On the summit day of our highest pass, I felt my boundless energy rising to a level that I couldn’t contain anymore. I love hiking straight up and this was going to be the highest peak that I climbed (…except I had to climb the last 20 minutes or so of Khardung La pass during a blizzard because the road was blocked by stuck vehicles – which was a bit higher).
I trekked through snow and slush and had to try and slow myself down because I was so excited to reach the top. I kept stopping to try and breathe in the thin air but my legs wanted to run up to the pass. The ascent wasn’t steep, nor was it technical. The challenging part was hiking up on snow, slush and ice as well as ascending in thinner air.
But, my body seems to function at opposite levels. When I am at sea level, I feel sluggish, tired and have brain fog. But the higher that I hike, I feel more clear-headed and happier. So, when I reached the peak, I threw down my backpack, ripped off my jacket and began running around joyfully in a state of heightened bliss. I ran around for a while, jogging across the top and taking pictures along the way.
Once the rest of my friends arrived, we took pictures at the top and began the icy, steep descent. Going downhill on a steep descent with icy paths amidst a lot of snow was very scary for me. Each time I took a step, I had to carefully place my foot as close to the mountain side of the icy, tiny trail in order to prevent sliding down the sharp slope on the other side.
It took a great deal of concentration and once we made it to safety and out of the snow, Thibaud and I sat down to have a snack and reflect on our hike.
The rest of the descent and the hike into Chogdo winded through a deep canyon and a river. Most of the time, we could see either the low trail that ran around and sometimes, across the river or a higher, steep and sketchy trail very high above the river. It was the only time that I would’ve liked to have a guide as we wound up walking on very high, narrow, steep trails that were covered in ice and snow. Then, we would have to descend down an icy slope straight across the river, hopping over rocks and trying not to fall.
At one point, when we were all searching for the trail, low or high, the badass German couple scaled a 90-degree wall straight up a cliff to find the high trail.
“Oh hell no,” I said as Thibaud, Marco and I watched the German girl trying to free climb up a cliff over a rocky river wearing her heavy backpack. They did it but we decided against it and walked back until we spotted the actual, somewhat hidden trail going up and up and up to reach the trail that they had climbed to.
We hiked and hiked until we reach Chogdo where we tried to find the same homestay that our friend Nicole and her guides were staying at. No one in the village wanted to help us find them as they wanted us to stay in their homestays. We wound up following a very nice woman, who was smiling broadly, down a steep hill, across the river and up a very steep path to her home under the impression that our friend was staying there as well.
She proudly showed us her guest room and the kitchen and urged us to take off our shoes. We quickly realized that this wasn’t where Nicole was staying.
“We should try and find Nicole’s place,” Thibaud said as they had offered to give us a ride the next day back to Leh, and we also wanted to invite Nicole on our next trek.
“Let’s stay here and then go on a quest,” I said. “I can’t carry my backpack anywhere else and this woman is so accommodating.”
Indeed, the woman had already started warming up tea for us and was motioning for us to come and sit in her tiny, warm kitchen. She had the largest and most beautiful smile that I had seen so far and I couldn’t resist her hospitality. After a tea, we went on a mission for Nicole and her guides. We hiked back down the hill, hopped across the rocks on the river, trying not to fall in and back up the next hill. Then, we walked down the path for quite a while until we came across a newer guesthouse and found them sitting inside.
As soon as we walked in and were handed a cup of chai, I was happy with our decision for where to stay for the night. Nicole’s place was much more modern and seemed to be built more for tourism whereas ours felt like a tiny homestay with a gracious host, which was what Thibaud and I had grown accustomed to by this point on the trail. It was a very nice experience to choose our own homestays based on feeling rather than having someone choose them for us.
On our last day, we hiked with Nicole, her guides and Marco on the path/road to the end of the trek. As we climbed into Nicole’s van taxi at the end of the trail and drove towards a few monasteries that we were going to visit, a wave of sadness washed over me as I wasn’t ready to go back to society. I wanted to keep living in this Ladakhi paradise forever.
Sham Valley Trek
After resting for a few days in Leh, where nearly everything had closed by this point, we decided to do one last trek: The Sham Valley Trek, otherwise known around town as: The Baby Trek.
The Sham Trek is a short three-day trek that is supposed to be done first, before any longer treks, such as the Markha Valley Trek. It is usually hiked as a ‘warm-up’ for more serious and strenuous treks in Ladakh.
