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A woman sitting in a chair at Hawa Mahal (Palace of Wind) in Jaipur, India. Photo by Eliana Rothwell (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest Finalist).

Trekking in Ladakh: A Daily Diary

May 7

We triumphantly finished the first day of our trek. Equipped with significantly lighter bags than the ones we initially brought to Ladakh, we embarked from Likir village in the morning snow to Yangthang village. Feroze and JD–two students from Secmol–Thinlas, and Stanzin also joined our group. The beginning stretch was easy and flat, the atmosphere full of anticipation and amity, the weather a familiar friend. After about two and a half hours, however, Shiva smugly curtailed our short-lived span of ease and sent a curtain of snow as we were tackling the uphill stretch of our hike. Even with the change in weather, I felt really proud because everyone remained positive–some were even belting songs–and supported each other; and although the snow was biting, it was also beautiful.

Upon arriving at our homestay, we greeted the family with “Julley!”, took off our wet clothes, drank steaming chai, and snuggled under shelves of blankets. After a few hours of rest, we read and discussed an article about climate change in India and the responsibility that the US has in foreign affairs regarding this issue. We talked about and questioned notions including individual vs government/corporation responsibility, our experiences with pollution in India and the US, the effects of pollution and its solutions on different groups of people, and the implementation of laws in India’s largely broken and corrupt government system.

—Christine

May 8

Today, we woke up and got breakfast in our homestay. The meal consisted of chai, roti/poori and spreads; the apricot jam was a real hit. Unfortunately, as we got ready to head out, Jacky slipped down the stairs and sprained her ankle. This changed our plans and a car came to pick Jacky up to drive her to our next destination. The rest of us did stretches to get ready for the day ahead. While it was mostly uphill, the trek wasn’t very long and we reached our next homestay in the village of Ullay by 1 pm. There, we are our packed lunch and rested, read and journaled. At 6, we met to read an article called wild fictions, about how wilderness is portrayed in literature and our relationship to nature and the people who live in it. At 8, we are a delicious dinner of rice, dal and veggies and watched cricket highlights. After that it was off to bed to get plenty of sleep for the next day

—Jane

May 9

On June 9, our day began in the town of Ullay where we had spent the night in a homestay. After a breakfast of thick rotis and an assortment of jams and butters, we set out on the trail at around 10am. We started off going downhill along a road with many switchbacks. The sun shined down on us from a partly cloudy sky. Snow-capped mountains peeked above the hills of dirt and rock through which we descended. Songs were sung, jokes were told, and snacks were eaten along our route. We eventually reached the floor of a green valley where yaks were grazing before we began our ascent up to a pass. At the top of the pass, we tied some prayer flags to a few tall piles of rocks and ate our packed lunches. The other side of the pass was a less steep slope that we followed all the way into the village of Hemishukpachan, where we would spent the night in another homestay. In the late afternoon, several members of our group made a short trip to the large Buddha statue in the middle of town and also restocked on group snacks at a small general store. Later, the whole group convened to continue discussing an article we had read the day before. The article, written by Amitav Ghosh and titled “Wild Fictions,” argued that humans’ relationship with the natural world is informed by stories they associate with nature. We ate a dinner of momos, rice, dal, and paneer before discussing plans for the next day and heading off to bed.

—Peter

May 10

Today we journeyed from the village of Hemishukpachan to the village of Ang. The walk was a total of approximately 4 hours, with a long stop for lunch at the top of a low mountain pass. A couple members of our group were unwell, so they took a car to meet us at Ang.

As we set out from our Hemishukpachan homestay, our guide and mentor, Stenzin le, pointed out a magnificent old juniper tree. The village, he said, was named after that tree, juniper being “Shukpa” in Ladakhi. The villagers of Hemishukpachan use the Juniper produced by that and other adjacent trees for incense.

As we traveled up a gradual slope out of the green valley, the landscape turned to dry desert. A lone stupa stood guard along the path, and we took our first rest in the shelter of its shade. Walking on, we came to a deep ravine. Stenzin told us a story about a medieval king who was digging that ravine to supply water to a nearby village, but who was attacked by a giant lizard and contracted leprosy. A monk from Tibet came to heal the king, and the lizard was slain and skinned. The lizard’s skin, says Stenzin, now sits behind a statue of Buddha in a nearby monastery.

We moved quickly down and across the ravine. A road was being constructed at the top of the rock cliff to the right of us and someone was intermittently blasting away at the rock, so we didn’t want to be under threat of falling rocks for longer than we had to. We all made it safely out of the danger zone, but as we were climbing up out of the ravine on the other side of the valley a blast sounded behind us and some small rocks began rolling down the cliff face. A little nerve racking, but no longer dangerous to us.

