Seattle to Seoul
Seoul to Delhi
We flew on Asiana Airlines through Seoul Korea. Richard and I were nervous about that – what happened if we got stuck in Korea? As it turned out, our worries were for nothing. The airline had the best service of any we’d been on and the Seoul airport is hands down the cleanest and most comfortable we’ve seen. Four thumbs up from us!
Arrived at 11pm – HOT
We were met by drivers from our guesthouse and given lovely marigold necklaces. First impressions – the heat and the crazy traffic. Apparently the lines on the street are purely optional and even on highways, cars, trucks, tuk-tuks, and bicycles all share the same right-of-way. The only things on the road that seemed to have special privileges were the cows (I loved that!)
The guesthouse was lovely, and the staff were very welcoming. We were happy that there was air conditioning and showers.
Day two – Delhi
We took cars to the Red Fort, then rickshaws (bikes with carts) through the market. Traffic was crazy and it was fun to watch our drivers weave their way through the streets. After a while the horns blasting felt almost musical.
We visited a Sikh temple – every one had to cover their heads and remove all footwear. After washing our feet and hands in a water trough outside, we were allowed in. The prayer hall itself was interesting, but I most enjoyed the behind the scenes work. They had a big kitchen where volunteers made meals and they served the public – any one can walk in off the streets and eat for free. We sat and learned to make chapattis with the women. We were ready to leave, but the guy giving our tour insisted that we stay and eat with them. We were led to a huge hall and sat in a row on a mat on the floor. They gave us (like every one else) a large metal plate and brought around huge vats of food – we had chapatti, daal, and veggie curry (I think it was aloo gobi, but my memory is a bit fuzzy). We were a little worried about eating there, as the plates had been freshly washed and were not completely dried and we were on the paranoid side about only having treated water and keeping everything sterile. But no one got sick – yay!
We went shopping for shawls and saris in the market and then moved on to tour the Muslim Temple. It is the largest in India and the 3rd largest in the world. When we get back to Delhi after our trek we will tour a Hindu Temple.
Day three – fly yo Leh
Up at 3:30 am for an early flight to Leh, in the Ladakh region. The landing was a little scary. Since Leh is at a high altitude, the plane had to land at a high speed and there is a really long runway (6 miles?) for it to slow down and stop. The runway is tucked in between mountains on either side, so it was a really weird feeling – a high-speed landing, dodging the mountains. No lack of adrenaline on this trip!
We had a very warm welcome to Leh – the owner of the guesthouse came to the airport to greet us as well as some of our local guides, and we were greeted with the first of many white scarves.
Back at the guesthouse we sat down to (also the first of many…) tea and biscuits and a wonderful view of the mountains surrounding us.
After checking in to our rooms, we explored the town and found a great little restaurant for lunch – the Tibetan Kitchen. It became our regular place for meals.
We were tired and had minor headaches from the altitude but felt pretty good. After a bit of shopping, we went back to the guesthouse for a group talk on the rooftop patio. They prepared us for the local customs, responsible travel, and mostly how to go to the bathroom on the trip
Geshe-la came to visit and we had a chance to get to know him and ask lots of questions. He won’t be accompanying us to Lingshed this year because his health is not good and he is moving to Bangalore, but it was wonderful to have the chance to meet him. What a remarkable man. Smart, compassionate, happy, dedicated… He has done so much for the village and the area.
Before dinner, we had a Ladakhi language lesson with Lapsong. Ladakhi is hard! I don’t think I’ll remember anything, but I’ll give it my best.
Dinner was great – we ate in the dining room of the main house family-style. We were cross-legged on low cushions at little tables around the perimeter of the room and Raj served food from the center. We had tomato soup, papadums, daal, and veg curry. It was awesome! We were all so full and so tired that we had a hard time staying away fro dessert and we skipped coffee and tea.
The mountains are amazing. The change as the sky changes – very dramatic and beautiful. I have taken many pictures of the same spot and it looks different every time.
