I just got back from my ten-day trek in Ladahk this morning. It was amazing to have done it - but unbelievably challenging. 3 mountain passes in 10 days, two the height of Everest base camp. When you get to the top there are piles of stones piled in cairns, often with goat horns stained red to ward of evil spirits, and prayer flags that are placed in windy places to more effectively send their prayers (om mani padmi om) into the air. So when you see them, fluttering a kilometre above you, you grit your teeth and slowly keep on going, one small step after another, and try not to cry. And, because of the unseasonable weather we were often rained, sleeted and snowed on as well. In contrast, several days in the middle of the trek were unseasonably hot, so, walking for 5 hours through desert, in 30 degree heat, with red earth and lizards around, made me wonder what it would be like to strike out into the Australian desert (and die). Often there was no vegetation, but instead hills that seemed green with moss would prove to be green with rusting iron, or red with it, or deep purple with I don't know what mineral. Sheer walls of slate seem to move until you looked closer and realized it was mountain goats skipping up the rocks. There are long walls of rocks everywhere called Mani walls, which are stone bases for piles of slate, carved with prayers and wheels of life, just sitting in what seems the middle of nowhere. People carve them in the long cold winters (when it's minus 20 degrees) when they keep to their houses.
The landscape, like central Australia I imagine (I've never been there) is all about rocks and earth and colour - and the occassional yak (yaks look like my cat Wilson. Or perhaps i just think that because I am missing him). We mainly walked through valleys which were dry gorges, then would turn a corner to find a little oasis - meadows, trees, pink roses, and a small village.
Shaggy donkeys and ponies carried our loads - I had no idea donkeys could make so much noise. At night they would bray these long mournful brays as they struggled to get loose of their ropes and get to each other to fight, or fuck, it was hard to tell.
The others on the expedition were terrific. One of them, Sorrel Wilby, use to be a presenter on Getaway, walked over ALL the Himalyas (in 16 months) and through Tibet (over 4 months) and did the trek with a barely healed broken ankle. There was a journo from Good Weekend, who was fun to talk to as I trudged up mountain passes. We discussed my despair at Jennifer Garner's impending marriage to Ben Affleck at 4900 meters, to distract ourselves, I suspect, from my despair at being at 4900 meters and feeling as if i couldn't breathe and might throw up. In all there were 18 of us, and I had good conversations with everyone. Many of the women, it seems, were mid-divorce, so were flinging themselves into a monumental physical challenge.
The alititude made me very breathless which was a real challenge. It is never meant to rain in Ladahk (well not much - it's almost desert) but we got buckets of it for 5 days out of ten, which was more of a challenge. For a while there I thought I was on Ladahki Survivor. Yesterday, our last day, mud slides began to snake their way down the bare mountains, the river started to rise, and the villagers were yelling out 'flash flood!' 'flash flood!' (in Ladahki) and we had to practically jog the last 10 km's of the trek so we got to our campsite before the river cut us off. By the time we got there, I was beside myself with exhaustion, and then the sun came out (though it was still raining) and a double rainbow flaired.It was certainly a dramatic end to the trek.
I have seen lots of monasteries that are 400, 600 and even 1000 years old, (for those who care about such things, I saw the cave Naropa meditated in in the tenth century. It was very small) with vegetable murals on the wall, butter sculptures, and lots of monks chanting, playing instruments, then sipping butter tea and mixing it with tsampa (barley flour). I had some butter tea at one monastery and half liked it, though it was too rich to drink much of. I liked the tsampa though, which tastes like mushy weetbix.At one monastery, high on a hill - they are all, Buddha help me, high on a hill - there was one young hunchback monk, with girly pics stuck on the windows. He let us into the gompa (temple) and there were Taras (a Buddhist goddess) painted all over the walls. They were incredibly beautiful, and hundreds of years old. Worth walking 150 kilometers for.
Posted by Sophie at 09:53 PM