Prologue | Contemplation
If I told you I felt nervous, unsure, feeble and muddled, I’d be understating my state of existence. If anything at all, I was vigorously numb. After having shared countless breaths with the treacherous side of the mountain, I believe penning down the emotions is beyond human competence. For anyone in their right state of mind, pushing their bodies at stretch for hours in sub-zero temperatures above the distant clouds is undeniably brutal. I’m going to try though.
Mountains make me emotional. I’m usually teary-eyed when I express my love for the deserted pack of boulders making up the gigantic canvas, touching the blue heavens. Of all the delight on the planet, I find peace & bliss in the lap of the mighty rocks. It’s an idyllic relationship. It’s the silence that draws me; yet tremendously expressive in its own ways. I’ve heard the best songs in the lap of the mountains where the thin air echoes passionately as the enchanting vocalist and the terrain dress up to the party amidst the friendly jewels in the night sky. I plan to never stop being a guest to this mighty extravaganza.
With the constant sweltering of irrelevant pressure at our daily jobs, we tend to lose out on the necessary warmth our minds & souls deserve. The enduring life swells across our lateral vision while we ensure we do our chores; repeatedly. The routines take up the space that once was vacant for us to fill with joy & contentment, that give meaning to our existence. But instead of chasing our dreams, we are being chased by our fears of losing out in the competitive world, full of lasting expectations & ruthless judgments. What happened to “I want to become…” and countless “When I grow up, I will…”! Those incomplete resolutions, the broken dreams stay close to our conscious but seldom make it to our attention. And we end up being who we are, broken & driven.
Hence, I promised myself years ago that I won’t give in. I would stand up for myself & back my dreams. I realized we only have one life, & doing it right was my only option. No more excuses, no tantrums, no cold calls, no stupid emails & definitely no more procrastination, I decided to give it everything I got. And that’s when I decided to scale down the highest trekkable mountain on my land. Set apart from the numerous chimes of cityscape & indifferent thoughts of concrete mortality, this is my story of reaching out to the unimaginable space and finding peace with my real self.
It’s more than a travel tale. It’s my account of leveling scores with the pain I hold; the passion I endure. This story travels through the deep conscience of starting a fight with oneself, chasing down the fears & earning respect in one’s own eyes. This is where I celebrated my dreams in the most inhabitable moments. Here’s how I found peace among deceitful peaks, uncongenial terrains, shattered will-power & immense love. Tag along on the journey to the summit of the highest mountain in Ladakh region on Mt. Stok Kangri Expedition.
Day 0 | Delhi | Gearing up
You don’t prepare for something this big in a small way. You study. And you study more & then you rethink your determination. And if your conviction is firm enough, you get to live the adventure. There are two perspectives to this enormous task; reasons why you want to do it & reasons why you wouldn’t do this! Let me start with the former one.
I’m a product design professional with a fancy title & fancier paycheck. Work-life balance is durable but that’s what keeps me going. Moments tick vigorously while I make it through the tangible schedules of the day. Having done a fair share of motorcycle road trips across the country, I boast a few national level accolades to my name viz. Wrangler True Wanderer, Castrol Passion Hunt and a few more. A keen nature lover, I’m a passionate shutterbug & a fanatic for writing. The only thing I’m not is an example of the fittest alpha-male. I could be strong on the emotions & have a vivid thoughtfulness, somewhere with the time, I stopped respecting my body. From being a state-level basketball player back in the day, I don’t even go for walks now. Such is the ordeal of work-a-day life. So why did I go against all odds to head for Ladakh, stare down the mighty summit & struggle up the steep barren path?
To see what I’m really made of.
“20,000 feet above sea level? That’s high!”, I said to myself when I heard about the country’s highest trekkable mountain peak years ago. But that was a humble start. I knew there was a calling; howsoever futuristic. I’d read numerous blogs & watched videos about the challenges one faces on this gigantic trek in the colossal Himalayan terrain. Being accustomed to the mountain air, I had been on numerous treks before this; Deoria Tal-Tungnath-Chandrashila, Triund to name a few. But I hadn’t stood face-to-face to a summit this massive, a rock this dreadful & the air this frail. I hadn’t walked on glacial ice before, let alone spending hours on it on the way to Stok Kangri summit; that too in the middle of the night driven to render me breathless But I have had the courage to go beyond my limits of physical & mental paradigm. That courage & belief drove me.
