By André Catana
We started by driving by jeep from Leh to Henaskut. The road goes through Basgo, which is one of the ancient capitals of Ladakh and is worth seeing: the ruins of a castle surrounded by violet rocks dominates the green fields of the village. We also made a short detour to visit Alchi where you can admire the fantastic and well preserved wood paintings in the monasteries. Then the road passes through Lamayuru and its amazing limestone landscape before going up to the Fotu La, a very impressive pass on the road to Kargil. After a few kilometres, the jeep left the "main road" and engaged in a narrow gorge.
The jeep stopped after a while and we began the trek with a very easy walk to the village of Kanji (3800m), where we met our horse and donkey men.
The next morning we had breakfast at our donkey man's home with his wife and children. Before leaving Kanji, don’t forget to ask somebody to open the small gompa: it contains two beautiful ancient wooden Buddhas.
So, we started walking at about 11 am. We headed to the Yogma La (4700m) in a broad valley surrounded by beautiful coloured rocks where the path went up very gently. The last part of the pass became steeper and we walked slowly, much slower than our horse and our six donkeys. One of our donkey men was singing all the time on the path. At night, we discovered he was a very good dancer and he made some great "performances" for us.
View from Yogma La
After about seven hours, we reached the Shila camp site (3900m).
The next day, we woke up at earlier since the trail was close to a river down the gorge, where the waters can grow quite rapidly during hot days. We called that day the "wet feet day" : we crossed that river many times (probably more than 20 times) - take sandals with you for this part! We had a bit of emotion when our guide suddenly saw the prints of a big animal on the sandy path: a bear (“denmo” in Ladakhi) was apparently preceding us on our way!
In Shilakong Gorge
We arrived in Wanla (3200m) after about six hours. Here, we had the nice surprise and pleasure to meet Konchok, our guide and cook last year, who took care of us for the second part of this trek. What a great cook! That night he prepared us popadums, soup, shrimps and noodles; everything was very tasty.
After a rainy night we visited the very interesting gompa at Wanla. Then, we started walking and, while the sun was back, we went through the villages of Phanjila and Hinju, where the villagers were quite busy at harvesting. Before arriving at the Konzke La base camp, we met a group of women with young children and made some pictures which we showed them on our digital camera; like most Ladakhis, they enjoyed that very much and we had great fun together.
"Sir, tea sir" - It was 7 o'clock and this was how Konchok was waking us up every morning! But that was a special day: the program was the Konske La, the highest pass on the trek (4950m). After another rainy night, the highest mountains around were covered by a slight layer of snow but the sun was shining again.
On the way to Konzke La
After a two and a half hours’ easy walk, plenty of small zigzags announced a steeper way… indeed, our pace slowed down every minute. Finally, after four hours, we reached the top, so happy to have made it! The descent to Sumda (4100m) was a pleasure.
The next day we visited a 400 years old house in Sumda, including the kitchen and the "private" gompa (women were not allowed to go in) and the landlord offered us some chang (Ladakhi beer). Second surprise: the ancient wooden Buddhas of Sumda (11th century), which unfortunately were lying in the open sky without any protection… but don’t the buddhists say that nothing is there to stay forever… We had lunch close to a very charming river. Then the path went up a small pass from where the view was breathtaking: red, yellow and green rocky mountains. After a six hours walk, we reached the Dundunchen camp at Lanak (4300m).
Near Dundunchen camp
As usual, we had a tasty and copious breakfast in the next morning: omelets, doughnuts, porridge, muesli, butter, cheese… During our ascent to and descent from the Dundunchen La (4800m) the scene was beautiful with gradually changing colours and subtle tones and a bright blue sky so typical of Ladakh . We arrived in Chilling (3200m) after about six hours. For this last night of our trek, Konchok and his assistant decided to make vegetable momos. As usual, they were great! Cheers with beer for everybody and end of trek.
Summary of the trek :
Day 1 : Leh – Hinju (jeep and short trek)
Day 2 : Hinju – Yogma La – Shila (camp)
Day 3 : Shila – Shilakong gorge – Wanla (camp)
Day 4 : Wanla – Konzke La (camp)
Day 5 : Konzke La pass - Dundunchen (camp)
Day 6 : Dundunchen La – Chilling (camp)
Day 7 : Chilling – Leh (by jeep)