In Machail I was determined to find some nice accommodation. The lack of sleep was getting to me and I needed to get things shipshape before the climb.
I actually wasn’t too sure how to go about this so just asked at the various houses around the temple area and In particular the ones that I thought looked most attractive. I found a very nice house painted pink but still of a traditional rock and deodar construction. It was very clean and I was shown a front room overlooking the river. Being upstairs it was quite private and not at all dusty. The family seemed very reserved and I think maybe a little unsure what to make of me. I desperately needed some rest and I couldn’t have found a better place to rest and clean up.
Tarath Sangh Rathore the owner of the house had a good workshop downstairs adjacent to the laundry and shower area. Actually he was in the process of making a toilet block next to his house. The existing scheme for toilet obligations was simply to go to the edge of the escarpment and do it there or walk up to the toilet blocks located over a very well built concrete water channel. He seemed to be a good craftsman seeing as he could make windows and doorframes with just a few simple tools. No electrics in this part of the world.
I had arrived in the morning having left Hamori without breakfast. So after tidying myself with a good washup,body and clothes I went in search of something to eat. I think maybe there were two restaurant choices
in town and after finding one I topped up with some food. Food choices is really an exaggeration and it would seem you take what is going. I saw no meat dishes and veggies were in short supply. But the local restaurant did have onions and potatoes presumably brought in as the local crops were not ready to be harvested.
After this and a walk around the village and temple area I headed back to my room. I put my iphone on charge and started reading my Kindle. Next thing I knew I had fallen into a deep sleep and was woken by the Tarath saying dinner was ready. I hardly knew where I was – maybe old age had taken over or was it the onset of dementia? I was very pleased to be offered something to eat again though although I still hadn’t been invited into where the family ate.
(the next day 14th July:)It wasn’t long and I hit the sack again. After a good nine hours sleep I wake up in good form. For me I had decided to make this day a lay day, rest up and visit the local Buddhist monastery. Whilst Machail is a sacred Hindu site the surrounding villages are now increasingly Buddhist. These areas have very cold winters with a very short summer season and hence are not so attractive for agriculture. My legs still feel stiff and this day’s walking on relatively flat areas is a joy.
I walk to the Buddhist village which is in the same direction as I came from yesterday and then beyond the village I come to the Buddhist temple. The monastery appeared to be below a moraine but I didn’t explore the valley any further. As I walked up to the doors of the monastery the guys I could see in what appeared to be an empty school below caught up with me and opened up the gompa and we went inside. Such a peaceful place and we discussed some things but still I miss out on the details. Where are the school kids? Are the Buddhists and Hindus happy living together or are there tensions. What opportunities do the people see for themselves and so on. The monk and his friend were both young but appeared to be comfortable in their choice of living. We tried blowing the trumpet and sat for a while inside just soaking up the ambience before going back to the monk’s home for a cup of tea.
After I left the monks I strolled back towards Machail. It was a peaceful day with clear skies and soon I came to the detour bridge which I had to crossed on the previous day. A little further on I could see the old bridge and the workers fixing it and decided I would pay them a visit. The track down went through a rocky area and through some barley fields before joining up with the main track to the bridge. When I got to the bridge I spent some time examining the bridge.
The problem was on the other side of the river where one of the support beams anchored in the rock foundation had moved and was no longer doing its job. The bridge was in danger of collapsing if this support structure couldn’t be rebuilt. The men were trying to lever it into its old position but the weight of the attached beams was making this manoeuvre difficult. The main man responsible was not very well positioned and could have easily fallen into the river and his cohorts couldn’t do much with the gear they had. They had some hand made ropes which kept breaking and were trying to pull the beams up whilst the man below levered. Again the language barrier made me of not much use and so I left after scrabbling across the remnants of the old bridge and mumbling a few hail marys.
Boy it was a hot day. Not much traffic on the road and after sitting and finding some fresh water to drink thought I would visit the school which I could see on a flattish plain between the ridge I was on and the river. It was quite a big school – a high school to be exact for boys and girls. Everyone was outside taking lessons on the verandah when I arrived.
I was told there was 36 students but that number can go up or down quite a bit depending on the seasons. The girls moved off a bit when I arrived but the boys clustered around me with their teachers. One of them Kasang Robgai introduced himself.
The children had a very comprehensive text book which upon investigating I realised how much I had forgot from my own learning days. Some of the boys seemed shy but a others came forward when I started some impromptu testing. Tables, equations, general knowledge etc. It was fun inter-reacting and testing their calibre. In the Marwah valley I visited a school in Passer a small village. The kids here were miles above those at Passer.
