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Caravan - A Mountain Passage

**In June 2010 Joel died while leading The Great Himalayan Bike Adventure.
The itinerary pages of all his trips, including this one remain here unchanged.**

See Our treks for current treks

'I could have spent weeks idling away my time under the apricot trees in the clear warm sunlight of central Asia'
Fitzroy Maclean, 'A Person From England'

We journey through the high, wild reaches of the Changthang, the remote plateau in East Ladakh first settled by Tibetan nomads over one thousand years ago. After exploring the monasteries of the Indus Valley around the ancient capital of the region, we trek in easy stages through the beautiful grasslands surrounding the turquoise lake Tso Moriri at 4500m, camping in delightful locations.

After several days spent acclimatizing and exploring the area, we take a remote route towards the Great Himalayan Barrier, slowly ascending to our glacier camp before the high point of the trek, the demanding crossing of the 5700m Parang La (pass). We descend into what is almost a different world, the old kingdom of Spiti, for centuries the last outpost of Tibetan Buddhism before the traveler encountered the dusty plains of India.

After welcome showers in Kibber, we move on to an amazing finish with a 6 day jeep safari along the old Hindustan Tibet trade route through our third Himalayan kingdom, Kinnaur, with it's rich history and stunning wood built hilltop forts, then Shimla, old summer capital of the Raj, and on to Delhi.

This trek has some demanding days, but the sense of journey as you move from the sublimely beautiful Tibetan world of the Himalaya to the colors and bustle of modern Indian is overwhelming.

Outline Itinerary

Day 1 - Arrive Delhi

2 - Fly Leh 3500m

3 - Leh 3500m

4 - Leh 3500m

5 - Drive Kiamang 3800m

6 - Drive Korzok 4500m

7 - At Korzok 4500m

8 - Trek Kiangdom 4450m

9 - At Kiangdom 4450m

10 - Trek Dungri 4450m

11 - Trek Norbu Sumdo 4400m

12 - Trek Umlung 4700m

13 - Trek Lucky camp 4850m

14 - Trek Gibraltar rock camp 4800m

15 - Explore valley to west

16 - Trek Glacier camp 4900m

17 - Trek Chicken run camp 4790m

18 - Trek Kibber 4700m

19 - Drive Tabo 3500m

20 - Drive Leo 3800m

21 - Drive Sangla 2680m

22 - Drive Shimla 2213m

23 - Drive Delhi

Day 24 - Depart

Highlights

Leh & the Indus valley

The Tibetan nomads of the Chang Tang

Tso Moriri (lake)

Cross the main Himalayan range

Demanding trekking through stunning scenery

Traditional Tibetan-style Himalayan villages

Buddhist monasteries & ancient forts

Beautiful camps in remote locations

Jeep safari through Spiti & Kinnaur

Dates

No current departure - see Our treks

Cost

Max 9 bookings

Hotel single supplement $75

Leader

Joel Schone

Arrival hotel Delhi

Cottage Yes Please

Hotel Leh

Hotel Shaynam

Our service includes

Airport transfers

Hotels in Delhi, Manali and Leh

Domestic flights as needed, local departure tax

Group transportation by private vehicle

Expedition-style trek:

Experienced western guide

Local guide from the region

Extremely high quality meal

All horse portering

Highly experienced staff

High quality tents (double tents for singles, triple for couples)

Our service excludes

meals in Delhi & Leh and when not camping

insurance, India visa, international flights, equipment rental, alcohol and soft drinks, laundry, tipping and other items of a personal nature

Detailed Itinerary

Note that although we try to follow the itinerary here, at times local trail, river or weather conditions may make a deviation necessary; rivers may be impassible, snow blocks passes, and landslides wipe out trails. The trekking itinerary and campsites may also vary slightly depending on our trekkers' acclimatization rates.

Also note that most flights into Delhi arrive late at night/very early in the morning. Plan your arrival time and date carefully and ask if you are not sure.

