Today is Day 4 of the trek, and the most difficult thus far. First of all, it’s IDGAF-level cold both inside and outside. “Achoochoo” is my layman’s interpretation of how to express “really damn cold” in Ladakhi (ok, the ‘damn’ is my insertion, and yes, it’s pronounced like the sound effect for a sneeze). The top priority now is to stay warm. The good thing about cold, dry weather is that the consequence of not showering for x number of days is slowed down. Continue reading
Since I last wrote in this blog in 2014, a hell of a lot has happened, for better and for worse (but mostly for the better). A few of these events I could have imagined, but others I could never have predicted.
Travelling to Thailand for two and a half months in 2014, following the death of my father, was my first flirtation with rebellion and adventure. I did not outright quit my PhD program in chemistry—I initially took a four-month leave of absence in order to maintain a safety net. Still, in my mind, I was finally channeling my inner badass, a formerly dilligent graduate student gone rogue. I temporarily detoured from academia in the hope of gaining a renewed vitality in being estranged from my normal way of life.
Today consisted of 6-7 hours of trekking through Markha Valley, which sits at an altitude of 3770 m, a bit higher than Leh. It was cloudy and windy for most of the day, with brief periods of snow (which promptly melted).
I didn’t feel great during the trek and ended up with a headache towards the end, which I assume had to do with the slightly higher altitude. Luckily, after some ibuprofen and hot chai, it disappeared.
This morning, my guide (Ishey) and porter (Deachen) picked me up from my guesthouse around 7:30 am. I left a load of belongings with the guesthouse owners for safekeeping during the trek, resorting only to the absolute essentials. We set out by taxi to drive towards the mountains, on the mostly rocky (and very bumpy) road to Chilling (3210 m), which took several hours.
This morning, I decided to hike up to Leh Palace. Although it’s maybe only a half-hour-long walk, there is a steep hill/stair climb to the palace. It quickly became hot in the blazing sun, and I could feel the effects of the altitude more than I have yet, having to pause for a few seconds several times.
Along the hillside route were stray dogs lazily lounging around. One of them approached me and licked my hand, then realized I had no food and went on his way. Once I reached the top, I paid my admission and made my way through the corridors and small rooms with low ceilings. A number of rooms were locked, but I passed through one with a shrine and a few with art hanging from the wall. It was very simple inside, nothing elaborate or ornate.
After another great sleep and leisurely 7 am wake-up, I ate a satisfying breakfast of omelette and freshly baked khambir (Ladakhi bread) with butter and apricot jam (apricots grow well in this region) and milky coffee, followed by a sample of salt-butter tea (namkin chai). It tastes exactly what it sounds like and is traditionally made with yak butter (this one wasn’t). I think it’s an acquired taste, but if you imagine it as more of a soup than tea, it might hit the spot with a stretch of the imagination.
I experienced an entirely new set of impressions today. I flew out of Delhi on an early morning flight (which I, along with about 15 other passengers, almost missed due to Air Vistara failing to announce the gate change). Descending out of the clouds is an epic moment, when you suddenly notice you’re in an entirely different world. The Himalayas are breathtaking to behold from any angle, but the first impression of their magnitude is from the sky.