About the school – it seemed to be well staffed with teachers and teacher’s aides. Probably more than you would see in Australia. But the downside of the school was its lack of facilities and the generally run down state of the buildings. I have seen many schools in rural areas and the state of the buildings didn’t surprise me. But this is an area where improvement is necessary – painting of rooms, repairing windows and doors. The area set aside for the school hasn’t been well organised. There seems to be no organised area for games such as cricket or football which I think would enhance the spirit of the kids and attract more parent participation. But probably the worst feature is there are no computers or contact with the outside world. Not to be able to research topics or get extra information makes it difficult for the children to refine their skills and becoming completely comfortable with all that they are learning. It would appear not only here but elsewhere that the teachers have very little interaction with the Government and their needs are not heard. These places are unique and with access to the outside world I think would enable these people to have a voice. I have said this before I know. But communication even at my own farm in Australia had made a significant difference to my life. I couldn’t even write this article now and give it to the world without computers and the internet. India has certainly embraced the mobile phone but has been tardy with the Internet.
15th July Another day and time to find a porter and guide. Not much luck in Marchail or surrounds and I was advised to go to Loseni. I had said goodbye to my host family the night before and leave early for the short walk to Loseni. Loseni is a Buddhist village on the trail just north of Marchail. The valley climbs steadily and at a saddle you can see the valley widening with a right hand fork in the trail which takes you to a bridge crossing the Padar river and then up into the stone village of Loseni.
You know it is Buddhist as there is a stupa just before the bridge and the entrance to the bridge is garlanded with flowers and deodar branches. I am directed by the locals to Fafatsering who is an experienced guide. Even though he doesn’t look well he is a man I am instantly comfortable with. He mistakenly drank battery acid thinking it was water the day before. He is a very likeable man and I know that all this business about finding a porter andguide will be ok now.
He obviously can’t come with me but assures me that he can find a guide. His wife and many of the villagers were away visiting the Dalai Lama in Leh so his daughter was looking after us. I am put up in the front room. This sort of kindness transpires often on a trip and thus finding a place to sleep never seems to be a difficulty. I won’t go back to Machail now my destiny is moving ever upwards. The weather is overcast with some drizzle so a further delay will be necessary before I can cross.
Loseni seems quieter than Marchail . For one thing the music is no longer so audible. I decide to explore the area with a walk further up the valley. Smaller Buddhist homes nestled in valley farmland with snowcapped mountains and glaciers all around us. The river moves fast and at this time of year would be impossible to cross without a bridge. I do cross the river as the settlements to my untrained eye appear now to be on the other side. I come to what looks like a hotel. A much larger and well kept building with no one around. There is a spring just outside with inviting grass where I sit and take in the surrounds. My Kindle and I have become company and I may have even snoozed off. When I return to the living I can see a young lady on the steps of the hotel who invites me in. I refuse at first but she insists that I relax in side. Once inside she directs me up some steep stairs to the loft section of the house which is obviously set up for guests. Very comfortable and clean. A haven really and a place you could really enjoy. The windows are big enough to see the views of the valley and young lady soon brings me up biscuits and tea. I hadn’t asked for anything and it is just her kindness. It seems amazing that she should leave me in her house comfortable of course but unconcerned as to what I might do. I can’t iagine the same thing happening in Australia.
I stayed for a while and then leave to go back to Loseni. Her friend and she are outside talking in the sun but when I offer to pay she will take nothing. One day I will return and this is one place I would like to stay. When I got back to the village of Loseni my guide arrived . Norboo is a lean man quite fit looking and my estimate is he would be responsible. Even though I felt assured that everything would work out now I would have like Fafatsering to come too. We spent some time discussing equipment or lack thereof. Fafatsering said he could loan us a tent and for fuel we could carry in some wood. Supplies were purchased in the village and to be honest there wasn’t much choice mainly maggie noodles and biscuits. But I left it to the boys to get what else we needed and they seemed comfortable doing that.
It rained overnight so we couldn’t leave the next day as the pass would have been dangerous. Fafatsering had water his fields the night before. I had the only bed in the house but didn’t sleep so well as fleas or something started annoying me somewhat like Hamori. Also my bed was a little short but I suppose I got thinking of all the things that could go wrong and thus didn’t sleep that well. In the morning I could see a blue tent on the roof next door and it turned out to belong to Naweang Tunundup. Naweang lives up the valley just below Sumchum in a village of 5 houses. He is a very talented boy who has recently graduated as a Dentist and wants to set up a practice in Gulab Garth. I needed to change some money and he offered to do this for me.
Naweang suggested we walk to his village after breakfast.
