Friday, September 26, 2008

On the Markha Valley Trail: A Smiling Guide, Four Horses and a Sprightly Donkey Later

"The person who wrote these notes passed away the moment his feet touched the Argentine soil. The person who reorganizes and polishes them, me, is no longer, at least I am not the person I once was. All those wandering around "Our America with a capital A" has changed me more that I Thought". ~ 'Che' Guevara, Motorcycle Diaries

(As written on 18th August)

Finally, today we are embarking on our Markha valley trek. I know I sound like we have been waiting ages for the trek to begin, though it has only been three days. I guess I have been a little worried that we may not get to do it at all.

We began by getting the band together – the horseman, guide, and we were surprised to find a cook thrown in to the mix as well. The ‘preparatory activities’ at some level came as a shock – it seemed like we were taking way too many things contrary my intention of taking as less as possible and going basic. The sight of loading these animals with kerosene cans, stoves and tent equipment wasn’t the prettiest. They are the beasts of burden, but some looked so ill-fed and unkempt that we were worried about some animal activists locking us in. At some level, we began to wonder if this was the best way to have gone about it. We ended up with 4 horses and yes one sprightly donkey. The donkey, despite the weight on it's back, was jumping around like a scatter-brain scared out of its wits. Quite cute really.

I was unsure if Markha would do justice to the beauty that Ladakh had to offer. The first hour put to rest all these doubts. After walking through a short green patch, we emerged on to a desert like flat land. This stretch ran along small towns like Phey and Phyang on side and was bordered by rambling mountais on the other, capped by azure skies on the top. This stretch extened for like an hour before we landed on to the narrow trail cutting across the mountain slopes.

As we set off

A group of horses in the distance

The stark mountains intermingled with vast patches of desert like sand sweeping the slopes, the wonderful play of brown, the numerous shades and shapes. The Sind gave us company for the initial part of the route – it is surprising, but I would have never imagined that a brown river could look so beautiful and so right at home.

Veins cut into the mountains

Rafters on the Sind

We crossed a french couple with whom we got chatty. J was upset they had more donkeys in his group than horses (:)). Yes, it is always nice to have mighty beasts to spruce travel tales. It was nice chatting up with them - and the first of interesting people we met on the trail. J also had ridiculously long number of vacation days, which we faithfully felt jealous of! Not only that, his job allowed him to travel crazy - he was off to Burkina Faso after Ladakh!

Our stop for the day was Jingchen. But having reached Jingchen at an early hour of 3 in the afternoon, we wanted to plough ahead to our next stop 4 hours away. Our cook had already set up camp and refused to budge. He seemed to think he was the boss of the group and well, we didn't really know how to impress otherwise. I was now regretting leaving behind my reading companion in an effort of travelling light. But as you can see, I have put these free hours to good use – thoughts have never before flown the way they do today - fresh from the experience and free of after thoughts and hind sights.


Meena Venkataraman said...

Wow.. Am green with Envy!.. the pics are awesome..
I thought you were back? :)

Ms.N said...

Thank you... The place was awesome!

And sadly, yes sadly, I am back! But since i did go to the trouble of "capturing my thoughts" at end of each day, thought it would be fun to just post in the same tone...

Anil P said...

Lovely pace to the narrative. I could imagine the moments as you unfolded them.

Ms.N said...

@ Anil - glad that you like it... It was an interesting idea to write everyday vs. do it all in the end... but its turning out to be one helluva long one!

Sriram said...

the photo of horses in the background reminds me of scenes from manay movies especially "Mongol- story of gengiz khan"... very neat.. you really need to blog about tips to good photos.. landscapes, portraits etc. in manual mode at different light settings :).. some really good shots there...

Sriram said...

I like the opening quote.. Che.. Did you also know that on any ship, the most important person is the 'Chef' and then the captain even though Captain is the master of the vessel with final authority? :)

Ms.N said...

@ sriram... thanks. It's all about a nice pair of lens i would ahve to say!

And i can imagine why he is soo important.