Day1: Phyang – Phyang Phu We get a taxi to Phyang an hour away to the North-West and briefly check out the big monastery that’s getting renovated before moving on up the valley to the next village. Luckily we get a lift with nice local family along the road just as we ascend a steep slope. It’s quite cold and we struggle to get the stove started as we’re surrounded by a heard of yak. A herdsman (owner of the yak) gives us a bag of vegetables and a few boxes of matches, which we really needed. Later that evening the clouds break and stars come out but it’s too cold to stay outside for long and retreat to the tent early for the night.
Day 2: Phyang Phu -Southern Basecamp Lazermo La It’s very cold in the morning and we wonder how the close-by Markha Valley which we trekked last week was so much warmer. We spend a lot of the day going over difficult terrain…a rocky landscape strewn with massive boulders and a riverbed with no clearly defined path. We eat lunch beside another herd of yak before pushing on up the valley until twilight and we set up camp late. We’re exhausted and very cold so eat dinner as quickly as possible before going to sleep. A terrible night’s sleep as it’s freezing, even under layers of clothes.
Day 3: Lazermo La Southern Basecamp – Northern Basecamp It’s still freezing till the sun comes up over the hills but as soon as it does we leave and walk through a flower filled valley to begin the long climb up to the pass. Progress is slow especially on the steeper slopes and the air is noticeably thinner as we gasp and stop for regular breaks on the way up. At 5400m, it’s the highest I’ve ever been and it’s a great feeling knowing that I’m amongst the highest few hundred (if that) highest humans on the planet. When we reach the snow at the top we take a quick snack before trying to figure out how to get down the other side as we can’t find a path or any tracks. We end up sliding down most of the way in the snow and walk for another hour or so through more pleasant valleys and set up camp before getting a better night’s sleep.
Day 4 : Lazermo La Northern Basecamp – ? Another freezing morning till the sun comes up and then we’re slow to move on when we begin to enjoy its warmth. Lovely meadows, lakes and streams along the way and we enjoy taking plenty of photos. We come across a couple of shepards in the dry-stone huts and get invited in for tea and homemade cottage cheese with tsampa. We walk half an hour onwards to set up camp and watch herds of yak passing southwards before the stars come up.
Day 5: ? – Hunder We get up a bit later to once again allow the sun to rise above nearby hills to warm us. We walk though more spectacular valleys to the village of Hunder Phu, one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever been. We stop for a snack before pushing on through rocky valleys and up cliff-side paths in the deep canyons. We hadn’t expected to reach our final destination at Hunder on Day 6 but we keep walking through the late afternoon till we reach a road and figure we should push on, leaving us exhausted and sore from wearing our backpacks for so long but we’re mighty relieved when we do reach a guesthouse in town. After such a tough trek, as soft bed feels like the height of luxury and after a big Indian tali buffet, I fall into a deep sleep by 10pm.
Day 6: Hunder to Leh via ‘The highest motorable road in the world’ We spend the morning exploring Hunder and walk up to a small monastery overlooking the town. Despite needing a permit to visit Hunder (as it’s near to both Pakistani-Kashmir and the Chinese border), the place is a lot more touristy than expected. We decide to hitch back to Leh and walk for half an hour in the heat of midday through the dry valley, passing huge army bases on both sides. Fortunately a jeep stops and agrees to take us to Leh 4 hours away. We’re very grateful and ask if we can contribute towards towards the cost of the fuel (so they don’t spring any surprises on us at the end of the journey). The driver, a teacher of Urdu and a Muslim, states the price as 400 rupees and we agree. 200 rupees each is around what we’d pay for the bus journey so we’re content enough. Along the way the kid in the back with us talks on and on in between eating packet after packet of potato crisps. He’s that loud it’s as if he’s shouting and between this and asking the price of everything in our countries, it’s clear this wee brat is the sort of boy who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing; a spoilt child who seems like he’s used to getting what he wants. As we go up the steep mountains, the driver decides he’s had enough and swops with the fella in the passenger seat (who happens to be fasting for Ramadan). No long after this, the new driver begins to nod off as he’s driving along the world’s highest fucking road. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s probably the bumpiest road in the world too – the driver’s head bopping up and down as he drifts off. He has to stop and splash water on his face from a stream but this still isn’t enough and neither is John talking loudly at him from the back seat enough to keep him awake. Soon after this the original driver is back driving and the other fella is snoring loudly from the passenger side again.
When we get to Leh we hand over the 400 rupees bu the driver declares that it’s 400 each that we owe. This is clearly bullshit and it’s obvious from the three of their instant indignant reactions that they’ve been plotting to charge double of what was agreed. The cocky little bastard of a kid rubs his thumb and fingers together out the window, shouting “come back, you pay” at John who’s just walked away. I stand there slightly shocked at what scumbags they’re being, all three of them with a look of contempt on their faces. I eventually decide walking off is the best tactic; there’s no point in arguing – it’s been a long day and I don’t need this shit. There’s no way a Ladakhi from the mountains would behave in this way towards travelers. That’s the difference between genuine mountain folk and greedy cretins from more ‘civilised’ parts, with their 4x4s and contempt for fellow man. Relieved to be back in the familiar surroundings of the guesthouse in Leh, but with a sour taste from the latest incident, it doesn’t take as long readjusting to being back after this more difficult trek.