I take just some essentials and leave the rest with Fafatsering. The walk is the same way at first as I went yesterday but instead of crossing the river we take a side valley. I hadn’t realised it then that this is the same way I would go when I crossed the pass. In fact Naweang village is just below and in sight of Sumchum. Naweang’s home is a well kept affair with himself living upstairs next to a prayer room and a much larger area which was a kitchen /living area that had windows looking over the valley. A very comfortable place. I must have seemed anti-social as I was cold and fell asleep one of the beds before having dinner. We talked a lot about how hard life could be here in winter and what opportunities existed for a young person of Naweang’s calibre. Unfortunately Naweang’s parents were also away in Leh to meet the Dalai Lama.
Left at daybreak to go back to Loseni to get the rest of my stuff and confirm my arrangements with the guides. My condition has improved with the steady as she goes approach and the return trip is made in short time. When I get to Loseni both of Fafatsering’s children are there. His second daughter has just completed year 10 and maybe was studying in Gulab Garth. I have breakfast with the family and then say my goodbyes.
I arrange for the guides to catch up with me at Naweang’s place and set off. When I arrive back Naweang is not there so the granddad lets me in. Soon however Naweang returns with a slaughtered goat that he bought of the gudgers who are grazing their animals higher up. It would seem that they are in the same area as the famous sapphire mines which are worked at this time of year. Naweang spends the next couple of hours cutting up the animal.
My diary says it all. It has started drizzling. I am sitting in Narweang’s room writing this entry. Having returned from Loseni I have come in cold and am now enjoying the comfort and warmth being inside. The house walls are thick and Naweang has plenty of blankets. I expect soon to be in the rough and tumble of outdoor life but for the immediate present it is great enjoying the comforts of his home.
His house is at the tree line roughly level with Sumchum which you can see higher up in a fork in the valley. It would be very hard living here. The summers can be very short. And when the winter closes in you must have enough supplies to live until warmer weather returns. You must have enough fuel for cooking. There is no gas or kerosene substitute for cooking only wood which must be carried and collected from wherever. Animals must live inside and be fed for long periods. Once the snows come there is no contact with the outside world, no radio and travelling is no longer possible as the paths are blocked. If you get sick or run out of food for your family or your animals that is your problem. All summer they collect grasses, fuel and food and eventually fill up all their spare spaces so that they have enough to survive.
However in summer there is a completely different feel. The mountains are all around us – they are magnificent. Sheer sided peaks with glaciers visible above the tree covered lower valleys. The rivers are running very fast now that it is mid summer and the melting of snows and ice is at its zenith. The rivers are grey in colour due to the large amount of sediment. Drinking water comes from the side streams and would be one of the best waters I have ever drunk. Toilets and washing rooms don’t exist in this part of the world. You just walk off in any direction.
My guides Norbo and Dorjay soon turn up. They look reasonably well equipped : Norbo particularly has good trekking trousers and walking books and a small but decent daypack. Naweang is cutting up the meat into strips and someone else is putting it on a line over the fire where it will dry out. We all settle down around the fire where dinner is cooking. It is a large group and everyone seems content ; some arak or similar is shared around and we all warm up and settle down.
Naweang is going to a party above Sumchum. They say everyone will be there but I am a bit of a party pooper and decline as I didn’t really like the idea of camping in the drizzling weather. I have decided to stay the night in Sumchum. When we get there in the late afternoon the village is practically deserted as everyone must have gone on to the party.
The owner ( a young man) in the new house where we stay is very nice and makes us feel very comfortable. I am very cold and go to bed under a pile of blankets whilst my body temperature returns to normal. They leave me and eventually my curiosity gets me up to seek them out. They are downstairs in the kitchen. The fire is going and we have some hot soup and chapatis. The room is quite big and darkened from the cooking fires of the ages. Fortunately it has a chimney which I now remember Faratsering’s house didn’t have in Loseni. Thus we can breathe normally. Around the walls on two sides are the cooking pots and all the paraphernalia of living but on one side is a slatted wall. I asked about this and of course behind which is where the animals stay in winter. Those who stay in winter this is probably the only room that is for the living.
It is difficult to imagine how hard it would be to live up here in winter. I was told that more and more people op to leave their homes in the winter to go down to Jammu or Gulab Garth. Now just a minimum number stay to look after the animals . It is without doubt that everyone loves their home areas. But with an expectation of about three months of reasonable weather in which to grow their crops, fatten their animals and bring in enough fodder for the rest of the year they are certainly challenged. Their lifestyle is under threat as more and more of the work is left to the older generation to carry out with the younger children already embracing the world of smart phones and an easier life.
We leave next morning after a brief breakfast. After cresting a moraine we can see Sunchum behind us and a long U shaped valley with animals grazing along the flats and up the sides. Not that far off is the summer camp for the shepherds. This is a large encampment with lots of children, men and women. The animals come in closer at night and so all around these simple rock shelters are dung heaps where the animals must camp at night. We stop for a while and talk to Naweang and some others. But there is a cold wind coming at us and I am keen to make a move.