Now Mt. Stok Kangri stands proud as the highest peak in the Stok Range of the Himalayas in the Ladakh region of the Indian subcontinent. The peak is located in Hemis National Park, 12 km south-west of the Stok village and around 15 km south-west of the city of Leh, the capital of Ladakh. Meant only for experienced trekkers, the 20,153 feet high summit is higher than the highest mountain in Europe & Africa. The geography of the rock is pretty interesting. On one side lies the steep 60-degree climb to the shoulder & then a 200 meters enormously dangerous walk along the ridge to reach the summit. On the other side, there’s a thousand feet vertical drop you don’t want to peep into. Though one can reach the summit without any prior technical experience, this humongous trail shouldn’t be walked upon by beginners. Get your game running & then head for the foray.
This was my chance at high-altitude trekking. And hopefully, into the technical mountaineering incursion. The itinerary for the trek is segregated keeping in mind the participants spend enough time acclimatizing to the conditions, which is crucial before they arrive at the base camp. The altitude variations that one experiences on this trek make it mandatory for the trekkers to be in their best shape & spend ample time acclimatizing.
I trained rigorously for 2-3 months, combining tireless cardio routines with minimal weight training. The goal was to strengthen the core along with robustness for a strong cardio ordeal. I did just that. With each day passing, I grew a sturdier cognizance of the task at hand and prepared my body & mind for the strenuous journey up the mountain where every rock I stepped onto was determined to push me from achieving glory. On the day I was to fly to Leh, I felt strong & determined to take down the snow-capped massif.
Packing for such a remote & barren destination, you’ve got to stick to things you’d absolutely need. I packed my essentials well into the 60-liter rucksacks & kept my camera bag handy. I was carrying a Nikon D5300 DSLR Camera with 18-55 mm Kit Lens and a useful 70 – 300 mm to capture the curious details of the landscapes. Not to mention, my OnePlus2 camera did a great job in clicking its way through the quickest moments on the journey. I intended to capture each moment & document in a video log, and that’s why I carried a GoPro Hero+ v01.50 camera to capture the exhilarating moments of a lifetime. And most importantly, I carried a printed note for my parents back home, greeting them from the summit. Due to this endeavor, reaching the summit was of immense importance for me; to make my folks proud.
I shopped appropriately for snow gloves, fleeces, warm socks, head-mount torch and other essentials from the Decathlon store in Gurgaon. And all this, somehow fit into my humble yet inflexible rucksack. Full marks to Wildcraft for coming up with such full-bodied packs.
Having packed my bags, I was ready to fly to the land of enchantment. Not just to scale the malignant heights, but to fulfill my destiny. It wasn’t a quest for solitude, I had sunk that boat down the ocean a while back. It was about discovering my breaking points & the kind of strength that would lift me back up, once I’d break down. I knew I was meant to be more than I was; it was time I found out what limits I could reach. It was time, we celebrated dreams, up above the mountain.
Day 1 | Delhi – Leh | Bon Voyage
All I dreamt of was the vision of myself standing tall at the Stok summit with a tough grin on my face & my not-so-frost-bitten hands holding the selfie stick up high capturing a 360-degree video with the endless Himalayas in the backdrop. Each frame spoke of the pain & rigor invested to get there; priceless! I just hoped I’d get there.
There are a handful of airlines that fly to Leh namely GoAir, Air India, Jet Airways, Spice Jet & most recently Vistara. I wanted to reach Leh in the bright Himalayan light, so I chose the early morning GoAir flight. It’s no surprise that the flight was full, for it was the season for visiting the crowned jewel of the Indian Himalayas. Departure time was 05:30 am from the T1 terminal of the Indira Gandhi International airport & I reached the airport at 04:50 am, thanks to my Uber driver who took me for a stroll down the road to the T3 terminal. Somehow, I managed to reach the designated gate by 05:25 am, just to find the doors closed & the staff of GoAir looking at me in suspicion. Long story short, I pleaded them to let me board the flight & after some persuasion, they did. It was the first time I had the flight doors shut behind my back seconds after boarding the flight. Lesson learned; always reach the airport on time!
