I was asked by my boss last week why could he find an Everest Base Camp trek online for just under ₹55,000, when the one MHE offers is more expensive. “YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT MORE AFFORDABLE” he said.
Let me say at the start, you get what you pay for. if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. And always read the fine print.
Let’s assume you select the EBC-Gokyo trip offered by one of "India’s Largest Trekking Community". The listed price is around ₹54,590 - for their September/October 2017 departure. What does that include? Here's a quick comparative, to help you out:
Yes, at first glance we look more expensive. Once you add in all the above, you’ll find that you aren’t saving much at all, and adding a lot of aggravation to your trip.
Our prices include all taxes, staff, accommodation on twin share, food on trek, the required drinking water of 5 - 6 litres per day for every trekking day and transport from the time you land in Kathmandu to the time you leave for home.
Perhaps most importantly, all our guides and sherpas have relevant experience and training, certified by the Nepal government, and as with all MHE trips, your safety is our prime concern. There will always be an experienced MHE trip leader; we won’t leave you to wander the trail on your own, and if you feel unwell there’s always a sherpa by your side. If you need to be medically evacuated, a quick decision will be made, the insurance company contacted and if weather permits, you will be airlifted as soon as possible.
We are upfront, we are responsible, we’ve got decades of field experience, and we care about you. Do let us know if you'd like us to refer you to guests who have done this trek with us - feel free to speak with them directly.
Himachal Pradesh has some stunning mountain treks to be savoured. These mountains are so beautiful and offer so much variety, from the trans Himalayan districts of Lahaul and Spiti, to the green Dhauladhars that it becomes difficult to choose what I would call the top 5 treks here, however, I will list my favourites and tell you why I chose them.
Chandratal to Baralacha
An introductory trek to the area of the trans Himalaya. Today you can drive almost to this beautiful lake nestled amid green meadows where shepherds graze their sheep and the buttercups turn up their deep yellow faces to brighten your path. After an acclimatising day here, you start your walk along the valley of the Chandra river up to the cross roads of the Himalaya - the Baralacha Pass. The walk is along scree slopes and across streams, watching the spread of the river into myriad, silvered channels when the valley spreads, and growing into a raging torrent where it narrows. You camp in meadows by streams, observing the nomadic shepherds and getting some of their stories. You finally top out into a chocolate and cream world at the top of the Baralacha pass. This is the cross roads into the valleys of the Chandra, the Bhaga, the Spiti and the Tsarap rivers. Basically the head waters of the Chenab, the Sutlej and the Zanskar rivers. A trek I would grade as comfortable if you have taken the precautions that altitude always demands.
Duration : 5 basic trekking days, add a few for acclimatising and travel to and from. 7 to 8 days.
Season: Mid May through September.
For inspiration on treks in the Chandratal area click here.
The Indrahar Pass or Across the Dhauladhar
This is one of the most used passes across the Dhauladhar, traditionally used by shepherds getting their flocks from Kangra into the high pastures around Barmour in the Ravi valley.
I first did this trek following the shepherds, starting from Macleodganj, across the pass and down into the valley of the Ravi river. It is a green trek on both sides unlike the passes that cross the Great Himalayan ranges. You get to see, if interested, the Tibetan community in exile and their temple, school and monastery where the ancient tibetan arts are being revived. Then once you cross the pass you come into the valley where ancient Hinduism has been preserved in the temples of Bharmour and Chamba. No conquests got to this protected valley and thus the ancient art of the miniature painting was preserved as well as the unspoilt temples.
Duration: 6 -7 trek days, add 3 for travel. 10 days.
Season: mid May - June. Sept - Nov.
The Pin Parvati Pass
This is a magical trek, up along the valley of the Parvati river, which branches off the Kullu valley. You visit the temple and gurudwara at Manikaran and hear the legend of the hot spring. Carry on up along this beautiful river to the village of Pulga where you start your trek. Up above the hydro electric project you start walking to Khir Ganga, where you can lie in a hot bath to soak our your first days aches - carry on up the valley till you reach the holy lake Mantalai, the source of the Parvati and said to be a tantric centre of great power. This is where you challenge across the Pass starts - this is normally glaciated and a long pass to cross, but it brings you across into the Pin River valley and the village of Mud, where you meet the road head and drive into the Spiti valley. On the one side you start with green forest walking through oak and red rhododendron trees, to where the red of the rhododendron turns to pink, lavender and then white as it turns from a tree to a shrub with the changing altitude. Then across the pass - you meet the spiring rock and dust mountains of a land where time stood still and the mind has room to soar.
