Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Warning Quote for Visitors

It's been over a year since my first and only post. I figured it was time to see if my editor would allow another addition. John finally relented.

India is ‘an assault on your senses’ and accurately describes initial reactions to the country. No amount of preparation can do it justice which is one more reason that we feel so fortunate that many family and friends have (or are planning) to venture here and experience this little adventure with us.

As we prepared for another round of visitors in June, Anne, John’s sister, and her husband were first up. While we knew they were excited to come, we also knew this was going to be quite the new experience for them.

With just over a week to see India, there isn’t a lot of time for ‘easing’ someone in and they were game. Their first day was some light shopping and sightseeing before we jumped all-in on day two with old Delhi in the peak of summer’s heat and humidity. Old Delhi is an amazing, jarring set of sights. We started our six hour day with Red Fort, a bicycle rickshaw ride, headed to Jama Masjid, then old small winding lanes full of crowds, Karim’s for ‘authentic’ Indian fare, more bicycle rickshaws, the Spice Market, and finally one last bicycle rickshaw ride.

This is when I wondered if India was more than they bargained for and the quote of the trip (and probably our whole experience) was born.

Going to the bathroom can become difficult and you have to be strategic. After a fantastic lunch at Karim’s where Anne’s face said it all as she looked at the food soaking in oil and only got better when she made the required bathroom break. I went first and found things to be just fine: basically a teeny tiny room (maybe four foot by three) with just enough room for the porcelain hole in the ground. There wasn’t even space for a sink; it was outside and commonly shared with the boys. It was clean so I didn’t even think anything of it. Anne went in after me and quickly returned; a little too quickly.

I probed “You didn’t go, did you?” Her response? “There isn’t any toilet paper!” My response? “It’s India…bitch” while stifling a giggle on the final word. She sheepishly looked at me and went back, knowing this was her best and cleanest chance for the day.
And so it became the quote of their trip. Once the quote was shared on the trek, it became the quote of that trip (even used by our guide Sanjeev). It was shared with a co-worker who was over from the states who spent time touring with her husband. Legend has it that it became the quote of that trip.

It’s now the first and standard response by either of us when we deal with some trivial adversity or something otherwise frustrating. Future visitors, get ready. It’s India, bitch.

The Diamox Darling

For my 30th birthday (which was a few years back) my family agreed to join me for a climb up Quandary Peak in Colorado. It was my first (and to this point only) summit of a fourteener in Colorado. Until the trek in Ladakh, its 14,265 foot peak also marked the highest point where I had ever stood. Other than making it to the summit that fine September day, my second priority was to get a good picture of Lindsay and I at the top. Lindsay, always the trooper, made it to the top that day. The picture? Well, here's the evidence:
When she sees this picture on the blog, there will likely be issues at home
Maybe it's just me, but one person looks a little happier to be sitting on the summit. In hindsight, she probably shouldn't have summited; she had both a headache and was nauseous, the two most basic symptoms of altitude sickness. Luckily, other than those symptoms and the accompanying crankiness, there were no other issues and we made it down with no issues.

The altitude was one of the main reasons we elected to make our first trek to Annapurna Base Camp. In Himalayan terms, the trek maxes out at a relatively low 13,500 feet so altitude wasn't an issue. Once we knew we were comfortable with the other aspects of the trek (like princess camping for multiple nights without showering), we figured we could always try higher altitude. Our Ladakh trek had that higher altitude. We started around 10,500 feet, camped just about every night at 12,000+ feet, and crossed four high passes, the highest of which was 16,500 feet.

So how do you change a smile from being the very epitome of forced at 14,265 feet to this very genuine reaction at 16,500 feet?

It's simple. Diamox.

