From the Sham Villages to Photoksar Through Sirsir La
By André Catana
Here we are! After a stunning one our flight from Delhi over the Himalaya, we are landing in Leh with plenty of plans to discover the land and people that we only knew from Olivier Fölmi great pictures taken about 20 years ago. Friends strongly recommended us the guide Tsering Norboo and his trek agency Skyhightreks. From the very first moments we met with Norboo at the Leh airport we felt we were "in good hands". Now two years later and miles away in Switzerland we are more than happy to have Norboo as one of our best friends.
Norboo took us to a nice guesthouse, the Green Villa. The owners are very warm and hearty people. The garden was full of flowers and the views on the gompa and on the Stok Kangri were wonderful. We spent there 3-4 days before starting trekking. We enjoyed so much the Green Villa, its people and atmosphere and the tasty food freshly prepared every day, that we were almost sad to leave for the trek.
Leh Gompa seen from the Green Villa
But let’s move to one of our treks which we would recommend to those who are discovering Ladakh for the first time. You will be enchanted. Indeed, it is an easy trek combining a variety of impressing landscapes, some of the most important gompas and a large number of opportunities to meet with local people.
After acclimatizing at the Green Villa, Norboo came with one of his guides, Konchok (very kind and very good cook) and took us for a 3 hours walk around Leh, just to train walking at 3500m. Everythink was OK and we started to trek the next day through a number of small passes and villages leading us through Likir (huge golden Buddha), Hemis Schupachan and Tingmosgang (don’t miss the breathtaking atmosphere at the monastery - it is really worthwhile to climb there). After a 3 hours trek from Tingmosgang, we joined the road where the jeep was waiting for us and, after a 2 hours drive through Lamayuru (visit the monastery) we reached Phanjila, which is the start of the second part of our trek.
This part lead us through more remote areas and took us 3 days (5-6 hours walk per day). We walked through three stunning sites: the Sirsir La (4800m), the Photoksar village (the most impressing village we visited in Ladakh) and the Askuta gorges. We started day 4 with a smooth ascend from Phanjila to Hanupatta where we camped by the river. The views to the surrounding mountains are wonderful. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the landscape scenes as they continuously changing colours in the sunset. During this time, Konchok was preparing, as usual, some delicious food. The menu : fresh vegetable soup, momos and pancakes. On day 5 we continue up the valley. As we approach the Sirsir La pass, the landscape widens and becomes more desert like with strange structures.
Sirsir La landscape
After crossing the pass the trail descends to Photoksar, a village with a predestinated name for photographers. It is again close to sunset and the village people warmly welcome us as they come back from farming and harvesting. What a beautiful atmosphere ! Later, in the evening we were joined by a group of children from the village school singing and dancing together on french and ladakhi music !
Singing and dancing
The next day we head towards the Askuta gorges. Although some people from the village told us that, due to the heavy rain two weeks ago, the trail along the Askuta river is not 100% safe, together with our guide, we decided to go but without the donkeys since the trail is too narrow for them. The donkeys will cross the Sirsir La pass again and join us in Phanjila. Surprisingly, the trail is very good except 1-2 places where we had to use our hands and we came through easily. We camp in a stunning place, close to the blue glacier waters and almost covered by the sharp edges of the surrounding mountain walls.
Trail through the Askuta River gorge
The next day, we closed our trail loop and reached Phanjila after a 3 hours walk. The jeep was scheduled for the day after so, we raised the tent and decided to make a short walk in the afternoon to Hinju. On the last day, the jeep took us back to Leh after visiting Alchi and its wonderful and very well preserved 11th century wall frescoes (don’t miss), Rizong and Basgo, an older capital of Ladakh.