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The Great Divide & Jumlam
From Lahaul to Ladakh to including the Jumlam
See Our treks for current treks
In the far north west of India lie tiny outposts of Tibetan culture, kept pristine by their sheer inaccessibility. We take great joy in guiding our trekkers along the high and wild paths that lead to these ancient kingdoms, and in 2007 and 2008, we were privileged to explore the challenging route over the 5450m (17,900ft) Kang La over the Great Himalayan Barrier from Lahaul to Zanskar.
We climb the Miyar glacier again, approaching through the glorious alpine scenery of west Lahaul, taking time in the green pastures to acclimatize before roping up to negotiate the crevasse fields below the pass. Once in the old kingdom of Zanskar, there is an option to finish with a lovely drive back to Leh; but to make an all round Himalayan experience, we follow the little known 'Jumlam' route through deep gorges where Snow Leopard and Ibex roam, and over two more passes to the Indus Valley.
The Kang La - Joel Schone
Thanks for a brilliant trip (not holiday!) you were great! I looked at the photos and they were amazing, they give a brilliant account of the trip and each says 1000 words that adds up to a novella! Please give my thanks again to Lobsang, Stanzin and Sonam, they are a brilliant team that gave us all heroic confidence.
Lucy Roberts, Himalayan Divide team 2008
Day 1- arrive Delhi
Look for the Project Himalaya sign. We drive to our hotel in Parhar Gang, the main bazaar of Delhi, and over dinner, discuss gear and our adventure.
Day 2 - Fly to Manali 2100m
Heavenly! The flights are very reliable now, so check in at 6AM and by 10 we will be sitting down to breakfast in the cool foothills of the Himalayas. Johnsons, our lodge, is really a world away from Delhi with superb food - we can relax and talk over our trek.
Day 3 - In Manali 2100m
Sleep late, wander around town, shop, repack your bags - while Joel and the crew finish off the trek preparations, you have a day to yourself here in this bustling Indian holiday town. Over dinner we will go over the first few days of our adventure.
Day 4 - Drive to Lahaul and Urgos camp 2920m
We will be pulling out of Manali by 7 am as the road to the pass gets blocked at times with holidaymakers heading up to see the snow; our first goal is the 3978m Rohtang pass, over the Pir Panjal range. John Keay, whose books accompany all our treks, made the classic comment "In all but name, Tibet begins on the Rohtang" and after the humidity of the Kulu valley, the cool air on top of the pass is delightful; on top where we hop out for a photo call the Lahaul massif, a mass of snowy peaks is in front of us. We descend into the Chandra valley, and drive west, parallel with the Pir Panjal, to the confluence of the Chandra and Chenab rivers, where we turn away from the Manali-Leh highway on the new road that will eventually connect Lahaul with Kashmir to the district centre, Udaipur, and here we turn north and drive to the roads end at the bottom of the Miyar valley. We camp here near a school among pine trees. Looking down valley is the Pir Panjal; look up valley is the Himalaya. Here we introduce you to your home for the next few weeks, our dining tent, and your own personal home, your tent. It is a great place to wander as your body gets used to the elevation gain we have made.
Day 5 - Trek Tharang 3600m
At last, on the trail - or at least, dirt road. We have an easy walk today, all part of our acclimatization program, and it is very important to take it easy - go slow, cover up from the sun, and above all, drink lots of water. Up here the sun is fierce, and as Joel will tell you again and again, there is walking - and walking at altitude. Luckily today's route is just made for dawdling, strolling, taking it easy, as we enjoy the middle hills of India. Pine, deodar, poplar and willow, fields in all their harvest colors and a touch of autumn in the air.
Today we pass from the Hindu lowlands to the Buddhist highlands, at Tingrat, an hour out of camp, and we are now on the old trade route to Zanskar; surprisingly, locals still take livestock over the pass (surprisingly when you see the pass!) to sell to their co religionists on the other side - but most trade this way, and onwards to Tibet, is long gone, and very few locals still take their yaks up valley to graze in summer. We trek on a good trail through alpine scenery, and after an hour drop to a flood plain at 3385m and walk to a bridge over the river that replaced a more exciting cable car in 2008. From where a steep climb takes us to the last village in the Miyar, Tharang, and on one more hour to a series of delightful meadows at 3615m where we settle in.
Day 6 - Rest at Tharang 3600m
We take acclimatizing seriously, thus a day at this camp; sitting around with a book and a coffee is good acclimatization, and so is a day trip up to 4000m - your choice!
