There are some incidents that are life changing, and the extent of their magnitude may not be known at the moment when you are actually in the midst of it. But the memories keep surfacing long after the deed is done. And the Darcha to Padum trek (Lahaul to Zanskar) has been a monumental journey for me. To put things into perspective, I’d also like you to go through : Doing the unthinkable – Solo Trekking to Zanskar
I embark on the same epic journey once again in a few days time – courtesy of a wedding invitation from Zanskar to attend and document a traditional Zanskari wedding. It is about time that I shared some of my deepest thoughts that were written in the diary while on the Darcha to Padum trek in 2015. Its been a long time since I’ve been toying with the idea of sharing the as-it-happened moments on the crazy solo trek.
Darcha to Padum Trek : Diary Entry of an Adventure
Arriving in Rarik : After coming back from Tayul Monastery near Gemur, reached Rarik village after a hitched car ride to reach Darcha. Rain in Darcha. Sit at a dhaba and talk to locals. Taste some delicacies of Lahaul. Already close to dark but they advise me to go as far as the bus goes. Reach Rarik. Almost dark. Only 2 passengers in the bus left. I get down at the last stop – Rarik village.
Still drizzling. Local tells me 6-8 homes in the village. I ask him if I can stay at his home. He doesn’t respond and walks away. I knock on the first door. Immediately welcomed. Om Mane Padme Hum sounds reverberate in the green valley. Home grown veggies. Flour brought from the market. Spinach and cabbage grown. Zaan dish served for me – barley flour ground by hand grinder, locally grown. Potatoes with green coriander served as well. Black tea with cardamom. Can’t thank Norbu enough for the kindness towards a stranger. Sleeping arrangements made in a room. Sound sleep. Nice and cold, but very cosy.
Lucky day to reach Chuminakpo : Wake up and feel refreshed. Sunny day. Gorgeous valley, Rarik village is very pretty indeed. Breakfast and tea. Norbu discusses and suggests me the trail and my plan of action. Refuses to take money from me after hearing about my friend Yonten. Standing on the road after saying goodbye to Norbu. Aroma of herbs while I stand on the road waiting for a ride to Zanskar Sumdo.
Some locals talk about a different bus to Yoche village, which lies on the other side of the valley. Sounds fascinating. On the road where I am standing; Chikha, Palmo and Zanskar Sumdo lie ahead. I’ve been told GREF trucks ply on this road and finding a ride to Zanskar Sumdo (around 4100m) is easy. There is a nicely placed stone dhaba in Zanskar Sumdo where I can stay for the night. Sumdo in Tibetan loosely translates to meeting point of valleys.
Among interesting anecdotes while chatting to locals : Kashmiris say that Zanskar begins from Zanskar Sumdo while Himachalis regard Shingo La or Shinku La (Shinkun La) as the state border. Developed village : On this side of the road, the Himachal Government has done a commendable job. Locals mention that all villages are connected by road and have basic primary health care and schools too.
The locals fear loss of culture when the Darcha – Padum road is completed and opened for vehicular traffic. Even currently young children are sent to far away places to study and its not surprising that they hardly know their customs and practices. Another local remarks that nowadays fertilisers are used in Lahaul, near Keylong. The fields and crops can no longer be said to be wholly organic. Some farmers though grow organic variety of cherries, strawberries, broccoli, iceberg rocket, lettuce, purple cabbage for supplying to the cities.
One can see Sony Bravia TV even in old and remote homes in Lahaul. In summer, long days of work for the locals. They are in the fields at daybreak at 5 am and toil till the last light of the day to cultivate crops in the brief summer season.
Village homes only in Chikha and only farms and pastures in Palmo. Metalled road till Palmo. GREF personnel are working on lengthening the metalled road. Truck came after some time and I reached GREF DETT Camp. The truck guys mentioned the distances to me : From Rarik to DETT GREF Camp Army – 9 kms. From Rarik to Zanskar Sumdo – Stone dhaba and DETT – 18 kms. From Rarik to Ramjak DETT – 27 kms. From Ramjak to Chuminakpo dhaba – 3 kms. Chumiknakpo is the place with a flat camping ground for pitching tents, and there’s also a parachute tent dhaba here.
