Sunday, 18 October 2015

Second, revised edition of my "Trekking in Ladakh" guidebook

I visit Ladakh quite often since my guidebook was first published in 2012. The region changes. New bridges and new roads were built (with some of them damaged during the May 2015 flood), the number of visitors increased. Popular routes get packed during the peak season. Some treks can be shortened as places on the way become accessible by car.
 
I've checked new variants of some routes and trekked again some well known footpaths. The information which I gathered are included in the current edition of the guide.
 
Re-trekking the less popular routes reassured me that the best treks are located in the wild and remote parts of Ladakh. They are challenging, extremely beautiful and give much satisfaction. They are in the book and I hope readers will find joy exploring them.
 
The paperback edition was released a few days ago. As previously, the book will be available in the EPUB and Amazon Kindle as well as some other ebook formats.
 
For more information about the book please visit the Cicerone Press website.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Zanskar River flood of May 2015 and its effects on trekking routes in Ladakh

There was a flood on Tsarab and Zanskar rivers in Ladakh in May this year. No casualties were reported but damages were significant. Many bridges as well as parts of newly built roads were destroyed. The flood effected some trekking routes - particularly in Zanskar. Trekking is possible but alternative pathways need to be followed in places. As not all the bridges were rebuilt this summer, the damages will certainly effect next season treks too.
 
It all started in the early January this year. People of the Lungnak (Tsarab / Tsarab Lingti / Lingti) Valley noticed unusually low level of water in the river. A helicopter was sent to the upper part of the valley for a research. The Tsarab River (also called Phukthal or Phuktal River as it passes near to the Phuktal Monastery) sources on the main ridge of the Great Himalayan Range near to Baralacha La - the major pass on the Manali - Leh road. It flows near Sarchu, is followed by the road for a while then enters an uninhabited valley just below the place called Barandy Nala (Gian) where the Manali-Leh road leaves it to climb to Nakee and Lachulung passes. The trekking route number 2 described in my guidebook follows that valley. It is one of my favourite trails in the region and I had the chance to trek it again this September. The route follows the river for three days then crosses some high passes to detour a very narrow section of the valley and return to it before reaching the Phukthal Monastery. And this is the place where a huge landslide blocked the valley in winter and caused a lake to be formed. The lake has been discovered by the helicopter in early January.
 
The Tsarab River passes near to Phukthal, joins Kargyak which flows from Shinkul La along the Darcha-Padum popular trekking route (Trek 3 in the book) and reaches Padum - the major settlement of Zanskar. It joins the Stod (Doda) River there and flows towards Central Ladakh and Indus, to the North as the Zanskar River.
 
Winter is the season when the Zanskari people (people of the part of Ladakh located in the upper part of the Zanskar Valley and its tributaries) use the frozen Zanskar river as a trail to Central Ladakh. With roads closed for winter, the frozen river trail - so called Chadar Trek - is the usual winter way out of the Zanskar Region. It is also quite a popular winter trek for tourists. With landslide caused dam on the river and the newly formed lake in the upper part of the major tributary of the Zanskar River there was a danger of sudden outburst of water and washing out anyone who would be on the ice. Therefore the authorities prevented both tourists and locals from walking on the Chadar this winter.
 
The flood did not come in winter, however. The lake did not last for long neither. The dam was broke with the spring ice melting and the sudden flood came on May, the 7th. A newly built school below the Phukthal Gompa was washed away, most of the bridges between that monastery and the confluence of the Zanskar and Indus Rivers, including the road bridge on Lungnak (Tsarab Lingti) between Ichar and Raru as well as a newly built bridge on the lower Zanskar River linking the Kaya village in the Markha Valley with Chiling and Leh, were damaged.
 
The local agencies claimed this spring that the routes would be fixed before the high-season which is in summer. Indeed, routes were open but some of them followed alternative pathways, in places following opposite sides of rivers. As I visited Ladakh (including Zanskar) a few times this year, I had a chance to see the damages as well as the progress in fixing the routes and bridges. The description below should be helpful for anyone planning a trek in the next season. My last visit to Zanskar was in late September and the information refers to that time.
 
