25th to the 27th July 2013
Sometimes I leave the best story for last. Perhaps the reason for this is that I was a little shamed by my mistake and possibly my stubbornness. But this is too good a story to assign to the dustbin and therefore lets start.
Last year in the middle of July I returned to the Marwar Valley and my favourite village Yordu. It was nice to see old friends and to be welcomed so graciously even though I gave them no warning as to when I would arrive. No internet, no mobiles but an amazing grapevine. It wasn’t long after my arrival that Bilal knew that I had arrived and came home to welcome me once again.
I have discussed in another article my attempt to cross the mountain range via the small villages of Anyar and Metwan and over Chilang La into Laddakh. It was more or less a spontaneous decision to see more of this wonderful world. Unfortunately that trip was never allowed to be finished as the Army received instructions to come an get me and to take me back to Yordu ostensibly as a guest of the Indian army. I was certainly upset that my life was not going as planned but the Army were quite kind and as my feelings subsided I realised that this was just another adventure and I should treat it as such and take the necessary steps to enjoy it.
When I got back to Yordu my hosts the Malik family helped me get the matter settled with the army and I got to see my hosts in a more familiar light. It was nice to wander around Yordu. The next day it was time to leave and head back to Inshan and over the pass to the more settled areas of Kashmir.
I left reasonably early and was fortunate enough to engage a guy to carry my rucksack. We headed back and within 2 hours had crossed the footbridge linking the present end of the road to the footpath to Yordu.
A nice break at the Pony camp and then off I went hoping to get a lift to Inshan. But that was not to be and soon I came to another bridge on my left and in the distance I could see a small village nestled in the hills. This country is just so beautiful. In summer the weather is just so benign and you seem to be as close to heaven as one can get whilst on earth. My feelings wavered should I try my luck and go to Margan Pass this way. (assuming such a path existed). I have a map of sorts which through the travels we have shared has become quite tattered. Often it is wrong but it is a sort of prized possession as it does provide me with some possibilities on possible routes.
My stay in Kashmir was coming to an end for another year. I still felt the need for an adventure. The previous attempt was thwarted for one reason or another and therefore I felt justified in trying to do this.
Passer is a very small village with a small schoolhouse, a mosque and a few cedar houses clustered along the footpath. The village is perched on the side of a valley with little springs on either side of the village and paddocks around the village and above where less steeply slopes exist.
The villagers all came out to greet me. Obviously visitors are few and far apart. I asked could I teach at the school and was introduced to the principal. The school seemed a little confusing to me at first as kids of all ages were in that room. My knowledge of Urdu is negligible but I thought maybe I could tell them something about my country. I don’t think I made a very good impression but afterwards was taken to one of the bigger homes where I was offered some food. I am always amazed that people can be so kind. Remember that it is Ramadan and I am the only one able to eat.
Discussions improvised with the teacher helping me convey my desire to obtain a porter/guide to take me to Margan Pass. Two candidates showed some enthusiasm for this project but the younger one pressed for the job and I accepted him.
I should have realised he was not really a porter more an opportunist out for a little fun without realising just how strenuous it would be for him.
We left shortly thereafter but didn’t go far before the elders intervened to see if I was going to pay him or pay him enough. I think that was the gist of it or at least that’s what I thought at the time.
I was glad he was carrying my rucksack. It actually didn’t have much in it as I wasn’t carrying food or a tent. But it was never the less very steep going and I don’t think I would have made it had I had the sack on my back. He was obviously affected by the climb too but not for the same reasons as me. I think he hadn’t done much in the way of physical work before and had guessed that walking with me would be an easy task and in the end he would get paid for it.
Upwards and upwards. Soon the village is a distant speck and we are starting to level with the surrounding peaks. The track at first is well made and obviously sees human and animal traffic. I soon realise that local knowledge is really important as we leave these settled areas and head up the ridge through the forest. The track becomes hard to follow. My guide is starting to winge too and that sort of takes away some of the amazing ambiance of this area.
The ridge is grassy at first and sometimes I am not sure if we are on the track. I pull myself up inch by inch and eventually we get into more rocky areas. The track is more defined now but the cliffs are all around us and in spite of the difficulties I am having with my guide I am glad I have been able to coax him this far. We eventually get to what looks like a old shepherds hut with the Deodar trees starting to disappear. We are sort of at the base of a amphitheater. He has just about reached his limit and starts yelling to a young boy way above us on the last and from my point of view still an insurmountable way to go. The boy is obviously looking after the goats but comes down quickly. My guide won’t go any further and asks the boy to carry the rucksack to the top. We have a rather heated discussion where I tell him and his Gods that I will reveal all about his despicable behaviour. He doesn’t seem that perturbed as we split.
Now that I am with the boy I can see straight away that he is so much more at ease with his environment than the so-called guide. We eventually make it to the top of this amphitheater and there are pastures here with goats grazing contentedly.. The goats are moving down the ridge too with us to what looks like a simple encampment. It is not quite what I expected as the shepherds usually have a more settled campsite and this one looks rather primitive. It is really just a circular rock wall with some bushes on top to keep the rain out.
When I arrive dusk is upon us and it is getting cold. I am quite wobbly on my feet as it has been a long day and I approach my host s with some trepidation. I am not sure how welcome I am and find that there are three men and two boys living in a very simple shelter. However space is made for me and I try to explain why I am here. A little Urdu would have been a great advantage as I can see they soon become frustrated with me. Never the less I have no choice as it is soon dark. The people are very kind but you see they have a hard life even though they might not be aware of it as I am seeing it. The boys have to go down to the tree line to get wood for the fires and also during the day they collect edible greens. There is no opportunity to grow things up here as they are only here for a few months at best. Supper is usually rice, tea, chappati and the collected greens. They seem to know which goat to steal a little milk from for their dinner too.
