…Continued from Part 1- Walking On A Frozen River
THE ARRIVAL OF BAD NEWS:
After leaving the guest house of Halima aunty, I tagged along with our trek leader Rohit Nayak to reach the hotel where everyone was staying. It’s funny how strangers become such good friends on these kinds of expeditions. All of us had a quick hot shower and left the hotel for an acclimatization walk in Leh market. As we passed the school, the ice hockey arena, the leh palace in the lanes of the market, a nostalgic feeling gripped me and reminded about the motorcycle trip I had done earlier. Only difference was the lanes were more silent and hardly any shops running businesses, reason being the off season.
On reaching the hotel in the evening, we were all discussing about the trek which was to start the next morning. But it was a short lived excitement. Our local guide, also famously known as ‘Sherpa’s’ arrived in the dining hall with a circular from the local authorities and the Indian army. Apparently, there was a massive ice glacier that was formed along the route of the trek and there was high probability of a flood like situation if it melted. Other trekkers who had already started their treks in the last week were airlifted by the army and everyone was evacuated immediately. Faces sulked and there was a wave of disappointment. All the preparation was going in vain and the dream looked like slipping away.
THE UNSUNG HEROES OF INDIAN MOUNTAINS:
After the news of cancellation of the trek, we were all discussing different options that could be worked out to spend the remaining days. Though upset, we gathered ourselves and started enjoying the present. Gyatso, a ladakhi local was assigned to us to guide us through the trek along with his team. He sensed our disappointment and decided to take us on a trek through a different route that nobody had heard of before. He woke up very early in the morning and did a recce of this place called Chumathang. A similar sheet of ice forms on the river starting from Chumathang as well, but it wasn’t a regular tourist destination as nobody knew about it. It’s 136 kms from the Leh market and he decided to take us for the trek starting from Chumathang instead of the regular route which trekkers took. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The unknown area meant there was nobody in that part of the area apart from us. If it was not for Gyatso and his team, I wouldn’t be writing this. Sherpa’s are known for their skill in mountaineering and understand regions like Ladakh, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet like nobody else.
We started talking to Gyatso on the 1st night of the trek and he told us many bravery stories of Ladakhi’s and Gurkha’s. A famous saying goes, “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha”. He told us about the unfortunate Kargil war and the contribution of the locals in the war. They were the ones who ensured that enough supply of food and ammunition was available to the Indian army all the time. A mountain on which a regular soldier takes 3 days to climb with a heavy load of arms and ammunition, the same mountain can be climbed by a Ladakhi local well within 24 hours. There are a lot of them who have also given up their lives to keep tourist like us safe during the treks. But sadly, their contribution in keeping us and the country safe is hardly recognized.
On reaching Chumathang you understand why nature has its own rules. Our tents were setup by the Sherpa team before we reached there. In between a frozen river, a natural phenomenon makes a small part turn into a hot spring. The boiling water is surrounded a blanket of ice all around it. The 5 day trek started the next morning.
There are so many things that you learn during such expeditions. We learnt how to adjust ourselves in a sleeping bag and crawl in the tents. We learnt how to survive without mobile phones. We even behaved like westerners by using tissues instead of the freezing water. Ice hockey matches in between of nowhere, dancing in the snowfall, skating on ice, pushing the limits and taking a dip in the ice cold water, enjoying the simple Maggi and Thang tok (local ladakhi delicacy) cooked by our Sherpa team to keep us fit and many other countless memories became a part of this epic trek. Trekking on ice was intimidating. A covering of snow made it difficult to assess its thickness. At times we had to walk along a narrow margin of ice, constrained by the canyon wall on one side and deep rushing water on the other. The ‘Chadar’ trek is a perfect example of this resourcefulness of the Ladakhis and their indomitable spirit, in the face of such daunting odds.