by CJC

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In 1988 I set off on a trekking holiday in northern India. I was beardless and Traceyless then. I wasn’t going to be chaperoned by a trekking company: I was going to do it all myself.

My route was Panikhar – Ringdom – Kanji La – Lamayuru. I bought a Black’s tent and a stove especially. I flew to Delhi with 60 pounds of luggage, 20 pounds of which (mostly spaghetti and tinned fish) I slung daintily in my hand luggage.

I flew on to Srinagar, where I bought lentils, rice, oil, and fuel, and caught the bus to Kargil (Sun). From there a truck took me to Panikhar (Tues) where, after a few enquiries, I got hold of a horseman, Ghulam Ali. In the tradition of these parts he insisted on a second pony.

View from the Parkachik La

Thursday: we set off across the Parkachik La, catching our first views of Nun Kun. Below in the valley I could see a multicoloured trekking party walking ahead of us.

We descended to Parkachik village, where I pitched camp below gorgeous views of Nun Kun.

Nun Kun

In the afternoon I washed some clothes and hung them out to dry, and then cooked myself dahl bhat (Ghulam Ali looked after his own food). It was a memorable meal, as the mountain became ever more beautiful in the dying light, and I indulged myself with some of my precious foodstuffs. I slept happily.

Friday: I awoke the next morning to a cloudy sky and the discovery that my underpants had been stolen. We set off, the day feeling a little cold.

By lunchtime it had started to drizzle. We stopped at a place called Sumdo, not a rare name, where caves under a huge boulder were evidently used by local people. Since the weather was looking dismal we called it a day. A little later a party of 4 locals travelling in the opposite direction joined us, and they too decided to spend the night there.

Luxury cave

In the evening the rain turned to snow, and it continued to fall through the night. By morning it was quite deep, but we were snug in our caves.

Saturday: we decide to return to Parkachik through the knee-deep snow, the horses making a path for us. After 40 minutes the Ladakhis look at the snow, feel it between their hands, and argue. We turn back. “New snow slip” explains Ghulam Ali. We spend the rest of the day in the caves, watching the falling snow.

The gang

There is an occasional rumbling: avalanches. Sometimes we can see them rolling down the slopes, but our cave is on flat land and safe.

Sunday: We find that it has snowed all night. The snow is crotch-deep and unmanageably soft. Snow falls all day, but during the night the moon casts shadows in my cave.

Monday: We make another attempt to return to Parkachik, leaving horses and bags behind. We reach the same dangerous spot as before, and an hour is spent debating it before we turn back to the caves.

Beginning to clear

Tuesday: a cloudless day. We make an early start. The snow has enough crust to support our weight most of the time, but occasionally we plunge through it and have to lift ourselves up. For some reason this happens most often to me. Occasionally we have to cross icy avalanche chutes, full of ice cannonballs. But the hillsides are quiet.

The Suru valley

After 8 hours of hard walking we reach Parkachik. The ponies and bags have been left behind; the ponies die.

The family of one of the Ladakhis puts me up for the night. Everyone is hospitable. They tell me that I should send Ghulam Ali the price of his ponies from England, and I agree to do so.

Parkachik family

Ghulam Ali

Wednesday: An easy walk to Panikhar. Here I met a party of French-speaking Swiss, who were the multicoloured lot I had seen earlier. They had had a hard time. They had been in tents during the first night of snow. They had tried to clear the snow as it fell, but they couldn’t keep up; the poles snapped and they had to admit defeat.

They had abandoned their belongings at once, and walked to Parkachik through the night, although avalanches were already starting to fall. It must have been a desperate walk.

House at Parkachik

Thursday: A long walk to Sanko. Here I spoke to an army officer. I told him about my adventures and my agreement to reimburse Ghulam Ali for his horses. I showed him the notebook in which I had his address. The officer asked to see the book and tore out the page, saying “You have no need to pay him, you keep your money my good man”.

From Sanko a bus took me to Kargil the same day. On the Saturday I caught a bus to Srinagar, but there was a convoy system over the Zoji La and we stopped at Dras, sleeping on the bus. On Sunday I reached Srinagar, but could get no further. The snows in Ladakh had been rains in the lowlands; the roads were down, the flights were full, and the earliest I could get out was on the flight I’d booked in advance.

Eventually I got back to Delhi, where I became ill with dysentry and finally embarked for England, Traceyless but bearded. Months later I received a letter written on behalf of Ghulam Ali asking for the money I’d agreed to send him, and I posted it off.


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