Chris and Pippa's Travels travel blog

Now where did I leave off, oh yes Ladakh is a desert that only has 100mm of rain per year! Well they have had twice that in the last 36 hours. Both roads into Ladakh have been closed on the high passes due to heavy snow and all flights have been cancelled for the last 24 hours; so we are completely cut off from the outside world.

We have postponed our trek until Sunday in the hope that the weather will clear and we have had to send a taxi to Rumtse this morning to inform the pony man of this. There is no other way of communicating with the remote regions of Ladakh other than sending someone in person.

So now we have some time on our hands to intrigue you with tales of our travels and we have put some more photos up on the website. We have found that the easiest way to establish when a bus will leave is to ask several people and then take the average of their responses. So this is what we did on Saturday when we left for our first trek, the averaged time was one o'clock and so we went at midday just in case. None of the buses have destinations written on them so again we relied on the trusted formula eventually finding the correct bus only to be told it wasn't leaving until 2pm.

When it did set off it headed straight for the local timber yard and three or four men alighted and loaded the roof with timber batons, next stop was the builder's yard for sacks of cement and then onto the gas supplier for bottles of gas, all of which were loaded onto the roof. The last and final stop was to pick up the buses stereo system from the repair shop, but the delays did not stop here as the driver and conductor insisting on installing the system before getting under way. Their attempts to get it working failed but this didn't deter the driver from continuing to apply his skills to installing the stereo whilst driving the bus; after all what is an Indian bus journey without loud music?

The driver's persistence paid off and finally we had loud, screeching music which happily distracted us from the perils of the road. I actually think that this is what it is designed to do, you find yourself in a surreal world of bangra and the outside dangers seem equally unreal. Jeff (our Belgian friend) was so hypnotised by the music that he decided to purchase a copy, however a further two hours of the same track soon changed his mind; much to the relief of all of us all. Incidentally none of the items loaded onto the bus belonged to passengers, they were ordered by villagers and dropped off along the way, all the effort made by the driver and passengers was on behalf of others, what about that for community spirit. The Ladakhi version of Tesco's Home Delivery Service!

The bus dropped us at Likir village and we had an hours walk to reach the Gompa (monastery), as we approached we were greeted by a young girl who invited us to stay with her family (mentioned in previous email). We settled into the house and our host started cooking the evening meal whilst we explored the Gompa. The meal consisted of a Ladakhi dish called Sku which is a vegetable stew with pasta like pieces, it was very tasty and we all had seconds. After dinner we tried to communicate with our hosts but were hampered by our only phrase book which was designed for help along the trek. Phrases like 'Where does this path lead?' and 'Can you fetch help, my friend has broken his leg?' did not further the conversation and we all decided to have an early night ready for a 5am start to watch the monks up at the Gompa ( we had been told by several people that this was the thing to do).

Our early rise proved fruitless when the monks failed to appear and so it was back down the mountainside to see what breakfast held in store (see pictures on website). After a hearty breakfast we set off on our first full days trekking our destination was Hemis-Shukpachu the walk was hard going because of the altitude. We arrived at Hemis mid afternoon having made good time and we stayed with the family of T. T. Naimgal. TT was an extraordinary man who had the grasp of six languages but had never ventured much further than his own village. He told us about Ladakhi village life.

In Hemis there are sixty families living in their own homes (over 98% of Ladakhi families own the own homes) these houses are handed down through the generations and have lived in the same place for hundreds of years. The village is split into six groups with each group consisting of ten families, these groups offer help to each other and share a spring or well. This spring is also used to irrigate each family's garden (ladakhi's not only own there own homes but also have a few acres of land each), the irrigation is done on a timed interval with each family having equal access to the water available. Fuel for cooking and heating is provided by dried Yak dung and fertiliser for the land is provided by the Ladakhi earth toilets, which are a hole in the floor where the human waste drops into a chamber and is then covered by soil or ash. This then decomposes and makes excellent compost. Ladakh does not have any soil only rock and so every bit of waste is used to the fullest. Without the use of human waste they would have to use the Yak Dung and therefore would be very cold during the 9 month winters. Very few trees could survive at this altitude and there is little soil to establish them in so Yak dung becomes the perfect solution to heating.

Ladakhi's are also skilled at storing food to help them survive the winter months; temperatures can drop as low as -30 c and extend for up to 9 months. TT told us that he had enough food for the next three years; quite a contrast to our hand to mouth existence in the west. During the winter they have nothing to do other than socialise so they gather around neighbour's houses drinking tea and Chang (the local brew) and sharing gossip. They also have travelling story tellers who visit the villages when weather permits.

Ladakhi village life is completely self sustaining and the people seem very happy and contented with their lot. However, it is under threat for misguided government policies, the military presence and tourism; let's hope it doesn't change too much.

We will set off on our next trek on the 10th and return to Leh on the 17th July, we will be in touch again after then. Just off to the German Bakery for some not so traditional Ladakhi Cinnamon Rolls and tea.

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