Duration: 7 -8 trek days, add 4 for travel. 12- 14 days.
Season: mid May - June. Sept - Nov.
The Chandrakhani Pass
Himachal is a fast progressing state where the roads are providing connectivity almost everywhere, but there are still a few areas that need to be accessed by foot. This pass takes you from the Kullu valley into the Parvati valley via the ancient village of Malana. A lost village in it’s high mountain fastness protecting a people and culture based on the ancient Greek. From the meadows of the Bijli Mahadev temple which you reach through forests of high deodar, you climb through the Chandrakhani pass, down to Malana village and on to the road head near Kasol. A village that has grown to be a hub of young tourists with all sorts of cafe’s and bars. Malana has gained fame as defining of the quality of marijuana that grows there, however, the trek is a lovely walk through great mountain scenery.
Duration: 3 -4 trek days, add 2 for travel. 6 - 7 days.
Season: mid May - June. Sept - Nov.
The village home stay trail in Spiti
To get the truly local flavour and experience the real life style of the people of Spiti, this is a trek that takes you from village home to village home, meeting and living with the families, eating off the produce from their fields - peas, potatoes, beans and the various flours and Satu grains. Wonderfully healthy all that walking, fresh air and fresh food. Then there is the food for the mind and soul that the very essence of the mountains, and the complete sense of immensity and space provide. You can also visit the monasteries along the way, sit in on the monks prayers and post a letter from the highest post office at Hikkim.
Remember though - that it is an actual home stay - they have not provided flushing toilets and mod cons, you would use the traditional outhouse privies with the dry composting technique unique to the area. Your beds are the flat divans covered in traditional rugs and shawls. You sit in the central room around the stove and eat off the low tables the traditional fare. It is a truly immersive experience for those that would relish it.
Duration: 5 - 7 trek days, add 5 - 6 for travel. 10 - 12 days.
Season: Mid May through November.
- Pavane Mann, Director, Unique Explorations, MHE
This blog post originally appeared in sulekha.com
Note from MHE Stories: This article written by Neha Mishra was first published in Tripoto.
It all started with an idea to plan our team’s offsite last year. The industry we come from there is certainly no dearth of ideas but I can’t say the same for ideas that actually work. So what do you get when you put a bunch of people with a penchant for all things adventurous in one room? An unconventional venue for the next team offsite.
MHE Beach Camp, Shivpuri. Thank God! This one actually worked out. You’ll always have the pessimists telling you why something won’t work, but then you have the risk takers telling you why something will. Despite a few glitches,this was one such trip.
Shivpuri is a place for people who aren’t looking for the tried and tested spot. About 14 kms from the town of Rishikesh, the tranquility of the place takes you by surprise.We landed at the Dehradun airport and the bus journey took us about 2 hours, winding down narrow roads and almost quiet surroundings. You just soak it all in, away from the hustle bustle of the city, and trust me you haven’t even reach yet.
My reaction was that was disappointment when we initially got there because all I saw was rocks, a small patch of dry land and then a few run down tents. This is not what we had in mind. The more you see the more you agree with the statement “ One step at a time”. You’ll be amazed by what you see when you get to the foot of the river banks. It’s like being thrown into a sea jungle, all green and blue… like a Pantone shade card come to life. The sun just about setting and added into this gorgeous setting are a myriad of colours mix some yellow, orange and sparkling shades of neon! The moment we are told we haven’t reached the campsite yet, I felt a sense of pure relief …phew. Where is the campsite then?
Having walked some more with the Ganges flowing right under your feet, no traffic, no people, the silence ..you wonder if this is what they called nirvana? Not yet.
The campsite, nestled between mountains and you could get there only by a raft! This is where is starts, the excitement of what’s to come, the short trip giving you a preview of what lies ahead. For now it’s ice-cold water splashing at you, the naked sky above your head, laughter all around with all that excitement in the air. You can’t help but love every moment of this. BLISS.
