Where Mountains Live
It was 1988 and I was about to have my 50th birthday. I had spent my years getting an education, getting married, serving in the army, and helping raise two sons. I was in need of “my great adventure.” I bought a book by Leo Le Bon called Where Mountains Live, Twelve Great Treks of the World and was hooked. My goal was to start in the Himalayas and Mountain Travel’s Trans-Himalaya Trek seemed to fit that goal. A fellow adventurer, Robert Foster, joined me and we flew to New Dehli, India on July 23rd to start our month-long trek and meet our fearless leader Nigel Dabby, and the rest of the group.
From New Delhi we flew to Srinigar, a mostly Muslim town in the Highlands and stayed in very ornate houseboats on Dahl Lake. A few of us visited Jamia Masjid mosque, the most significant mosque in the area and a hot bed for discussion over the partition of India that left this mostly Muslim area of Kashmir on the India side of the partition rather than with Pakistan. This issue resulted in rioting in Srinigar shortly after our departure for the mountains.
Our trek took us over about 200 miles of exceptional mountain splendor. Horses carried most of our gear and supplies, though each of us had a day pack with water and a lunch. Meals in camp were always tasty and healthy. Travel was mostly easy and not rushed. All of the locals were friendly and as interested in us as we were in them. The weather was good with no rain. Nigel had been warned of very hot conditions earlier so, when in Srinigar, we purchased black umbrellas for sun protection. They were not needed but became walking sticks of sorts, and fine souvenirs of the trek. Mine now lives in our man-cave.
We crossed the Pir Panjal range into the Warwan Valley and then across the Great Himalaya and Zanskar Ranges. It’s mid-summer and most of the winter snow was long gone and the lower villages were green with an explosion of wild flowers. The locals for the first half of our trek were Gujar shepherds who had brought their flocks to the summer pasture, and villages of Balti people who farm the valleys. Halfway along, we intersected a road that was to be our resupply point in the Muslim village of Panigarh (aka Pannikhar). A short distance on trail beyond Panigarh we encountered our first signs that we were in the Tibetan area of Ladakh. The people were no longer Baltis, but Buddhist Tibetans with different architectural style to their homes and a scattering of mani walls and chortens. A short distance into the Zanskar Range, we reached Rangdom Gompa, and set up camp for a visit the following day.
As we traveled north the land became drier. We were in the rain shadow of the Pir Panjal and Great Himalayas. We crossed the crest of the Zanskar Range at Kangi La (elevation 17,200 feet) and descended into the striking Kang Nalia valley. An old monk shared a bit of chang and yak butter tea with a few of us in the trailside medieval village of Kangi.
We exited the Zanskars at a paved road that connects Srinigar to our destination of Leh. The great ancient gompa of Lamayura and the Dharma Wheel Monastery of Alchi are visited before our arrival in Leh.
Leh is a Buddhist Ladakhi town with a Hindu presence. Night was spent in a small hotel, the first night in a real bed in a little over 2 weeks. The price of this luxury was evident the following morning. Unfortunately the hotel misinformed us about the quality of their drinking water and we were all inflicted with what turned out to be giardia and we spent serious time in the bathrooms. All through the mountains when we were in direct control of our food and water, nobody got sick.
Two days were spent returning via small taxis to Srinigar. We had an overnight in the dusty Muslim town of Kargil on the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. Along the road we were passed by heavy artillery pulled by large Volvo trucks of the Indian Army. We also noted a number of large artillery pieces just off the road under the cover of camouflage. The situation fueled by earlier rioting in Srinigar was getting exciting. Leaving the contestants behind, Nigel got us over Zoji La and on to Srinigar and then saw us off towards home. He was an excellent travel guide in this rough area.
What a grand adventure! I have used Le Bon’s book for other wonderful treks. It’s now 30 years later and strenuous treks have been replaced by other adventures. Last year my wife and I traveled to the Goroka Singsing in Papua New Guinea with MT Sobek for another adventurous treat.
Keep on traveling as long as you can and, as Clint Eastwood and Toby Keith say, “Don’t let the Old Man in.”
George Larson, MT Sobek Guest
MT Sobek Trip: Trans-Himalaya Trek, 1988