Thursday, June 30, 2011

India- Hemis Trek

During our time in Ladakh, we went on a 5-day trek through the Hemis National Park with a wonderful guide named Peter. We were also fortunate enough to have a chef (Barat), an assistant chef (Kehm), two horsemen, several horses and one donkey accompany us along the way. The first night we spent in a homestay in Rumbak Valley, and the following evenings in a trusty Marmot tent. The weather was hot, freezing, raining, snowing and everything in between. The hiking was tough, but we hardly focused on the difficulty (or the altitude) because the scenery was so stunning. By the end, we wished we had planned to trek for 7 days at the very least.

"convenience store" set up by local villagers along common trekking routes and near camp sites

On the first day, we were treated to a hot, gourmet lunch. That's Carter, basking in the sun afterward
A mill that turns wheat (in the wooden shoot towards the top) into flour (along the sides at the bottom).  The huge stone in the middle is turning and grinding, all powered by a small river running underneath
Mountain goat spotting (top right corner)
Our home stay room in Rumbak Valley
Rumbak Valley (& the town of Rumbak), view from the roof of our homestay
Robert helping the host of our home stay to add another story to his house. The bricks are "homemade" from mud and water put in a mold to dry in the sun, and the mortar (which we learned how to mix) is also a mixture of mud and water. Our host spoke no English, and we had only learned a few words in Ladakhi, so the whole afternoon of work was based on reading body language and expressions.  Our host really appreciated the help, and the two of them made a great deal of progress.  Dinner this night was a plate of rice with the most delicious homemade dahl we had during our 3 weeks in India.  An awesome experience overall!
An hour or two into day 2 of our trek, Rumbak Valley in the background
the summit of our first big pass
first big summit, 5200 meters!

campsite 3rd night
Our Frenchman friend, along a similar trek, so we shared a campsite the 3rd and 4th nights

snow storm rolling in as we make our way to the 2nd big summit
2nd big pass, 5000 meters!

Peter and Robert taking a rest

Matho monastery, our ending point :(

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

India- Ladakh

We spent 2 spectacular weeks in Ladakh (far northwest in Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir, nestled in the Himalayas between Pakistan and China). We flew into the capital city Leh, which sits at 11,562 ft, and took several necessary days to acclimatize. Leh is amazing town rich with culture in one of the most beautiful settings we've ever seen in our lives. We ventured out into the Himalayas on a 5-day trek (see next post "India- Hemis Trek"). We also explored the areas surrounding Leh in all four directions with the help of a Ladakhi guide (Thinless) and driver (Nazir). Highlights include visiting numerous monasteries, sitting with monks and nuns chanting in prayer, driving  across the Khardong La Pass on the highest motorable road in the world at 18,380 ft, exploring the sand dunes of Nubra Valley, seeing and learning about the army convoys in the area (there are more military personnel in Leh than there are citizens), visiting a Ladakhi hospital (where the ER is called the "casualty room"), coming within 60 miles of the place where foreigners can get no closer to the Pakistani border, spending one night with monks in a monastery, staying overnight with the King of Ladakh in his home Stok Palace, and we absolutely gorged on some unbelievably tasty Indian cuisine. Some pictures from our adventure...

6am morning ritual at Thiksey monastery (our first morning in Leh)

"local toilet"
two young monks making a mandala
Inside Thiksey monastery
Thiksey Monastery (famous design borrowed from Lhasa)
a glimpse of the road to Manali

Shey monastery, busy with local visitors in honor of Buddha's Birthday
Basgo monastery
Maitreya Buddha (14m high) at Basgo Monastery
riding atop the bus is a common means of transportation for locals
Likir Monastery

beginning of our journey on the highest motorable road in the world
"You are driving up to the highest motorable road in the world and not a shortcut to heaven! Drive Safe."
"Welcome one and every tourist Khardongla highest motorable road in the world Altitude 18,380 ft."
18,380 feet!  We were dizzy, and had instantaneous headaches

Ridzong Monastery. An amazingly beautiful place in the midst of a gorge. We were invited into a monk's quarters, but instead of being offered tea, he poured us Coca-Cola... and he had Lays potato chip bags on the floor. We wonder what our world is coming to, and mourn over the global destruction being caused by high fructose corn syrup.  Between junk food, internet, and TV, it seems that American influences are putting an end to centuries of tradition, culture and healthy living everywhere we go. 
Sunset in the gorge as we walked to our tented camp from Rizdong Monastery

Robert & Thinless in the Dali Lama's residence in Sumoor Village

see the irony? we were waiting for the bridge to collapse
metal pieces on the bridge above gave us a flat tire
road worker on the bridge
trying to sell us dried apricots through the window of our car when we stopped for a passport check
A monk's prayer book
view from Lamayuru monastery
Lamayuru Monastery
monk building a fire atop Lamayuru monastery

our room in the Matho Monastery
mandala made during a ceremony at Matho Monastery while we were there
prayer wheels
Stupas and prayer wheels at Lamayuru

young monks in school at Lamayuru monastery ... learning English

Tsomoriri Lake (beautiful, but not entirely worth the trip). The 8 hour drive each way was gorgeous and the best part by far.  At the lake, Carter had the misfortune of biting down on a rusty nail during her first bite of rice & beans at dinner, and then she was eaten alive from head to toe by mosquitoes during the night)

A view of Leh from Spituk Monastery
Leh airstrip and military base
A sign in Spituk monastery.  It reads: "A Precious Human Life. Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it, I am to use my energies to develop myself, To expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry, or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can."
Spituk Monastery

Shey Monastery
Indus River
Zanskar River (left) meets Indus River (right)
Basgo monastery
Hemis monastery

Nubra Valley
part of our descent back to Leh from Nubra Valley
Locals celebrating and an increased military presence at the airport to welcome a Rinpoche to town the day we left