Kurgiakh

Here’s a story: First time I came to Zanskar I was alone with a big ‘ol backpack. I bought an indian kerosene stove in manali (a good one with a full sized brass spigot to control the fuel), a nice aluminum pot and lid, 1.5kg of red lentils, 4 liters of fuel and… no pressure cooker. So I learned something the hard way. Turns out you can’t cook lentils at 14k feet without a pressure cooker. I cooked and cooked and they just stayed hard.

I resorted to just crunching them down and they came out looking like crunched up red lentils. By the time I came down to Lakong I was sort of starving. Hallucinating hamburgers. Actually considering killing and eating a sheep… And I learned some neat and surprising things about what I really want in food. 2 inch steaks with full-sized ice-cream scoops of butter melting on it. Baked potatoes with more butter, dark fruity red wine, linen napkins, dark oak panels and a candle chandelier. Ah, such are the tastes of a starving 20 year old.

When I arrived in Kurgiakh in 1991 Lobsang the new father had just set up a tea stall and he had me write a sign on the side with a piece of charcoal, and he fed me lots of food for the next 2 nights…

Turns out like most Zanskar-po, Lobsang is a complete badass. He knows the hills around really well, knows every route and is an expert weasel-er and also a really graceful host.

Anyhoo. This time I rolled into town just before 11, went straight to Lobsang’s house which is on the far side of town. Kargiakh has a nicely laid out path made of granite river rocks, a house on your left, a wall on the right. Some steps, and then it dead ends so you gotta know to climb up the stones to your right and skirt the edge of the field.

The whole time I’m walking through town these two ladies are asking me where I’m going that day… chiseling at me to stay at their place. “I’m going to Lobsang’s!” “Oh, Lobsang. Good…” But sort of not good by the expression on their faces.

Anyway. Arrive at Lobsangs, nobody home. I lean bike up and sit on the wall and start stripping off my clothes to warm myself in the sun. Ahh… feels great!

After a few minutes Lobsang’s son pops out, I met him last year in Gonma. Smart and funny and articulate guy, works as a guide sometimes. I ask if he’s got a room and of course he does. Lobsang Senior is in Sking doing some carpentry, will be back in a few days.

I’m setting everything out to dry and Lobsang Junior brings out a huge thermos of sugar milk tea and some chapati with potato! Yeah!

I help Junior pull everything out of the guest room in order to paint it. He then mixes up some paint using water and dirt? and then splatters it all over the room. A nice spring paint job! He lets it dry all afternoon and then we repopulate the room so I can lounge in the shade. Amazing how quickly everything dries. And I have a nice nap.

At dinner I was discussing Shingo La with Junior. Couple neat stories he told me:

Story 1: Dog Prints

  • On the trail over shingo la I kept seeing dog prints. Weird. Just one dog. Couldn’t figure that out. Junior said a foreigner with a dog walked through 2 days ago… ok, that explains the dog prints.

Story 2: Those Nutty Canadians

  • Three days before a Canadian husband and wife with two kids age 8 and 10 had hired 4 porters to take them across the pass to Zanskar Sumdo. Junior was one of the hired porters. Said it was difficult but the kids mostly did great. They had to carry the 8 year old girl up the steep snow but said everyone had a great time. Said the kids bonded well with everyone and were crying when it was time to say goodbye in Zanskar Sumdo.
    They slept at the big stone shelter above Lakong. Started hiking at 3am and had hard snow. Smaaart. Not like me then.

    Cost of this family expedition, leh to manali:
    – 4 porters x 4 days, 2k rupee per day is 32000 rp == $450
    – food ‘n fuel
    – jeep from leh to purne
    – jeep zanskar sumdo to manali

    I’d guess this stunt of theirs cost about $750.

    A great family adventure out in beautiful country with no tourists. Quality time with quality porters. I’m totally jealous and sure do respect their intent. Well done! I’m guessing about 0.1% of foreigners make a good choice like that. Ratio with younger children is probably much closer to 0. So Canadian folk: if you read this can you tell me how the trip went from your perspective?

Story 3: Camp at the Pass for the Views

  • Said on the way back they got to the pass at 4pm, the snow was stupid soft and weather looked good so they camped there and built a little shelter in the snow. Was cold but great stars. Cool! Is that tasteful?

