Friday, August 30, 2013

Sham Trek - Likir Monastery to Temisgang, Ladakh 4 - 6 Aug 2013

Nubra and Zanskar River
We left at 7:30am with Stanzin our guide on a mini van to Likir Monastery. It was a 2 hours ride with amazing scenery. We pass many army camps, desert land, rocky mountain, villages and the Nubra and Zanskar river. Along the way, we noticed all their road signs are written in English. There were some specific one that spell like this, "Life is short don't make it shorter", "Better late than never", "Drive slowly, Reach safely", " Always Alert Accident Avert", "Drink Whisky Drive Risky"  :-) That was quite an educational read.

Likir Monastery
4th Aug 2013
Trek start : Likir Monastery (3530m)
Trek end : Yangtang (3590m)
High passes : Charatse La Pass (3580m) and Pobe La Pass (3730m)
Duration : 4 hrs
Difficulties : Easy

Gold statue of Maitreya
Likir Monastery
After 2 hours, we got to this huge monastery with a huge golden buddha statue. From here on we will be on our foot for 8 days. Pray hard not to get any blisters on the feet! Before we start our trek, we pay a visit to the 11th century monastery. Prayers was going on, we visited the museum that kept hundred years old coins, costume, weapons, art effects, pots, cooking utensils, etc. The were old prayer books stack up in the cabinet and some statues cover up with cloths. According to Stanzin, these statues are very powerful, they are only expose once a year during the September festival. After we visited the 25m tall golden buddha statue, we are all set to start our trek.

The trek started along the hillside towards our first pass of the day - Charatse La Pass (3580m) it was generally flat on a rocky path. Barley fields are the only green area that stands out from the brown rocky mountain and terrain. We reached our first pass in no time. It was just a warm up! After the pass we descend to the tar road and crossed path with a group of horses and ponies on the way to a camping trip with a few shepherds. Not far after, we left the tar road to descent to a valley. The group of horses and ponies were long gone. We couldn't keep up.

It was almost noon, the scorching sun was killing us, not a single tree in the vicinity  Lucky we were wearing long sleeve and big hat, we reach our lunch spot at Sumdo, a little tent in the middle of nowhere but it helps to gives us shade. Lunch was pre-packed today, we have 2 chapati wrapped with vegetables, 1 egg and 1 expired banana. We have to eat to regain some energy. We carried along 2 litre of purified water each but Stanzin just drink from the river. We knew our stomach is not as strong as the local.

From Sumdo (3470m) we had our first uphill challenge to the 2nd pass of the day - Pobe La Pass (3730m). Even tho it's only 260m but with the altitude and scorching hot sun, it was exhausting. We took small steps and many stops to catch our breath and enjoy the view. We finally scrambled up the pass marked with prayer flags and a stupa. From the pass we could see Yangtang village, our destination of the day. The small village has only about 15 families. Green barley fields surround the village. Another 30 minutes later we arrived at the village but our homestay is located deep down in the valley by the river. We went down the steep slope to a hidden paradise. A beautiful house surrounded by trees and barley fields. They invited us in with a big smile. Jullay! this word is magic, anyone that comes to Ladakh must learn it, it means Hello, thank you and good bye. Magic word isn't it?

Our host family has 5 children, 4 are away in the city and only one daughter live with them. The couple are about 70 years old from my guess. They have winkles like lines on the mountain but they are strong and tough. They work in their field every day wherelse their daughter manage the house and cook.

Here is our first homestay experience, we have to enter the house with our shoes off. In Singapore we have warm floor but here it's cold! We were welcomed with tea and cookies, they have a dining room decorated with small tables and shelf of golden and silver pots. We sleep in a room with 4 mattress on the floor and a table each. They provide us blanket for the night. There is no heater in the house but we don't need it at this time of the year. The toilet is outdoor, it is a hole on the ground where everything drops about 2m down. Some sands and a shovel inside the toilet for us to throw sand in the hole to cover up after our business. Very organic! There is no running water for shower. You will be given bucket of water if you want to clean yourself. We try to avoid this. The kitchen is the warmest place in the house as they cook with wood fire and dried cow dung. The field is planted with barley once a year. A small garden planted with spinach, spring onion, potato, beans, cabbage, etc.

That night, Stanzin and the family cook us momo. We had dinner together with the family in the warm kitchen. The 2 old couples were chatting away in local languages. The momo was delicious but I lost my appetite coping with the headache, stomach indigestion and insufficient sleep. I wish so hard for the headache to go away! Since there is not much entertainment besides star watching, we slept early to try to recover. 
Samanchan La Pass

5th Aug 2013
Trek start : Yangtang (3590m)
Trek end : Hemis Shukpachu (3690m)
High passes : Sarmanchan La Pass (3750m)
Duration : 3 hrs
Difficulties : Easy

Woke up at 7:30am, I was glad that they made me porridge for breakfast instead of chapati bread. It was much better for my stomach. No the headache has not gone away. :-( We said our goodbye after breakfast. Today is suppose to be an easy day, we just need to get over one pass to arrive at our next destination. The path started along the river, due to the dry season the river has turn into stream. Greens only stays where the water is, that made it looks like a oasis in the desert. We took our time heading up to the pass as we were still adjusting to the altitude. We got to Hemis Shukpachu in 3 hours, a bigger village with around 30 families.

