I have just gotten back to Delhi after doing my ice trek on the Zanskar River, and am on my way now to Nepal where I plan to hike in to Everest Base Camp before starting to teach again in March. Details of that ice trek are below.
First, though, some information regarding my trek for this summer, as well as specifics on the pashmina shawls that several of you asked for: SUMMER TREK. As I've said before, this will be a 20-day trek through an area with spectacular scenery. Included will be high mountain passes over 16,000 feet (one over 17,000), a remote salt lake, nomads, small villages and other features. Only 2 or 3 groups trek this each season, and I already have two ponymen lined up who know the route. As of now, 9 of you have asked for information about this hike, and more are welcome. Tell any friends that may be interested, also. If I have 20 interested people, that means that when it comes time for the hike the group size will be about right for those who follow through.
Some of you have asked for the simple version of the trek, and others the deluxe version. After having done the ice trek last week using porters, a guide and a cook, I think I have reached a compromise that will be comfortable for those wanting deluxe, but cheap-priced for the others. I am planning to independently put this trek together to save commission costs I'd pay if I go through an agency. I will hire the horses to carry the gear, and a cook. The horsemen know enough English to serve as guides for the route. And, I will have the cook do the food purchasing for the 20 days for however many people we have. For those who need sleeping bags and tents, I will rent those from agencies in Leh. All you will have to carry is a day pack with munchies, camera, plane ticket, and small stuff like this. Trek cost for you (not counting airfare and your lodging/food during acclimatization days in Leh) will be about $8 per day for the horses; $1-$3 per day for the cook, depending on how many people we have; maybe $1 or $2 per day if you rent gear; and food costs. My share of the food costs for my recent 10-days was only about $50, and we had some stuff left over. With a group larger than 3 people, it may go down from that even, as they can buy rice, flour, etc. in larger bulk.
If you are serious about coming, I would recommend a couple of things. First of all, book the flight from Delhi to Leh and back. Make sure that the agent knows that you may want to cancel if you are not sure yet. But, get your name in the computer. Use Jet Airways, NOT Indian Airlines. Trekking dates right now are looking like July 16 to August 4. Fly to Leh at least 2 days before the 16th, and even sooner if you have the time. There are monasteries and other things to see around here, and you will need a couple days to acclimatize. The return flight should be maybe the 6th of August. These cost $117 each way from Delhi. Buses are MUCH cheaper, but take 3 days from Delhi and are not comfortable. Your choice.
International flights fill later, so there is no need to book a flight from the states yet to Delhi until you decide for sure you are coming. Also, after the trek, I am planning a short few days to see Agra (Taj Mahal) and Jaipur from Delhi. You could join me for that, as well if you want.
NON-TREKKING VISITS. If you aren't into trekking and want to visit and see this great area, you are certainly welcome. My recommendation is May or June. By May, it will be warmer at night, and it is looking like the passes will be open if you want to take bus rather than fly. I will show you around as much as I can, or tell you places to visit while I am teaching. If avoiding tourists is important to you, come May. If you want to do some shopping, come June. But, let me know, so I can arrange a place for you to stay. I can easily find places for $8 a night or less, and probably $5. Food is $3 if you eat a lot at a meal; less usually. I would like some visitors during these two months!
UPDATE ON PASHMINA. Now that the Kashmiri shop owners are out of Leh, I had a chance to talk with a Tibetan local who knows his pashmina and found out what the "real" stuff looks and feels like, and costs. Cheaper costs usually means fakes or substitutions. Still, those are nice. Just not the real thing that we are told. If you are on my list for a shawl, please specifify color, size and material wanted as per the price list below. Color. Any that you want. You can say general colors or specific shades. Lighter shades are more common than deep colors. Size. I found out last week that it is stoles that are usually sold rather than shawls. Shawls are 2 meters (yards) by 36 inches. Stolls are 2 meters by 28 inches and are more popular with European and American ladies according to the shop owner. Material. 100% pashmina has 3 grades of quality, based on whether the threads are twisted and more durable or not. There is also a 50/50 mix with either wool or silk. There is also 100% wool, and yak wool.
Price list for the real stuff. I may be able to get a 15 percent discount.
$125 = 100 percent pashmina shawl high quality
$75 = 100 percent pashmina stoll high quality
$85 = 100 percent pashmina shawl medium quality
$60 = 100 percent pashmina shawl low quality
$37 = 50/50 pashmina-wool mix shawl
$15 = 50/50 pashmina-wool mix stoll
$45 = 50/50 pashmina-silk mix shawl
$37 = 50/50 pashmina-silk mix stoll
$10-$15 = 100 percent wool shawl (lamb or goat)
$62 = 100 percent yak-wool shawl
$7 = Angora rabbit wool stoll. This is what many Kashmiris try to pass off as pashmina (at higher
MY YEAR UPDATE. I was stranded in Delhi for 3 days after my last update. Due to bad weather in Leh, the flights there were cancelled for 3 days. This was after near-perfect weather in November, December, and most of January. The first day, Jet Airways put us up in the 5-star Radisson Hotel here in Delhi as per their policy. The other 2 days, we were left to fend for ourselves. But, I met the other two guys for my trek in the airport waiting for their flight on Indian Airlines, which was also cancelled. We used those days to get food for the trek. I was able to fly finally on the 3rd. But, the other two had to wait until the 4th to fly. Indian Airlines has 4 flights a week, unlike Jet Airways which flies all 7 days. As Monday isn't a fly day for them, everyone on those cancelled flights had to wait until Tuesday. When they showed up on the next day, the three of us spent that day and the 5th acclimatizing, doing short hikes at altitude, and getting last minute things for the trek. For more detail on this trek than I give below, go to backpacker.com and go to the Trailtalk forums. It will be in the Storytelling forum.
