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Jumlam 2007 exploratory
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"There is something fine in the dash of a torrent and the
wildness of a mountain desert"
The Jumlam or 'middle way' is the name of the wild, remote route through a network of narrow canyons, wide, stony riverbeds and deep ravines taken by Tibetan traders to return home from Zanskar if early snow closes the high passes. The route is only passable in the autumn, when the rivers are low enough to allow travelers and their 'caravans' to negotiate the narrow gorges in safety.
Remote valleys, high passes, ancient ochre-hued monasteries and Zanskari villages in harvest time. This trek is a true taste of the ancient Kingdom of Zanskar with a just a bit of the refreshing bite of early winter in the air. Blue skies and few tourist make this wonderful time of the year to trek in the Indian Himalaya.
In 2007 we finally give the Jumlam time, ten extra days to explore the remoter valleys and passes we have looked at longingly for years. Join us for a professionally run, exciting journey into the unknown places!
I also wanted to tell you both again how much I enjoyed the trek, how it really has been a "trip of a lifetime" for me that has given me wonderful new insights into Ladakh and a rich experience that I will always treasure (and hopefully repeat)! You were both instrumental to that experience, and I appreciated immensely your energy, enthusiasm and passion for trekking and your deep knowledge of the culture and history of Ladakh.
Scott R, Jumlam 2005
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.
Look at the relevant dates for details below - we have Stanzin and several other locals from Zanskar with us, and we will be putting together the route in consultation with them, and the few maps of the area.
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 3500m
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 Chilling and trek Kiu 3300m
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...after breakfast, make sure you have your daypack ready - water (2L at least) snacks, camera, wind jacket and warm layers, and of course, your sun hat and sunglasses. we drive west away from Leh, sitting at the bottom of the Ladakh range, to the confluence of the Zanskar and Indus rivers, where we turn onto a dirt road to Chilling, where the local people are descended from Nepali Silversmiths who settled here centuries ago. Here we meet Lobsang and the crew, who went ahead earlier this morning, to transfer all our gear over the river on the small cable car. We go over one by one - then the trek begins! We climb steeply away from the river to a small pass, and you will find this first 200m or so the hardest of the trek. We are walking at elevation, so take it as slow as you want to. After two hours will will find some shade for lunch; the usual delicious salads, fresh bread, cheese and hummus. After lunch we move slowly up valley above the Markha river to the twin villages of Kaya and Kiu. After the bustle of Leh, relish the tranquility of the oasis like villages. All around are crumbling old chortens, and both the small villages have their own small monasteries. Our camp is at the far end of the village in a grove of poplar trees, where the tents will be up and tea will be ready. Over dinner Joel will talk through camp routines and the next few days of our trek.
Day 6 - Trek Sara 3450m
You will get used to the morning routine - hot washing water, hot fresh coffee, fresh baked breads and eggs any style - except Benedict! There is a trek briefing over dinner every night, and Joel will remind you of any important points as he helps dish out coffee every morning. Today is just three hours walking, but it is vitally important that you go slow - your body is acclimatizing! Luckily the Markha valley is not a place you would rush through, as we head through small hamlets, and farms in all their harvest colors. The trail is easy to follow, so spread out and enjoy. Take time to stop and look up at what appear to be crumbling ruins on the hilltops; in fact this whole valley was fortified over 500 years ago to guard against Balti invaders who coveted both the riches of the monasteries and the rich grazing at Nimaling, the "Plain of Gold" a week away from here where the local people still move their flocks of sheep and yaks every summer. We arrive at the small grazing area of Sara in time for lunch, and spend a delightful afternoon doing absolutely nothing but relax.
Day 7 - Trek Markha 3700m
By now we camp routine pat, pack up early and linger over coffee, or a brief breakfast and then pack, whatever, we are away at 8am before the sun gets too high. By noon the horses pass, and by three in the afternoon we are generally in camp. Today we pass the remains of old hermitage caves high on the opposite cliffs. Inside are the remains of tiny caves where lamas once sat in meditation, platforms carved in rock. Look also at the chortens that lines of trekkers sweat past - inside are piles of tiny 'tsatsas', the remains of ashes of the departed formed into tiny pyramids. As soon as the valley widens we spot the old fort on the hill above Markha village, and then, on the other side of the hill is our camp on the banks of the Markha river. After tea we ascend to explore the local gompa, the inside dark and chang smelling; and check out the ornate carved silver barley beer holders in front of the village lamas chair. Look, and look again, the more you look the more you will see.
Day 8 - Trek Hankar 3700m
Again, a mellow walk, gaining elevation slowly with the marvelous high walls of the Markha valley above us. Bring some sandals as there are some easy stream crossings today. We lunch by golden barley fields, and by four o'clock we will be camping under the spectacular ruins of the hilltop 'dzong', or Tibetan fortified gompa and administrative center, of the Singge Namgyal, Ladakh's celebrated King.
Day 9 - Trek Manechan 4640m
Today starts with a few rivers to ford, low at this time, and then climbs gently over the course of the day to the camp we are aiming for. There are many this side of the pass, and which we pick depends on how well we are acclimatizing. All the camp sites have bathing spots nearby, and we almost always spot ibex on the high ridges around sunset.
Day 10 - Cross Zalung Karpo La 5050m & trek Ruberang 4340m
An early start today, and you will need both warm layers and sandals. We make elevation gently past scattered old Mani stones, as this is one of the routes into Kharnak, a high altitude grazing area. After two hours and a few stream crossings, we turn away from the main valley to head for our pass, with the trail steepening on the last 300m. There are a number of false summits where you can rest and look back at the distant Ladakh range, and then the prayer flags that top the pass come into sight. Blessed rest, and take in the views! The pass is a junction, with the trail dropping west to the Sorra valley and Kharnak. We head away, down the sharp ridge and then dropping to the right. The trail zig zags down steeply for over 300m before the ankle straining angle relents, and we start moving through a series of nomad camping areas, marked by the stone circles they pitch their tents over as they pass through. We lunch at one of these, before tackling a steep rubble strewn section that Lobsang and Joel will scout the best route for. Our campsite is unexpected among all the wildness, a verdant area above the river junction we head to tomorrow.