Day 1 - Arrive Delhi

One of our drivers will be at the airport to meet you; look for the sign with your name on. A half hour drive takes you to our hotel in the heart of the main bazaar, the Cottage Yes Please. Our drivers will arrange your pick up and transfer for early the next day.

Day 2 - Fly Leh 3500m

Did you get any sleep? We are up early to board the spectacular flight to Leh, crossing the main Himalayan Barrier to the capital of Ladakh, Tashi Namgyal's 15th century Himalayan capital at 3500m. The clear high air will catch at the throat when we arrive, and now we start the serious business of acclimatization; and eating, as after we settle into our hotel we have a long leisurely breakfast. It will take your body a few days to adjust to this high altitude. It is important to drink plenty of (non-alcoholic) liquids, and do not attempt to rush around. Even walking up the stairs of the guest house will make you breathless at first! We will discuss this in detail. Note that we have planned plenty of acclimatization time into our itinerary.

Days 3 & 4 - Leh

We have two days for relaxing and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of this little bit of old Tibet. Joel is virtually an honorary resident, and he will be your guide to shopping, gompas, and more. There is lots to explore in this wonderful Central Asian town; the fort and palace, colorful gompas, the mosque, a museum, back alleys with steaming Muslim bread and tiny antique shops tucked away, colorful bazaars and even polo fields.

Day 5 - Drive to acclimatization camp, Kiamang 3800m

We are going high, and living high, in the next few weeks, and after 3 nights in Leh we are ready to move a little higher. We drive along the Leh-Manali highway to our campsite on the borders of the Changthang, Kiamang at 3800m. This is our first night under canvas, and tea and your tent will be waiting. Over dinner, away from the comparative bustle of Leh, Joel will talk over camp routines and our journey.

Day 6 - Drive to Korzok camp 4500m

After an excellent breakfast we drive south east along what was once one of the major trade routes with Gartok, in Tibet, and also the road that brought pashmina wool to Kashmir and the west. Despite some military presence, it is still a wild road; we pass nomad encampments with their guard dogs and herds of yak and goats, and after a seven hour drive, reach our camp at Korzok Phu, set in a wide amphitheatre. This is the winter home of many of the nomads who roam the pastures around lake Tso Moriri, and as Lobsang and some of our horsemen have relatives here, we will have guests both tonight and on many evenings on our trek. Tonight is our first night sleeping at over 4000m so we will talk over altitude issues and acclimatization in more detail.

Day 7 - At Korzok Phu 4500m

We have a leisurely breakfast, as we have the whole day to explore the area around our camp. What we chose to do depends on how you feel, and on basically how well you slept last night. The more daring can scramble to the top of the nearby peak at 5500m, take in the stunning views of the lake and the peaks around it, and back for lunch; and for the more sedately minded, perhaps a walk to the 500 year old monastery, still in the process of renovation. The Tulku (Lama incarnate) here is still a teenager, and is always keen to practice his English!

Day 8 - Trek Kiangdom 4450m

To the 'Kingdom of the Asses' as Kiangdom means, at last, our first day on the trail. An early start not just to wade through porridge, eggs, fresh bread and as much tea and coffee as you can drink, but also as it is at least 8 hours walking on varied terrain along the lakeside to our beautiful camp, and home for two nights, at the far end of the lake. It is, as every day on this trek is, a stunning walk, watching the colors of the lake change as the sun moves and we journey south towards the main Himalayan barrier still a week away. The lake generates its own weather system and we can expect anything; storm clouds sweep the length of this turquoise expanse of brackish water, and skies clear quickly after summer showers, snow squalls can turn to clear sunny skies in minutes. But Tso Moriri is an old friend, and it generally (!) treats us kindly. Our camp is set near nomad Rabos (camps) with views both across the lake and towards the Himalaya.

Day 9 - At Kiangdom 4450m

The world is slowly intruding on our wonderful lake, with a road making its way along the other side of the lake, so every rest day we spend here is really to be cherished. Long or short walks, visiting with the nomads, or looking for Kiang, the very inquisitive Tibetan wild ass that roam here, is all for you to chose, as once again, we let our bodies acclimatize for the higher elevations to come. And if you want to simply kick back with a book and relax, you have one of the loveliest beach fronts in the world to do it in!