  • The route along the Tsarab River between Barandy Nala (Gian) and the abandoned village of Hormoche (Trek 2 in my guidebook) is fine to be trekked. The place was above the dam but a part of the trail was under the lake waters. The level of former lake water can be guessed en-route just before reaching Hormoche abandoned settlement. A part of the trail was damaged but there is a new pathway now and it leads as described in the book. However, anyone planning to trek on this route should bear in mind that this is an autumn option, usually not accessible earlier than beginning of September due to high water levels.
  • All the way along Niri Chu (the Niri River) down to its confluence with Tsarab and the route along Tsarab to Yata and then down to Phukthal is fine. This way is a part of the Trek 2 and Trek 4 in the book. However, as these routes follow traverses of scree slopes in many places, the pathway might be destroyed at any time. High caution as underlined in the book is required.
  • The bridge on Tsarab just below the Phuktal Monastery en-route between the gompa and Purni as well as the bridge on the Kargyak River just before its confluence with Tsarab in Purni had beed washed away. New bridges have been built already (I saw the bridge in Phukthal but did not see the one in Purni) but the one below Phuktal (Trek 2 and 4 as well as side trip on Trek 3) is a simple and can be used by people only, not the horses.
  • As per information from my Zanskari friends (although I did not tested this part of the route this year), it is fine to follow the route on the right side of the river between Phuktal and the Cha village. See Trek 2.
  • According to Zanskari guides the bridge in Cha below the confluence of Tsarab and Kargyak rivers have been already rebuilt but it can't be crossed by horses. There is no any bridge below it down the valley as far as Raru! Trek is possible on either side of the valley (I tested the route between the Enmu village and the Raru bridge on the right side of the river this September).
  • The Pepula campsite does not exist (see Trek 2, 3 and 4 in the book). There are no camping nor homestay options on the left side of the Lungnak (Tsarab Lingti) rive between Changpa Tsetan and Raru!
  • There is no bridge between Changpa Tsetan and Enmu (there used to be a simple, pedestrian bridge in this place). Dorzong bridge do not exist. There is no pedestrian nor road bridge in Ichar. The road between the Enmu village and Pobre (the solitary house half way between Enmu and Dorzong on the right bank) which was built in recent years is damaged to a large extend.
  • It is said that the Ichar road bridge would be rebuilt soon but I would be very surprised if I see it before the end of the next summer trekking season. If you reach Ichar on the right bank of the river there is no other option than to continue to the Raru bridge on Tsarab. It is a bit tough way on a high traverse but views are rewarding. It is also fine to walk on the left side of the river although the part of the road between the place where the Ichar road bridge was and the Raru village was washed during the flood - there is a footpath. (I did not walk on that side this season but I saw people walking on that side.)
  • The pedestrian bridge over the Lungnak (Tsarab Lingti) just below its confluence with Raru Nala had been partially damaged but it have been rebuilt already. It is fine both for people and horses. As reported by the local people, the road bridge over Raru Nala was not effected.
  • The bridge connecting the two banks of Lungnak in the Pibcha village was not seriously effected and can be crossed by people and animals. The next bridge (a road one) is in Pibiting near to Padum, just above the confluence of Lungnak (Tsarab Lingti) and Stod (Doda) which marks the beginning of the Zanskar River.
  • The bridge over Zanskar which existed near to Zangla and Pishu do not exist (not checked personally). The pathway on the Pishu - Hanumer (part of Trek 5 and 6) had been effected in places but it has been fixed already so the Padum - Hanumer - Lingshed is fine and the way is clear.
  • The bridge in Niearak was destroyed but I do not have any information whether it was rebuilt.
  • The road bridge on the Zanskar River just below its confluence with Markha which was built in 2014 to link Chiling and Kaya villages was washed away in May. As this point marks an alternative beginning of the Markha Valley Trek (Route 8) we had to use rafts to start the trek in mid-May this year. As learn from the locals (not checked personally), there is a trolley (a kind of simple cable-car) crossing at this point at the moment as it used to be before 2014.
  • The road bridge on Zanskar below Chiling as well as the bridge on Indus just before the confluence of the two rivers survived the flood so the road connecting Chiling with Leh is open.

 
Further resources:

My article at Cicerone-Extra

An article about my winter experience in Ladakh was published in Cicerone Extra: "A second winter in Ladakh", 7/08/2015
 

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Say Julley, please

There is this beautiful custom of greeting everyone in Ladakh, no matter a family member, friend, neighbour or a stranger. Greeting and smiling.
 
'Julley' is the Ladakhi word used as 'hello'. Actually it is very useful as it can be also used as 'good bye' or 'good night' and it also means 'thank you'.
 
I remember writing from Ladakh to a friend on my first visit here, that I was in the land where everyone smiles to each other and everyone says 'Julley!' to all the others. And these are genuine smiles: smiles - it seems - showing real joy of seeing you. I was quite moved seeing people being really happy to see me in their village in winter, Dec 2014.
 
It is not only about 'julley' and the smile. Often, you will be invited to drink tea and while at home, you will be offered at least something small to eat.
I remember my first visit to the Dibiling village in summer 2014, which is a remote and beautiful place, far from any other settlement as well as in distance from the main trekking routes. On entering the village I stopped to talk with a couple working in the fields. Immediately after the greetings they invited me to sit with them and drink tea. They had some tea and two chapatis which they took from home going to the fields. And they happily shared that with me.
Recently, I saw a woman in Kaya (in the Markha Valley) waiting for the bus from Leh to offer tea to all the passengers on a cold winter day!
 
