The fifth day of our trek rose sunny and beautiful, though beautiful may just be my point of view. Most of us had slept well, and at least 4 of us had seen a game of Mafia in their dreams. As we had breakfast (hot pooris with honey and butter), Gayatri explained how she was trying to protect the vodka from getting killed by Mafias. In her dream, i.e.
In real life, it was another day of packing our bags, getting into the many layers, removing ice from the shoes, drying the shoes over the fire and filling our water bottles. We were used to this routine, to the snow and the mountains, and most of all, I realised with a pang, to each other. When you have seen each other through 5 days of wilderness, you become more than friends – you become a fellowship.
At 9 in the morning, our fellowship said a heavy-hearted goodbye to Gsomu, our most faithful campsite. We were going to retrace our footsteps back here on, from Gsomu to Shingra Yokma, and then to Tilat Sumdo and Leh. It was a sunny day, we were an experienced bunch, and we felt quite at home in the icy landscape now. One would think that there would be surprises here on – hadn’t we come the same way 2 days ago? What could change?
Apparently, a lot. Some things remained the same. For the most part, the landscape of ice and snow and water and rock remained the same. We crossed the same frozen waterfall, and had a maggi lunch at Shingra Koma. But 3 hours into the trek, we came across a massive molten patch of Chadar. Sherpas who had been there before us passed on the message that the river was knee deep here, which meant wading through knee deep of icy water that was sure to run over our gumboots and expose our feet and legs to zero degree celsius. Gayatri was the only one who had gaiters. The only other bypass was by climbing a sheer, practically vertical sandy hill.
The thought of climbing the sheer hill was balking. Between the rock and the very hard place, everybody chose the very hard place. Except Kartik and me, who chose the rocky climb. I had already experienced one almost-frostbite, and the memory was painfully fresh. I was ready to brave any mountain to keep my toes warm. On his part, Kartik didn’t want to go through the whole exercise of wetting his socks, removing them, warming his feet and changing into fresh socks. Or so he claimed.
So while everyone prepared themselves for the watery way ahead, Kartik and I passed on our rucksacks to the porters and started the climb. It was hard, made scarier by how the mud kept slipping under the gumboots. To tell you a secret though, I wasn’t scared of the fall – I was scared that at the end of the fall lay icy cold water!
Our comrades had a tougher time. Once they started wading through the river – they realised that the water was the lesser problem – the real problem was broken ice shards – cold as hell and needle-sharp. Somehow, swearing and shouting and cursing, they crossed the river and reached solid ice.
It took them more than half an hour to recover. After several long minutes of massaging the feet and wriggling the toes, we were back on our feet and on our way to Shingra Yokma. Thankfully, the rest of the journey was uneventful.
Shingra Yokma was as beautiful as always. By the time we reached our last campsite, a strange feeling had started sinking in – that I was going to miss this cold, desolate landscape. The gurgling, blue waters of the Zanskar, the last rays of the sun shining on the snow crystals, the sound of snow crunching under feet, the absolute, comforting silence – it felt as if the Chadar had never been more beautiful. Kartik and I spent the last of the sunlit minutes walking by the river, silent for lack of words.
For the last camp night, the sherpas had for us a pleasant surprise. They had started a roaring fire and when we reached the fireside, they put little Juniper leaves into our caps. They had several tin cans and plates and sticks – it was to be an evening of fireside stories and dance and music. They told us about their lives, of how difficult life was in winters, of the many tourists who visited Leh. They asked what we had liked during the trek. They sang Kashmiri songs, and we all danced to those tunes. Among the many we all sang that day, I only remember what our cook sang – a constant sing-song of Chhola poori, chhola poori, chhola poori, hoye. I think a lot of us agreed that Chhole Poori (also the dinner menu that day) had been our most favourite thing during the trip.
We spent the last hour together in our big tent. We played cards, I wrote my journal, Anuj headed out to howl into the wind (Please do not ask me why he does that). Night came too soon to Shingra Yokma that day.
The journey continues here.