After acclimating for two nights, first in Leh and then in camp in the village of Chilling, we started our trek. The first day of walking was short but we climbed a couple thousand feet. Strategically, we got to camp before lunch and had a lengthy rest before the next morning. The next day was our first "high" pass with an elevation of around 15,500 feet. After about the first hour or 90 minutes that morning, each step up the hill set a personal altitude record for both Lindsay and I. Right as we got to lunch (pre-pass), everyone had started to feel the altitude a little bit, as can be expected on your first day. I had a mild headache but nothing too serious. Unfortunately, Lindsay had both the headache and was a little nauseous. It was time to start the drugs. It was for the Diamox.

There are differing opinions on Diamox. Some doctors will tell you to preemptively take it before you get to altitude. Some doctors will take you that starting it too soon might mask more serious altitude sickness. She decided to listen to the doctors in the "don't take it until you think you need it" camp. The correct dosage is somewhere between 125 - 250 mg taken twice per day. She had 250 mg pills that she was forced to cut each morning. We made fun of her for looking like a drug addict as she cut the pills, but whatever chemical was in those little tablets seemed to do the trick as she had no issues for the rest of the trip. There were even smiles. Real smiles.

I'm sure there are all kinds of differing perspectives on the usage of this type of drug when at altitude. If you're from a low elevation location and planning a high altitude trip, I'd highly recommend finding a doctor that has knowledge of altitude-related sickness as it's very possible your general practitioner has little or no experience treating or prescribing this type of medication.

The IPA Quest Completed

For the past 18+ months, I've been on a quest to find an actual India Pale Ale (IPA) in India. For the past 18+ months, I have failed, including a disappointing stop at The Come Drink Beer Cafe which had only Corona and IMFL selections. The first time I drank an IPA in India it had been imported in the sock of a visiting friend. Since that time I had only seen it on a menu once (at a place called The Beer Cafe at Ambience Mall in Vasant Kunj) but, not surprisingly, it wasn't in stock. Last night our friend Kristin wanted to try a new place out at that same mall (and no, we don't make a habit off going out in malls frequently, but the mall subculture emerging in India is a little fascinating). Before hitting Skybar, which is unsurprisingly a rooftop lounge, we decided to try The Beer Cafe.

The first thing the waitress said when she approached our table was that there was an issue with the supplier and that they only had 14 beers in stock. Not a good first sign. There was some sort of licensing issue that limited what was in stock, and there was an actual sign that explained the problem. The first time we had actually received any sort of explanation why something wasn't on the menu (at most places you get something like "I'm sorry, sir, but that is not in stock" but you have no idea why 75% of the menu doesn't seem to be available. Of course, if you call yourself The Beer Cafe, it probably makes sense to explain why there's so little choice.

She then started on the beers they did have. First, the beers on tap, which are set up as self serve at the table. Self serve taps are a cool idea, though to control the amount you drink, you purchase a card and put money on it and place the card on a reader before pouring. They didn't do a great job of describing how that process worked and we felt like they were trying to get us to prepay and lock us into a certain amount. At the end of the day, it turns out this was just a way to create a small line of credit with the restaurant and wasn't a big deal, but it seemed unnecessarily confusing.
Shouldn't it be cheaper if you do it yourself?

Once the tap and card process was described in painstaking and ineffective length, she started going through the bottles. Much to my surprise and delight, she mentioned a few Belgium wheats that were in-stock and then, almost in passing, said that they had the IPA. I immediately started repeating, "IPA IPA IPA". My order was set.

A few minutes later they set the beer in front of me. The elusive IPA was captured. It was a Brooklyn Brewery IPA that, based on the markings on the label had been imported via some Middle Eastern country. It's not a beer I'm familiar with, but I wasn't in a position to get too picky. Overall, it was decent and less hoppy than I prefer my IPA's to be. Not a beer I'd necessarily go back to if I were in the states, but given the situation it tasted pretty good.

As we were leaving the bar, one of the waiters who had seen my jubilant reaction when learning it was available assured me that it would always be in stock, whenever I returned. While I appreciated that, something tells me that his guarantee had something to do with a lack of demand rather than a consistently restocked fresh supply.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Longest 15 Minutes

This post is entirely out of order with my other planned Ladakh posts, but it's all the energy I could muster this morning before work....

