Today I actually woke up without a headache. Hurray! Not that you're as fit as you'd be at home though; some say that it takes at least two weeks to fully adjust to the height. Once again the crew brought us tea and warm water at the tent at 7:00 AM and after having visited the local toilet (imagine a small room with a rectangle hole in the floor and an enormous pile of shit in the open basement below) it was time to pack our stuff again. This was beginning to become a highly organized ritual.
At breakfast we were treated to chapatti and toast and at we left Yangtang (3600 m) for our third trekking day.
View over Yangtang.
Three die-hards had opted for the longer 7-8 hour route, but most of the group preferred the shorter 3-4 hour trek to our destination Hemis Shukpachu. After crossing the bridge over the Wuleh Tokpo we ascended the hill on the other side of the stream and after following the jeep track for 45 minutes we took a shortcut up the Sarmanchan-La pass. In Ladakh a shortcut is actually a steepcut and the climb into this gorge was probably as tough as our second pass of the previous day. Quite remarkable there were a few patches of green in this hot and barren gorge, perfect spots to catch our breaths and drink something.
At we finally reached the Sarmanchan-La (3750 m), where the group tied up another series of prayer flags. The view from this top was again stunning. You could see the small green valley of Yangtang in the direction we came from while Hemis Shukpachu lay right in front of us at the end of the gorge.
After a short break (which I used for a 10 minute meditation in this inspiring surrounding) we started our descent to the green valley.
After half an hour we entered the little town of Hemis Shukpachu (3600 m, a.k.a. Hemis Shukpachan), with green barley fields all around us and passing several chörtens and mani walls. After crossing the bridge over the Akheur Tokpo river we had one final climb to the camp site. We found the tents already patched up and table ready for the expected cookies and tea. I have to say that this is a very convenient way of trekking. When you leave your previous camp the crew packs up all tents and stuff, races to the next town (often passing you on the jeep track while you're struggling up some mountain). Since we had arrived early () we were also treated to a hot lunch with fried rice and spiced potatoes.
At hours it was time to explore the village.
A short rest ...
While we walked towards the town's nunnery we could clearly see how a smart system of irrigation channels that ran through the whole town was used to bring water from the mountain streams to the barley fields. Barley, by the way is the only grain that grows at this height, something that Mao completely disregarded when he forced people in Tibet and other parts of China to grow different weeds, leaving countless numbers of people starving after failed harvests.
Hemis Shukpachu was clearly a lot better off than Yangtang. The houses looked better, the children had cleaner cloths and the whole place just seemed to have more class.
After a 20 minute walk we reached the nunnery, where we visited the small prayer hall that featured a statue of Avalokiteshvara (seemingly as popular here as in Tibet).
Climbing the Sarmanchan-La.
We then were invited to visit the nuns themselves. The nunnery housed 5 nuns, four between 74 and 80 years old and one 18 year old nun (who wasn't in at the moment). They were very happy to meet us and treated us to tea and cookies, happily posing for everybody's camera (and asking copies of the pictures). They filled their days with prayers and life obviously wasn't easy judging from their weather-beaten faces, but their kind personalities more than made up for their rough appearances. We asked them several questions while Jimmy translated and when asked if they wanted to ask us something they mentioned the three broken windows in their living room. Without hesitation everybody coughed up 100 rupees (less than 2 euro!) and we gathered a donation that would be more than enough to fix these windows. This meeting was a magical experience and we all promised to send the nuns the pictures we had taken.
At the other side of the village, overlooking the other houses, lay the little gompa, where we visited the assembly hall, which again held a statue of Avalokiteshvara, but a very nicely coloured one this time. Then it was back to the camp site where the three die-hards who had done the long track had also arrived. Before the next activity we had time to take a quick shower in the therefore assigned shack. The water, which came in a bucket filled from the mountain stream, was ice-cold (I was in the pool!) but it was great to finally have something that resembled a shower again.
Climbing the Sarmanchan-La.
“If you come to my house,
In the morning, or the evening, or the afternoon,
If you come in spring or winter,
I will be waiting for you.
I will be waiting with tea an tsampa,
So do not wait, my friends, do not stay away.”
Ladakhi Song of Welcome
A Journey in Ladakh - Andrew Harvey
At we gathered for a short visit to a Ladakhi house.
I told you it was a tough climb ...
Dadul guided us to this place that lay close to the camp site. The family consisted of man, wife, four daughters and one young son, a cheeky little lad. Dadul explained something about the way their house was designed and we were treated to butter tea (which fortunately is not made with yak butter here and therefore tastes slightly less disgusting) and tsampa (barley flour) which could be mixed with either the tea or chang. Andre, Paul and I had opted for this chang instead of the tea; local milk-white beer made from ... You guessed it: barley. Chang tastes a bit like a cross between wine and white beer and is quite likeable, which people could probably tell by my enthusiastic 'Yes!' when asked if we wanted more chang. During our visit I ended up drinking four glasses of the white substance and was feeling slightly tipsy. Paul was probably feeling the same way since we giggled all the way back to the camp site.
The crew had prepared steamed vegetable momo's (not my favourite type) and something that resembled spaghetti. The desert was a fruit salad. Kirsten had suggested that at the last night of the trekking we would organize some kind of evening filled with silly games and such. After dinner people started thinking of games and riddles and when we tried out some of these on Dadul we were amazed how intelligent he was, quickly solving most of our riddles. We had to come up with more challenging stuff for the crew! Two days to go.
At nine o’ clock most people went to their tents, I had hoped for another night with bright stars and some stargazing but Hemis Shukpachan wasn't as dark as Yangtang, clearly having electricity in several houses.
Chang is a soft and glowing drink and I was softly, glowingly, totally drunk.(…)
“Bastard! How do you manage to be still sober?”
“Long meditative training. You may never reach my exalted stage of development. You could meditate nude in the Himalayas for years and not be where I am.”