The entire village is served by one central generator and it is turned off at 11pm. There are candles in our room in case we need light after 11, but we brought a flashlight and used that.
It was a hard night to sleep. The altitude affected us – Richard had a really bad headache and the first signs of gi troubles. Apparently every one gets it at some point on the trip, so he’s just getting it out of the way early.
I woke up in he middle of the night thinking about Geshe, and had tears in my eyes. I don’t think I was sad so much as moved. He made me think a lot. Hard thoughts. Not hard as in bad, but deep/complicated. Probably too deep for the first day at altitude. Geshe has done so much. I hope his work will continue and the projects will become self-sustaining after he has left the area.
I tossed and turned most of the night and I can hear Richard do the same. Turns out that staying in Leh is acclimatizing us to both the altitude AND sleeping on hard surfaces – these beds are like rocks. My back is killing me. I’m thinking about putting the thermarest on the bed.
Plumbing… the guest house has a septic system that is fairly fragile. We’re supposed to put our t.p. in the trash can rather than flushing it, and they will burn the trash. I feel guilty that when I got up early in the morning to pee, I was so sleepy that I was on auto pilot and flushed my tp. I hope that doesn’t cause problems for them.
The hot water is heated by the sun. There are big black plastic tanks on the roof.
Day 4 – Leh
Didn’t shower this morning (water was cold) and put on yesterday’s clothes. It’s surprising how quickly I’ve gotten used to not being 100% fresh and clean! I just may survive camping.
We walked up through town and to the Women’s Institute and watched a movie – Ancient Futures – about the region. It was really interesting and thought-provoking.
We hiked up the hill a bit and got a great view of the village. It’s amazing to see this plateau of green in the middle of brown mountains. We passed some stupas and remembered to keep them on our right.
Back in town, we had lunch at the Tibetan Kitchen and spent the afternoon shopping. Found some nice dresses and jewelry and gifts.
We walked to the monastary for Geshe’s going-away celebration. There were lots of moving speeches, mountains of white scarves, and a few tears. It was so nice of him to include us. After many speeches, they asked if any one else would like to say anything and Richard stood up and talked. I was surprised he did it, but very happy and proud that he spoke for us.
They served dinner after the ceremonies, but we’d already promised to have dinner elsewhere so we tried to not eat too much and save room.
Interesting observation from town today – the motorists turn off their engines and just roll downhill to save gas. Smart!
Day 5 – last day in Leh
We drove out to tour three different monestaries in the surrounding area. All very different. Saw our first mani wall and spun my first prayer wheel. Learned that when going around the large prayer wheels, you should do it an odd number of times.
The drive was interesting. The monestaries (gompas) were all on top of hills. Driving up the switchbacks was enough to make you say your prayers. There was also an old rickety wooden suspension bridge over a river. We had to cross it one at a time so that we didn’t put too much of a load on it. Scary.
Back in town… more shopping. I found some really nice Tibetan shirts for Richard.
Day 6 – drive to the end of the road and start of the trail.
It was a many hour drive in jeeps to the start point of our treck. We went over a magnetic hill, stopped and toured another gorgeous old monestary, and almost got arrested at a military checkpoint. They were checking passports and travel permits because we were entering a restricted zone, and some people in our group had left their documents back at the guesthouse in Leh. It took a lot of negotiating and some of our group had to go back to the last town and talk with the police, but we finally were let through. Right after that checkpoint, we crossed a controlled bridge that had a sign that said “no stopping on the bridge – you can be shot” or something like that. I wanted to take a photo of the sign, but I figured that might get us shot at too and decided not to risk it.
During the drive, we came within 60 km of the Pakistan border and we found out that during our trek we will be only about 50 miles from K2, the second highest mountain in the world.
We arrived at the end of the road (literally) and found that the campsite was already full, so our guides rented some space in a woman’s field for us to set up our camp.
Richard and I had to learn how to set up our tent – did I mention we’re not campers?