Leh is situated at an elevation of 11,500 feet, which means that its airport also rests at or near that same height. All flights in and out of Leh are early in the morning to reduce the chance of weather impacting the flight. As an example, our short Jet Airways flight landed in Leh at 7:55am. That was the later of two choices, the first had departed Delhi at 5:30am and arrived before 7.
Outside arrivals at the airport in Leh where I'm not sure photography is allowed
This isn't a story about landing at the high airport (though the flight from Delhi to Leh is magnificent, we had clear views of the Himalayas nearly the entire way and you land between two mountain ranges that seem closer than they need to be). This is a story of our flight back in Delhi. The only "odd" thing about leaving Leh is the strict security at the airport (they encourage you to carry nothing on the plane except valuables). Off course, given the fact you're technically in Kashmir in a city with a heavy military presence, the strict security makes sense.

The flight back to Delhi was uneventful until our approach. As we descended near the airport, we entered a very dark cloud which happened to be a monsoon rain cloud hovering over the airport. Almost immediately, the plane hit heavy turbulence and was violently shaken. Quickly, we felt the plane gain altitude again. My first aborted landing.

A couple minutes later the captain came on the loudspeaker with the following message (and I'm paraphrasing for the most part here as Jet refused my request to listen to the little black box):

"As you could probably tell, there were heavy rain storms situated above the airport in Delhi and we've had to abort our landing. We'll be making a quick circle over the region and then give it another try."

He continued, and this isn't a paraphrase, this is a direct quote:

"We have fifteen minutes of fuel left."

And then there was silence. He didn't say "we have 15 minutes of EXTRA fuel before we need to land at a different airport"; he didn't say something more general like, "there are extreme weather issues in Delhi, we're going to stay in the area for a short time before heading to an alternative and safer location to land." He was specific. The reaction on the plane was a nice mix of bewildered looks between people where they were obviously thinking "did he just say that" and outright nervousness.

Strangely, in the moment I wasn't worried about death (regardless of how remote that chance actually was). I was worried that I had 1300 (in my humble opinion) awesome photos documenting an unbelievable trip that our family and friends might never see.

That thought quickly vanished as we made a run at another landing. The heaviest of the clouds had cleared, and as you can rightly assume since you're reading this post, the plane landed without issue.

Note: Not a good month for the Luth children and planes as my younger sister and her husband were on a flight from Moline to Denver that had to make an emergency landing somewhere in South Dakota, fire trucks and all. I think she wins the "who had the worst flight" award.

As we were taxiing, our friend Judith heard a passenger in the row behind us nervously state, "that was seventeen minutes."

I guess we'll never know how close we were.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Children of Hanupatta and Kanji

Most places you travel in India you'll come across a curious child or two. Typically, the children approach you and we've found that they really just want to interact a little, have their picture taken, and most importantly, see their image on the screen. It's really quite a pleasant experience. Ladakh was no exception.
Following Rule #1: always let them see the picture
At camp outside the village of Hanupatta, a roving gang of boys approached us. Usually, a roving gang is up to no good. These were nice kids. So nice, in fact, that when we gave them a package of cookies the oldest took control and rationed out two or three cookies per kid and tried to return the remaining food. Without taking any for himself. We assured him it was fine for him to take some as well. These kids were also no exception to the "you're how old?" double take we found ourselves making when asking how old the kids were. They claimed to be between ten and thirteen. I would have cut three years from each of the kids' responses.
The children of Hanupatta
On the final night in camp in the village of Kanji, the campsite was "the" place to be in town. As such, our campsite was swarmed with the village children for most of our stay. My favorite kid was a young monk that first tried to endear himself to us by acting cute and trying to sell us a snail fossil and a geode looking rock. The monk was sixteen. He didn't look a day over eleven. Once he realized we weren't the suckers, we seemed to take an interest in the strange rituals we performed in camp.
The children of Kanji
First up was the daily yoga routine. Since I had been banned from yoga a few nights prior for making too many jokes, Glenn, Lindsay, and Judith took their familiar positions on a blue tarp and started a series of stretches. Quickly the children gathered next to them and quizzically watched the strange white people in strange poses. Then something else happened. A few started to imitate the poses. Before you knew it, the ancient art of yoga had been exported from India and reimported to a small village in one of its northern states.
Imitation is flattery
After the imitation yoga session, Lindsay and Judith decided to see if the kids would imitate something else: padddycake (or least a variant thereof). They sat opposite one another and started to clap their hands and, in English, describe in songlike fashion what they were doing (i.e., "Down, together, left, together, right, together, down"). Slowly but surely the kids gathered around and the older girls sat down next to them and started to imitate. Glenn even got the young monk to try it out with him.