And I was so much surprised and sad to hear people of a village on the Lamayuru-Padum popular trekking route saying 'bonbon' (a French origin word meaning a sweet) as an answer to my 'julley' greeting. It seems some tourists came to that stupid idea of giving sweets to people on the way and while offering them these they taught them how to say 'sweet' in their language!
 
There is this beautiful custom of greeting other trekkers and hikers met on the trail in the mountains. In most of the places the local language is used. I say '¡Hola!' when I hike in Spain, 'Hei!' in Norway, 'Ciao!' in Italy, 'Haste nabashid!' or 'Salam!' in Iran, 'Namaste!' in Nepal and 'Julley!' in Ladakh. This seems to be clear to most of the trekkers and hikers. In case someone does not know the greeting in the local language then - in most cases - English 'Hello!' or 'Hi!' would be used: it seems to be natural as English is recognised as the international language.
 
I'm always surprised hearing 'bonjour' as an answer (unless I'm in France) to my greeting which often happens on meeting people from France. I'm Polish, we have our own language which is - as French - quite different from English, but I don't see any reason to use 'dzień dobry' or 'cześć' to greet strangers on the trail unless I'm sure they are from my country or I'm hiking in Poland. Similarly I do not see any reason for the others to use their language to greet me or others in Ladakh as well as any other place in the world unless - of course - it is the local language - eventually - English.
 
I'm quite annoyed when I'm greeted in Ladakh by a Ladakhi with 'bonjour!' or 'Ça va?' which really happens sometimes. Dear Ladakhis, not every tourist is a French person and not every tourist speaks French (I believe, the majority of visitors to Ladakh do not speak this language)! There is not a single reason to use French language to a stranger in Ladakh! Please, simply use 'Julley'.
 
Dear tourists, please do not teach the Ladakhis your language unless they ask you to help them in English or you are a teacher on a course attended by students who have the intention to learn a new language to enhance their skills. Most of children in Ladakh - besides of the Ladakhi language which is their mother tongue, which despite belonging to the Tibetic group of languages is much different than Standard Tibetan - from their early childhood learn at school how to write their language using the Tibetan script, they learn English (another script) as well as Hindi (the major language of India - written in Devanagari script) or Urdu (written in Arabic script), which is the official language of the Jammu&Kashmir State which Ladakh is a part of. I'm sure the vast majority of the westerners visiting Ladakh can not read even two different scripts and do not speak more than two languages!
 
Dear visitors to Ladakh, do not mix children's minds with a new language, please. There are no many reasons for them to know your language (unless it is English or Hindi). Try to learn a few words in Ladakhi instead - you will see it is a fun and you will see how many more smiles you will get from the people seeing you trying to speak their language!
 
Please, discourage the people from asking for sweets, pens, etc. Probably non of us would like own children to go around their home town or village and ask strangers for gifts! Why do we make the children to do so in the places we visit?! Please, do not give sweets or any other gifts to children or adults met on the way. Please do not treat them like baggers! The people of Ladakh have rich culture and long tradition of hospitality! If you happen to have sweets, pens, books or other gifts that you brought intending to give to children, visit a school and ask a teacher to handle it to children or give it to parents in a family on a visit to their house.
 
Dear Ladakhis, please use your own language or English to greet tourists. Encourage the visitors to learn a bit of Ladakhi. Please do not ask for sweets or other gifts and discourage your children from doing so. Please cultivate your traditional of warmth and hospitality as this is one of the reasons we all love Ladakh!
 


 
Recently I read the article titled 'Seven Secrets of Ladakh' by Lundup Gyalpo in the 'Reach Ladakh Bulletin' (November 1-15, 2014) which contains some remarks about the use of 'julley' and about Ladakhi smiles as well.
 


 
This post has been also published in the blog at Ladakh.pl.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Winter in Ladakh - 2nd experience

With the first experience of winter in Ladakh behind me (check this blog post and photos here) I landed in Leh on Dec the 12th ready to do more demanding treks than the previous season. My intention was to try to get to Zanskar over the passes still in December and - once there - return to Leh by the famous Chadar Trek: the way on the frozen Zanskar river.
 
Although I did not manage to do everything I had planned, I did got to Padum from Lamayuru as well as succeeded testing the Chadar. With the short Ganda La trek at the end of my visit and the beautiful flight over the Himalayas from Leh to Srinagar I can't stop thinking about another winter season in Ladakh - maybe next winter. And I'm deeply convinced that there is so much more about Ladakh in winter than the famous Chadar Trek.
 
There are photos of my recent Ladakh winter experience in my photoblog at my website as well in the following posts at radek-kucharski-photoblog.blogspot.com:

Monday, 6 October 2014

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Tsarab Chu trek in Sept


I did Tsarab Chu trek with a small and brave group earlier this month (major part of the route #2 in my "Trekking in Ladakh" Cicerone Press guidebook). It confirms again that it is one of the best treks in Ladakh and that September is the best time for trekking in the region!

This was posted at Ladakh.pl/blog on 29/09/2014 at 22:58.