Day 7 - Trek Gompa camp 3860m
A bite of autumn in the air this morning as we breakfast - even last August it was nippy! An hour from camp is a beautiful recently built chorten which marks the site of an ancient village, then a side valley which gives onto lovely views of the peaks around the much crossed Shingo La; we are trekking parallel with the main Himalayan barrier, and we have three hours of wide grassy pasture and increasingly better views all around. We lunch in view of a peak which in 2007 we found familiar; the Gumbaranjon, the 6000m monolith on the Zanskar side of the Shingo La, from a unique angle. Ahead now are the classic rounded hills which are old moraine; we are entering glacial territory - and two hours more easy walking takes us to a delightful camp below a rock the locals insist looks like a chorten.
Day 8 - Trek Many Lake camp 3950m
Another five hour day, and we have to be on the trail by 7 am, as three hours up are a series of streams which we have to cross, so pack your sandals. The trail is now on mixed terrain, pasture and glacial rubble, and Lobsang, Sonam, and the porters will be on hand to help us over the streams. As we have left early, we should be in camp for lunch - a series of clearings among the moraine by some small glacial lakes. The sunsets here are stunning.
Day 9 - Many Lake camp 3950m
We have a day here to let our bodies acclimatize to the altitude, and go over details, camp routine, and the exciting days ahead.
Day 10 - Trek Ice camp 1 4300m
Pack your warmer layers, and your crampons today; we are heading for the ice! The weather from now till over the pass can change very quickly, and we stay together, with Lobsang and Sonam route finding in front. The glacier is constantly moving, and rocks move, fall, ice melts, more rocks fall and trails vanish. The route leads over moraine rubble being pushed down from an incredible side glacier, and it will take us about three hours to wend through the glacial debris to the wide and smooth river of ice we can see in the distance. This time of year it is just ice, no snow, and once on the flat ice, crampons are useful but not vital. There are several camps, all on ice, and we will be finding the best. The porters take it slow and safe on this section, another reason for packing your feathers - we may be waiting a while.
Day 11 - Trek Ice camp 2 4700m
An easy day walking on easy ice, where we camp depends on the weather conditions and the availability of campsites. Flexibility and patience! In 2007 we had an easy four hours, lunch at the camp, and an afternoon exploring. In 2008 we went further; no way of foreseeing until we get there. The scenery is truly out of this world, with bus sized rocks suspended on pillars of ice, 'glacier mushrooms' as we call them - please keep well away from them, they DO fall; we saw one. An early night, as we have an early start for the amazing day ahead, lulled to sleep by our porters singing.
Day 12 - Trek Zanskar base of Kang La 4300m
A big day, and a 4 AM start - Joel, Lobsang and Sonam will be busy helping our porters with their safety gear, but after a (big!) breakfast we head up the glacier, shaking off the morning chill as the sun lights up the peaks all around. In 2007 we were stunned into speechlessness by the views, it really is that good. Two to three hours takes us onto the higher glacier, with looming rock pyramids ahead that are unnamed, but 6000m plus; then we wind around some old crevasses that are more like valleys. This takes us onto the upper glacier, where we and the porters rope up; before we head up Joel will remind you to have your gloves handy (ie in your pockets not your pack) and snacks the same, after we rope up here. We work together, Lobsang at the front, Sonam at the rear; remember we have our porters to guide through as well - patience is all! After an hours wending through the crevasse fields there is a short steep section to the pass, then it is flat and easy all the way down, but it is a long way. We hope to be on the pass by 11 AM, and from there it is six hours to warm and grassy pastures at the base...and it will feel good! A real Himalayan day.
Day 13 - Trek/drive Zangla 3600m
And down - the senses are always overwhelmed by a day like yesterday, and the warmth of the lower valleys feels so good. We head down in an easy 4/5 hours to the dirt road that links Padum with upper Zanskar - and transport awaits into Padum for lunch and then on across the high plateau to Zangla, the once capital of the once kingdom Zangla. We say goodbye to our porters today, and meet our team of horses for the next stage in our adventure, the 'Jumlam' or middle way; Zangla existed as a distinct kingdom in the 19th century, given independence by Dogra invaders in exchange for letting their army through the route we are taking, a remote trail that follows the river through the bottom of a precipitous gorge; and three passes. But for now, we have Tenpa's mutton curry, and beers chilled in the Zanskar river.
Day 14 - Zangla 3600m
There is a jeep today to take you around the ancient monasteries of the central Zanskar plateau, or you can simply enjoy resting in camp, or take a walk up to Zangla.
Day 15 - Trek Zangla Sumdo 3890m
You could not find a greater contrast then the days to come. We leave by 8 AM and climb the wide trail to the 500 year old Zangla fort, where the famous Hungarian scholar, Csoma De Koros, spent a 19th century winter writing the first English/Tibetan dictionary; our Zangla friends will have the key for us, and we have time to poke around this ancient Erie high above the central Zanskar plateau; the prayer room is full of the hush of antiquity, and the lower rooms are a shrine to the spirit of Csoma. Then we are off the beaten track again, as we follow the trail into the gorges; today and for the next week, water shoes are essential as we cross and re cross streams - jumping the many streams is simply not possible; see the section on 'gear for the Jumlam'. Today is an orientation for Jumlam freshmen - an easy day, through the thickets of willow in the valley bottom, to a delightful camp at the 'sumdo', the river junction. We should be there by mid afternoon, and you will grow accustomed to the tinkle of the horse bells instead of the singing of the porters.