The next ten to fifteen minutes was just kids having fun playing games. A couple of the elder women from the village, whom we suspected to be grandparents, sat close and looked on with silent approval. The entire scene made for one of the more memorable moments of the trip.

As the paddycake was coming to a close, one of the young girls leaned over to Lindsay and asked, "Why just one song?" Apparently, they were confused why they just were chanting, "Down, together, left, together..." and were ready to move to more complex moves. Next time we'll have to add the baker's man.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"My Dinner Looked Me in the Eye"

As fair warning, if you think meat comes from cellophane packages at the grocery store, this might not be the post for you. I can also say that if what follows didn't turn me into a vegetarian that I'm pretty confident in saying that I'll eat meat for the rest of my life.

As we approached camp on the fifth night of our trek to Ladakh, we noticed something just further down the valley from our tents. A flock of sheep. Then we noticed our cook (Deepak) and his assistant (Surya) standing in in the middle of the animals. Immediately, Glenn and I knew what was up; they were negotiating for our dinner.

Now let me tell you something about Glenn. The man likes his food; he's not afraid to admit it. I'm pretty sure the first thing ever heard him say, was, "So did Judith tell you that I eat a lot of food." This was addressing Sanjeev at the trek introductory briefing in Kathmandu last year when meeting him for the first time. Of all the foods out there, lamb is his favorite. To say he was excited about the prospect of a fresh lamb would be an understatement.

Unfortunately, our guys weren't able to strike a deal. Apparently, the shepherds didn't have "selling" power and the owner of the flock was down the valley in the next village, a couple hours away. We would have to wait at least one day for fresh lamb. That night, instead, we "settled" on pizza, a staple camp food.
Someone likes Deepak's pizza
The next night, we stayed in the village of Fangila (much more on this village in a future post; well, less about the village itself and more about the joys of using the word "fangila" for various purposes). As we settled at the camp, Lindsay made mention to Sanjeev that she had seen a chicken in town, which is apparently uncommon based on the elevation. As soon as she mentioned it, his eyes lit up. It was obvious he was going to try and buy the chicken. Apparently, it was the only chicken in town. Fail.

The following day we camped in a beautiful canyon which, as luck would have it, had yet another herd of goats and sheep approach as the sun set. Negotiations ensued (which I asked Sanjeev if I could document with photos but unsurprisingly he said it would only drive up the price); however, that day was some sort of holy day or someone spiritual's birthday (these are the details you forget when you're a carnivore in hot pursuit of a fresh lamb). No lamb that night either.
Camp on our eighth night (i.e., Lamb Night)
Our luck changed on our fourth night of trying. It's cute how I say "our" night of trying; I was more an observer and beneficiary, less an actual participant. In late afternoon a herd of sheep and goats again approached the camp. A very large herd. And by "approached" I really mean "meandered within." Sanjeev immediately dispatched two trusted party members, Sarbu and Galpo, to find the shepherds. Sarbu returned with good news. The shepherds were having tea two kilometers up the valley but were coming soon, and they were willing to part with a sheep.

