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The Great Himalayan Traverse
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The Caravan series continues across Ladakh and Spiti
"I could have spent weeks idling away my time under the apricot trees in the clear warm sunlight of central Asia"
We journey through the high, wild reaches of the Chang Tang, 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 Tso Moriri (lake) 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). From there we descend into what is almost a different world, the old kingdom of Spiti, for centuries the last outpost of Tibetan Buddhism before the traveller encountered the dusty plains of India.
To finish our journey, we trek through the wild Pin Valley to our second and last pass, the 4850m Tarik La, where we pass from an ancient Tibetan Buddhist Kingdom of Spiti to the Kingdom of Kinnaur, the Buddhist home of "celestial musicians", according to Hindu myth. We take time to enjoy the pastures and forests of this gorgeous valley, before a drive to Manali and our flight to Delhi.
This trek is everything a Himalayan odyssey should be - high plateau, peaks, glaciers, passes, dense forest, and fascinating and diverse cultures. There are 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.
A BIG thank-you for another great trek. ... I really enjoy seeing the relationship you have with the core group of staff and your style of leading. It permeates through the trekkers and creates an atmosphere that is 'fun' to be part of.As I said at Johnson's, your team is also part of the reason why I keep returning; people make a trip as much as the experience.
"Latin" Leigh, The Great Himalayan Traverse 2009
Thank you so much for a wonderful trip! Your company is highly recommended and your team are superb! Your ability to pull it all together and remain calm and make everyone feel like they're important astounds me, but I really think overall it was the trek I am afraid that wins the prize.... you share in the prize as you put the trek together!!! I was close to the mountains, every slog was worth it, I have never seen views like it in my life (and we have trekked in a couple of places!) ...
Carolyn, The Great Himalayan Traverse 2008
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 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.
Day 3 - 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 4 - Alchi 3300m
Alchi, site of one of the oldest monasteries in central Asia, is an oasis of calm, bustling with tourists on day trips but incredibly peaceful in the evening, especially in the courtyard of our hotel, the tranquil Zhimskang. We take time to walk through the ripening barley fields and visit the beautiful old Gompa.
Day 5 - Drive to acclimatization camp, Kiamang 3900m
An early start to drive to Leh, where we have a late breakfast and pick up some pastries for lunch; then on the road again, following the Indus; we then turn away on the old road to Tibet, through beautiful canyons, finally arriving late afternoon at the grassy camp of Kiamang, where our crew are set up and ready to serve us dinner.
Day 6 - Drive to Korzok 4500m
An early start to get the most from our next beautiful drive; to Mahe where our permits are checked, and then the whole landscape changes as we drive across the high plateau of what is essentially Tibet; politically part of Indian now, but culturally and historically the 'Chang Tang', home of wandering nomads - and we start to see their distant camps of yak hair tents as lake Kyagar Tso comes into sight - after four hours driving (lake) Tso Moriri, a glittering expanse of blue, comes into sight, and we drive the through Korzok to arrive at our camp. Korzok is a scruffy wild west like town, with a kind of charm; little changed since our first visit over ten years back...and we have the afternoon to visit the old monastery or just relax in the sun.
Day 7 - Trek Kiangdom 4450m
At last time to shake off the plane and jeep induced cobwebs and start walking. Today is a tough introduction to trekking, as there is no camp between Korzok and Kiangdom, and it is a long and hot 20 Km walk; thus we are away and on the trail by 7am, climbing gently to a viewpoint above the lake, then following the trail along the lakeside. It is ESSENTIAL to drink lots of water, at least three litres should be in your bag, and very important to go slow and easy; we are walking at altitude. Take in the views, and rest often; it is vital for your enjoyment of your trek to follow our advice! We stop by some 'mani walls', piles of stones carved with the Buddhist Mantra, for lunch, and by early afternoon the horses will have passed us, Ram Lal leading them to our best camp, and by mid afternoon the camp at Kiangdom ('kingdom of the Himalayan asses') will be in sight. After seven to eight hours walking, we will be in camp, enjoying the spectacular views; the lake creates its own weather, and from camp we can watch the clouds building up and moving along the lake; in the other direction, towards the main Himalayan barrier, and the sunsets...
Day 8 - Trek Norbu Sumdo 4400m
A much shorter day today, but still early days of course, so slow is good as we hop across the crystal streams around the camp and set out across the plateau; the lake o so slowly falls behind us, and the views of the snow peaks on the eastern side of the lake get better. We are actually ascending gently to a point at which the lake drops out of sight; now we are in the grazing area of the wild asses - Kiang - and we normally spot a herd around here; the head male on the skyline, and then the young and females grazing; the population of this once endangered species is on the increase. After our 'high point' at around 4500m, we descend from an escarpment to a sheltered area, Norbu Sumdo, and camp, for lunch.
Day 9 - 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 10 - 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!
Our trail follows the Parang Chu, climbing away at times depending on the river level, until shortly before lunch we climb onto a wide plateau strewn with car size boulders that provide shelter from the afternoon wind, ideal for our picnic. Then after some six hours on the trail we hop over more streams to 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 the peaks ahead... and ask Joel why "Lucky Camp" is so named!
Day 11 - At Lucky Camp 4850m
Yes, we stay put today to help us acclimatize for the heights ahead; relax in the sun, read that book, or go for a gentle walk.
Day 12 - 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 13 - Spare day/Parang camp
The pass is a demanding one, and we build in a spare day in case conditions are bad.
Day 14 - 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 15 - 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 favourite 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, across the Pir Panjal range, is about to begin!
Day 16 - Drive and trek mid camp 3900m
First stop is the dusty local capital of Spiti, Kaza, and the bakery - cinnamon buns for our short drive to the Pin Valley and the village of Mudh at the foot of the valley - from here we walk down to the bridge over the Pin River and on two kilometres to a small alpine campsite.
Day 17 - Trek Paldor 4050m
Today we follow the river across pastures and small streams to the junction of the valley leading to the Parvati pass and our pass; this valley is very restful on the eye after the harsher shades of Ladakh, alpine in colours with wildflowers in bloom and barley ripening far below us. The pastures are used by shepherds in their seasonal migrations, and we will probably pass some of their temporary camps here; their sheepdogs are beautiful creatures, with huge home made wire collars to discourage bears and snow leopards from gripping them by the neck. After we reach the valley junction it takes an hour, more or less, to ascend to the alpine campsite at Paldor.
Day 18 - Trek Tarik Base camp east 4050m
Over the top!
Our second pass, we leave early as it is a long day, and we have a river to cross once we have climbed more then an hour on scree and rock, and more rock again; but there is a clear trail at this time of year as the shepherds have been crossing for over a month. From the pass there are superb views of both Spiti and the snowy passes of Kinnaur. A steep drop follows from the pass to some small alpine pastures, the east base camp, at 4050m.
Day 19 - Trek Muling 3100m
A day to linger, now the hard work is over - alpine pastures, flowers, winding down from the high places and into the valleys and forest: a short day, and one to take it easy and enjoy the wildflowers.
Day 20/21 - Trek Katagoan and drive Manali
An easy few hours from our camp to where our jeeps wait, and then we drive to Manali; we may overnight before, depending on road conditions, but we hope to be in Manali early evening.
Day 22 - Fly Delhi & Depart
The new regular flights to Delhi have changed the way we run things here in Himachal; by noon we are in Delhi, and your connecting flights home.