We took off & I couldn’t be happier. I was traveling towards my dream at a malignant speed to discover my own vigorous self. It felt numb but immensely satisfying. Needless to say, Delhi looked splendidly fabulous at dawn with mild lights spread across the city.
The flight was pleasant, not to mention I dozed off minutes after the takeoff. It has been imperative with me; I can’t sleep a night before I have to travel. Had a sound sleep for a while before I woke up to acquaint with some of the most beautiful views of Himalayas, any flight in the world can offer. I’d only heard & read about the aloof & enormous landscapes of Himalayan canvas from the flights bound for Leh, this was my chance to get up close with them. The distant views of the white canvas resting precariously on the massive territorial grounds took my breath away.
The moment I moved to stare out the window, I realized I’d booked the seat on the wrong side of the aisle. But nevertheless, I managed to get glimpses of the magnificent colors down under. While the flight made its way through the pebbles of cold slate, there was utter silence in the cabin. Probably everyone was busy capturing the spectacular beauty of the Himalayas. It was a proud moment.
We landed at the humble Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport in Leh at 07:45 am. It was a bright morning with a plush blue outfit & the crimson-colored peaks surrounding the quaint airstrip. It was almost like we landed in the middle of a Star Wars movie. The sight at the airport was different from any other airport I’d been to in the past. The bare minimum infrastructure & the limited number of luggage belts were apt for the crowd the city gets. It was a compact setting with hundreds of travelers, yet it was surprisingly charming.
The modest breeze added to the aroma of the air. I descended from the airplane & the first thing I noticed was the spectacular sight of the famous Stok ranges of Ladakh eyeing at me from a distance. It was then when I felt eager to step up & head for the peaks. Everything looked barren yet alive. The air was dry & chilly but was truthful to the harmony of the extravagant city of Leh. I mumbled to myself, “I’ve arrived”.
The sight was mesmerizing & at the same time the realization of the fact that I had to reach the summit seen in the distance in the next 5-6 days, kept me at ease. I was thrilled but content; overjoyed but yet calm. I asked a fellow passenger to click one photograph of me with the destination in the backdrop. I was longing for this picture for years, now was the moment.
I noticed the air was clearer on the city roads as we made our way to the hotel I’d booked for the first 2 days of my stay in Leh. I learned from the driver that the Ladakh Marathon 2016 was due in some days & that settled my curiosity regarding the numerous people jogging along the tidy roads. I managed to capture the moments of the city roads in my GoPro camera; a compiled video of the same should be coming up soon.
I took us about 45 minutes to reach the Yangphel Guest House on Upper Tukcha Road. The guest house owner Priyanka greeted me with awe as she abruptly mentioned: “Are you here for the Stok Kangri trek?”. She said she could tell from my rucksack, trek pants & the rugged trekking shoes. I nodded in affirmation & smiled humbly. I checked in & settled my luggage. It’s evident for the locals to meet trekkers headed for Stok Kangri or Zanskar Chadar trek when it’s the right time of the year. It was September, an apt time to scale down the Stok range.
I planned my travel such that I had two days to myself in the city of Leh before we take on the mammoth trek up the hill with the Bikat Adventures group. That would give me ample time to acclimatize to the attitude & breathe easy. Leh is perched at a little over 11,000 ft, so it is advisable to spend some relaxing time here before moving to higher grounds. After getting the lovely breakfast prepared by the in-house cook, Shankar, I stepped out to take a walk. The guest house was a just a 10-minute walk from the Leh market & the road conditions are reasonably good to walk on. I explored the local market, especially the local cuisine. The Himalayan Café on the main street in the Leh market is a must visit if you wish to try out some amazing Ladakhi and Tibetan cuisines.
It was 5 pm in the evening & I realized I should at least visit the Shanti Stupa up the hill before dusk to appraise with the crimson-kissed sunset upon the valley. I marched towards the Shanti Stupa & as expected found a plethora of tourists crowding the holy attraction.
