Words and images © John Rees - October 24th, 2017.
My wife and I are fit 60 somethings and as we live in Malvern in the U.K. close to the hills, we walk every day. Nothing too strenuous, but we also throw in a few 8-12 mile walks at weekends and coupled with gym and yoga sessions I’d say we are in pretty good shape.
When my wife and 21-year-old daughter suggested we trek in the Himalayas to mark their 60th and 21st birthday’s it sounded like a great idea! It was our first guided holiday and we booked with Exodus Travel on a recommendation. We were not disappointed.
We flew from Delhi to Leh, capital of Ladakh and had a few days acclimatising at 3,500 meters (11,500 feet). Ladakh has a frontier feeling mainly because it is. Tibet, China and Pakistan are close and there's a strong military presence with many army bases.
One of the things that struck me most about Ladakh is the prevalence of Buddhism. There are temples and stupas everywhere and almost every car, truck and bike has prayer flags. This is a culture steeped in the belief and teachings of the Buddha. Although I’m not religious, I think that Buddhism as a way of life makes sense. Creating good karma and living a good life and thinking more about others than yourself is a good thing to do isn't it?
Leh is a lovely town, full of shops, street vendors, bazaars and restaurants. There's also a big emphasis on responsible tourism to protect this fragile mountain environment.
THE WORLD'S HIGHEST ROAD
After a few days of acclimitisation, we drove to the top of the highest navigable road in the world at Khardungla Top (18,380 feet). The road is partly tarmac but is still being built.
Seeing people working at these heights is surreal. Especially as they are breaking rocks by hand to be used at hardcore on the road. This is hard work in a harsh environment and I make a mental note to myself never to complain again about how tough our life is!
RAFTING DOWN THE INDUS RIVER
On our fourth day in Leh we finally head out into the wild. We are going to spend six nights camping in remote areas with no running water, shower or toilets. We all have a feeling of apprehension and excitement because this is something we’ve never done before.
But before we go native, we travel 24 kilometres down the Indus River in a raft! It was the first time any of us had done this and it was a blast. The river was benign at this time of year, but the water was still cold. We passed through towering mountains either side of the river and it was difficult to take in the scale of things.
We arrived at our meeting point in Nimmu after about 4 hours and changed into dry clothes and ate a wonderful lunch from the back of the trucks we travel in. After lunch we drove to our first campsite close to the village of Yangthang. The drive was just over an hour through some spectacular scenery and scary roads.
When we arrive our tents had been erected and there was also a dining tent with tea and cake! Everything is so well organised and the team that drives our bags ahead of us do everything with a great big smile on their face.
There were so many highlights on the trip that could fill several pages. But I’ll keep it brief and just say that the scenery was unbelievably stunning!
Along the way we stayed close to villages that seemed to be frozen in time. Some had only recently been connected with electricity and all are mostly self-sufficient. The people we met were hardy looking because they work in the fields. The children were curious and everyone beamed huge smiles at us. Maybe it’s something in the air or just the joy of living a simple life.
We loved every moment of this and although it was strenuous in parts (mainly because of altitude), we coped easily. In fact, we coped so well that we decided to do the optional trek on the last day. Only 5 of the group of 10 decided to do the trek and for some of them it was a good decision.
This was a six hour mix of trek and scramble across loose rocks and scree to the summit of Juna La Pass at 4080 metres (13,385 feet). This was the highest and toughest trek on the trip and the views into the Nirma valley were simply breathtaking.
A big thanks again to the people at Exodus Travel for making this such a special trip.
Nothing was too much trouble and our guide team lead by Sonam and Tensing, ably assisted by Ashish became friends over the course of the trip. The problem we now have is ‘where to next?’