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Trekking with us in India
"The art of Himalayan travel, and indeed of all adventure,
is the art of being bold enough to enjoy life now."
“I also wanted to tell you both again how much I enjoyed the
trek, how it really has been a "trip of a lifetime" for me that has given me
wonderful new insights into Ladakh and a rich experience that I will always
treasure (and hopefully repeat)! You were both instrumental to that experience,
and I appreciated immensely your energy, enthusiasm and passion for trekking and
your deep knowledge of the culture and history of Ladakh.”
"Zanskar is a geologist’s dream with gorgeous rocks of all
colours – greens, reds, pinks, browns, blacks, greys, purples – and formations
of all kinds from little rock towers, to large kilometer wide folds, to tiny
crinkles and huge boulders balanced on thin spires."
Trekking in India still follows the pattern set by the early English explorers who ranged through these areas in the 1860s. It is possible to backpack these regions, but the altitude, and absence of even a rudimentary lodge system, make it quite different from teahouse trekking in Nepal. We travel with all our gear carried on Tibetan ponies, with a sirdar-the boss of our 'caravan', a cook, local guide and all our food supplies.
Trekking is simply walking; it is not mountaineering or climbing. You walk mostly on reasonable trails and will only occasionally encounter a little snow. We trek to enjoy, so the walking days are not long and we stop frequently, most days involve 4-6 hours actual walking, so you don't need to be an athlete, although there will always be the occasional tougher day.
Ask anyone where the Himalayas are, and they will invariably answer, 'Nepal', and for the first time individual trekker, Nepal is an easier destination; tea houses line the popular routes. But for us India has always been the place to be. Love Nepal as we do, there is something so much wilder and wider in India. The captivating hugeness of high plains of Ladakh; the green lush valleys of Uttaranchal; the vertical gorges of Zanskar, but above all, a beacon drawing us back again and again, the smiling people and their timeless way of life.
Many of the trails are ancient trade and pilgrimage routes, and, especially in Ladakh and Zanskar, it really is a land of passes that locals have crossed and recrossed for centuries. Villages are rarer then in Nepal, and there are very few shops, no 'Coca-Cola' trekkers here! Wide pastures, sparkling lakes, glaciated passes, and lower down, alpine pastures. You can begin a trek in heavy forest and after crossing the Himalaya be in high wide desert.
For many trekkers their first experience of Himalayan trekking is in the Annapurna or Everest regions of Nepal. Trekking in the Indian Himalaya is a very different experience. Consider that a good year will see as many as 25,000 trekkers in the Everest region whereas Zanskar will see around 1000, only. Although it is possible to backpack the route, with limited supplies available in the few villages most trekkers travel in caravan, with all their gear carried on ponies and mules. The staff consists of cook, sirdar (or organizer) and a few of muleteers-ponymen.
Even getting to the start of our trek might be an adventure. Roads wash out, or simply vanish, jeeps break down (that is why we fly to Leh for many of our treks, instead), but we always get there and the great moment comes when we rendezvous with our pony caravan. For trekking here we have to bring everything in, tents, stoves, food, the lot. For the trekker, the only thing is to get up, pack you gear into a kitbag, eat breakfast, and set off. Carrying only your daypack, the days can vary from a ramble through high pastures to a freezing pre-dawn start and a high snowy pass. But at the end there is always our wonderful camp and crew, out come hot drinks and snack then later dinner. We have long, lazy evenings, the hum of the gas lamp, the chink of cutlery and the crew laughing over their rum.
Trekking sounds - is - idyllic but there are challenges; for the unwarned the first is the physical effort required. Although the first few days may seem short, you realize that trekking day after day requires reasonable endurance - and leaves you very fit by the end.
The second discomfort is sickness. This is Asia and no matter how careful you are, count on some usually minor bowel problems or even a day you wish to forget. Luckily, these seem trivial compared to the whole wonderful experience. To enjoy the Himalaya you don't have to be the tough outdoorsy type. Like rucksacks and cameras, trekkers come in all shapes and sizes, and with widely differing aspirations. Trekking is physical but certainly not beyond the majority of people. Most important is knowing that you enjoy the concept. Bring along a traveller's curiosity and a sense of humour, and before you know it you will relish the thought of another trek.
Our style of trek is very different from other overseas and local trekking outfits. First, we limit our groups to 12 trekkers (most overseas competitor's 'small' group treks are 16 clients, max). This means with a smaller amount of ponies to carry our gear, we minimize impact on local grazing areas and trail degradation. Second, we do not use an Indian trekking outfit. Past bad experiences at cutting corners led us to employ our own staff directly, and pay them higher wages. We only use cooks and guides we have trekked with before, and pony men who do not mistreat or overload their animals. All of this means more flexible approach and a lower price for you.