Day 7 – trek starts
I hope I haven’t bitten off too much. Today’s hike was 6 miles and we staggered in to camp barely upright. The hike itself was incredible. Awesome mountains – we followed the river the whole way. There were drop-offs that gave me vertigo, teeny 2’ wide paths, and rickety bridges.
Wow. The trek continued and I’ve been so exhausted that I couldn’t lift a pen to write. The altitude is really making it hard to do everything. Even stopping to take a break is hard because of the energy required to take off our packs and sit down. The water bottle is too heavy to pick up and drink from.
But tired as we are, we are loving this place.
Everything is so beautiful. Just when I think we’ve seen the most beautiful thing on the planet, we turn a corner and see something even more amazing.
Let’s see how much I remember…
Day 7 was our first trekking day. We went through steep crevaces and hugged the side of the mountains. Camp was next to a river and the sound of the water put us to sleep at night (or was it the exhaustion?) We’re finally figuring out how to put the tent up ourselves.
Day 8 was the hardest day. We went over ChiChi Pass. It’s not as high as the next one, but is steeper. A few of us are having altitude sickness. My stomach is woozy and I feel sick whenever I eat. It’s a tough call – if I eat I feel sick, if I don’t eat I’m too weak. Apples are going down well. Hopefully we’ve got a lot of apples.
We camped next to another river and slept pretty well. It’s getting cold, but that’s ok. I’d rather hike in the cold than have it hot like our first day.
At the top of the pass, there was a beautiful stupa with a mani wall and prayer flags. I think that’s the prettiest thing we’ve seen so far.
After the pass, it was VERY steep downhill. Many switchbacks and scary places where it felt like we could fall if we weren’t careful. Almost enough to make you wish for uphill instead! Almost, but not quite.
Day 9 – this was supposed to be a short day because some of us were dragging. But it still took all day and didn’t feel short. At least it wasn’t steep. Lots of rolling hills and several river crossings. Camp is beautiful. We are very close to Singe-la (Tiger Mountain) and the pass we’ll have to cross next. I can see it above us, glowing with the white snow. Dinner was the best so far and finally tonight I felt like I could eat. Deepen made a great simple veggie and rice noode loup and veggie momos. I have to get him to teach me how to make those momos. They are steamed dumplings with cabbage, carrots, ginger, and I don’t know what else inside.
Day 10 – rest day (today)
Today we got to sleep in and take it easy. Recharge for the next two days of hiking. Some people went for a day hike, but we stuck around to do laundry, read, and relax. We both gave in and took a Diamox today.
Our camp is at about 14,000 feet. It snowed! Very cold, but snow is better than rain. Dinner was mac and cheese – every one went nuts for it. They made me an awesome veg sauce for my noodles and we had eggplant pakoras.
Peed all day long from the diamox and had tingly fingers and cheeks, which made it hard to sleep.
Day 11 – Singe-la Pass.
The bad news… poor Richard was up many times in the night with GI problems, so neither of us got a lot of sleep. He was still feeling crappy in the morning so he took a horse the first bit until he felt better, then hiked the rest.
The good news… amazing day! The hike was hard but beautiful. Once again, the best so far. It just keeps getting better.
We split the camp up into two groups to start. The Turtles got up at 5am and and left camp at 6:30, with the Hares on a schedule an hour later. The goal was to have us reach the bottom of the pass at the same time and climb up together. It worked out close to plan – we turtles were actually a bit faster than expected and we arrived at the top just moments before the others. It was amazing – Singe-la pass is at 16,500 feet and the air was very thin. I don’t know if we were silly from the altitude or the exhilaration of making it to the top, but after cheering for each person as they arrived, we hung prayer flags on the stupa then all got in a circle and did the hokey pokey.
It was Mary Ann’s 50th birthday today. What a way to celebrate – climbing a huge mountain! After the challenge of the up, we had an equally challenging down. I find the steep switchbacks really hard, but we did it. We had two steep downs – Singe-la and Zigzag pass. I hope my knees are ok tomorrow.