Day 10 - Trek Dungri 4450m

No gain in elevation today, but simply a gentle walk across the end of the lake to the settlement of Dungri, giving different vistas, and, really, more time to explore the area; it borders on the old route across to Hanle monastery and the trade routes to Tibet, and we often meet nomads en route to some of the different grazing areas there. Lobsang is from Hanle, and it is never a surprise to meet his relatives here. The lake at this end comes and goes, so bring your sandals in case there is paddling!

Day 11 - Trek Norbu Sumdo 4400m

Back on the trail again, and we slowly watch our lake fall away behind us as we trek towards the Parang Chu, the river we will be following towards our pass. The trail winds its way past streams and wide level nomad camps, easily spotted by the stone circles that they pitch their Rabos over on arrival. Take time to look at these carefully placed stones, with entrance rocks and cupboards built in. This is also an area where we will almost certainly see herds of kiang. The male, out scouting for safe grazing, or keeping watch while the females and young graze, is normally spotted first, on the skyline, and he will generally come to investigate our caravan. If he feels we are a threat, he will round up the others and (generally when our cameras are in our packs) bring them all swooping down in line astern to make a very close pass at us - at speeds reckoned to be 40km per hour! Watching these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat is really a high point of our trip. Our day today will be six hours walking and our camp on a sheltered bend in sight of tomorrows valley junction.

Day 12 - Trek Umlung 4700m

Away early today as we have to cross the Parang Chu within an hour of leaving camp. We pass the remains of a building on a headland, a former tax post - the valley directly ahead leads to the Tibetan border in less then a weeks walking. We drop to the river, and Lobsang, who will have left early to look for the best crossing place, will meet us and help us over. After drying our feet and getting our boots back on, we move on up a valley of the proportions of the Kali Gandaki in its upper reaches in Nepal's Annapurna region; only the occasional distant Kiang gives a sense of scale to this huge landscape. The trail wends its way through nomad camps and climbs across side valleys and rock fields, but generally, once that early morning river crossing is done, it is a day to walk slowly, drink lots of water, and linger over lunch. Our camp, also known as 'Rock camp', sits adjacent to a huge boulder that rock climbing types have tried their luck on on past treks after making camp...and the more relaxed trekkers can enjoy an icy dip in the river nearby.

Day 13 - Trek Lucky camp 4850m

The Parang Chu valley starts to widen as we slowly make elevation, with views towards the Himalaya - and the Parilungbi range on our left. This valley is about as remote as it gets, and we have plenty of time to take it all in; our altitude dictates our pace, and as we get closer to the next zeros, 5000m, it is essential to listen to your body...and go slow! After six hours walking we arrive at our camp, set at the base of a plateau that is worth climbing after arrival, for its view back to our isolated camp. And ask Joel why "Lucky Camp" is so named.

Day 14 - Trek Gibraltar rock camp 4900m

On treks past we have passed this area and thought of camping here, and this year, we do, within sight of the Parang La, and near the humpbacked peak that we name the camp after. A four to five hour walk, and lunch in camp.

Day 15 - At Gibraltar rock camp 4900m

A rest day, or an exploration day, to explore the valleys to the east and their amazing views. If trekkers are feeling strong, we may pass on the rest and move on to our high camp.

Day 16 - Trek Glacier camp 5010m

Now we are really in those high places, as the mountain walls start to hem us in and the trail takes us onto the crazy moraine landscape that marks the foot of the glacier. Our camp varies from year to year, and is sited to make the route up the easiest. Pack your water shoes, as we have two or three rivers to wade before reaching our rocky camp after five hours walking. Then we have an early dinner and our usual trek briefing for next day. Lobsang and Joel will spend the late afternoon scouting our route up, and our start time depends on what they find.