I was exhausted and weak, I crash out for half an hour after we check in to our home stay  When I woke up I was feeling all light and shine with the headache gone. I felt more alive! We rest the whole afternoon, this family is younger and more modern. The kids are back from school holiday, they all speak English  just a little timid. We went to the field to pick green beans and potato for dinner. That's the fun part about home stay, you get to connect with the local and participate in their daily activities, learn more about their culture and life. Most of them keep a farm house with cows, goats, sheep and chickens. In the morning they will let the cow out to roam around in the field. The goat, sheep and chickens stay in the farm as there might be predator out in the wild. It was nice to be in such peaceful environment with only the noise of farm animals.
Lago La Pass on top

6th Aug 2013
Trek start : Hemis Shukpachu (3690m)
Trek end : Temisgang (3200m)
High passes : Mebtak La Pass (3820m) and Lago La Pass (3820m)
Duration : 4.5 hrs
Difficulties : Easy

From Hemis Shukpachu to Mebtak La Pass was easy. we met a group of french at the pass. After the pass it was a steep descent down to the valley. A group of ponies race us down the hill. We then follow the bank of the mountain till we reach the bottom of the 2nd pass. It was a steep 90 degree uphill on a zig zag path. The ponies climb up with full loads with no effort. :-( We took a pit stop to recharge before we head up. Stanzin told us we can make it up 20 minutes but we took extra 5 minutes to reach the top. The reward was a breathtaking view.

After the 2nd pass, it was all the way down hill. We had our lunch break in Ang, another small village. One more hour descent via the road, passing line of apricots trees with orange and yellow apricots fully bloomed. We can't stop eating :-p  finally we arrived at Temisgang, the end of our Sham trek. Here we catch our transport together with our new guide and porter to the next starting point of our 5 days trek. This trek was a good way to help us acclimatize and get use to the environment. We think we are ready for the big haul now. 

Sham Trek Profile
From here we drove to Lamayuru, we drove along the Indus river and gorges between the rocky mountain. The road is constantly being repair due to the fallen rocks and land slide. We arrived Lamayuru at 2pm. We thank Stanzin for the great time and for sharing her knowledge about the culture of Ladakhi with us. She left us with our new guide - Dolkar and porter - Diskir. We checked in to a guesthouse, opposite the stunning mountain view, we were too happy to find a modern toilet with hot shower and sitting toilet. Wee! First shower after 3 days.

Lamayuru is famous for it's monastery. The monastery was built in the 11th century, with a population of around 150 resident monks now. Lamayuru is host to two annual masked dance festivals, in the second and fifth months of the Tibetan lunar calendar, when all the monks from these surrounding gompas gather together to pray. People from all over the world came to visit. I was surprised to find a group of Malaysian snapping away photos in the prayers room when it is clearly written NO PHOTOS ALLOW. I felt angry when people doesn't respect others and more ashamed of these people from my home country. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Leh, Ladakh, India 1 -13 Aug 2013

Leh is located in the northern part of India, in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, border to China on the east, Afghanistan and Pakistan on the west. Not many people know about this place, people asked me how did I find out about this place. I think I saw a friend's photos online some time ago and it was stunning, ever since North Indian has been in my list of to go places. August to October is the best time to trek in this region. So there I was...

Leh town
This place is nothing I have ever seen or imagine, bare rocky mountains, bare sandy plains, sharp peaks, monasteries after monasteries unique by itself, prayer flags flapping, stupas guarding the mountains, green valley emerge from nowhere and friendly and warm tibetan people. It's India but not India at all!

We planned our trip way back in April, I will be able to take leaves by August and to take advantages of the long weekend in Singapore. 5 days of leaves, 2 weekends and 2 public holiday gave us total of 11 days holiday. We booked our tickets with Jet Airways, Singapore - Delhi - Leh. The fastest way to get there and a direct ascent to 3500m. We were advised to stay in Leh to acclimatise for 2-3 days, which leaves us 8-9 days for hiking.

One month before the trip, we train ourselves once a week at Bukit Timah and I was alternating between salsa and jogging. It was the best we could do. We did some research and found some information online about the weather, hiking path and places to stay. We were all set!

Himalaya range

1 Aug 2013
We spent one short night in Delhi airport, modern, big and clean which was a big surprise for me because when I was there in 2008, it was a crappy old airport. We catch the early morning flight to Leh, flew over the Himalayas range. It was stunning with endless snow capped mountain peaks!

