It's day six of our trek and fatigue has finally set in. I can’t seem to be able to even get up or eat. Yesterday’s ‘Lion’s Pass’ really made a meal out of me. Incidentally, Sengge La means ‘Lion’s Head,’ and is usually impassable before June because of snow. Even yesterday, there are was a thick line of snow over the pass though mercifully our path had none. By the by, we walked only 31 mountain kilometres yesterday. One mountain kilometre, if it gently undulates, is two and a half plain kilometres. So, yeah, do the math.
Rajesh (our guide) and team are amused at our fatigued faces (what’s new about that), and tell us to hold up our chins. Today will be a “relatively” easy day and we won’t have to walk much though there are two passes to climb. I am really straining my intellect to understand which part of “climb” is supposed to be easy!
Climbing towards KiupaLa (14,600 ft)
Nevertheless, we fill our bottles from a mountain stream and are on our way. The other campers have already left and we follow the haphazard footprints of their mules. The path begins to climb only to go down and an hour later we can see the first pass of the day, KiupaLa (14,600 ft) looming ahead. Rajesh was right, the climb isn’t too difficult and we reach the chorten at the pass fairly soon. It’s really windy up there and I can barely stand straight, but the prayer flags look beautiful. I quickly chant the Tibetian-Buddhist mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” and pray for the safety of the team. The climb down starts gently but we have been warned, it will be a steep descent. And it is! I have to force my body to resist the sheer momentum of the scree slope and hug the mountainside whenever mules coming down behind us. The narrow trail holds no place for two people let alone a loaded mule and a person. These mules incidentally are a mean lot and given a chance will insist on throwing me off the trail. Gah!
It gets worse when Rajesh insists Naveen and I take the shortcut to catch up with the android (Ani) who as usual has taken off. I reluctantly accept but ten steps into the path I start wailing and cursing Rajesh. “Why this trail? There is no path! It’s slippery! Am gonna fall! Are you mad? Are you trying to kill me?” And other such hysterical exclamations. Poor Naveen has to bear with me and tries to instil some confidence by praising my trekking boots. Their soles apparently have good traction. Apparently, I won’t keel over. Sigh!
I am not exaggerating. The descent is quite precarious and exposed at many points. The scree path is quite unlike any we have come across so far and it takes effort not to lose footing. I even slip at one point and fall on my arse. Luckily Ani, who is right behind me, helps me up. It takes us hour and a half to reach the bottom of a narrow valley where two streams meet. There’s a tea tent there though it is shut today.
The path from here starts climbing and it is quite steep though not as bad as our descent. Also, the trail is solid, though rocky in parts. I stuff my face with some Snickers bars and start climbing. A kilometre later, we come to another chorten and a tea stall. A huge group of firangs are coming from the opposite direction who, like the many we met on our trek, seem very fit and cheerful.
We continue to climb and the slope gets steeper though after an hour the path levels off, bends and drops before the final climb to the day’s second pass MargunLa Pass (14,370 ft). We are given a breathtaking view of the Lingshed village and its terraced fields nestled within the bowl of the mountains. The sight isn’t too different from my imagination of The Shire in Middle Earth. Did Tolkien ever come here?
The descent takes us another hour and it’s very dry and dusty. The sun beats on our backs though Ani and I make quick of the walk, making plans for future, more luxurious trips. Anything that will not involve walking!
Soon we reach the town of Lingshed looking like dusty-Yetis. Every part of my being is covered in thick layers of dust. There are dirt cakes under my nails and no amount of washing has helped so far. Our rucksacs look like they have been transporting dust. Our shoes are unrecognisable. Despite being on the mountains, I feel as if I have been trudging across the Thar or Sahara.
We plonk our dusty arses outside the bench of a closed shop, relieved over the day’s shortish walk. It’s barely 3 pm in the afternoon and is quite hot. The cook and his assistant are setting up the kitchen tent. I decide to take advantage of the sunny afternoon to wash six days worth of dirty laundry – a track pant & my mountain-hiking socks. Life’s so simple up on the mountains! Though the cold mountain stream stings!
Our tents are set. I have managed to take a semblance of a bath, though my dirt streaked thighs did make me shudder. Rolling out my sleeping bag, I am out in a lark. Ani meanwhile decides to accompany Rajesh to the nearby monastery. Incidentally, Lingshed is one of the ancient Buddhist centres of India, and the village is so remote that it takes four days of walk to reach a tarred road.
The day passes quickly. We can see the next day’s walk far near the horizon and I have started quaking in my boots already. The climb looks formidable. Rajesh tells us that it will take only three hours to get to the top from the base of the mountain. “Only”?! Sigh, tomorrow is another day. For now, I plan to pig on the delicious momos the cook has made for us.