Story 4: That Stupid Calf

  • Junior and the other porters spent some time trying to get a calf to come down… the calf was one of a group purchased in Rarik but this one got stuck in the deep snow near the pass and wouldn’t move so the buyer left it. The porters brought grass for the calf but it was a surly thing and just ran from them. They gave up… Ha. That explains that dumb calf that charged me. I guess it will live since when I ran into it (or, when it nearly ran into me) it was almost below the snow line on the Rarik side.

Day Hike up Side Canyon

I stay with Junior in kargiakh for two nights. I’m expecting that this time in Kargiakh will be the best part of my trip. Or at least its the part I’ve been most looking forward to. Having free time in Kargiakh? Sign me up! So anyway, I try and put it to good use.

On my second day I’m feeling great so I hiked up the side stream above town. Pass by the many tsampa mills that lie on the creek.

The main trail to Surichun-La and Chumik-Marpo crosses the stream and heads up into the dry hills. Instead I stick to the left side of the river and eventually am picking my way through trail-less boulder fields. Canyon narrows and I’m crossing snow bridges covered in thick layers of fallen rock. Finally there’s a narrow cleft full of rushing water and I can’t reasonably get across. Well… I could have jumped across from a high boulder but I couldn’tfigure a clear way back, so that is the end of the road for me.

Sun is getting pretty bright so I find a big rock and hide under it. Have a little picnic and a dust-bath snooze. Ah! That is what I call a vacation!

An Dani Malls!

Now… I forgot to mention this but the entire time I’ve been hiking I’ve been hearing rocks falling. Every single time I’ve stopped and scanned all around for an animal. Could be my old eyes are blind, could be the animals are wiley, but I never saw nothin’. But this time… I hear a rockfall, stop and look up and… what the heck! There’s 30+ ibex about 60 feet up the slope from me. Every single one of them is frozen and looking straight at me, except for this young one thats scrambling up the slope and knocking more rocks loose. Whoa!!

I’ve seen blue sheep here, marmots, and wolves, but I’ve never seen an Ibex. And these suckers look pretty tame. I climb up on a big comfy cup shaped boulder and lounge out in the sun and after a minute they go back to the important stuff that Ibex do. There’s a little one thats bored and loney, is walking around bumping into the larger lounging ones. There’s another guy that just can’t get comfortable so hes walking around his potential bedding site hoofing boulders down. He keeps snuggling down then getting up and moving more rocks.

Anyway. Pretty neat.

Fish!

Once I get up and leave I’m avoiding the big boulderfield by following a small side creek. I step across a shaded pool and there’s a bunch of splashing, its a fish! Silver grey thing, looks like a big teardrop shaped tadpole but a foot long, 4-5 inches across. Pretty big! What the heck?! Who ever heard of fish here? And this dude was lurking in a 9″ deep 3×4′ pool way up a tiny little stream off the main water. He takes off splashing and wiggling like crazy across rocks and small water and disappears.

Animals that are Good To Eat

Finally I’m back in town and run into Junior and his friend lounging in the field by the stream, they’re laid-out chewing on long stems of grass, looking like something from Huck Finn except dressed like rappers. I tell them about the Ibex and they nod “yeah… in the winter they come into town to get water from our spring”, I guess the whole herd makes itself comfortable in town in the winter. I’m glad the locals aren’t shooting them any more for food. So then I’m joking: “Yeah… them ibex? I bet they’d be pretty good eatin’?” They both nod vigerously and the friend says, “yeah, those big ones? with the beards? They taste the best!” I think they’re teasing me “you kill them?” “No… but sometimes they fall off a cliff or we see a snow leapard get one, then we eat it.” The guys are serious. Hah? Thats interesting. I don’t know if I can trust their palates but can appreciate that protein tastes good.

So then more joking from me: “Well.. how about that fish? I bet those are even better?” The friend shakes his head sternly “fish are prohibited”, but junior smiles “yeah, I tasted one, it was really really good” Friend looks sternly but Junior grins and shrugs, explains: “I found a dead one when we were cutting the barley…”

Kids Horsing Around

Kargiakh: Kids horsing around at sunset.

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