Sia-La Guesthouse
2 Aug 2013
A short flight later we landed at the Kushok Bakula Rimpochhe Airport, one of the world highest airport at the altitude of 3,256 m (10,682 ft). We were surrounded by bare rocky mountain and flat sandy plains, looks a lot like the desert. The air was fresh early in the morning, we took a taxi to our pre-booked guesthouse - Sia La Guesthouse. There were probably more than 50 guesthouses in Leh, this one was our choice, located just 5 minutes walk to the center and they responded to my email efficiently. We arrived at a beautiful vegetables and flower garden and welcomed by the owner, she served us tea and told us to relax and don't do much today. :-) We got a huge room on the 2nd floor with the view of garden and mountain peaks afar.

After a short nap, we were ready to explore the town. Just a short walk to town and we already spotted several stray dogs. There were travel agents and souvenir shops lining the street. We chose one of the many German bakery to have our brunch not that we want to eat the German bread. We ordered 2 local famous dishes momo and tukpa, momo is like chinese dumpling and tukpa is basically noodle soup. We felt energized after the meal. 2 french ladies join us, they couldn't bother to speak english, chatting away in french with Kareen. I understood that they were here to do some charity work.

We have to get going to search for a travel agent for our trek. We first drop by the DreamLadakh Agency, asked for several options of trek and prices. There were several options of trek we can do in 8-9 days. 
1. Markha Valley Trek 
2. Lamayuru - Chilling 
3. Rumste to Tsomoriri 
4. Phyang to Hunder

There were all camping trek, which means there will be guide and horseman and ponies carrying camping equipment and food. We will need good sleeping bag and camp along the way. We got a shock when we were given the price. It was extremely expensive. We opt out option 1 as this trek is pretty busy and crowded, option 3 is out of our budget, option 4 is out as it is difficult to get horseman and ponies in short notice. We are left with option 2 but this trek only need 5-6 days. We pop into another travel agency, this one doesn't even convince me, I was doubtful, even though the price is cheaper. 

Mosque in Leh
Finally we went to the Ladakhi Women's Travel Company ( I contacted before the trip. This company is run by Ladakh most experienced female guide, they employed only female guides and porters to encourage the women of Ladakh to show their abilities and skills. Their treks are homestay base, which means we stay in the Ladakhi home in the village, their homes are always run by the women, while the men are out earning the family’s income. By using the homestay system, we help the women to achieve the same status as the men. It also provide extra income to the locals and encourages people to remain in their villages instead of seeking employment in the cities. When using the homestay system we will get a closer look at the traditional Ladakhi way of life in a way we could never experience in a guesthouse or camp. We like the idea and we were sold! The ladies were very helpful in planning our trip, we finally put together 2 treks, a 3D2N Sham trek from Likir Monastery to Temisgam and continue to a 5D4N from Lamayuru to Chilling. We leave the day after. Another day to acclimatise in Leh.

We were feeling light headache the whole day from the high altitude. My eyes were itchy from the dusty surrounding. At night, I was feeling horrible with the headache getting worst and the rejection of the day brunch. We didn't get our dinner, instead we drank loads of water and sleep. The first night was terrible with the stray dogs fighting and barking at the neighborhood. We didn't sleep well.

3 Aug 2013
On the 2nd day, we struggle awake with the headache still lingering around. Ahhhh! I took 2 panadols to calm it. Today we plan to go easy as well, we will visit the famous Leh Palace and the stupa at the top of the mountain. Buy some supply that we need and pack for our trek. We decided to get a porter for our 2nd trek as we will be crossing 3 high passes above 4000m and we will pack more cloths for the coldness at night. For the 1st trek, as it is an easy trek, we will carry our own backpack.

Namgyal Tsemo Gompa
The Leh Palace stood atop the Tsemo Hill, overlooking the town and the mountain of Stok Kangri in the Zangskar mountain range. The palace was built in the 17th century, a ruin, is currently being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. We took a slow walk thru the mud brick houses and narrow lanes of the old town up to the palace, stray dogs are everywhere and rubbish as well. The view on the way up was spectacular. We paid 100rps to enter the palace, the restoration work was almost finish. There were rooms after rooms and a museum inside with old chinese painting which are more than 450 years old.

Maitreya Buddha
We proceed to the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa above the Palace, it has a three-story high gold idol of Maitreya Buddha. It is still visited by monks everyday to light the butter-filled lamps in the morning and evening. The last structure at the top is the old fort that is almost a ruins now. 

Leh town is small, easy access by foot. We found a restaurant and had a delicious Indian vegetarian dinner. I have decided to be vegetarian the whole trip. Let see how it goes... This night I put on my ear plug with hope to get a good night sleep.

4 Aug 2013
On the 3rd day, we were all set to be pick up at 7:30am to start our 8 days trek. Stanzin our guide was there on time. The adventure be continue....

Sia-La Guesthouse – ( 1200rps per room/night with attached toilet, hot shower, TV. Breakfast - 100rps pp

Jet Airways - SG-DELHI-LEH return S$846 pp
Taxi to guesthouse - 200rps per taxi

Entrance to Leh Palace – 100rps pp
Entrance to Namgyal Tsemo Gompa - 20rps pp
Entrance to The Fort - 20rps pp
3D2N Sham trek - 7800rps pp (
5D4N Hemis NP trek - 11160rps pp
1 Porter for Hemis NP trek - 3500rps