Day 17- Trek over Parang La to Chicken run camp 4790m

A day to enjoy, almost the whole range of Himalayan experience packed into our twelve hours, which begins with a 4am wake up call and a 5am start. Have your gear sorted the night before, and torch, warm layers, and that camera handy. We are about to cross the Himalayas! We move up carefully across frozen streams and loose rock, ascending onto the main ice fields by mid morning and, with plenty of time to drink and snack, move towards the snowy walls that climb to the peaks around the pass. It really is an incredible landscape, and there is plenty of time to take it all in as we watch our horses move up behind us - like a scene from a polar epic - by noon we should be on the pass drinking in the views across the trans - Himalaya, and just when you thought it was safe to put that camera away, we descend into a steep valley rimmed with castle like peaks in all varieties from Gothic to Disney. It really is that good. By mid-afternoon we are at the bottom, then we follow a sketchy trail to the narrow gorge that we climb to our camp among pastures, named after our memorable 2000 chicken dinner. A true Himalayan day, probably the best there is. Tonight is one for the red wine!

Day 18 - Trek Kibber 4700m

Time to laze in that bag and stretch your aching muscles as the smell of brewing coffee and fresh bread wakes you, as usual. Today is an easy three hour walk across wildflower bedecked hillsides and barley fields, easy on the eyes after our glacier days. We camp near one of our favorite tea houses in Kibber, one of the highest villages in the world. Showers, beer, and nothing to look forward to but more Himalayan beauty as the second part of our epic journey, by jeep across the Himalayan kingdoms of Spiti and Kinnaur through the Sutlej gorge to Shimla, the old capital of the British Raj, is about to begin!

Day 19 - Drive Tabo 3060m

Our next journey begins, in our comfy jeeps through Spiti (Literally, 'In between land' as it was a buffer zone between the old kingdom of Tibet and India). First we see Ki Gompa, high above the Spiti River; there are spectacular views both down and up valley from here; then on to the very different Dankar gompa, perched at 4000m, with some beautiful wall paintings, before we arrive at Tabo monastery, where we spend the night. Tabo, along with Alchi in Ladakh, is one of the oldest gompas in the Buddhist world, dating back to 966, and, like Alchi, centers around a Dukhang (Assembly hall) set on the ground floor - with the spreading of Buddhism, later monasteries, like Ki and Dankar, were built on hillsides to reflect the enhanced status of Buddhism - and it still has a flourishing art school. Tabo is enough off the beaten track to feel pleasantly isolated from the tourist trail, and we have time to explore both the prayer halls and the surrounding countryside.

Day 20 - Drive Leo 3300m

We drive through stunning scenery beside the Spiti towards its confluence with the Sutlej, one of the great rivers of central Asia. We camp near the confluence, on a road that is well known for being washed out a times, so be warned, we may have to do some walking.

Day 21 - Drive Sangla

On a trip full of superlatives, it gets even better. The deep gorge the Sutlej roars through was first explored by the legendary explorer William Moorcroft in the 1820s, and the views of the river gorge, with a Himalayan backdrop, are awe inspiring. He crossed the river on inflated buffalo skins; we cross courtesy of an Indian army Bailey bridge. By midday we leave the main road, climbing a side road into the Sangla valley, reckoned as the most beautiful in the Himalaya. We are now in Kinnaur, where the inhabitants are said, in Hindu mythology, to be descended from celestial musicians - and are renowned for their beauty. We camp near the old capital of Kamru, and explore its wood built temples and tiny lanes.

Day 22 - Drive Shimla

A longer drive today, we visit the old capital of the Rajas of Kinnaur, Sarahan, with its pagoda style temples incorporating both Hinduism and Buddhism, and on in easy stages through the old trading town of Rampur, and then to Shimla, the old summer capital of the the British Raj. We have time to shower and stroll along the old mall before dinner.

Day 23 - Overnight to Delhi

After breakfast we take to the mall, where British Imperial policy was once decided over tea. We mingle with Indian tourists, and look over the 19th century Viceregal Lodge before our overnight trip to Delhi.

Day 24 - Arrive Delhi. Depart

We arrive by mid morning, time for a last coffee before departure; we arrange airport transfers, and if you are staying longer, hotels.

See you again in the Himalaya soon!

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