The way up to the Stupa is a vast staircase cut around the cliff. Those countless steps may seem difficult to counter at first, but the view from the top is outstanding. You get the best view of the Leh city from the Shanti Stupa with the lush green cover clouding the city & the flamboyant Stok ranges in the backdrop. Since it was a little hazy, I couldn’t witness the sunset clearly, but the colorful skies made my day.
From the warm crimson shades of the valley to the cold damp aura of the soil, the evening had everything I desired. And what better could have been than a wonderful cup of coffee at the café porched right under the ridge where the Stupa is sited. I was there until it was dark enough to make descending down the stairs a little tricky. But it was blissful & the spirituality of the place had a captivating effect on the moments I spent there. And as is evident, I was busy clicking the way of life.
The first day in the enrapturing city closed with a mild dinner at the guest house on the rooftop with countless jewels in the feeble dark sky lighting up the gathering. Plan for next day is to rent a mountain bike & explore the city on two wheels, just not in a hurry. Plus, a visit to the Leh Palace up the ridge is a must. I tried to get a taste of the city’s locale, and on the go, learned heaps of facts.
Day 2 | Leh | Ancient Joyride
The second day on the trip was the most relaxed one of the forthcoming times. I slept well & woke up to the bright sunshine gazing upon the curious city. The Stok Kangri summit peeping from behind the haze looked spellbinding & for sure was enough for some morning motivation. Shankar prepared a delightful coffee that did the trick. I was up & running in no time, ready to wander in-n-around the humble streets.
I received a call from our trek lead, Sandeep Kumar from Bikat Adventures that they have arrived in Leh & were on their way to the guest house booked by the company. I checked out, inquired about the new place & started walking with my rucksack loaded on back. It was fun strolling with a pack in the local streets, with everyone giving you a friendly respectful gaze. I greeted multiple folks on the go with a smile-assisted “Juley” & reached the guest house within half an hour.
It was the first time I met Sandeep, the young & energetic trek lead. It was wonderful him & the rest of the pack. We mingled, shared our stories that led us there & our aspirations from the expedition. With the like-minded folks around me, I felt cared for & most importantly, at home. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast. I settled in & took a brief nap while some from the group headed for Khardung La sightseeing & others went into the city market. I stayed back to absorb the Himalayan air a little more before heading out for a stroll on a rented mountain bike.
Gotta say, riding a bike on those mildly crowded yet entrancing roads was one of the best experiences so far. One could find hawkers by the roadside selling Himalayan apple & other exotic fruits, and then there were countless Chinese & Tibetan cuisine stalls. The sun was bearable for quite a while & I wandered around the airport road for some time. But by late noon, it started to get a little unpleasant, for I was wearing two layers of clothing given the chilly morning air. I settled in at a nearby café & gulped down a glass of fresh juice while I removed the woolen fleece I was hauling over a regular cotton tee.
I had a light lunch at 3 pm & returned the bike to the vendor at the market. From then on, I was on-foot, clicking my way through the busy roads on that warm Himalayan afternoon. I climbed up the hill to reach the Leh Palace, porched flamboyantly on top of the ridge. One has to negotiate innumerable turns & stairs to reach the gateway to the palace. Once there, the splendid wings of the solitude open up. The palace eyes at the city from quite a height & one gets a clear view of the crowded construction of the Leh household.
Built by Tsewang Namgyal and completed by Sengge Namgyal, both from the Namgyal dynasty of Ladakh, the Leh Palace was the former Royal Palace of Ladakh. The sorted attraction boasts the medieval Tibetan architecture & is a popular hit among tourists. The view from the numerous balconies is overly picturesque. Towards the back, the self-effacing view of Shanti Stupa resting peacefully on the hilltop makes up for a tranquil scenery. And out front, the 270-degree view of the valley encompasses the true beauty of the Leh region.
I stayed there till the sun started dipping behind the dark mountain peaks upfront. It was 5:30 pm & they started vacating the place. I bought some essentials like protein bars, sunscreen & a couple of Red Bull cans for the journey ahead. It was the last time we’d get to shop for the trek, since the next morning, we were heading for the extensive walk up the mountain. We got together for the last supper & turned in pretty early to be ready for the mammoth of a journey ahead.
