Zanskar & Himalaya

I guess I’m long overdue for an update. Now that I’m back around, I’ll try to catch up.

I spent the first 20 days of September on a trekking trip through the Zanskar valley of the Himalayas of North India. It was everything you might imagine…incredibly strenuous and unbelievably beautiful!

I must say that it almost feels blasphemous to not tell these stories in person, and honestly, some of them will just have to wait for the crackle of a bonfire or the steady squeak of a porch swing. So maybe just the skeleton now…we’ll save the flesh for someday when we are all back together.

Even getting to our trailhead was an adventure. The road north from Manali is considered to be one of the most dangerous roads in the world, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see why– trust me. On a clear day you can gaze over its hundreds of rugged and unpaved hairpin turns and switchbacks to see the mangled remains of less fortunate vehicles smashed below. It’s fun to smile about only after the fact…it really is quite nerve-wracking. Daredevil paradise.

The geography the first few days of the trek was probably what you would think when you think of the Himalayas…ominous rocky landscape, jagged snow-capped mountains, glacier rivers. Our guide, Lopsang, would usually wake us at our tent with the sun and a mug of coffee around 6am (a traditional Sherpa thing). We would usually trek for 5-8 hrs a day, reaching our nightly destination mid-afternoon. We would have chai, set up camp, recover (debatable..), and do it all again. The weather was tolerable during the day…sometimes even warm, but once the sun disappeared so would any kindness the mountain had for us in regards to temperature.

On the fourth day we reached our highest point as we went over Shingo La pass (16,400ft!). Like all the summits, it’s adorned with tattered Buddhist prayer flags, and we looked down on the clouds. By the time we had descended down other side, the landscape was drastically starting to change, and as we walked out the long tail of Zanskar it progressively became more and more arid. We came across several villages that seemed stuck in the stone age, Buddhist ghompas, and more than a few yaks. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Along with me were 5 others…1 American, 1 Australian, 2 Indians, and 1 Nepali…including our pony man, cook, and guide. They were all characters in and of themselves, but we’ll have to save those stories for the porch.

Turns out altitude is more of an adversary than I had imagined. At 15,000ft there is only half the oxygen there is at sea level. No big deal, right? Wrong. Imagine running while trying to hold your breath. It slows your metabolism, takes your appetite, gives you headaches, and keeps you from being able to sleep. I had a nose bleed for 5 straight days. I got pretty sick on the 6th day, but that was the worst of it. Fortunately, I’ve been acclimatizing in Manali for awhile (the valley floor in Manali is the same height as the highest point east of the Mississippi). If we had been planning to go much higher we would have had to acclimatize a good bit more slowly and deliberately.

All in all, we went 90+ miles over 14,000 ft.

We ended up way up north near the disputed border of Pakistan, and I actually ended up sneaking through two heavily armed Muslim police checkpoints…on the 10th anniversary of Sept 11. No lie.

But I’m back now, safe and sound, and settling into life in Manali as the winter slowly creeps in. More on that later. Keep an eye out for pictures here in the days to come, and I’ll probably be telling the stories for the rest of my life.

Miss you all.