Sitting around a bonfire warming our city hands, so not used to this cold, singing songs, sharing a thing or two about oneself, the sky covered in a blanket of stars like little diamond dots on a pitch black canvas…. breathtaking. The food at the camp was an amazing mix of Kashmiri style cuisine mixed with a basic North India fare, from mutton yakini to simple dal and rice, eggs in the morning and pakodas with your evening tea…, yummy, needless to say. While the rum you think is keeping you warm, the cold breeze gets the better of you. You may even fall down because you’re simply clumsy but hey…. what’s a holiday without a fall? Nothing and absolutely nothing comes close to the feeling of simply laying on the sand and looking at those stars. I love stargazing and the nights here are simply magical. You don’t need the words or the music. With the wind blowing, the sound of the water, the occasional sounds from the mountains, you’re on your own with your own thoughts, enjoy it….. These moments are what I call a luxury.
I wasn’t even ready for what I saw next, up on a mounted silver sand platform were about 20 tents all lined up, with little lamps forming a curve, marking their territory. We were on the banks of the river Ganges surrounded by regal rocks of the Great Himalayan foothills. It’s like every nook and corner had a secret behind it. I couldn’t wait to get into the water! Just when you think you’ve seen it all you question yourself once again.
I don’t know if you’ll agree with me, but when you’re in the mountains your body clock somehow changes, you wake up early yet feel completely rested. Speaking for myself, I hadn’t slept so well in days. Cocooned in the warmth of my thick blankets and hot water bottle (Yes, I live in the city and we don’t have anything that could remotely be called “winter”)!
For the water lovers, it just doesn’t get better than this. Rafting in the Ganges- words cannot do justice to what you feel when you’re in the middle of that pool of deep blue. Cold, comforting with the sun shining bright. That first hit of ice-cold water smashing in your face, every nerve tingling, it’s an unexplainable feeling. Floating aimlessly in the waters is a luxury very few get to experience.
Surprisingly Rishikesh is also the place I broke my long-standing fear of heights, my first real jump, at 273 feet the first thing you look at is the river flowing down under and the green all around you. Took some convincing but it pays to be a competitive soul. The fear has you in knots, I have to say…” to jump or not to jump”. I needed the magic words from Mark, our jump instructor ” You’re going to go back to camp, sit by that bonfire tonight and have no stories to tell”. That did it, I had to jump. Guess that decision was one of the best I’ve made. Priceless.
With nights around camp cooking our dinner on an occasional night, to sitting out by our tent during the day just listening to some music…Don’t Worry Be Happy was music for my soul. Just felt right.
I love to travel for a reason. So many people, each one with their own choices and thoughts and when all comes together you have this amazing potpourri of music, food, ideas, thoughts…it’s a bond difficult to break away from.
Sometimes you meet the most amazing people and sometimes you find yourself amidst all that quiet, one way or the other you get exactly what you need right that moment.
Funny, this Universe has its mysterious ways.
As I come close to the edge of the dune, “Rev that engine! Press! Press the accelerator!” yells my instructor, and just as the car looms over the huge dune, I let it ride. If I press the brakes I’ll be in deep trouble – literally, and my friends and I would probably spend the next two hours digging ourselves out of it.
Dune bashing in Rajasthan is a great December to February vacation option – the sense of freedom I get behind that 4×4 wheel is simply matchless! We usually arrive in Jodphur in the morning, do the regular touristy bit and then start bashing the dunes after an overnight stay at Osian – an oasis in the Thar desert about 65 km north of Jodhpur. The word “dunes” throw up this vision of unending crescents of sand mounds, but in the Thar there are an equal number of bushes and brambles that we have to plough our way through before we actually hit the big dunes. The SUVs gets a really good run down, and I often warn my friends: “if you’ve bought the 4×4 to show off and not actually use it, keep it parked in the garage and don’t bring it out here!”
Jodhpur by itself is an intriguing city and since I tend to identify every place I visit with the food I eat there, I dig in to the dal batti churma the moment I arrive! Right there, in the heart of Rajasthan, this dish tastes quite different from the local Rajasthani restaurant in your city. The churma part is my personal favourite and that sweet flavour of jaggery-ghee combo lingers long after you’ve licked it off your fingers!