Getting up close with the city life had a humbling effect on my senses. Out there in the middle of nowhere, the Ladakhi locals have a fulfilling lifestyle. Though the city receives an enormous number of obnoxious tourists every year, the age-old memories of the secluded valley still walk the soil. And if you’d like to experience this first-hand, I suggest you visit the old-fashioned valley & see for yourself.
Day 3 | Leh – Stok Village – Chang Ma | The First Step
The most awaited day arrived when a pack of adventurers was to take the first step towards the biggest celebration of their lives. For me, it was the start of a transformation that’d stay with my whole life through. The morning was filled with enthusiasm & the will to conquer our fears. I was pumped & ready to go.
Sandeep called out for us after the light breakfast while we packed our stuff & got ready to leave for the journey. As we stepped out of the guest house, a mini truck was waiting for us to hop on & it’d take us to the Stok village (where the trek started. The rest of the trekking staff was waiting for us at the starting point in Stok village, making necessary arrangements to ensure safety & comfort during the trek.
We boarded the rusty vehicle & made our way to the starting line. The road towards the Stok village is like a scene out of an old-fashioned war movie with barren lands running in parallel while the snow-capped peaks stare you from distance. I had dibs on the front seat next to the driver & that allowed me to click some clear photographs en route the destination.
Stok village (11,550 ft) is roughly 15 km out of the city of Leh & we were there in a little over half an hour. We met the cook, the helpers, the hoarders & the assistant trek leader at the rendezvous point. After a precise briefing from the trek leaders & a group photograph, we set off for the trek we’d desperately waited for.
The trek in the mildly green farmlands of Stok village goes primarily through a series of ups-n-downs with occasional river stream crossings. It was pretty light for the first hour to walk on the gravel-ridden pathways that negotiated around the rocky patches that lay around us. The cliffs encompassing the narrow path to Chang Ma (our destination for the day), were eroded through successions of washouts & were astonishingly attractive to look at.
Soon after the flatlands, the scenery opened up & our paths climbed up the hills, all driven to take a toll on our energy levels. It was noon already & the sun was on its prime. The group made its way through the muddy yet steep tracks to reach the top of the cliff from where we got the first view of the Leh city, far in the distant space. We decided to take a halt while everyone caught up to the point & eased out. At that point, I realized we were away from civilization into the depths of nature. It is then when I realized I had let go & now everything ahead of me, was to be dealt in person. I felt a calming relief in the lap of nature, sitting atop the cliff, riding us into the cracks of the rocky terrain ahead of us. I felt delighted & had a faint smile on my face. While sweat rolled down my face, I cherished the efforts I had put in being there. It was a long road ahead, but I was unpretentious. I was already home.
We got down from the cliff on our way to the pebble-ridden patch of the trek that leads to the Chang Ma campsite. Each one of us captured the aura in our lenses & some got captured too.
Seeping through the wild bushes & the rocky soils, we saw the Chang Ma campsite in the distance. It was 03:30 pm when I along with Sandeep & couple of other trekkers made it to the campsite. Soon after, others joined & celebrations began. We were happy to reach our first milestone & congratulated one another.
Chang Ma (12,950 ft) is a secluded campsite, situated 5.5 km from the Stok village. The level of ascent during the walk was moderate & we’d gain a little over 1000 feet in altitude. It’s noteworthy that in the Himalayas, an altitude gain comes with its own repercussions. One must comply with safety procedures, take good care of themselves & inform fellow trekkers if they feel uneasy or nauseous. I, on the other hand, went a little hasty & drank half a bottle of water upon reaching the Chang Ma campsite.
Now drinking water is advised to maintain body water-balance. However, you’ve got to give your body time to adjust to the thin air when you gain altitude. As a result, I felt upset & after a couple of uneasy minutes spent roaming around the campsite, vomited rigorously. It’s pretty common at such heights; had to learn the hard way. Sandeep suggested me to mix some Electral (containing rehydration salts) with water to avoid dehydration & bring balance. Moments passed & I felt better. And that’s when I could mix up with the group & experience the joy.
