India, Days 21-23: Markha Valley Hike

We began our trek on Wednesday morning by meeting up with Adi (one of our friends from the bus ride) at 8:00 AM. We filled up our water bottles and caught a taxi to Zingchen which was the beginning of our hike (and also the last place that cars can travel to inside the Markha Valley). As is typical in this area, the “road” was unpaved and full of rocks and potholes. The 5 mile journey took about and hour and a half.

Once we reached Zingchen, we set out towards our first destination: the town of Rumbak. The hike to Rumbak follows a stream through a gorge. They scenery is quite rocky and there are some interesting looking rock formations along the way. The rocks are also different colors varying from a deep red to almost purple – probably from varying mineral content. This area was pretty arid except for the banks of the stream which had some light trees and brush.

After about 3.5 hours we arrived at a tea tent where we stopped for a break. As we were relaxing, two Austrians also arrived at the tent. We started talking, and it turns out that after their trek they were headed to Bangladesh to do an internship at the Yunus center. What a coincidence for me since I was planning on looking into that exact internship when i return! I got their contact information and hope to learn about their experience.

After the tea tent, we continued the last .5 hours to Rumbak. When we arrived in the village, we were greeted by our homestay host. Her name is Tsering and has a truly happy, generous, and bubbling personality. She welcomed us into her home and gave us tea, cookies, and Ladakhi bread to snack on.

Tsering’s home is a very typical Ladakhi house. The largest room is the kitchen which is decorated with many ornate copper pots (we read that these pots are a traditional form of wealth for Ladakhi families). In her home there was also a smaller kitchen, which had a simple stove and simple “everyday” type pots. On the roof of the home there was a small meditation room. We did not go in, but it looked like it contained a small shrine and candles.

The town of Rumbak itself is simply stunning. It sits in a small valley shadowed by snow capped mountains. The land is naturally arid, but thanks to some clever irrigation, Rumbak is a green oasis full of flowers and vegetables. The growing season in Ladakh is only 4 months, but we have learned that this is enough time to produce ample food for the rest of the year (which is quite cold). The staple food here is barley and it is used to make breads, beer, and other everyday food items.

That night we were invited into the kitchen to help make dinner. We made a traditional ladakhi dish called chutagi. chutagi is a type of thick vegetable soup. It has a lot of greens (similar to spinach), and contains a sort of wheat “pasta” that is rolled out and formed into a boat like shape. It was very good, and it we are ever feeling ambitious, we do have the recipe.

There is no power (or phones, or running water, or…) in Rumbak, however, there is a power generator that runs for 3 hours from 7pm to 10pm. After dinner, we did a little bit of reading and waited for the generator to quit so we could take a look at the stars. Unfortunately, at 10 it was still not quite dark enough and clouds were obstructing our view. We turned in for the evening.

The next day (day 22) we were destined for the town of Yurutse, but it is only a 2.5 hour hike, so we decided to first to in the other direction toward a mountain pass near Rumbak to see if we could get a good view. The hike was nice, but we didn’t quite make it all the way to the top of the pass. We made it to the snow line, but decided it would be better to save our energy and head to Yurutse. In retrospect, we probably should have saved even more energy than we did, but i’m glad that we got in some extra hiking.

The path to Yurutse, was not long, but it was quite hot. The sun is quite intense at this altitude and it is easy to get drained of energy very quickly. We did see a yak (or what we are pretty sure was a yak) on our way to Yurutse, and we also walked pass some large herds of goats and sheep.

When we arrived in Yurutse, we found out that all the homestay rooms were full (there is literally only one home in Yurutse that has 4 rooms). With no other options at our disposal, we opted to just sleep on the floor of the kitchen. We didn’t really have much else of a choice.

The home in Yurutse was similar to Rumbak, but had a very different feel since we were not the only travelers there. The was a group of Spaniards who were on an expedition to see a snow leopard (the Markha valley is the snow leopard capital of the world). I’m not sure if they were successful in their attempt. snow leopards are quite rare.

Day 23 was the by far the most exhausting, but also the most rewarding. We hiked up and over the 4900 meter (> 16,000 feet!) Ganda La pass on the way to our 3rd homestay in the town of Shingo. The hike was positively exhausting. the path was steep, and the air is thin up there. We walked very slowly and took many breaks. Once we reached the top, the view was stunning. Sarah and I agree – it is the most amazingly beautiful scenery we have ever scene. Although we saw a few other trekkers and some porters on our way, it is often easy to think you are the only people up there in they beautiful, snow topped mountains. Really amazing.

At the top, I caught a glimpse of an eagle circling around looking for some easy prey below. When Adi and Sarah joined me at the summit we celebrated our ascent with our packed lunch and some Mars bars we packed. Adi exclaimed “this is the best mars bar i’ve ever had!” it really was. The pictures will have to speak for themselves later on. I think (hope) we got some good ones.

It took about 2 hours to descend to the town of Yurutse. Adi was feeling a bit ill from the altitude, and our host, became quite concerned, she kept trying to get her to have more tea and some Ladakhi bread which was supposed to make you feel better. Adi went to sleep early and Sarah and I played cards. The grandma of the household was particularly interested in what we were playing and stood watching us for a while. It was nice to have some company even if we couldn’t communicate.

We ended our most strenuous day and had a good night sleep. At this point i’ve been writing for a while, and will have to continue the story of our trek later, but I hope you’ve enjoyed the story so far and will update more soon!

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