The trails of the Indian Himalaya can be scary, but they are not suicidal. Kim writes:
"watching your team of pack horses, mules and Tibetan ponymen carefully making their way across steep scree slopes hundreds of metres above you, and then carefully having to traverse the same terrifying slopes yourself. Trekking over a 5000m pass, rounding the corner, and discovering the trail looks down 2000m to a gorge directly below you. Vertiginous trails that cross recent landslides of arid, loose earth which fall thousands of metres to the barely visible river at the bottom of the valley..."
Fitness and trekking experience
We are asked many questions about fitness levels for the treks and our guidelines are basically that you should be healthy, active, adventurous and spend time in the outdoors. Past trekking experience isn't necessary, although it will help you understand what a 'trek' involves. The most important factor for enjoying the trek is a positive attitude, and perhaps a sense of humor.
April-May is the season for Uttaranchal, flowers in bud and the winter snows slowly vanishing.
May until mid-October is the time for Ladakh and Zanskar, especially at either end of the season.
The lower treks in the Pir Panjal and the Parvati valleys are wonderful during late May and June, September and October.
The major items you require are:
+ good wind/rain jacket
+ warm fleece jacket or jersey, or better, a light down jacket
+ good boots, either light-weight trekking boots or light full leather boots
+ good 3-4 season sleeping bag
+ A comfortable day pack, preferably with a waistband.
+ A can do, positive attitude - this is a holiday!
Accessible from the navigation bar is a gear list and upon booking we will discuss gear in more detail and the conditions we are likely to encounter.
The higher you go the less air there is. Our treks can involve weeks at a time at 4000m plus. Your body needs time to adjust - time to acclimatize. We take the time and plan the first part of our itineraries around acclimatization, for example, we normally spend 2 full days in Leh, ie 3 nights, if we fly in, just to acclimatize.
A typical day
One of the great joys of trekking in India is to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and relax with the simple day to day routine of life on the trail.
The day begins with a call for fresh brewed coffee and tea, either in your tent or outside for the morning views. Hot washing water is available. We pack our duffels then move onto breakfast, eggs to order, freshly baked bread with excellent jam, muesli or porridge, fresh fruit when available and more coffee or chai. By 8 or 9am we hit the trail.
For the day's walk all we need to carry is a small day pack containing water bottle, camera, sun cream, hat, rain jacket/warm jacket, just in case. The horses carry your gear, the food and all the camping equipment.
At around midday, we have a semi-packed lunch: typically pita bread, sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, hummus, salad, cheese, peanut butt, and local jam, followed by biscuits and fruit.
The afternoon's walk is generally shorter and we usually arrive at our destination in time for afternoon tea. Afternoons are a wonderful time to relax or read and do a bit of washing. On some days we will arrive at our destination by lunchtime and the entire afternoon will be free. Sometimes we visit a nearby village where the way of life has not changed for centuries alternatively the children will certainly visit us.
The evening meal starts with Kim’s happy hour rum or local chang, followed by soup, leading into Tenpas’ extravaganza for the evening, simply the best food on the sub continent, fresh vegetables prepared in different ways, followed by fresh fruit salad, perhaps even a camp baked cake or dark chocolate, or curd if we are near nomads. We use as much fresh produce as possible and our cooks and kitchen crew maintain good standards of cleanliness and food preparation hygiene. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are also provided.
We sit in camp chairs in our Tibetan tent, or ‘yurt’ on Central Asian styled carpets, so the evenings are cozy and social. And, of course, there is plenty of stargazing in the Himalaya. Life isn’t too bad!
After dinner, the evening will often be spent playing cards and reliving the day's adventures, before heading off to bed for a well-earned sleep.
Special dietary requirements can usually be catered for.
Your crew and the leader are the most important people (second to you!). Our operation is small and personal, run by a handful of special people who enjoy taking care of people. Most of our trips are lead by western leaders because they are more experienced interfaces, can better relate to your expectations and have a more thorough medical background. They are backed up by our irreplaceable local staff, nearly all of whom speak English and enjoy showing you around their cultures and country.
We, unlike most trekking organizations, employ our own staff directly rather then use an Indian trekking company. Past bad experiences, and our own love of organizing treks ourselves, made us take this step in 1999, and we have not regretted it. As in Nepal, the way we run our treks is very different; we pay our staff good salaries, and they work hard for us; Tsarap and Punchok are superb ponymen, and in 4 months of trekking in 2000, we never saw either of them strike or mistreat our ponies. Lobsang - sirdar, friend and guide - is a Tibetan Khampa, a born trader, great cook, and amazingly astute at picking up peoples strengths and weaknesses on the trail. And Temba, our cook, turns out the highest quality food day in, day out.
'Trekking in Ladakh', by Charlie Loram, Trailblazer.
'Ladakh - Crossroads of High Asia', by Janet Rizvi.
Choosing an India trek
Yes, our website is weak on helping you with this. I hope to rectify sometime!
You are responsible for obtaining your visa for India before you arrive - read our Visa info page.