It was an uneasy night for me as I was not quite sure how accepted I was. But the only thing that happened was when I needed to take a leak. My hosts had to come with me to prevent the guard dogs having me for supper. Sometimes at night when nature calls you are uncertain of the best procedures and this was one of those nights. But it was with great relief when I went and afterwards sleep came quickly to me.
In the morning after a simple breakfast I packed up and my host took me up the ridge and along the saddle at the top until we reached the crossover point. By now it was drizzling and fogbound. My cape which had seen better days was disintegrating and somehow my jacket got left behind. Not so worried about the jacket
as I expect my hosts would have put it to good use. But not having weather protection was a concern. I was very glad to have the shepherd show me the way to the saddle as the going was much steeper on this side and one could easily lose ones way. Not only was it steep but the track was very slippery from the rain overnight. Its funny now but at the time I thought it was a very obvious possibility that you could get lost on this side.
When we reached the top and the cairn marking the way forward I said goodbye to the shepherd and he returned to his duties. I on the other hand was now on my own. From what I could glimpse when skies cleared for a moment was that the immediate way down wasn’t steep and lots of good grazing was nearby.
It is at this time I should have sat down and checked my map and maybe if I had been a little more brilliant or even just thinking at all I would have got my compass out and taken a bearing. But no I could see a long way in front although at time visibility dropped as drizzle or fog came in. I was looking for the road coming up from Inshan to Margan Pass. I felt it should have been visiible on the other side of the valley. I started to descent and felt at first i was going the right way. There were lots of tracks and some better than others so it was quite easy to go in any direction and feel you were on the right track. When I say tracks these were nothing like the horse trails to Angar and Metwan which were like 4 lane highways by comparison.
I had expected by now to be able to see Margan Pass. I knew I had crossed the saddle and it should have been easy going to the Pass. But as I descended and crosses a few ice filled valleys my perspective became confused. I should have stuck to the high grassy plateau but somehow I was descending into the tree belt again and all I could see in front of me was steep valleys. My only excuse now as I reflect is I must have been very tired and therefore reluctant to retrace my steeps.
Never the less there were paths of sorts and animals grazing. (tame ones like goats, cattle and horses) . So I felt it was only a matter of time and I would come across some shepherds. Actually I had expected to see shepherds on the plateau after I crossed the saddle as it looked like good grazing country.
By now the going is getting tough as the tracks skirts in an out of the valleys. It is pretty tiring and then I start climbing over another crest when I get a real shock. Just as I reach up for something to grip over comes a savage dog. He looks ready to devour me and here I am trying to look resolute and fend it off with my walking stick. Fortunately I am saved when a youngish girl pulls the dog off. I had in no way expected my first encounter with people to have been like this. With women only in the camp they looked a little nervous seeing me. So I didn’t stay long and then more skirting the valleys until I meet up with an older man who after waiting for me to catch up leads me to his camp. Their encampment is on a beautiful ridge and is a full family although the only man seems to be my guide and I would say he is a grandfather to the kids and father to the 2 ladies who are there. It has been drizzling and I am glad to be able to sit next to a fire and share their hospitality.
The afternoon wears on , the sun comes out and I am more rested and determined to go on. But where to now. The track has somewhat run out but not being able to understand what was probably a simple explanation that I was going the wrong way I never the less start out. After a short time another Gudger joins me and beckons that I don’t go on. I know that now but I must go somewhere and off I proceed. He presumably strungs his shoulder and decides this guy can’t be told so at least I will lead him. He only understands one word that I have said and that’s Passer.
The track withers and really isn’t more than an animal path. It is hard going and nothing looks likle it should from my recollections of the map. He stops occassionally and puts his finger to his mouth warning me to be quiet. Presumably a warning that their are bears and leopolds around here. By this time I am oblivious to the danger. I recognise it is there and we are in areas where animals would live. The path is not for the faint hearted but my guide with his very noticeable red beard walks quietly along as if their is no tomorrow. I trudge behind him with feet that are becoming very sore.
Eventually we break through the scrub and rocky ground and come upon a ridge where we now can see pastures. It looks beautiful and I pause to saviour it but my guide urges me on. Downwards now and more signs of habitation- old fencelines, some cows and even a ploughed paddock. The track turns into a road and as we come over a crest I can see a village below me. My feet are hurting so much I am just in hobbling mode now. It is late afternoon now with not much more than an hour of daylight but still we are descending and the activities around the houses is now more visible.
We trudge on and eventually come to the village and a small square where all the villagers come to meet us. But something is obviously strange as so many of the faces look familiar. Why are all these people here and doopey me soon realise that I have come full circle and am back in Passer. No one else seem upset that I should come back ; even my young guide seems to want to be my best friend.
But I am exhausted and when they show me the place I was in just yesterday I want no more than to just lay down and rest. This I do and am soon asleep.
I am truly grateful to my hosts and all the others who I met and who in turn showed me so much kindness. I do however have great difficulty forgiving my young guide of yesterday who at the time I felt was responsible for some of my mess. However as with all adventures it is important to remember the pluses and not dwell on the down side. My red bearded guide also shared my room. So next morning I woke up early and as no one else was awake just settled my dues with my saviour and I was off to Inshan.
Surprisingly I felt good. An early start and I made Inshan quickly and by 9am I was in a shared taxi for the trip over Margan Pass.
Goodbye Marwar- until next time.