Thibaud, Nicole and I decided to do it after the Markha Valley Trek since we had a few more days before our flight to Delhi. None of us were ready to get back into the real world of wifi and news so we escaped for a few more days. We caught the local bus, which after a very bumpy ride, dropped us off on a desolate dirt road in the middle of nowhere.
We all looked around, clutching our backpacks and then walked up to the shack on the side of the road.
“Chai?” I said hopefully before noticing a small stove to man’s right side. “Omelette?!”
He nodded enthusiastically and we had breakfast overlooking the vast, dusty landscape around us. The trek was supposed to start in the town of Lekir but there was nothing in sight. The man smiled and pointed to the vast wilderness behind his shack. After we finished our breakfast and chai, we set off in the direction that he pointed, using our google maps as our guide.
We hiked through a desert-like landscape and it reminded me of The Lion King as we saw skeletons everywhere. Somehow, we started following signs that led us down a very remote canyon in the wrong direction. As I hopped ahead on the rocks very deep into the canyon, spotting animal skeleton after animal skeleton, we realized we were heading the wrong way and turned back.
Once we were on the right trail, we eventually came to a large building that was hosting a lunch for the entire village. A bus full of village locals got off and were ushered inside as we hiked up. After some pleading, we were invited inside to have tea and lunch in a separate room with the children. The lunch was being held for the villagers as a thank for you for helping with an upcoming wedding.
The adorable children with snot dried on their noses and their bums hanging out kept running in and out playing a game of hide-and-seek with us as the mom came in to talk with us for a few moments,
“I am getting my masters in Buddhist studies,” she told us as she bounced a baby on her traditional dress. She poured us more tea and then we paid them and continued on our trek.
We soon arrived in Hemis, a beautiful village tucked away between mountains. We had to hike up and up and up to reach the village. Once we arrived, we walked around trying to find the perfect place to stay. Since we were the only hikers left on the Sham Valley trek (it is usually crowded, I heard, but we were the last three hikers for the season), no one even tried to fight to host us. Instead, we wound up passing a bunch of locals and as if it were her turn, one older woman stood up and led us through the winding rows of homes and up a set of stairs before reaching her home.
As we took off our shoes and walked into the guest room with several mattresses on the floor, she opened the windows. We were very high up and there were mountains all around us. The room was on a corner so we had multiple windows showing us the mountain range surrounding us. There were bright green trees as well as snow-capped peaks in the far distance. It was the most picturesque view I could’ve imagined. She brought us tea and we giggled with delight as we relaxed with our beautiful views before running outside to explore the village and surrounding views at sunset.
The following day, we got lost (it was my fault, I wouldn’t listen to Thibaud’s directions even though I wasn’t even using a map). Instead of hiking an hour back up the steep road that we had just descended, we scaled a very steep and sketchy tiny trail that went straight up the face of a slope. It was terrifying but the top was rewarding and worth it. I ran further up and around the trail to find another pass that had the most beautiful views of rows and rows of snow-capped peaks.
Then, we hiked eventually to the town of Ang. Walking into this town carried the feeling of a heart-filled home. I felt joy bubble up inside of me as soon as we put our bags down in the lovely homestay that we found. The woman and her son were so very happy to host us. She gave us buckets of hot water for our bucket baths. She fed us snacks of fresh apricots, apples, cookies and unlimited milk teas.
Nicole and I took off to keep exploring the town and wound up making friends with a dog that started exploring with us. We climbed up and around and through fences. We walked along walkways alongside waterways and over stones that had water trickling down them. We had to go through a barbed wire fence and scale a stone wall and eventually came to a mountain that overlooked Ang. We climbed and climbed and climbed, trying to get to the top before dark, and right at sunset, we reached the top.
It was my favorite moment of all of my time in Ladakh. The village of Ang warmed my soul. Having Nicole and our new dog to explore and to climb furiously up one more peak was the pinnacle of all of my experiences there so far. We sat and watched as the sun fell behind the mountains and the sky lit up with colors so brilliant that they lit up the dark clouds over them.
Then, we scampered back down the mountain, back through town, and straight into our homestay to find fresh, homemade momos waiting for us.
More to come from the life of joy 😉
Well, that’s it actually, I have run out of space in my blog!! Bye!
Also, these are all out of order a bit but all from 2018
Thanks to Thibaud for being such an amazing hiking partner throughout all of our adventures!