Dinner was great – it was a sweet and sour dumpling dish with rice and for dessert, a chocolate cake for Mary Ann’s birthday celebration. I don’t know how Deepen managed to bake a cake over a fire, but he did it!
The guides and horsemen sang a Ladakhi birthday song.
Day 12 – arrive in Lingshed!
We got another early start so that we’d arrive in the village early afternoon. Once again the turtles left first.
We crossed the final pass and had a steep descent into Lingshed. We were met by monks and nuns and villagers – we all got warm greetings and white scarves. It was really nice. We were served tea and biscuits, then set up our tents.
Day 13 – party
We were invited to a party at Toshi’s house with the Lingshed Cultural Troupe. Toshi’s house is at the bottom of the valley – it turns out our hiking didn’t end with our arrival in the village!
We tried on traditional outfits and danced and ate and drank. They performed traditional songs and dances – it was a lot of fun.
Richard and Chris stayed the night at the monestary and the rest of us stayed at camp.
Day 14 – first day of teachings
In the morning we got a tour of the monestary (called the gompa in ladakhi), then in the afternoon, the annual seminars began. The Geshe presented the teachings and Karma translated for us.
We all (us, the monks, the nuns, and the villagers) sat on carpets on the floor outside on a terrace of the gompa and were served tea throughout. I sat next to the head nun – she was very sweet. She said “jullay” and took my hand and held it for about half an hour. They served the best tea – it was black tea with a hint of cloves and spices. They know that we westerners don’t usually like the butter tea that they drink.
Richard stayed at the gompa again and I went to the nunnery with Nena, Elise, Elizabeth, and Lori. It was a long steep hike in the dark to the nunnery, but we had help. The nuns came to meet us at the camp and insisted on carrying our packs. Nena and I roomed next to the german woman who was there teaching English to the nuns. We sat up late and talked and got lots of information about how things work at the nunnery.
Day 15 – 2nd day of teachings
We hiked back to camp (all uphill) from the nunnery and were so tired that we almost skipped the seminars. But then we heard that they were waiting for us to start, so we headed over. Nothing in Lingshed is flat – it’s a hike to get anywhere. So much for thinking we’d get to rest after the trek in!
At the teachings we were all thanked and invited back and given more white scarves. They served rice with fruit, but we were all so stuffed from lunch that we couldn’t eat it and had to come up with creative way to not appear ungrateful for the food, but not eat it. That’s a common theme on this trip.
After dinner back at the camp, our host families arrived and we were taken back to their houses.
Richard and I were paired up with a great family – the mother is Lapsong’s older sister and one of the daughters is a nun who we met the other day. Thankfulls she spoke good english and could translate between us and her family. There were four daughters and one son – the little boy is only 3 months old and adorable. He gets spoiled by all his sisters and is carried around in a basket on some one’s back. No diapers – wonder how they deal with pee and poop? We never say him go in the 2 days we were there.
We spend the evening having tea and biscuits and trying to communicate. We entertained ourselves by singing and we saw the mom spin wool.
We couldn’t use the toilet there because the ceiling was so low we couldn’t get in! Did I mention that the villagers are very short?
Day 16 – Moveable Feast
At breakfast, I learned how to make momos. Yum!
The kitchen was tiny and there is no stove. Just a pot over a fire, fueled by yak dung and some sticks. There was a pipe that looked intended for smoke ventilation, but it didn’t work. It’s no wonder all the locals have coughs – they are breathing in smoke all the time. I wish there was some way to help that and show them how to built kitchens with ventilation.
After breakfast with our family, we hooked back up with the rest of our group and had a tour of the nunnery. I’d seen it before from the night I spent there, but the rest of the group hadn’t.
They served tea and biscuits and food and gave us a tour. Then we went on to Karma’s father’s house for more tea and biscuits and snacks. He had a wonderful rooftop patio and a tree for shade. We were so relaxed that a bunch of us laid back and ended up taking siestas.
