Travel story contributor: Elita
The view that afternoon was breathtaking. Quite literally, even though that sounds very clichéd. I had never trekked before and here I was scaling mountains at 11,000+ feet above sea-level on a two-day trek in Ladakh!
I was out of not only breath, but also water. We were almost there and this time for real – the village of Hemisshukpachen was an easy downhill walk. I could see my fellow-trekkers cooling their heels some 20 steps away from where I stood, gasping. Somehow when you’re trekking your motivator is also your de-motivator – 20 steps were not too much. But 20 uphill steps?
Ready, Set, Go!
The weather conditions were near-perfect the morning we set out for our trek. It was not too hot and the wind was just fine. We started off in Likir. It was an easy walk along the road before we would begin the many ascends and descends that lay ahead of us. I had wrapped my head and face with my stole, but less than two hours on the trek, I was already sweating. The stole had to go.
Our trek had only just begun and we were all equally high on energy and this was not without a fair share of photo-ops along the route. But it was nature who was the real showstopper. For many of us this was the first time we knew what was really meant by ‘barren’ mountains and ‘azure’ skies outside of just words we had probably only seen on travel brochures and websites in the past. In hindsight I realized that one can only really experience a ‘desert at an altitude’ while trekking through it – everything else otherwise is nothing but a fleeting memory through a tinted window on a four-wheel drive.
Our lunch boxes that included an apple and boiled potato among other things were handed to us before we’d begun our trek. This meant that we had to pack smartly for the trek, leaving enough room to place the box in it so we could be hands-free. Undoubtedly, we were ravenous for lunch. We stopped by a rivulet – possibly glacial water – mounted ourselves on the boulders and ate in silence. Surrounded by mountains we could only hear the water, not even the dry leaves rustling against each other as the breeze nudged by. But a stop by the water body was not without surrendering to it a little, even though it was icy! And when we resumed our trek we were careful to carry the remains from lunch along with us, not even the apple pips were left behind.
Of pace and rhythms
By the end of the first day we had trekked past Sumdo village and climbed up Chagatse La on our way to Yumthang where we camped for the night. I had paced myself to be somewhere in the middle of the group keeping enough of them in front and behind me when we’d begun. I had had questions looming over my head prior to the trek – How steep would the climbs be? What if I wouldn’t be able to complete it? Or worse, what if I was the one slowing the group down? None of my fears were upheld nor completely unfounded. But I discovered that my pace was determined by matching the rhythm of my step with the rhythm of my breath – not by who was ahead or behind me. And as long as I managed these rhythms synchronously, I found that I was not exerting my lungs as much.
A night of camping beneath the stars, even as we shivered with the temperatures dropping to 2 degree Celsius, was what made the commune with nature a much stronger one. The embers of the campfire were long since extinguished but we sat outside our tents, layered with all the cold gear we had carried counting shooting stars, while pulling ghost pranks!
As we neared Hemisshukpachen the next day we were worn out. I’d thought those 20 uphill steps would jab holes in my lungs and yet, we completed the trek – every single one of us!