That's right a "sheep." The entire time we had heard the word "lamb" and had expected a young sheep and had visions of New Zealand lamb chops. This is the part where we learned "lamb" meant sheep in these parts and that "mutton" (which I had always associated with older sheep) actually meant goat. Whatever, at this point it was more about the getting meat. Of course, I say that like we were starving, which wasn't the case at all.
Deepak takes stock before the shepherd's arrive
After another cup of tea with our kitchen staff (this is starting to sound like a Craig Mortensen book, well, except for all this really happened), a deal in principle was struck with the shepherds and the "hunt" began. They had a specific sheep they were willing to sell, which also doubled, we believe, as their oldest sheep (also known as the sheep with the lowest net present value).
The shepherds approach
Catching one specific sheep in a large herd is harder than you might think. The entire process of chasing, cornering, and capturing took about thirty minutes. Part of what makes the process take time is that sheep don't really want to get caught. Something tells me that a sheep knows what's going to happen when it gets caught. I'm not giving the effort it's entire due in words here; however, the guys were more tired from the chasing and cornering than from the full day's trek. Of course, as customers we lazily sat in our camp chairs and watched the entire scene unfold. There's a morbid curiosity that goes along with this type of thing along the same line as the gawker's delays we've all sat in with accidents on the highway.
Sarbu during the chase
Surya with the unluckiest lamb
Begrudgingly leashed to a rope, the sheep was marched past us on the way to the kitchen tent. This was, admittedly, awkward. Judith really wanted no part of seeing the actual animal we would later consume. She did a great job of hiding her eyes. For the most part. Unfortunately, she turned at absolutely the wrong instant and caught the sheep's eye directly. So yes, Judith's dinner looked her right in the eye.
The sheep perp walk (before Judith's dinner looked her the eye)
There were final negotiations on a price, and the shepherds departed our camp and took the rest of the herd down the valley. How much does a sheep cost? We never found out the price of our sheep; however, Sanjeev had previously mentioned that a sheep would go in the 3500 - 4000 rupee range (approximately $77 - $88). This seemed expensive to me before I started doing the math. There were 11 people that were able to eat 3 very big dinners, so well under $3 per serving.
Final negotiations outside Sanjeev's tent
I'll skip past the actual butchering. Just know that the staff did it professionally and quietly and, is the usual case in this part of the world, no part of the animal went to waste.

A couple hours later we had a feast. That feast continued for the two subsequent nights on the trek as well. We had lamb soup, lamb curry, fried lamp chops, lamb momo's. What Forrest Gump was to shrimp, Deepak was to lamb. And see how easy it is to say "lamb" instead of "sheep". Lamb-loving Glenn was in heaven.

Even though I was a mere observer to this process, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that it's as close as any Luth male has been to catching his own meal (with the exception of fishing) since my Dad's childhood days on the farm in Ohio. While some will consider what I just described as barbaric, it's a good reminder that the protein you consume doesn't originate from the grocery store.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ripchar Valley Trek - The Cast of Characters

I like to think of myself as adventurous. Then I realize that both of my Himalayan treks (Annapurna Base Camp last year as well as Ladakh) have been heavily supported and portered. Last year, there was a staff of 23 supporting our group of 6. I thought we were making progress when this year's the staff was limited to 7 people to support the 4 guests. Then I realized there were also 14 horses.

Pack animals weren't used last year based primarily on the terrain. Annapurna's trail is primarily a set of large ancient steps between numerous villages that are too tough on the animals; whereas, Ladakh's Ripchar Valley is more traditional trail where the animals make both geographic and economic sense.

When compared to the few other groups we encountered, we seemed "heavy" (especially with horses), but then again, we knew we were "princess camping" (a phrase pioneered by our friend and trekking partner Judith) so no complaints.

