9/12/2008 to 9/18/2008 | India , Ladakh

Tso Moriri to the Spiti Valley via the Parang La

legacy gallery with captions

We awoke in Korzok, the village nestled along the northwestern bank of the high altitude sailine lake of Tso Moriri, to a mass exodus.  Anyone with any mode of transportation, horse, donkey, tractor, jeep, motorcycle, truck, anything that could move a person to some where other than Korzok, was crammed full of people heading out of town.  We stood dumbfounded watching every pack animal and able bodied man who could drive them, head north out of town.  It was going to be more difficult than we thought to hire horses in Korzok.  With each animal that left our bargaining power diminished; foiled again by the Karmapa.  The Karmapa is the third most important lama in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dali Lama and the Panchen Lama.  Only two days before the twice-a-month bus to Tso Moriri had been delayed a day so the faithful could see the Karmapa arrive in Leh.  He was now visiting a village not far from Korzok hence the exodus.  The family of our home stay was also heading to seek an audience with the revered lama planning to return the following day leaving only the grandpa behind.

I had met my trekking companions Robin and Natalie a few days earlier in Leh.  Robin was a lifetime traveler and natural story teller from London with the accent to match, who paid the bills with construction work when he was not bribing his way though African boarders or climbing mountains ill-equipped in blinding snow storms.  The other half of the couple, Natlie, was a linguist currently doing the less than riveting but portable job of translating a three volume work on koi (the Japanese ornamental fish) from German to English.  Like me, they were interested in exiting Ladakh on foot into the Spiti Valley in neighboring Himachal Pradesh.  I was happy to find some people to share the cost of pack animals to help carry my bag (a little lighter without a laptop courtesy of the sticky fingered cook) out of Ladakh.  In addition to all my worldly possessions, since there were no villages along this route we would also have to carry sufficient food to last us the 5-7 days the trek was expected to last.  The extra weight made a completely independent trek virtually impossible.  While I had trekking companions to share the cost, a horse man and some horses were still required and as Korzok had become a virtual ghost town in a matter of hours this was beginning to look like it might be a more difficult task than had initially been anticipated.  We tried to put the word out we were looking for a horse man through the remaining grandpa but as he spoke very little English we weren’t sure the message was getting across despite his confident gestures.  After one rejected candidate we found a man who promised two donkeys and a horse which could leave the following morning.  We had initially be trying to higher three horses which can carry more and typically walk faster than donkeys but we eventually agreed on two donkeys and a horse for the price we had wanted to pay for three horses, agreeing that the driver should meet us the next morning at 6:00 am to load the animals and start off towards the village of Kibber in the Spiti Valley.

Six came and went.  Then seven came and went.  Still no donkeys, horse, or elderly Ladaki man to drive them.  Grandpa left for the village with the Karmapa telling us to shut the door when we left.  Eight o’clock came and went, still nothing.  Finally as nine approached our man showed up with two donkeys and no horse.  Our man in Korzok had the English mastery of a parrot.  If you said anything to him in English he would repeat it with a smile.  “Where is the horse?”  would generate the smiling response, “horse.”   Our man disappeared and returned with a translator of sorts, who conveyed, “Horse gone, go to mountains, two donkeys ok.”  To which we said, “not ok,” since we had more stuff than could possibly be carried on only two donkeys.  The compromise of a third donkey was finally reached and we set off sometime after nine with three donkey.  A visit by the Karmapa had managed to turn three horses into three donkeys and forced us to leave a day later than we had planned but we were finally on our way leaving Korzonk behind, the last village we would encounter for the next five days.

Tso Moriri is a long lake.  Hours of walking, and the lake was still to our left, the same mountains ahead and to either side.  It was like trekking on a treadmill.  Fortunately the same scene we stared at that entire first day, was a beautiful one, with the blue waters of Tso Moriri reflecting the surrounding desert landscape hemmed in by snow clad peaks.  At the end of the first day of hiking we camped at the far southern end of Tso Moriri at the mouth of the valley that leads up to the snowy peaks separating Ladakh from Spiti.

I still had not yet invested in a proper tent and was continuing to use my plastic tarp as shelter.  As night fell the wind whipped down through the valley to our very exposed camp site at the edge of the lake chilled by the frozen glaciers from which it had emanated.  The temperature dropped fast.  I wore all my cloths and climbed in my sleeping bag awakening the next morning with ice on the outside of my sleeping bag and numb feet.

Two more days of hiking slowly up the broad valley along an ancient trade route which in the other direction would eventually lead to Tibet bought us to the base of the 5500 m Parang La.  The glacier covered pass that separates Himachal Pradesh from Ladakh.  On the fourth day we crossed the pass.  I can never cross a pass without eyeing the peaks to either side wondering what better views lay after just a little more effort.  The Parang La was no exception and I decided to continue up the ridge to the nearest peak to the east and was rewarded with expansive views across the Himalayas.

The way down was long, we hiked nearly until dark before finally finding a camp site with water at the bottom of a gorge, it was rocky and there was no fodder for the donkeys but it had to do.

The following day we arrived in Kibber in the early afternoon five days after setting out from Korzok.

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