Besides myself, there were Eric and Sameer. Eric is from Montreal, Canada and came over here specifically for the ice trek, and for Everest (in December for that). He had been quoted $2500 for the ice trek by travel agencies, but I got him almost the same thing for $300 plus tips to the help. Sameer is a guy from Delhi who Eric met in the Everest area. He is a lawyer who is going to England next fall on a Rhodes scholarship. He is travelling all over until then.
Our guide was Sonam Stobgais, who goes by the nickname "Jimmy." He is a guy that David Sonam from my school knows and arranged for me. Jimmy was great, and helped organize the porters, cook, rental equipment, food and other things. He also got me over the most difficult parts of the trail route. Our cook was Tsewang Nurboo. He was excellent!
With a good food budget, he prepared Indian dishes that were great. It was his cooking that made me think about hiring a cook for this summer's trek. Tsewang, unfortunately, is unavailable then. We had 9 porters to carry our loads, their loads, the food and kerosene. Originally, we were to have 4 trekkers, but the other two bailed on us. Then, Sameer joined and we were back up to 3. So, with 2 porters each, and 2 in reserve, we only paid for 1 extra porter. All 9 of these guys are friends of Jimmy. And like Jimmy and the cook, live in Padum in Zanskar region. All 11 of these men walked from there out to Leh to trek with us!
The bus trip to the trailhead was an adventure in itself. The first half of the trip was on paved road for 30 kilometers. It went high above the Indus River, with good views of the confluence with the Zanskar River. The other 30 kilometers were on a rough dirt road in to the village of Chilling along the Zanskar River. This road was often on cliffs with the bus going over stretches tilting it towards the river below. We got to Chilling in time for lunch. Our trek was on the ice of the frozen Zanskar River. There were places that the ice was 3 or 4 feet thick. In places where it froze quickly, it was a deep blue-green color that you could see through to the rocks below or to the river flowing underneath. Other stretches of ice were clear ice, which was better because photos of the rocks through the ice came out a lot better. In both these areas of ice, there were places where it had cracked and re-frozen. Those cracks went down 3 or 4 feet, and were interesting. Other places had rougher ice due to lack of sunlight or snow or different freezing conditions.
On places where the river was too fast, it didn't freeze completely across. The fringe of ice near this open water was where we had to be careful. On early mornings, we could walk on this fringe. By afternoon, if it was warm, much of the ice had water standing on it and we had to take more caution. Dad, skip this paragraph! The Chaddar (word for the ice) Trek is interesting in that there are places where you HAVE to go onto the ice because there is no place to go on shore. But, there are also places where you HAVE to leave the river and go onto the cliffs to go around open stretches of water. Jimmy helped me over these areas, as I hate cliffs. Most were just narrow paths above cliffs above the water. But, a few were actually rock climbing (in bulky winter clothes). In the worst 2 places, they tied a rope around me and belayed me. There was one other place one warm day where there was knee-deep water ON the ice. This we had to wade through for about a kilometer. But, as I didn't have tall rubber boots like the other two, Jimmy made me climb a 250 foot cliff/slope. It still didn't go around the entire stretch and I still had to wade half the distance in stocking feet.
Dad, also skip this paragraph. As I said, Jimmy was a good guide. But, he was the first to slip on the ice (everyone fell, but for me it was only once in 10 days). BUT, Jimmy is the guy who broke through ice into open water. It was one hour into the trek on the first day. And, it was in an area that didn't look good to me. So, I am thinking he did this on purpose to impress upon us the importance of being careful. Sameer and Eric disagree and think he actually broke through without meaning to (1st time in 25 years). But, it was like clockwork how those porters sprang to action when Jimmy went into chest-deep water. They had him out of his clothes and into dry clothes and beat his goncha (Ladakhi dress) on the rock to get as much water out of it as possible. And, that campsite that evening had more wood than any others we had the entire trip, and they got everything dry. All these things make me suspicious about this being an "accident."
The trek took us 4 days on the ice of the river to the village Lingshed. I had hiked to this village in 2000 via the trekking route. I had 3 or 4 photos of people in that village that I gave to someone to deliver to the people in the picture. But, I was able to personally deliver the picture of the monks in the monastery to those same monks. They had remembered me, and were so grateful for that picture that they fed us lunch!
Our routine is one that bothered me. We got up at around 7:00 or 7:30, but didn't start walking until after 9:00. Then, we'd stop for a 2-hour lunch at 11:00 or 11:30. All the while, it would be getting warmer and the ice less safe/fun. I would have rather started at 8:00, taken 1 hour for lunch, and gotten to camp sooner in the afternoon. That would have helped us avoid that 1 kilometer of knee-deep ice water wading, and at least 1 cliff climb. Wildlife was scarce. But, there were birds. And, there were two places that we saw the wild ibex, which is a type of wild goat. There was a herd of about 20 that were jumping around on the cliffs high above the river that we saw while walking both directions.
Our campsites were generally near caves (rock overhangs). In these caves was where they had the fires and cooked the meals. The porters also slept there. The 3 of us clients slept a ways away from the cave in our tents, or else in the open. Our coldest night was minus 20 degrees celcius, which is just below zero farenheit. There is not too much else to tell. More details will be on my backpacker post. We finished the hike on the 15th, and thankfully, the bus was there to meet us. Back in town, we paid and tipped the porters, cook and Jimmy. Then on the following day we all flew back to Delhi, having moved our tickets a day later due to our flight cancellations on the front end.
Now, I am in Delhi awaiting my flight to Kathmandu. In Nepal, I have plans to hike to Everest Base Camp starting on the 20th of this month. My next report will tell about that trek.
Take care and be safe and healthy.