Adventures in India

Letter 1 - The Kinnaur Kailas Circuit.

What would you say about putting your tent on a top of a frozen lake (altitude 4600m') between two huge mountains (Trisul -7120m', Nanda Ghunti 6309m') in a stormy night (snow and -15 degrees Celsius), where the lake is full of bones of 500 dead people which were lost there 700 years ago, and just next to your tent (approx. 5-10 meters) a snow leopard (a kind of a tiger) is crossing....

Well, in our journey to India we concentrated this time in three things: pilgrimages (עליה לרגל), goats (yes, goats and also sheep), and of course the Himalayan mountains scenery.

We start by taking a night train to a hill station called Shimla - a very calm place FULL of nervous monkeys - when you look at them they start hitting you. From Shimla we take a long bus drive (9 hours) to Kinnaur. The words "bus drive" sound very relaxing, but... this actually, is one of the most scary and dangerous drives that we have ever experienced. Most of the way is done on a very narrow dirt road, on the edge of a huge gorge (about 500m' high). In some places along the way there are landslides which you have to cross by foot (because a vehicle can't pass...) and catch another vehicle on the other side of the slide. You have probably heard about the "death road" in Bolivia. In my opinion, this way is ten times worst. We keep and say that the bus drivers in this area are all extremely good drivers, since all the "bad" drivers surely haven't survived...

In Shimla.

After that long frightening drive we arrive safely to Rekong Peo - the capital of the Kinnaur district. The Kinnaur district is located close to the Indian-Tibetan (Chinese) border and the people there are a mixture of Indians and Tibetans. Rekong Peo and Kalpa (the upper village) are extremely nice! - all the place is full of red delicious apple trees...(a bit like in heaven...). Snow capped mountains of more than 6000m' can be seen from there - among them is the "Kinnaur Kialas" - a holy mountain (similar to the Kialas in Tibet!). This mountain is our first target. We plan to encircle it according to the local pilgrimage tradition.

Kinnaur Kialas (6,050m') (I bought the photo in Kalpa.).

We start walking in a tough desert-land full of deep gorges and high mountains. The walk is tough. You start in an altitude of 2500m' and cross a mountain pass of 5260m' in 4-5 days. In the end of the first day of the walk we camp in a place next to a river. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, we hear the sounds of rocks falling... on us... We think that a land slide is coming, a common thing in this area, which is very dangerous. We are escaping our tent... and then discover that..... monkeys are crossing the cliffs above us and cause this rock fall...

We start walking in a tough desert-land full of deep gorges and high mountains.

Actually, as almost no one visits this mountain desert area, we get an especially nice hospitality (including food and a place to sleep) in the only village along the way, called Charang (3500m').

A local woman.

A local men.

We are not acclimatized to the altitude, our bags are heavy (we carry everything ourselves) and we are alone trying to find our way to the Charang La (La means a mountain pass) at 5260m'. Towards the pass things start to be very tough. The land is full of moraines - which are hills of boulders located one after the other. You cross one moraine and think that you reach somewhere, and then you discover that there is another one and another one and... The word "frustration" was invented exactly for that... We are short of water and very weak because of the altitude and the pass is still far... Actually, we don't know where are we at all, and where is this pass. (no maps in India). We continue walking in our last drops of energy and eventually finish with all those moraines. We find ourselves encircled by huge glaciers and vertical mountain walls. Where is "our" pass? It seems that there is no way to cross here! Nir is troubled. He keeps looking with our binoculars (given by the friends in Amdocs) for the right way to go. Suddenly he sees praying flags on top of one of the 90 degrees walls (praying flags are a Buddhist way of marking mountain passes). Oh no, how can we climb this place? How can we reach this pass? Maybe it is not "our" pass.

We find ourselves encircled by huge glaciers and vertical mountain walls. The pass is on the far left.

The pass stands 400 meters vertically above us and looks impossible to cross. Nir is sure that this cannot be the pass - but we watch around and see that all is surrounded by glaciers - This is definitely the only alternative.