Jodhpur is also the city of forts and palaces, so we plan on where we're headed well in advance, else by the end of the day, we will really be “forted out”! The Mehrangarh Fort is on the top of my list – built across five kilometres, it stands 400 feet above the city level and its palaces have some of the most intricate carvings and expansive courtyards, with mirrored walls and artwork that has stood the test of time. It’s breathtaking enough and to think that all of this was built between the 15th and 16th century, simply boggles the mind. A Flying Fox zipline across its stunning ramparts is truly the cherry on the cake! Don't miss it for anything in this world!
We head to our Osian home by evening. We’re staying at the Thar Camp, an old village home with a huge central open courtyard and bedrooms all around. The bon fire is lit, and mother nature does her bit by lighting up the sky with millions of sparkles you’d never get to see in the city! The aroma of hot rotis on the tawa pervades the courtyard and the laal maas for dinner completes the picture-perfect night as far as I am concerned!
We head out early the next morning, it can get quite warm during the day, even in December, and we want to get some dune bashing under our wheels before they day wears on. It’s Chinkara country, and this Indian Gazelle crosses your path – beautiful, delicate and fearless – when you least expect it. We stop often to peer at these gentle creatures, who gaze back at us with equal curiosity from behind the bushes.
Less than an hour of driving and we’ve hit the big dunes. Dune bashing is an art and just because you know how to drive, it doesn't mean you won’t dig yourself into a deep hole!
As you come up the crest you need to be…fearless, is the only word I could think of. For amateurs like me, the rule is simple – rev that accelerator like your life depends on it and no matter what happens, don’t press the brakes. When you reach the edge of the dune just let the car slide down - nice and easy. It’s exhilarating enough already. The wheelies and the unending circuits - leave that to the pros!
TOP 5 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FIRST-TIMERS:
I don't follow the tourists. I like to dive into experiences without a plan and simply follow my heart - and my stomach. My memories of every place I've been to is often enmeshed with the food I've eaten there. I love to travel and the sheer exasperation of not being able to find those special places led me to quit the television industry I'd worked in for 22 odd years and enter this unknown world.
MHE has several fixed departures for this trip - click here for more. We're the pioneers of this experience, having handled some of the biggest off-roading movements in India for over a decade. We not only organize the self-drive cars, we will also train you before you hit the big ones!
Nepal, India’s nearest neighbour, is a fantastic and often overlooked destination. Did you know you can get a return flight from around ₹10,000, and Indian citizens don’t need a visa? Nepal is not just about Mount Everest – it has so much more to offer!
1. LANGTANG TREKKING
Langtang National Park, less than a day’s drive from Kathmandu, offers some of the most spectacular treks in Nepal without the transport access issues of other trekking areas. In the spring, the enormous rhododendrons are a delight of red, pink, yellow, white and mauve. Any time of year is great to visit the Langtang area – enjoy a trek to holy Gosainkund Lake, have the chance to see wild red pandas and soak in the hot springs on the Tamang Heritage trail, trek right from Kathmandu itself on the Helambu Trail.
2. POKHARA AND PHEWA TAL
Pokhara, Nepal’s second city, is situated on the shores of Phewa Tal. With spectacular views of the Annapurna range, particularly Mt Machhapuchhare (Fish Tail), and a pleasant tropical climate, Pokhara is a favourite for honeymooners and adventure lovers alike. It is the starting point for many treks in the Annapurna, Naar Phu and Mustang area, as well as Lumbini, Chitwan National Park and the west. In Pokhara you can relax by the lake, go boating, paragliding, soar with the eagles in a micro-lite, or play some holes on one of the world’s most scenic golf courses.
3. FESTIVALS AND UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES IN KATHMANDU VALLEY
UNESCO World Heritage sites are dotted all over Kathmandu valley’s three ancient cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. The sacred Hindu temple and ghats of Pashupatinath, Buddhist stupas of Boudhanath and Swayumbanath, and hundreds of tiny, often overlooked, temples in the narrow alleyways make every excursion a step back in time. Stunning stone and wood carvings were first created by the original inhabitants of the valley, the Newari people, who still live in the valley today.
Because of the many different cultural ethnicities - estimated at just over 100 distinct castes - Nepal, and particularly the Kathmandu Valley, has elaborate and frequent festivals (some claim there is one almost every day!) with Hindu and Buddhist influences.