The Chang Ma campsite is located right at the bottom of some pretty high cliffs with a river stream towards the back & wide-open barren land in the perspective. We climbed one of the steep patches for acclimatization in the evening. If my wristwatch’s altimeter served me right, we were at 14,300 ft when we reached a rendezvous point on the cliff from where everything we left behind looked tiny. The view was breath-taking from there & it felt proud to have come across this high with no technical help. The steep climb was mostly through the loose gravel resting on the slopes, waiting to slide down any moment. I along with a couple of other trekkers reached last, while others accompanied by Sandeep made it well in time. But since it’s not a race, I took my humble time to familiarize myself with the challenges of an unassisted climb.
Once there, we talked about our journey so far & previous treks in the Himalayas. Teo & David (both from Romania) shared their experiences from their native expeditions. It was dusky & light fell pretty quickly. Sandeep instructed us to get down from the cliff & safely trek down the slopes. On the way, he showed me how to make use of the grooves under the trekking shoes to avoid slipping on almost any surface. It was thoroughly helpful, I slipped only twice!
We got down to the campsite, took some easy breaths & pitched our tents. I learned how to pitch a tent on a rocky surface. Sandeep knows his game well; so, he stepped aside & he let us pitch our own tents. Some of us collected wood for lighting the campfire while others tried reception on their cellphones. Surprisingly, my Airtel postpaid still caught reception & I made that one awaited phone call back home. We enjoyed the lovely dinner prepared by our staff & danced to some awesome Punjabi music. Being the only one from the Punjabi community in the group, I didn’t shy away from throwing some flamboyant moves & taught my Romanian friends a couple of ‘em too.
It was a day well spent with lots of lessons, a plethora of thin air, some great jokes & immense satisfaction. There is so much to learn from nature. Each one of us had something to contribute to the other person’s story & somehow, it made it better. The group was happy to be together on this adventure & pumped up for the challenge ahead. The night sheltered us from above while our hearts ached for more. In the dark colors of the cold Himalayan night, we dozed off only to meet another enthralling day ahead of us.
Day 4 | Chang Ma – Mankorma | Into The Depths
By the day, we were matured in our minds. We knew what lay ahead of us & what have we left behind. The recognition of accomplishment stayed with us while we meditated along with some captivating morning Yoga at the Chang Ma campsite. Thanks to Vyshnavie for conducting the insightful & necessary Yoga session.
Soon after the breakfast, we packed our stuff & left for the next milestone, Mankorma campsite. The rocky terrain followed us all through the trail but the spectacular rocks along the way carved into the faces of the peaks around us kept the shutterbugs busy & our souls, content. An hour later, we reached a rendezvous point up the hill where we halted for some time & appreciated the beauty around us. Sandeep guided us with the history of the trekking fraternity in the region & informed us of what we could expect further down the trail.
We continued on the ridden path down the trail, crossed some feeble river streams but couldn’t get enough of the barren yet wonderous sight that accompanied us. I clicked with whatever lens I could get my hands on quickly.
Along the way, I had a deepening conversation with Teo. We were crossing a rocky patch & came to a resting point where he asked me “So Rahul, why are you here? Why do you want to reach the summit?”. I felt humbled by the question since I love to talk about my passions & am often get emotional. While others walked past us, we stayed & talked. I answered, “I’m here coz I don’t want to be the guy who didn’t climb the mountain just coz he wasn’t cut for it, for the rest of his life”. I told him that being there was not a result of some strength I had that I was going to put to trial. My mere existence on the trek was to put my weaknesses to test & see if I could be further broken. It was to see if I could move on if I fell & hurt myself. Most importantly, I was there to prove to my own self, that an average person like me with an average physical enigma & tremendous love for mountains, can scale a mammoth height. This was both experiential as well as a spiritual endeavor for me.
Teo smiled & gave me a fist-punch. He mentioned he was there to discover what he’s capable of becoming apart from a regular office-goer. He was looking for a meaning, set apart from what we’re usually told. And for that, he left his job & traveled. Respect! We shared some friendly laughs & continued on our way.