We climbed out of the ravine slowly and steadily. At the top, we all helped fix two fallen wooden posts upright that had fallen under the weight of hundreds of fluttering prayer flags strung between them. Although we were at the top of the pass, dozens of snow-capped peaks towered above us in the near distance. The view was spectacular, and we decided to rest for lunch.

After lunch, the walk to Ang was quick and easy—all downhill, and no fear of falling over the sides of rock faces. We arrived in Ang in the mid afternoon and were greeted with tea and biscuits.

In the evening, we began reading “Capitalism: A Ghost Story,” by Arundhoti Roy, a progressive Indian journalist and author with incredible clarity. The article was a scathing criticism of how capitalism was operating in modern India and throughout the global economy. In effect, A. Roy was implicating a handful of huge multinational corporations—namely, Reliance Industries Limited—in the destruction of land, lives, and communities with government sanction and impunity. Reading a portion of this article as a group led to an impassioned discussion about “the system”—the modern world’s complicit network of governments, corporations, educational institutions, media, justice systems, funneling the world’s resources into the pockets of the ultra-rich and powerful and destroying the lives of the most vulnerable.

After this discussion, which led to only more questions and no answers, we all headed off to sleep. Stav, Peter and I (Josh) stayed up a few more hours talking, but even that discussion eventually subsided to the silence of the peaceful Ladakhi night.

—Josh

May 11

Today, we woke up to Stav’s alarm blasting “Nashe Si Chadh Gayi” in the peaceful village of Ang. After a quick breakfast of chapati, mixed vegetables, jams and peanut butter, part of our group, along with our friends from SECMOL, Feroz and JD, and our guide Stanzin, began our day hike over the rolling rock mountains to the Tserkarmo Monastery. About an hour and a half later, just above Tsekarmo’s colorful, hand-painted stupas and green gardens, Josh and Ziv played a game of Chocolate Yoga as the group rested and admired the looming peaks in the distance. At the monastery, we meditated in an ancient rock cave and enjoyed a delicious lunch of taki bread, potato sabji, and kaju cookies in the monastery garden, with the sounds of birds and prayers wheels in the background. After lunch, we ventured down into the valley, had a quick snack of bananas, and explored the underground water cistern below the many steps leading up to the Temisgang Monastery. Following the tiring hike up for a quick visit to the monastery’s many prayer rooms, we went back down the winding road and through the barley fields of Temisgang village. Upon our return to Ang, we celebrated the end of our trek with fresh mangoes, purchased off a passing truck, in the early afternoon, and a dance party with Hindi and traditional Ladakhi songs in the late night.

—Ziv

May 12

Today we had to say goodbye to Ang and the wonderful family who hosted us there, as we set out for the village of Takmachik, the village in which Thinlas grew up. The two hour car ride was filled with beautiful views of the strikingly turquoise Indus River, as well as music from Hemant’s playlist (throwback to September in Uttarakhand!)

Upon arriving in Takmachik, we met our homestay families for the coming three days. Josh and I were warmly welcomed into a wonderful family — an extremely kind and hilarious mother, her thirteen-year-old daughter (who we soon discovered to be an unbelievably skilled Panch Goti player), and nine-year-old son (an avid viewer of the Discovery Channel and great dancer).

After lunch, the group reconvened, and Thinlas led us on a walk through her village and told us a bit about its history, people, agriculture, and systems. In the late afternoon, after reading a bit, I went out to explore the village a bit further: its terraced barley fields descending towards the river, intricate water canal system, and hilltop monastery. I noted the presence of a government-built and -funded Swacch Bharat toilet — perplexing in a village with 100% access to Ladakhi toilets and seemingly no need for this particular government intervention. I then joined a really fun mixed-age volleyball game and ended up playing until it was getting dark. Then I returned to my homestay, had a delicious dinner with Josh and the family, played some chess and watched some TV with our homestay siblings, and pretty soon thereafter went to sleep.

—Stav

May 13

Christine, Jane, and I are currently staying with a homestay family in the Ladakhi village of Takmachik. So far we have interacted with Stanzin Leh, her nine-year old boy, her timid little niece, two grandmothers, and two grandfathers. Today, we began to gradually wake up at around 8 am to have a leisurely breakfast at around 9. Back in our room, under a cozy blanket, I began to reread one of my favorite books. Around 11 am, light rain began to fall. Soon after the sound of thunder, I drifted to sleep. Lunch was at 1 pm. I lingered after the meal, taking in a few extra minutes of whatever Hindi movie my host brother was watching. And although I was very confused on what the actual plot line was, I can say with absolute assurance that it was ridiculously action-packed.

For some years now, chemical fertilizers have been banned in Takmachik. Manure from the Ladakhi compost toilets is used to nourish the fields. Yet, despite its proximity to the Indus, a major problem affecting the village’s agricultural livelihood is water shortage. Our group met in the evening to check in and walked up to the reservoir to learn more about the Takmachik’s canal system.

—Jacquelyn