4. NEPAL'S FAR WEST
Nepal’s Far West – a day’s drive from Delhi – has wonderful untouristed jungle parks such as Bardia and Royal Suklaphanta, where tigers, elephants, leopards, rhino and otters roam. These jungles, cut off from most tourism during internal troubles in the 1990s and early 2000s, had suffered from poaching but are now guarded by the army and as a result the jungles themselves are much more pristine and lush than Chitwan. You can even fish for mighty mahseer in the Babai and Karnali rivers. The Far West also offers treks to unspoiled areas like Khaptad National Park, Rara Lake, and Simikot en route to Mt Kailash. You can also trek Dolpo, the high altitude home of Tibetan nomads which possesses arguably the most stunning lake in the Himalaya, Lake Phoksumdo.
5. ADVENTURE GALORE!
Adventure is what Nepal is all about. You can trek, climb, bungy, raft, mountain bike and paraglide your way around some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet. There’s absolutely no reason to wait any longer. As one of their recent tourism promotions stated “Nepal – Once is Never Enough”.
Director of Pole To Pole Expeditions and Nepal advisor to MHE. Judy spent almost 20 years trekking in Nepal.
If you’re trekking in the Indian Himalaya, you got to learn to pack light. Airlines in India now allow only 15 kgs as check-in luggage, so you got to be a smart packer, unless you want to shell out extra cash for all that stuff you’re carrying that you will never use. And if you’re lugging your own backpack, then all the more reason to keep it light.
If you have porters in your Himalayan trekking party, there’s a standard rule of thumb - he will not carry more than 20 kgs. And no hard tops please. Make it a duffel bag – hard tops hurt the porters and injure their backs.
This isn't an exhaustive list of everything you need to carry. It’s a list of my Top 15 items I simply cannot do without on a Himalayan trek, some of which are, what I call, the forgotten essentials
Ankle- high trekking shoes - don’t scrimp on these, invest in a good pair (my personal favorite are Salomons) and floaters (sandals), useful once you've finished trekking for the day. You’ll be dying to remove those boots after eight hours!
2. QUICK DRY CLOTHES
Dri-fit T-shirts, long sleeves dri-fit sweat shirts, quick drying underwear – just ditch the heavy cotton clothes. They’re cumbersome to carry and don’t dry quickly enough. Walking in wet undies isn’t a pleasant experience I assure you!
3. SUNGLASSES AND CROAKIES
If you’re trekking in the snow or if glistening snow peaks are on the itinerary (in the Himalaya? Really? ;-), then lean towards the polarized ones. Polarized glasses reduce the glare from shiny surfaces like water and snow. Either ways, make sure they’re wrap-arounds so minimum light filters through and always have a securing strap (croakies). The latter is particularly useful if you’ve got head gear on. Slipping them on your head when you don’t need them is not an option. And if you take them off and leave them lying somewhere, the chances that you will forget them are pretty high. You won’t win the “most popular person in the Himalayan trekking party” vote if you make people wait while you head back to pick up your precious sunglasses.
4. HYDRATION PACK
A 2-litre hydration pack – you get some super ones now which also double up as a day pack. It comes with a plastic bladder and a pipe, leaving you hands free when sipping water. Make sure the water bladder inside has the ability to withstand hot boiling water.
5. ORS FOR YOUR WATER BAG
One of the forgotten essentials. High altitude trekking requires you to drink LOTS of water. In an 8-hour trekking day I consume almost 4 litres and yes, it makes me pee a lot. Because of this, body salts need to be replaced. Hence the ORS. It takes some time getting used to that sickly sweet flavoured ORS powder, but it’s a life-saver. So carry loads of sachets with you. Remember, a clear pee is a good pee!
6. A RAIN JACKET WITH A HOODIE
Mountain weather is unpredictable. Let no one tell you it’s not going to rain. More importantly, don’t try to save money on this - buy a good quality one. It’s a life-saver. You may use it for just one day on a 10-day trek, but you’ll thank your lucky stars you brought it along.
7. SLEEPING BAG
A down sleeping bag – the quality of down will depend on the altitude you’re going to be at. Even if you’re not in tents for the night and don’t use it to sleep in, it’s the perfect blanket. I prefer to use my sleeping bag than an unwashed blanket provided by the accommodation we’re living in.
A fleece one that covers your head and ears and a sun hat – the wide brimmed one with a securing strap so it doesn't blow away in the wind. Ditch the baseball (peak) caps - the photos you've seen of models posing in baseball caps against a mountain range – they’re rubbish. They don’t help.