Day 16 - Trek Chubchak 4450m
Another day, another pass...just the 4950m Cha Cha la, so away early. We move through willow and poplar to the last of the Doksas (summer settlements) of the Zangla villagers, then a gentle climb to a huge ampitheatre of incredibly steep hillsides - the horses normally pass us as we start the climbing, and yes, that is the trail, zig zagging up a seemingly impossible face; by late morning we should be on top, to panoramic views back towards the Himalayas. The descent is short and easy, into a narrow valley which gets narrower until eventually you can span it with your elbows; there is a high trail the horses may take but the bottom trail through the water is easier. We emerge from the narrowest section to old sections of ice bridge, and, after seven hours on the trail, the valley opens up into the delightful pastures of Chubchak, enough sun remaining to wash up and scan the hills for Ibex that roam here.
Day 17 - Trek Wangchuk Sumdo 4040m
Today you begin to feel like you are on a journey into another world as we descend past huge rock slides and look up at glittering peaks catching the sun above us; we cross and re cross shallow rivers through poplar groves and have time to watch the sun reflect in myriad patterns on the water all around us, and finally come to what has got to be the prettiest camp in the world, a few spaces for our tents above the river sheltered by a steep rock wall behind with willow all around, and a snow spire looking down on us. Beautiful!
Day 18 - Trek Kharnak Sumdo 4170m
It would be hard to pick out one day as 'Classic Jumlam' on my seventh passage through here, but if I was forced to - this is it. Waterfalls, sandbanks that always seem to have animal prints, bizarre rocks with ancient fossils running through them, and above, the autumn sky framed by the eternal crags of Zanskar. An hour or two from camp, we see a cave with a natural chorten (or Lingam) that Zanskar women visit to make offerings for fertility. In 2008 our crew (except Lobsang who had more sense!) climbed the insane rock face to get into the cave to photograph it. We descend to the wide river junction, a flat flood plain at Tilat Sumdo which defies photography, and then walk up river, at times in river, to the junction of Kharnak Sumdo, another beautiful spot, soft sand making an excellent bed for the night.
Day 19 - Trek Ruberang 4340m
We will be leaving the Jumlam soon, and we start our ascent today, slowly winding our way from side to side of the river, on a trail which at one point is literally hanging on to the hillside - here, looking up, the peaks and pinnacles take on the shapes of spires, from Disneyland to Gothic, as one trekker said, and it is always best to stop and make sure you have firm footing before looking up. Finally after six hours on the trail we reach our camp in the pretty pastures of Ruberang; rock circles show where in times past Tibetan shepherds from the distant Chang Tang grazed their flocks here.
Day 20 - Trek Manechan 4640m
Goodbye to the Jumlam. We climb through some old landslide debris to the base of our next pass, then follow a steep trail that zig zags across the wide ampitheatre below the pass to the 5000m Zalung Karpo la, from where we can see both the route taken by traders and Shepherds - those distant snow peaks are bordering Tibet - and our route towards the Indus valley. There is a long and tiring descent before we reach our camp by jumbled mani stones.
Day 21 - Trek Umlung 4050m
Today we join the rightly famous and popular Markha valley trail, but at this time of year we will see few trekkers - a lovely valley of small villages and monasteries, with the banks of the Markha river lined with willow and poplar turning into their autumn colors; after the rough glaciers and demanding Jumlam, quite a treat - today we amble down valley for some four hours to the pretty village of Umlung set among barley fields at the riverside.
Day 22 - Trek Sara 3500m
Just five hours walk again, this time through the old village of Markha with its hilltop fort, then on to the small camp beside a teahouse that is called Sara. The last night camping, we will give out our tips and enjoy Tenpa's dinner for the last time.
Day 23 - Trek Chilling & Drive to Leh 3500m
We made it, we traversed those ranges a three hour walk takes us to our old friend, the Zanskar river, where Angchuk and his team of drivers are there to drive us through the Indus valley to Leh, the Hotel Shaynam, showers, and dinner. The frantic summer season is long over, and this little piece of central Asia in India is quiet and peaceful, a wonderful time to visit.
Day 24 - In Leh
Some sightseeing, wander around Leh, shop or simply laze in the hotel garden.
Day 25 -Friday 18 September - Fly Delhi & depart
See you again! (oh, if only...)