We buy a big block of cheese to take with us and then we are off. Well I thought we were off. We had gone some distance before we realised Dorjay hadn’t caught up. We waited and waited and finally retraced our steps. It would seem he had decided to change his shoes and gone back to Sunchum to get what he thought would be a better choice. His first set was sandshoes and his new selection were slip on leather shoes.
Although I was a little angry that he hadn’t told us what he was planning I was relieved it was a simple matter and we didn’t have to deal with anything else. We were now on our way and would not talk to anyone else until we got to Dzongkhul Ghompa in Laddakh.
I quickly realise how much I am going to need my guides. The trail is not easy to follow even at this stage and there are preparations that are necessary. We walk up the valley seeing a few people looking after their animals. It must be very lonely for them and often they would like to talk longer. We cross the streams a few times. There are now no bridges and with the flows being strong you have to be careful crossing. We take our shoes off and tread warily across. The rocks can be sharp and can move and believe me the water is as cold as ice. (it was probably ice yesterday).
It’s a long valley and I think we must be going to go to the left at its end. We cross our first lot of ice and soon we stop to collect wood. The trees in this area are birch and the kindling we collect is ideal for cooking. We fill all the loose spaces in our rucksack as this is the only source of fuel that we will have when we cross the pass. And then we start some serious climbing. The path goes up a side valley and is fairly nondescript actually not much different to that of an animal trail. In fact we see horses and sheep grazing half way up. We get to a certain distance up with the sun still shining and a grassy knoll to have our lunch on. The views of the valley we have just left and the mountains around us are magically intoxicating and inspire onwards and upwards.
Nubroo gets some water for us from a hidden stream which is much appreciated as you do dehydrate quickly. We can see our last gudger family nestled between some rocks under a simple tarpaulin. They wave to us and their dog growls in a very serious manner until restrained by her master. The trail winds upwards steadily with no animals now on our side but many grazing on the other side of the valley which is more suited.
At the start of our climb the hill luxuriate in grasses and wild flowers with some bushes. But as we climb the grasses and other species get less.
We climb steadily. The track is quite visible and steep in places. Animals are moved along this trail. Eventually we crest the ridge and see a long valley before us. No trees of course now and stark snow covered mountains around us. In front of us is a boulder covered mountainside. It is here that we plan to camp. My guides know the way and there is more than one rock under which we could camp. But one rock has a large overhang and small rock walls in front to shut out the winds. This is to be our home for the night.
The flood or our shelter is covered in sheep dung. But it is not unpleasant as it is dry and at this height there are no smells.
As per usual I am tuckered out and cold. The flat area is just enough for the three of us and we make ourselves comfortable by spreading out our ground sheet and sleeping mat which I had. I climb into my sleeping bag to warm up and start to read my Kindle. Dorjay joins me and I read aloud. He understands some English . We snuggle up to keep warm and soon he is asleep. Night is coming and soon the boys start cooking. Dorjay and Nubro get the fire going. There is an art in doing this. The bark on the birch is like paper and they peel it off to act as a starter. The wood itself has to be split too to act as kindling. They only have a knife in which to do this. It is only a small fire but it does give us a certain coziness and of course we get a hot drink and the beginning of our never-ending diet of Maggie noodles.
18th July: from my diary
“Just woke up and now entering this in my diary. Nubao and Dorjay have been doing a good job looking after me. We are not the best equipped walking group if you judged us by European standards. No fuel stove, carrying our wood in, hand-made rope for going over the glacier, poor rucksack and no fancy foods or clothes. But you know it all feels just right and I wouldn’t want anything to change at least as I say this now.
In the mountains around us noise control doesn’t exist. The rivers scream as they tumble over boulders or off the mountains all around us. Even at this height where you would expect the streams to be much smaller but they still demand your attention. Occasionally you can hear an avalanche but they are still some way off further up our valley or on the other side of the valley we have just left. The reality now is our destiny is controlled by the weather. We have waited for this good weather and as day breaks it looks to be a nice day. We can have many weathers in one day here in the mountains. It was clear last night as we went to bed, then it rained and now overcast. In some ways it is like sailing you always have to watch the weather. To be caught out would be fatal.
With regard to myself I am doing well. My legs are behaving and I have no altitude sickness. We were lucky that Naweang killed the goat and we had some meat to eat as well as lassi and curd. It really picked me up in a way which rice and chapatis hadn’t done. We also had the heart last night.to finish off our evening meal in our cave. Normally not a great advocate of such parts of the animal but again it was what I needed.
Today is the big day. Today we expect to cross the pass and enter Laddakh.”
I will post this now as you may be wondering what has happened to my story. The final stage is still coming but alas farm work has taken precedence.