Another forgotten essential (and it rhymes with poof!). This multi-purpose out-door headgear doubles up as a hairband, ear muffs, balaclava, muffler…just use your imagination! I find it particularly useful to protect my nose at high altitudes – it keep the winds from freezing up my proboscis and I can still breathe through it’s thin layer.
You will be surprised how useful this 5½ feet piece of garment actually is! Fling this traditional lungi (as we call it in India), around your head and shoulders to keep the sun out; wrap it around yourself while at dinner to keep warm; get your friends to hold it for you while you take a pee on the side of the walking track; wear it when you come out of the common bath and head to your tent – this is one piece of clothing I never ever forget. And yes, it's yet another forgotten essential!
Carry your prescription drugs. You’re not going to find them in the little Himalayan hamlets you pass on the way. Also, take your regular painkillers, Band-Aids for corns and blisters, an antiseptic ointment and tablets for tummy upsets and diarrhea – the change in food and water can wreak havoc with the steeliest of stomachs. And if that's not bad enough, the price you have to pay for this stuff as you go higher will definitely make you sick!
Sunscreen - minimum 30 SPF, lip balm, and moisturizing lotion are a must. So are wet wipes - for that leaky but delicate sun-burnt nose, and also to wipe yourself down every morning. Bathing at high altitudes is only for the super brave! A forgotten essential? You got that right.
Protein bars, dry-fruits like almonds, walnuts, figs, dates and raisins. Channa and Gur is a brilliant combo as well – you’ll see the horses that carry your bags eating that all the time – and for a good reason!
14. WIND-PROOF GLOVES
Leave the woolen ones mommy knitted for you at home. Even the fleece ones may leave your fingers numb at high altitudes. After 4,000 M, the cold winds can be cruel. Wear the wind-proof gloves over your fleece ones for a warm snug fit. You’ll probably wear them only for two days on the whole trek, but you’ll be glad you brought them along.
A forgotten essential you'll land up shelling out money for. City-wear for when you return, is mandatory. Most of us forget that we have flights to catch, probably a farewell dinner, a celebratory night at the local pub. Whatever it is, you don’t really want to wear the same clothes you've been wearing for the past 10 days do you?
Magic Mountains and a river runs through IT...
The first time I crossed a high pass and walked into the Zanskar Valley, 'Magic Mountains' was my instant thought. That thought has not changed despite the many times I have explored that valley since.
The only way to see that whole gorge is to trek through it either on very precarious paths clinging to sheer cliffs, or walking the frozen Chadar in winter. But easily the best way to experience the absolute magic of the Zanskar mountains and the mighty gorge of this magical river is to float through it; you will be spellbound, awed and enchanted.
In 2012 I was on the Zanskar with the epic team of Richard Bangs, George Wendt and John Yost (pioneers of river running in the world, check out the book River Gods).
This is an extract from Richard Bangs write-up of the Zanskar rafting trip in the Huffington Post:
The Zanskar, a river deeper and more stunning than the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, cracks the Himalayas like an egg. It is Shangri-La manifested, a wild river of Buddhist temples, monasteries, ibex and snow leopards.
For me this is the last Shangri La - anyone who has an adventure bucket list, needs to put this at the top.
Sometime in the near future the army will bulldoze a road through this fascinating spot of the earth. They carry even poop out of the Grand Canyon to preserve the natural heritage. We are cutting a road through ours - come experience the magic before it is lost.
If I say every nuance of this trip is other worldly, it is not an exaggeration.
This is a trip that starts from a houseboat floating amid waterlilies on the fabled Dal lake of Kashmir. You sit on the verandah and gaze at the romance of shikaras plain and caparisoned paddling by - some are selling all the beautiful produce of this land - from intricately embroidered shawls to custom made suits. Some are ordinarily going about their business. Take an early morning ride into the floating vegetable and flower market, your camera does not stop clicking - you meet a charming rogue of a flower seller who sells you beautiful blossoms you have no use for just with his smile and banter. A hot cookie shikara guy offers you a morning snack for the early rumble in your tummy.
The enchantment continues - with the drive out of green Kashmir, across the Zojila Pass, where an intrepid army officer planted tanks at 11,500 ft in 1965 much to the chagrin of the Pakistanis.We are now in the high Himalaya - Draas, said to be the coldest inhabited part of the world and Kargil, areas that resound with the memories of battles and bravery.