Then on to Toshi’s house for another party and more food and tea and biscuits. The horsemen cooked for us and hosted the party. It was very sweet. They made momos, and them Deepen arrived bringing dinner from camp. It was an entire day of tea and food and visiting. Can’t complain with that!
Toshi brought out that chang and went around the room singing the chang song to each of us, making us drink. We wrote our version of the Gilligan’s island song – I’ll have to get a copy of the lyrics.
After dinner, we walked back to our family’s house by the moonlight. It was actually a really nice walk even though it was uphill
Back home, we played with the girls by picking words from our ladakhi dictionary and drawing pictures of them.
Day 17 – work day with family
This was the morning that our family was supposed to make us work like they would on a typical day. At home or in the fields… just do what they do.
At breakfast I learned how to make chapatti. After breakfast, Richard and I cleared the table and brought everything to the kitchen – they seemed to get a kick out of that. Richard did some shoveling to help bring dirt up to the bathroom to line the floor, then we walked over to a neighbor’s house and helped them wash barley in the stream. It was actually really interesting. When we were done, we had tea with the neighbor, then tea and biscuits and chang with our family before we left back to the group. They gave me a ring and looked sad to see us go.
We had lunch at the camp then went to visit the amchee (traditional medicine man) to learn about their practices.
Back at camp, I discovered the best thing about camping… I sat with my feet soaking in a bowl of warm water. It was heaven to be out of the hiking boots and have happy feet! I’m going to have to do this again on the trek back.
After dinner, it was time to organize and pack – the trek out is tomorrow! I’m dreading it. All the steep downhill switchbacks that we did before will be uphills on the way out.
Day 18 – leave Lingshed
We woke up at 4am and it was pitch black. We changed and packed and struck camp in the dark. Just as we were leaving, the sun came up. The early start was in hops that we’d hit the passes before it became excrutiatingly hot.
There was a lot of up today. The hills out of Lingshed were steep with lots of switchback and zigzag pass… the name says it all.
As we were leaving, the Lama from the gompa came out to see us off – it was really sweet of him. Then as we topped the first pass, we ran into the nuns up in the mountains collecting brush for fuel. They all shouted Jullay and it felt really nice. We saw the nun from the family we stayed with – I was happy to have a chance to say goodbye.
The passes were tough, but I recovered quickly and actually had a good day. I would have liked to have gone further. But better to save ourselves and be fresh to hit Singe-la pass in the morning. I’ll be happy to have it behind us, but I’m not dreading it like I was dreading today’s hike.
Tammy noticed that we looked stronger today. I still wouldn’t say this is easy, but it’s not as hard as the way in was. It will be interesting to get on the bike back home and see if this trip made much difference in our cardio fitness and leg strength.
We arrived at camp today ahead of every one – even the horsemen. All we saw was a guide from another group who was trying to reserve the camp for his group. He was being a bit of a weenie. They wouldn’t give up any ground and wanted all the space. There were only 4 trekkers and about a dozen support staff and as many horses. They were not traveling light at all.
Deepen was getting ticked, but we got out of it without a rumble.
Tomorrow is a full day and the day after that is only a half day to the trailhead and the road – then Leh and showers! I’ve never been so stinky in my life. It’s going to take hours to get clean again.
After dinner, we played bun darts. If you don’t know what bun darts is… I’m not telling! But it’s safe to say the French were horrified and Lingshed will never be the same after this cultural tidbit has been shared.
Day 19 – last full day of hiking!