The Other Guests
We were lucky enough to be joined by our friends Judith and Glenn, whom we met last year in Nepal. Obviously, we got along with them well enough last year that when we learned they wanted to visit India at some, we hatched a plan. They could come do some touring in northern India for a couple weeks followed by the trek. A masterful plan, except when you realize that that "couple weeks touring" was in India in late June. Not exactly prime tourist season. They persevered and (from their account) had a great, if not hot, time.

Even after 14 days in Ladakh (and however many portions of days they were in and around Delhi before and after Ladakh), we still seem to be friends. They've even invited us to Calgary for some Canadian Rockies hiking and (more importantly) Stampede, which has been described as the rodeo invading Mardi Gras. That's a trip I'll be taking.
The final morning in camp, everyone is still smiling
Sanjeev Chhetri, Lead Guide
In my opinion, Sanjeev is the best. He was our guide last year and we made a point to hire him again. He owns his own guide service called Ramailo Treks but also guides for Mountain Travel Sobek and National Geographic. I don't have a wealth of information on Himalayan trekking guides; however based on other guides and camps we've encountered on the trail, I can't imagine doing a Himalyan trek without him.

Deepak, Cook
The food has quickly become a close second to the actual trekking on these trips. For that, we can thank Deepak. For the past 18 years, whenever Sanjeev has done a trek in India or Nepal, he's hired Deepak when available. Thankfully, this was our second trip with Deepak. What he's able to do in a camp kitchen is, simply put, amazing. One night he cooked pizza, spaghetti, and roasted potatoes. A carb lovers delight, for sure, but also a little necessary for the trip. On the final night he baked a cake. Again, we were in a small village at 12,800 feet and his cooking utensil included only a gas stove. Deepak plays well as the introverted cook genius to Sanjeev's extroverted guide genius.
Deepak quietly plans his next meal
Sarbu, Dining Attendant and Tent Put-ter Up-per
Sarbu did a little bit of everything. Sarbu was the "front" man at all meals, was responsible for putting tents up and down, and woke us up each morning in the tents with a selection of tea and coffee. He often walked with the horses (not a great job) as an extra set of hands. Basically, he worked his ass off for 10 straight days and seemed to enjoy it. He quickly learned that Lindsay likes cold water (on these trips, you often get hot water in your water bottles because it takes so long for boiled and treated water to cool down). What did he do? He'd filled her bottle, then place it in a stream so that it cooled down. Unnecessary and ridiculous? Of course. Appreciated? You betcha. We also learned that in the event that Deepak was not able to fulfill his duties as the trek cook, that Sarbu was trained and willing to take his place as necessary.

Surya, Deepak's Assistant
Surya was Deepak's kitchen sidekick. Each day, after we left camp, he'd help prepare lunch, put it on his back, and (with Deepak) catch up to us so we had a semi-warm lunch on the trail (in Nepal, they actually set up a kitchen at lunch but such facilities weren't available in Ladakh). He was a trusted extra set of hands and, on one of the final days, stayed behind to help us find our way to camp, which more was difficult that you'd expect when last year's flood wiped out the existing trail. If Shane Battier were a cook's assistant, he'd be Surya.

Galpo, Local Guide
While Sanjeev was with us at all times on the trail, he tends to bring up the rear of the group. Galpo, who was from the village of Kanji (where we ended) was intimately familiar with the terrain so he lead the group each day. He didn't talk much, got in the way of a few pictures (there are a lot of shots with him standing cross-armed, staring off the trail as he waits for us to catch up), but ultimately got us where we needed to go. Plus, he kept us dry but moving a lot of rocks in streams so we could hop rather than break out the sandals.
Galpo, at the Lamayuru Monastery
Taschi and Zigmat, the Horse Guys
In addition to the group Sanjeev had hired, he had to go through some sort of agent to find the horses that would actually haul all the stuff. We didn't interact too much with them, but they were friendly enough to exchange a "joolay" (the Ladakhi equivalent of "aloha") on the trail, and Zigmat always sang as he was loading up the horses. When we finally found a lamb (much more on that later), they made some lamb sausage, which Glenn never really forgave them for not sharing. I was not so disappointed.
Zigmat and Taschi look on as a campsite owner shows them how to dance
The Horses
The group wasn't complete without the 14 horses that accompanied us, and by "accompanied" I mean carry nearly all the gear. I was somewhat skeptical about sharing a trail with horses for 10 days and the smell that may or may not accompany them; however, when you haven't showered yourself for days, you're quickly desensitized to most olfactory stimuli.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

