2011 Ladakh (1/2): Trekking in the Himalayas

Places West Ladakh, India. South of Lamayuru
Time & length July 2011, 14 days
Partners Christian Bock, my sister Stefanie Gersch
This is part one of my journey through the Indian Himalayas in July 2011. After some acclimatization in Ladakh’s capital Leh my two partners and I took a bus to Lamayuru where we joined a festival and later did some nice hiking in nearby mountain ranges.

This video shows all four weeks of my time in Ladakh.

Ladakh actually is not an insiders’ tip anymore. Although most people here have never heard about this region located in North India it’s quite famous in the circles of individual travellers. That was my first thought when I arrived in the city center of Leh on June 26 after spending a night at the airport in Delhi and continued my way to Ladakh’s capital with a small airplane. There were a lot of young people: tourists obviously, mostly Israelis. Christian and my sister Stefanie picked me up, they had already been on tour through Central Asia for more than three months, now I joined them for four weeks until I would fly over to Alaska. So I spent my first evening there listening to their stories and their thoughts about Kazakhstan, China and Pakistan – the countries they had seen in the past weeks.

The main goal for our time in Ladakh was to climb a mountain higher than 6000 m. But in order to get there we first needed some acclimatization which is why we took the bus to Lamayuru on the next day to do some hiking in this elevated area. Being in the bus was a little adventure itself: the vehicle was totally overcrowded and the driver seemed to be in a great hurry – not quite comfortable on dirt roads like this.

In Lamayuru we realized that there was a festival going on at the monastery that weekend. So we ended up staying there for a day and watched monks in disguise dancing to traditional music for hours. It was quite a spectacle!

On the next morning we started hiking uphill to a pass about 4000 m high. Surprisingly I didn’t have any problems with the altitude although I had spent the last weeks at an elevation of 200 m in Vienna. So that time I was under the illusion that the obligatory sickness of the first days in high altitudes in the Himalayas would pass me this time. Of course I was wrong. Two days later when we just started hiking at 7 o’clock in the morning I felt a bit weak. At noon I couldn’t walk anymore and had to lie down – there was no doubt we needed to stay at that place for at least a day until I would feel better. In fact my condition got worse and worse by the hour: I had to throw up regularly in addition to diarrhea, stomachache, attacks of sweating and an overall weakness – “Welcome to India” my partners said with understanding smiles on their faces.
Nothing changed on the second day. On the third day I felt strong enough again to walk again even though I didn’t fully recover but being sick on vacation is something I really can’t stand.

We continued towards Phonjila and reached Photogskar on the 3rd of July. There we spent some time exploring the village and taking some pictures of the curious children. In the evening we actually met the first group of hikers on our way: some Americans with two guides and a cook as well as horses and donkeys. I realized that individual hiking as we did it is very rare there due to the high elevations and the low prices for guided trekking tours.

Later we made our way over two high elevated passes: the first one was about 4800 meters, another one about 5200. I can’t really say that the altitude didn’t bother me; in fact I had a hard time scrambling up there. Fortunately we hiked in very good conditions: the weather was fine, the ground was dry and the streams weren’t that hard to cross except for the one shown above where my sister almost got swept away. So after a few more days of nice hiking through these beautiful mountains we continued alongside a river leading us back to a point close to Lamayuru. According to our map there should have been a trail following the river which was not the case. So it came down to off-trail hiking with lots of river crossings which is something that Christian and I are used to.

At the end we found ourselves enjoying some local food in a restaurant back in Leh on July 8. At that time we already made plans for the second part of our time in Ladakh. The first one was very spectacular: I’d never been to a place like this; this place in the Southern Himalayas was totally different from the mountain ranges I’d hiked in before. I couldn’t wait for the next step which would bring us to the Tsomoriri Lake, look here for more.