Uncannily we turn south to even higher mountains - crossing the 14,600 ft Pensi La pass we see the towering twin peaks; Nun and Kun, 23,000 ft, and drive past the spectacular Dorong Durung Glacier to camp at the monastery of Rangdum. Set on a hillock amidst a vast high plain, with the early Doda river, spreading in glistening rivulets around it,yet another imposing site. We go visit the monks and turn the prayer wheels, I think most are praying for a successful trip. The next day we drive further down to meet with our rafts on the Doda river at almost 12000 ft.
It’s the start of our river trip - an introductory float trip with rippling rapids gets us to the confluence of the Doda with the Zanskar and our first campsite below the Karsha Gompa, which as all such monasteries do, crawls up the hillside in gravity defying layers. We have a chance to visit the capital town of Zanskar, Padum, which lies across the river and is our last connection to the outside world with it’s erratic wifi and phone connectivity.
The next day our rafts are loaded with all the gear, including chickens in a basket, perched at the top of the gear boat. We enter the colourful, swirling, heaving, textured rock formations of the awesome Zanskar Gorge. Our guides are superb and only occasionally ask for paddling help - so you have lots of time to stop and stare - believe me that’s what you do. Hanging rope bridges leading to and from paths that are scratches on the cliffs, leave you wondering where they may lead? Do people actually live somewhere up there?
The next few days are about traversing this gorge, walking around the ‘jackhammer rapid’ and watching the boats line through, very glad that you are not in them.
The campsites along this river; spots that carry your soul away. Isolated beaches - some pitch tents, I always try and find an overhang or an open spot where I can sleep under the stars and talk to the moon. At Nyerak where we have a rest day - there is a grove of willows - I lie listening to the wind through the branches, watch the moonlight climb up and down those sheer rock faces, illuminating strange formations till it silvers the river and starts its climb up the other side. It is hard to close one’s eyes. Wake to the sun repeating the moon’s journey only the colours now go from gold to pink to orange. Do you now know why I call them magic mountains?
Nyerak is a village that you climb up and up and up to reach and finally come out onto a flat spot, with fields and the homes of a few families. Tashi Dorje is the headman and we have been visiting him for years, his family traditionally wove rugs and he still sells them. The proceeds of all the rafters have allowed him to send his children to school in Leh. We sit in his home while his wife offers ladakhi tea and the quotidian ‘gur gur chai’ or yak butter tea, that most gag on, but I love with the tsampa and satu. Almost everyone buys a rug, which are packed into a special box on the raft. (Every expedition needs this).
The rest day is followed by the continuing fascination of the river and gorge - Floating on through the narrowest part of the gorge with it’s swirling eddies and wondering how the raft will come through. It does. This is probably the most hair raising part of the river, but it is followed by the amazing sight of a huge waterfall cascading down the side of the gorge out of a hole in the wall. It makes for a perfect lunch stop, to catch bated breath and exchange high pitched, survival laughter, before carrying on to the next isolated camp.
It’s a sensory surfeit till you reach the confluence with the Indus, where going south is not an option as it flows into Pakistan, so we pull out the rafts and head to Leh for hot showers and un-tented accommodation, shopping, visiting the epic monasteries, turning the prayer wheels in thanks and heading home.
The magic of the Zanskar stays with me always and I plug in to relive those moments like a meditation.
- Pavane Mann, Director, Unique Explorations, MHE
Mercury Himalayan Explorations is running the Zanskar Rafting trip from August 14th, 2015 to August 24th, 2015. Check here for more details.
As part of the MHE INSPIRATION SERIES our topic this fortnight was Adventure Travel and we interviewed adventurer, explorer and traveller Pavane Mann. She tells us all about her experiences around the world including walking in the tracks of a snow leopard and being nearly swept away by a stream in spate in Punjab!
1) What is Adventure Travel according to you?
Adventure Travel: anything that you have not done before becomes an adventure depending on the perspective you come from. So Indian rail travel is an adventure for someone who has never done it.
Formally, Adventure Travel would mean, I guess, being in the wilderness, trekking, climbing, rafting, kayaking, skiing, bungee jumping, climbing etc. Anything with a quotient of risk and adrenaline generation capacity and which includes physical activity.
