be because of the people living in Ladakh are the mountain people. If you are into travelling then you will be able to differentiate that the people living on mountains are no less than the ones who have achieved the nirvana of life. I was in Ladakh from almost one week with my parents. A trip which is required each year not just for recreation but also a to build strong bond within the family.
'View from one of the Museum in Leh'
We started from Srinagar by road to Kargil and further to Leh. The altitude gain within two days was from 5,200 ft to 11,500 ft. After reaching Leh, we stayed at Leh for one more day roaming around the local sights. There is an internal walking route which goes towards the Leh palace. The whole city is seen from the marvelous wonder of history.
'Mom and Dad at Pangong Lake'
Moving outside the city we went to Hemis Monastery which is at 14,000 ft above sea level. It is one of the oldest monasteries of Ladakh has history attached to it with deep roots of Buddhism. I observed that Ladakh in spite of being a cold mountainous desert the villages are made green by planting trees. This is done by plantation by the locals of Ladakh. Something we can take from the mountain to the city. Further we went to Shey Palace on the way and the Thiksey Monastery which gives a powerful view of my next destination, the Stok Kangri. I was waiting for the Stok Kangri route to get open so that I can see the world from 20,187 ft. It is a dream that every mountain lover wishes to have. The plan was simple, spend a week with parents roaming around Ladakh. Once they leave back for Srinagar I will start the Stok Kangri Trek. In between all the discussions with my friend Ishan (Stok Kangri trek veteran) about Stok Kangri we went to the unusual Nubra valley at 10,000 ft. To reach Nubra valley we did cross Khardungla which is in a controversy to be the highest motorable pass of the world at an altitude of 17,582 ft. We further went to Pangong Tso (the lake where Aamir Khan gets slapped by Kareena Kapoor in 3 Idiots movie) which is at a graceful altitude of 13, 943 ft. After reaching here my parents started saying that if you haven't visited Ladakh you have missed something. This is the only lake with borders between two nations. Time has come to reach Leh by crossing Chang La at 17,585 ft also famous for the avalanche zone which can be quite a threat during snow season. By the time I reached Leh i get a news that the Stok Kangri route is open for the season now. My goosebumps started expressing the nervousness for the huge mountain. My parents left for Srinagar and I started walking on the road towards Stok Kangri.
Before you also start walking towards the Stok Kangri it is important to get your permits done form IMF office at Leh within the premises of Mentokling Restaurant. It is managed by Sir Sonam Wangyal who was the youngest man to climb Mt. Everest in 1965. One thing you can vouch for with mountaineers is that they have a good sense of humor so does Sir Sonam have. On personal grounds I have met 3 Everesteres and all of them are just too humble with a good sense of humour. Once the permits are done I sorted my mountaineer guide and the food that I might need during to trek.
Stok Kangri keeps her eye straight on the Leh city of Jammu and Kashmir. A mountaineer will always get carried by the huge calling from the mountain. Before heading for Stok Kangri I used to exchange my eyes with the mountain. All I could see that the weather was not good at Stok Kangri mountain during that time. I went in a local bus from Leh to Choglamsar. It takes 20 minutes in a public bus to reach. From here depending on the season time will be the availability of sharing jeeps towards Stok Village. The journey to the trekking point of Stok Village will take about 20 mins again. The village also has a palace and is called Stok Palace. There is some altitude gained while reaching Stok Village which is generally neglected because of the mode of travel which are motor vehicles.
Once I reached the trekking point of the Stok Village I started making couple of mistakes which made an unsuccessful attempt to Stok Kangri.
I knew that I was tired because of the 7 days of continuous travelling from low altitude of Srinagar to high altitudes of Ladakh. Just because my parents were heading back on Sunday I thought of starting the trek on Sunday itself. This was my ‘mistake number one’. This cause a mental & physical exertion a day before when I could have rested for permissions and a mountaineer guide.
'No pain, No gain'
The spirit is more powerful than the circumstances. I started my trek towards the river. I was told by my friend, Ishan to follow the river only to reach the Mankarmo Base Camp. At the beginning of the trek it rained also. Fortunately there was a cafe, apparently the last cafe towards the Stok Kangri. Have you heard of ‘Gur Gur Chai’, a local delicacy. It is salted butter tea, quite popular in mountain places. Tea and rain go quite well to take a look at the walks of life. I asked the lady if she can pack lunch for me. She did so and gave me her daughter’s tiffin box. She asked me to return when I come back with flying colors from Stok Kangri. It was a beautiful moment for me to see how a single act of kindness can change the attitude of many lives around. Rain and sadness don’t remain forever. I made a push for Mankarmo Base Camp and the weather started to clear up in couple of hours.
While going further my footsteps were just following the river bed till I saw 2 local guides. They were carrying a good luggage on the back. In a while they reached close to me and asked if I needed any help. In fact I remember they offered me juice. On mountains when the resources are already few for survival someone coming out of blue and sharing their own vital resource is definitely an act of kindness.