So we decide to go towards the flags (there is no marked way that we can follow)... We start our final climb holding the ground with both our hands and legs. Doing one step forward and falling backward half a step. Loose rocks start to fall, and I am so afraid of sliding all the way down. My breath is so fast due to the altitude as well as due to the enormous fear...

Eventually - we make it and reach the top of the pass! I think the steepest pass that we have ever crossed. The views are very nice. To our great surprise we meet on top of the pass a group of about 200 sheep and goats with two shepherds.... What are THEY doing here?....

Charang La (5,260m').

Well, the winter is approaching and the shepherds take the sheep across mountain passes, hundreds of kilometers, to low and worm places, where they can collect grass in winter. Suddenly wind starts to blow and snow starts to fall. We and the sheep have to go down from the pass quickly. We go through a very steep descent to the village of Chitkul and then to Sangla. On the way the shepherds tell us that in Sangla many more sheep and shepherds will join them and they plan to continue for another 5 days over another mountain pass to the next valley, towards the worm places. I and Nir decide to continue our journey with them. We don't know the route that they are taking (it isn't mentioned in our book) but we will simply follow them....

On the way the shepherds tell us that in Sangla many more sheep and shepherds will join them.

In Sangla (2900m') we actually finish our pilgrimage circuit around Mt. Kinnaur Kailas, and will start the goats and sheep part of our trip.... We rest in Sangla one day (YOM KIPUR).

Preparing provisions for the trek.

From Sangla we go up the valley (Sangla Kanda) escorted by hundreds of sheep towards the next pass - Rupin La (4700m'). It is very funny walking with the sheep. They go quite fast and they don't really care if the way is steep. In the end of every group of sheep and goats you can find the nursery (תינוקיה) about 20-30 few-days old baby sheep and goats). The young ones are so cute and nice. They cry almost like babies. They don't have the mood to make this tough way, but the shepherds "encourage" them by hitting them from time to time with their sticks. The shepherds are very nice to us - they give us food called Tsampa (a mixture of water, butter and flour which is eaten uncooked - "Indian energy bolls"). The way to the pass is hard (but not comparable to the previous one). I and Nir can hardly keep the rhythm of the nursery, the elder sheep go much faster then us...

We go up the valley escorted by hundreds of sheep.

Taking the young goats from their night shelter.

Some of the youngest goats are carried on horses.

Eventually we reach the pass - Rupin La. The pass marks the border between the Kinnaur district to the Garhwal district. While standing on the pass snow starts to fall. We start to go down. After an hour or so we decide to camp somewhere on the way as we are very tired. The sheep continue going down. We follow them with our eyes to see the way that they take (the way is not marked - if we don't see the sheep we actually don't know where to go). We plan to meet them in the following morning. We pitch our tent in the rain, eat something and go to sleep.

Our tent.

In the morning we open the tent and ......SURPRISE ! Everything outside is WHITE. All is covered with 20 cm thick layer of fresh snow. Our tent almost collapsed during the night under the huge amount of snow, which fell on it (last night when we arrived there was no snow on the ground and now...). "Ohoo, What can we do now?" Nir asks. Our tent is located on the top of a cliff, and we can not see the way down cause it is all buried under the snow!!... Our friends, the sheep and the shepherds are all down... As we discuss the situation, we hear a familiar sound and don't believe our luck......... new groups of sheep with new shepherds are coming from the Rupin la towards us... It is so nice to meet them. We see all over the signs of their small legs in the fresh snow.

Our tent, 12 hours later...

We feel so relived - there are new friends to show us the way...We keep goiwith our new sheep friends... the way is full of snow and our feet and cloth become all wet, but we don't care. We are so happy! The views with the new fresh snow are extremely nice. We keep going down the valley, and pass few villages: Jakha, Juskund, Sewa and Dhala. We wash ourselves in the rivers along the way. It feels so nice after a long time with no wash.... In a village called Netwar, we finish our walk and say good bye to the sheep....

We keep going down the valley.

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Last modified: Fri Mar 29th 19:05:00 IST 2002