Day 11 - Trek Kharnak Sumdo 4170m
The Jumlam begins; now we are in one of the wildest and least visited areas in Ladakh. Today and every day for the next two weeks you must carry or wear shoes that enable you to cross streams up to knee deep comfortably and easily. Jumping the streams is simply not an option, do take a good look over our gear discussion. After descending to the main valley below our camp, we trek for an hour to the first of the gorges, and begin to cross and re cross the streams all around us. The Jumlam valleys are incredible, autumn colors and sparkling water all around. Crags and peaks soar up in spires in which you can discern every shape of imaginary castle, from gothic to fairytale. We lunch in the shade of some willows, then tackle some fairly exposed sections before reaching our camp at a river junction ("sumdo"), some sandy clearings among trees, a really beautiful spot.
Day 12 - 15 - Kharnak Exploratory
We normally head upstream from this camp; we set out down stream with enough food and gear for three days, and aim to see if there is a route through the gorges to Kharnak; and en route there is a side valley leading to a high pass...into Zanskar! We will be discussing our explorations with our trekkers, and our crew, well in advance.
Day 16 - Trek Tilat Sumdo 4050m
We head back upstream to the wide river junction at Tilat, or possibly further; the itinerary is really flexible here to allow us time for our explorations. The section from Kharnak to Tilat Sumdo is classic Jumlam, with more rivers to wade, more neck creaking views, and more banks lined with rose bush and poplar and willow, with prints of fox, wolf, ibex, and yes, snow leopard in the riverside sand.
Day 17 - Trek Wangchuk Sumdo 4040m
Rivers, side streams, tricky exposed trails. Another day in the Jumlam - there are points today when the only trail is in knee deep water, with canyon walls close around you. The trail meanders from side to side of the river, at times climbing high above to look into side canyons, with walls curved into weird shapes by centuries of rushing water. Our camp is, again, at a river junction, with views up valley to unnamed peaks. And as always on the Jumlam, the sound of the river to lull you to sleep.
Day 18 - Trek Chubchak 4470m
Another classic Jumlam day. Walk in or carry your sandals as we negotiate beautiful gorges and seemingly impossible trails, crossing from side to side of the main stream. We make a lot more elevation today, most of it after lunch as we pass through old glacial rubble before finally emerging at our next exploration camp, a wide pasture with crags soaring up all around; we usually spot bold ibex on the hills above in the early evening.
Day 19 - 21 - Chubchak Exploratory
There are maps of Ladakh, but the details for this area are sketchy to say the least. On one side of our camp is an obvious pass...where does it lead? We have a few days to find out....
Day 22 - Cross Char Char La (5000m) & Trek Zangla Sumdo 3800m
An exciting day, a sandal day, a pass day. Some years we pass under an ice bridge, some years over the top, and we may have to take an exposed trail high above the valley. What trekkers rarely notice is that we make a lot of elevation as we negotiate today's canyons, and the final climb from the base to the top of the Char Char La (5000m) takes less then an hour. From the pass top chorten with its prayer flags snapping in the wind you can pick out the peaks of the Great Himalayan Barrier to the south of us. Then we drop to the pastures below for lunch, and on to camp at (yet another) river junction.
Day 23 - 25 - Exploratory trek to Zangla 3700m
The valley between here and Zangla was a crucial one in the history of the area, and there are remains of forts and watch towers we are eager to explore; and of course a remote Buddhist shrine we have been looking for for years! Then that great moment when we see what was the kingdom of Zangla spread out on the plateau in front of us, and finally camp in Zangla, one of our favorite spots in Zanskar. We visit the 15th century fort high above the village en route to camp. Alexander Csoma de Koros, the first westerner to make an extensive study of Tibetan, spent a cold 19th century winter here, living on salt tea and tsampa; his rooms have become a shrine for visiting Hungarians.
Day 26 - Drive Rangdum
We take three days to drive back to Leh, one of the most scenic drives on our planet. Today we make a brief stop at Sani monastery then continue to Rangdum Gompa, which we have a look around. Although we camp we take over our friend's traditional Ladakhi home for the evening.
Day 27 - Drive Kargil
We start pre-dawn and we watch the lovely scenery of the Suru valley roll past. By late afternoon we are at our hotel at the old bazaar town of Kargil, a real central Asian town, worth a walk around in the late afternoon.
Day 28 - Drive Leh
We have breakfast at Mulbekh, which after the destruction of the Buddha at Bamian, Afghanistan, is the oldest standing Buddha. Continuing on the last stretch into Leh is lined with willow, poplars and monasteries, and finally, cold beer and tandoori at the Ibex back in Leh!
Day 29 - Fly Delhi, depart
We are up early for our Jet Air flight back to Delhi; goodbye to the stunning 'Kingdom in the Sky'. Your leader may fly to Delhi but sometimes stays in Leh, and in that case you will be met at Delhi airport by our Delhi staff and taken to the hotel to store your bags for the afternoon, to the international airport for your departure, or where ever else you chose to go for the afternoon. You could fly out of Delhi later in this day; most flights are at night and you should be back in Delhi by mid-morning to noon.
If you have successive international flights that are not all part of the same ticket or following domestic flights we suggest planning more cautiously and departing tomorrow. Let us know if you need us to book an extra room for the night.