My First Pedicure

For years my wife has bothered me relentlessly to get a pedicure, even threatening to schedule one as she schedules her own. I must admit, I have disgusting feet. Even so, I always had the same response, "not gonna happen, don't even bother." So you can imagine my surprise when our trekking friends arrived in Delhi and both Judith and Glenn were excited about the prospect of a massage and pedicure after we returned from our Ladakh trek (which believe me, there will be multiple posts in the coming days on the trip). Never one to shy away from a massage, I was in for that; however, after reflecting if it's good enough for Glenn (who is a typically obnoxious and funny North American male that I don't have the chance to interact with nearly enough while here) that it was certainly good enough for me. Using that and the fact that I was spending ten days walking 150 kilometers up and down passes as high as 16,500 feet as the two excuses, I finally relented and "allowed" Lindsay to schedule a treatment. If ever there was a time, this seemed to be it. I hadn't seen her this giddy since our engagement.

Here's the thing, and I know I'm going to take a load of crap about this from my buddies, it was awesome. In fact, I firmly believe if they simply changed the name from "pedicure" to something more manly like "foot pummeling" or "intense foot massage" and changed the venue to include sports on TV (kind of like those haircut places in the states) and some sort of alcoholic beverages, the industry would open itself up to an entirely new and mostly untapped demographic. In fact, I'd be shocked in this hasn't already happened.

For all those years, Lindsay had simply said, "I want you to get a pedicure." Wrong strategy. Had she said, "I want you to get a 45 minute intense and focused foot and calf massage where they may also touch your toe (without polish) and remove the callouses from the tips of your toes (note, like I said, I have disgusting feet)," her requests may have had a slightly different outcome.

Do I need this service on a weekly or even monthly basis? No. Am I glad to know it's there? Absolutely. Make fun of me all you want, but I may just be a convert. Deal with it.

Like I said, much more to come on the awesome Ladakh adventure, including hiking high passes and unreal landscapes, watching our dinner get caught, an aborted landing when arriving back in Delhi, trying to figure out the point when Ladakhis look their age, the wonders of Diamox (an altitude drug), comparing life on a Ladakh trek to life on a Nepalese trek, and a day-by-day account of the trip; however, I felt it important to start with the story of my first intense foot pummeling.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Off to Ladakh

With my sister and brother-in-law's visit coming to a close on Sunday, work visitors that I hosted arriving on Monday, our trekking friends Judith and Glenn coming back to Delhi after a northern India tour on Wednesday and dinner with a friend and mentor-like figure that happened to be in town on Thursday all while getting ready to go completely unplugged for a two-week trip with a 6:30am flight this morning, the past week, to say the least, has been busy.

In other words, not much time for writing. I feel like I still have a lot to say (positively) around having visitors, the latest catchphrase we have going around here, and of course intend to write volumes about the upcoming trek to Ladakh.

However, for now, it's about experiencing that trek. With that, I'm officially unplugging for a while. If you're bored and want some idea what I'm in for the next couple weeks, check out my posts from last year's trip to Annapurna in the April 2010 archive. This year is the same guide and even the same cook. It's going to be awesome.

I'll leave you with an image my sister took during her recent trip to Ladakh. I didn't technically ask her for permission to use but figure I gave her free lodging a few days so we're pretty much even.