I have no particular aim and have been told by Norbu that it is better to reach Zanskar Sumdo and stay at the dhaba for the night. It makes sense to have small goals in the absence of transport and take it from there. I got quite lucky to find another ride after reaching first GREF DETT Camp. The truck takes me to the dhaba at Zanskar Sumdo and I reach around 1 in the afternoon. It is nicely placed and stocked with necessities. I fix a price for the stay and food and watch the stunning landscapes with clouds floating carelessly.
After a quick omelette, I lie down with my mind made up about staying in Zanskar Sumdo for the night and then figuring the next step next day. A few horsemen from Zanskar have arrived and are going back to Kargyak; they ask me if I want to go with them on the horse . I’m uncertain about my pace and let them go. There’s another army DETT camp nearby and as I walk around with a few locals, the presence of another truck alarms me.
I ask the locals if the truck will drop me till as far it is going? They ask, the truck guy says yes – (I was to learn later that they were actually looking for people to remove boulders from the road!) I confirm with the dhaba guy that he’s not upset with me and he assures me its ok. I pay for the omelette and chocolates distributed among the local kids and sit in the truck with only a faint idea about the destination. The truck guy said he was going till Ramjak, from where the Chumiknakpo campsite was 3 kms away.
As we somehow made our way on the tortuous dirt track, the way ahead had been blocked by huge rocks. We got down to do the duty of pushing the rocks in the stream flowing on the right side. In the meantime, a sumo was seen coming just behind the truck. A local family was heading across the Shinku La and was headed to Chumiknakpo to stay for the night and begin the trek the next day. As soon as the road became operational, I quickly got into the sumo and was overjoyed at how the events had panned out.
They were a small family of 4; man, wife and two little kids. The youngest kid would hardly have been 5 years old and he really had a fun time playing with me in the sumo. Once we had reached the last road head at Chumiknakpo, everyone got down from the vehicle, but the parachute tent dhaba was nowhere to be seen. When I offered money, the local guy refused to take anything from me and said that anyway they had booked the entire sumo for the drop till Chuminakpo.
The family knew the exact route we had to take from the road to reach the dhaba. They were quick to skip down the valley even with the huge boulders while I stood on the road wondering how I was going to find a way. I was astonished at how even the little kids had managed to somehow get through the deadly looking terrain. It had started drizzling again and I just stood there and analysed from where I could go down to the dhaba.
Of course the dhaba could not be seen and therefore it was even more difficult for me in those 5 minutes to decide where to go. In the meantime, the dhaba owner had been communicated of my presence and he had sent someone to find me an easier way to get through. I was insanely happy on reaching the dhaba and putting my bags down. Oh, coming to the question of bags I wasn’t doing well on that front either.
I was carrying a backpack and a briefcase that contained my laptop. It was the ultimate trekking faux pas or even blunder. This was no joke. It was a trek that involved the crossing of a 5000m pass and I was carrying a suitcase! The dhaba owner was a kind man and asked me to sit in the tent. I told him I was also going to sleep in the tent and to give me proper bedding. I wasn’t carrying a sleeping bag and it was already so so cold.
He wasted no time in telling me that I wasn’t going to be able to get to Zanskar. When we conversed over black tea, he may have realised something about me and within no time, dhaba uncle became positive about my intent. He also told me that there were horsemen who were camping nearby and that I could handover my bags to them till Kargyak. I heaved a sigh of relief and immediately agreed a deal with the horsemen guys for 300 Rupees.
The clouds were stormy outside the parachute tent and when the clouds parted for a brief while, the stars shone brightly. It was an unbelievably beautiful sight I was witness to whenever I went to pee. I can’t really remember what dinner was but it was very very tasty. We also had a glass each of the local chhang. The tent flapped when the winds became crazy with howling sounds. The local family agreed to walk with me next morning.
What would happen on the next day? Did the weather get better? Was I able to get across the 5000-metre Shinku La in shorts? Did I survive after getting lost?
Since this article can be broken down in series, I am doing exactly that. Otherwise it could become humongous and too big to read at one go.