Having said that, I am wholly of the opinion that adventure is what happens when you set out to explore. And exploration could mean anything..you could have a marvellous adventure in the corner of a library with a wonderful book. All of life is a vast adventure.
2) What is the most Adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
Walked across the Baralacha pass, all on my own in the middle of a brilliant moon lit night, trying to get help for an ailing friend. Walked in the tracks of a snow leapord, hoping we wouldn't meet. Leapt across a crevasse, got taken for a witch by the poor soldiers who heard me (a woman) calling for help in the early dawn of a remote high mountain post. All the while hoping help would be on time.
That and setting out on a middle aged, solo, trip around the world to find all the adventures I could. I found many and believe I shall find many more.
3) How do you balance challenging yourself and relaxing on a holiday?
That's easy, you challenge yourself for part of the time and relax the rest. For example: you raft down the Colorado river all morning, in the afternoon you hike up some incredible canyon and see amazing sights. In the evening you camp on a beach, build a fire and break open the beer cooler!!
4) What is your favourite Adventure Travel Destination? Why?
Sorry, I haven't found it yet, the whole concept of an adventure is the newness of it, how do you have a favourite destination when you are looking for adventure? I do not think I will ever have a favourite, each place has something unique and a true adventurer is looking for the next, not repeating another.
Having said that, let me negate myself by saying there are places that have lots to discover and one would go back to experience different aspects.
New Zealand, is a destination that offers almost every type of adventure and an abundance of it that perhaps one needs to go back to experience the new things.
The Grand Canyon can be rafted and hiked and has myriad aspects that need exploration.
The same for the Zanskar Gorge and mountains - these are spectacles that purely fascinate and every visit offers a different perspective, so you can go back again and again.
5) Break a myth related to Adventure Travel.
It can be for everyone, there is nothing that prevents anyone from participating other than a willingness to try!
6) What’s your favourite Adventure Travel activity?
I love the water, so exploring rivers definitely sits high - rafting a grand river is pure magic, the mix of companionship and the solitude of setting camp on a beach backed by sheer cliffs, where so few could or would have been - flies your soul to another dimension.
Sailing a boat and catching the wind right in your sail that sets you skimming over the sea; finding a tiny marina and the ultimate taverna that makes their own brilliant wine, or discovering an uninhabited bay where you dive for your dinner or sit on your boat with a line overboard hoping some food will appear and watch a glorious sunset specially created just for your viewing!
7) Share a scary experience along the adventure travel road that happened to you.
I got swept away by a stream in spate and thought I would end being carried away down the great rivers of the Punjab to the sea! Fitting perhaps, but I survived. Just barely, because it was a freezing cold, high mountain stream. I had roped my whole team across, but the wretched water had risen and risen and by the time it was my turn...it was just very high. A rolling boulder in the milky flow knocked my legs out, the spate of water did not allow me to hold the rope. I went with the flow, gambolling down this crazy stream and picturing my daughters left motherless. That's when I got pinned against a rock, with still enough wit to try and drag myself to the tiny midstream island that was created by the rubble of the eddy it created.
My body was sapped of all energy by the bitter cold, and that is when that marvellous thing called adrenaline kicks in. It makes a super human of you, I jumped from island to island and got hauled across a rushing, but narrow, bit of the now raging river. It took a huge leap of faith and the expertise and strength of an old trekking buddy, he caught my flying leap and I sit here telling the tale.
8) How important is the right gear while embarking on an Adventurous journey?
It is very important for safety and comfort to know what you are in for and be prepared for it. You do not need a lot of gear, generally, but you do need the right stuff. It is what keeps you alive, comfortable and makes for an enjoyable experience. Dress for the cold, dress for the heat. Right foot wear. Safety gear: buoyancy aids, helmets, harnesses, ropes. Survival stuff: knives, matches, torches.
You don't need all of it, most reputed operators will have the right gear and advice you on what you need. But following that advice is important.
9) One thing that’s high on your Adventure Travel To-Do List?
There isn't only one:
The Mastang valley, the Gobi Desert, the Antarctic, the Amazon, are just a few!
10) What's your advice for scared and wary Adventurers?
If they are scared and wary they are not adventurers.
If they still want to be adventures and are willing to overcome the wariness, then find a companion who knows how, or find an outfit that is professional, but caring enough to help you discover your self.
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