'The kind mountain people of Ladakh- The person from left has done Mt.Everest without Oxygen in 2017 and next to him is kind Sangay'
There is something about the mountain people that makes them beautiful. I wish if our hearts are as beautiful as of the mountain people. I wish we if we could take mountains to the city than cities on the mountain.
'Stok Kangri view from Manokarma Base'
I was done walking alone and to keep up with the two new faces I increased my walking pace than usual. This was my ‘mistake number two’. It is high altitude and we are not supposed to do walking fast stunt. I could feel tiredness but we can push ourselves. Mountains don’t understand that pushing ourselves philosophy. The game of mountaineering has rules and if you follow the rules then only you can survive. I still could not keep up to their pace, I had to stop, sip in my water and accept the fact that I could have walked peacefully in my own pace.
When I started the trek I was not wearing a head cap. This was my ‘mistake number three’. The cold winds of high altitude can give anyone a headache. It as only when I stopped to drink water after a marathon (sarcasm for myself) I took out my sun cap also.
'Ignorance before misery'
I just made mistake number four. Suncap is to protect against the sun but a warm woolen cap was needed of the hour. Without realizing the need for the warm woolen cap I moved ahead in my suncap.
The route was simple, just follow the river. The river bends and I bend with it too. During this whole time the mountains keep guarding the beautiful valley which is nothing but the trekking route. At times there was snow over the river. I saw the two mountaineering guides going on top it. Since I was alone I choose to go on sides of the river to be 100% sure of my safety. I am very well versed with the fact that beauty can be dangerous too. In no time I reach the Mankarmo Base Camp which is at an altitude of 14,435 feet above sea level.
I was feeling perfectly alright and was all set for the next day trek to Stok Kangri Base Camp (16,338 feet above sea level). At the same time I was quite aware that I should never sleep after coming from a trek on high altitude. I kept following the protocols for acclimatization on high altitude. I was already drinking enough of liquid food and also water and was wearing a warm woolen cap too. The kitchen hall is a place where everyone comes not just to drink ‘chai’ but also to socialize. It is a place where you can talk and listen. There are people who come to mountains for inner peace and some come because that is the only way to earn livelihood. There is a conversation about life which happens on all mountains. All this concludes with an amazing dinner and hot water to be taken for night. Remember at high altitude you are just supposed to increase the water intake apart from other necessary things.
'Keep on walking on the river tracks of Stok Kangri'
This was not the season time so I was alone in a two person tent. The legends say that if you sleep well on a mountain you are well acclimatized. Before closing my eyes for sleeping I felt uneasiness due to the warm cap I was wearing. To counter it I removed my woolen cap & wrapped a warm muffler around my head. This was the biggest mistake of the trek. I call it my last mistake because mountains don’t give you a chance again. Everything seemed fine till midnight when there were cold winds shattering the tent like a flag. My body placement was also not in middle making me more prone towards the wind hitting the tent outer. You don’t care when you are asleep till next morning when you wake up with a headache. If I have to explain the headache I can simply say continuous hammer strokes. I ignored the pain but was aware this is a dangerous thing that a mountaineer would imagine. Early morning I try to sleep again with a belief that the headache was because of the exertion. But life has some other plans, the hammer headache was increasing with each minute. I asked the local mountaineer guides what is the best that I should do, the best I knew was to wait for sometime to see if the headache vanishes or simply move back to Leh.
'Hammer head pain'
I wondered would it have been an emotional decision if I was asked to leave mountains 5 years back when I was 25. Maybe it would have been. There are so many expectations you set from mountains for your own personal satisfaction and ego. I am glad I was not in that state of mind. I waited enough for the headache to fade and I m not one who would choose life over a mountain. My bad was all packed, I had my lunch and started descending towards Stok Village. The only thing that scared me was leaving alone with a confirmed AMS (Acute Mountaineering Sickness) syndrome. A wrong move on the boulders was the biggest scare for me. I tried to remain as cool as I could while descending the valley between the mighty mountains. As soon as I descended around 1,000 ft. (approximately) my headache was almost over. This was one of the most happiest moment of life. I need to go slow and drink lots of water even after reaching Leh as it is already on a high altitude. This walk which I took alone made me realize how small things can make or break a vision. Also, life is just too fragile. Mountains choose to be mirrors for me. It seems quite important to disconnect by climbing a mountain and connecting with the forces of nature. The moment I reached the cafe which provided me pack lunch I sensed relief. Had my favourite ‘gur gur chai’ before heading to Leh. I felt lady was shocked & happy at the same time to see my back in less than 30 hours. There is some connection that we have with we meet on journeys. The sense of connection gives my life more meaning. And for that sense of connection you need life and for life making right decisions is more important.
Slowing down is another beautiful thing of life. The biggest lesson that I take from an unsuccessful attempt to Stok Kangri is, ‘I rather climb one thousand mountains than just die on one’.
'The pain was over in 1 hour as soon I started decending'
I wish all of you a safe and happy high altitude trek. Mountaineering is a two way sport, you have to go up and come down.