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.

1 comment:

  1. The Himalayas, home of the snow, is the most impressive system of mountains on the earth, and for centuries the setting for epic feats of exploration and mountain climbing / treks.