It was a long day – we were on the trail at 7am and pulled in to camp at about 4:30. We’re guessing it was about 14 miles. Right off the bat was a big climb up Singe-la pass. It is about 16,500 feet. It was easier today than the day we came up the other side, but still quite a challenge. The rest of the day was slightly downhill, following a river the entire way. We walked through a gorgeous canyon and had to cross the river 4-5 times. It was freezing but my feet went numb and it stopped hurting. I never thought I’d say this, but it was such a relief to put my hiking boots back on! There were a few scary spots with rickety bridges and skinny trails on cliffsides, but I’ve lost most of my fear of such things. The only thing that still gives me a hard time is the steep down. Tomorrow morning we have a short hike to the trailhead and the cars. I’m partially relieved and partially sad that this part of our adventure is over. The hiking was hard but it felt good and how else would we get to these amazing remote places?
Day 20 – back to Leh
It was a pretty hike out – much like the first day. Lots of skinny ledges and cliffs own to the river. They seemed less scary this time. The hike ended up being 4 hours instead od the 2-3 that we were expecting because the cars weren’t where they were supposed to be and we had to walk all the way to town. When we got there, the horses hasn’t arrived yet with our bags so we had to wait. The beer came out and every one indulged.
It was a long ride back to Leh and the car exhaust was choking us. We were so happy to get back to the guesthouse – showers and a bed! Even a cold shower felt amazing.
Day 21 – shopping and wedding
Last day in Leh, last chance to shop.
Every one bought clothes to wear to Lapsong’s wedding tonight. I got some jewelry, prayer flags, and a Free Tibet t-shirt.
We all got dressed up for the wedding and hardly recognized ourselves!
Then the waiting began…
We took the bus to Lapsong’s place where we had tea and biscuits and food. We sat and watched the groom’s family come and barter for her and try to steal her away to the wedding. That took hours. We finally decided to go ahead to Dorjay’s family’s place and wait for her there. We thought it would be quick, but it ended up being several hours. Dorjay has a great uncle who is a wild dancer. He kept the party going. We danced and had a lot of fun. There was lots of tea and biscuits and food and chang and beer. Lapsong finall arrived at about 2am. She was in traditional dress with her face covered in scarves so we couldn’t see her. Dorjay, who had looked nervous all evening, finally relaxed… but so much that it looked like he might fall asleep. We waited a bit more hoping to see the actual wedding but we had an early morning flight to Delhi and had to leave at about 3am. We said goodbye and Lapsong was crying under her veils. I hope the rest of the day went well for her and they are happy.
Day 22 – fly to Delhi
We were all exhausted from staying up all night at the wedding. The airport was total chaos – they messed up our bags and decided they wouldn’t let us carry anything on. We had to check our backpacks. We were thinking we’d never see any of our things again, but the did make it to the other end.
It was sweltering in Delhi. Most of the group went to bed and slept all afternoon. Richard and I tried to take a walk but between the heat and the tuk-tuk drivers harassing us, we just went back to the hotel.
After dinner at the hotel, the whole group went out to a Bollywood movie – what a hoot! We had a blast.
Day 23 – Agra and the Taj
We got up early again and went off to the train station for the 2 hr train ride to Agra.
Agra was even hotter than Delhi – it was like being in a sauna and I had a really hard time breathing. We were met at the train station with rose garlands and taken to Vickram’s home. He is the head of the marble worker’s guild that works on restoration of the Taj Mahal. His mom made us an awesome indian breakfast, then we were off to the Taj. It was beautiful, but I was so hot that I don’t think I fully appreciated it. Back to Vickram’s shop for a demo of marble inlay work and drinks and shopping. We got a really pretty marble tile with inlay work for Richard’s mom.
Day 24 – last day
We took tuk-tuks to the market and were taken to the wrong place. Apparently the drivers get kickbacks for taking tourists to various shops, so they tried to divert us to one of those. We finally got to the right place, though.
We walked through the streets and did some shopping. Richard and I were looking a Buddha figures. We saw a really big one that we like and was a good price, but the shop didn’t ship and we couldn’t figure out how to get it back to Seattle. We ended up with a smaller one that would fit in a backpack – we’re really happy with it.
We had dinner out with every one for the last time then off to the airport at 9pm for the red-eye back home!