We were the last ones to reach the Mankorma campsite (15,100 ft). Others had settled in & were enjoying tea & snacks. Without further ado, I hopped on some snacks too. Sandeep asked us to get some lunch & prepare for the acclimatization walk. The first you’d notice at the Mankorma campsite is that you’re closing in on the Stok Kangri. The summit peaks from behind the multiple cliffs & one get a sneak peak of the summit. That surely kept us going.
I asked Sandeep, “Where are we going for the acclimatization walk?” He pointed at a steep rocky slide next to our campsite & said “You see that! We’re going on top of it.” I responded in awe, “Terrific!”. We left for the walk soon after we had lunch & this time, Sandeep carried some equipment to acquaint us with some safety procedure to be followed while trekking on greater heights.
We headed out for the acclimatization walk, so far, the toughest evening walk on the trek. The cliff stood tall in front of us & we started right at the bottom of the rock. The task looked gigantic but so was the endeavor we signed up for. The trail uphill was rocky with some loose grits accompanied with some mild barren flora. It was not a convenient track to acclimatize, but more to test your mettle with the mountain. We somehow made it to the roof of the cliff & it took us close to 45 minutes to brave the unfriendly stretches. Some of us summited the wrong end of the cliff & had to trek sideways, parallel to the ground to reach us. Sandeep kept a close eye on them & talked them through the trail.
Once we were there, we took a couple of minutes to catch our breath while Sandeep prepared the equipment for his presentation. We learned about roping up with fellow trekkers, different kinds of knots to secure the harness & how to negotiate tough turns & heights when trekking in groups. It was an astute session; given that we were in one of the most unfitting environments, some safety guidelines could save a life. We spent an hour on top before we descended down carefully through the steep terrain. Some of us had minor bruises on wrist & palm coz of the rough trail we’d ascend on earlier.
The day started out smooth with some deepening thoughts & easy ascent throughout, but the acclimatization walks really left everyone at bay. The energy levels were shallow, so without further delay, we hopped on to some delicious dinner & turned in for the night.
Next day, we were to leave for the epitome of our journey, the base camp. Things were going to get serious now & we couldn’t wait to be there. Howsoever seamless the journey had been so far; the game took unexpected turns as the day of light woke us up.
Day 5 | Mankorma – Base Camp | The Real World
As soon as I woke up the next morning, I felt dizzy. My body ached while my vision was blurry. I washed my face with warm water & felt a little better, but the vision didn’t clear much. I had tea with some cookies & soon after, I saw everything clean & clear. To sum it up, there was nothing wrong with me. At least that’s what I presumed.
It was the fifth day of our trek & we were turning into the some of the most difficult spaces on this trail. The trek from Mankorma to Stok Kangri Base Camp (16,500 ft) is moderately tough, endlessly stretched out & extremely tiring. It’s just an easy 4.5 km on paper, but the terrain tires one out due to the wide variety of river crossings, ups-n-downs & deceitful gravel-driven tracks.
With the summit in sight, we started our day towards the foothills of our destination, the base camp. The ascent was moderate but continuous throughout the day. There are numerous water streams during the first half of the trail but towards to later part, no water sources exist, so one must refill wisely. As we gained height, we witness numerous Cairns on the way. Cairn is a man-made pile of stones, stacked precariously on top of each other. It’s a common sight in the higher Himalayas & is popular among high-altitude mountaineers to stack them rocks as a sign of gratitude for the mountain.
Since the terrain was tiring enough, the group got separated into chunks. And somehow, I was alone, with no one ahead of me. Certainly, no one was following me either. And that’s when it happened again. My vision went blurry again. I could make out the highlights in front me but couldn’t figure out the details. I stopped, took off my rucksack & tried to reach for the water bottle. I could see the blue colored bottle on the side of my pack but due to the eccentricity my vision was experiencing, I couldn’t reach out to it. That was frightening. At first, I thought what if this was long-lasting, I’d have to quit the trek & go back. It was for sure an adverse effect of the altitude, my body wasn’t coping with. I sat down & waited for others to arrive.
However, to my surprise, my vision normalized seconds after I got the eccentric attack on my senses. My vision was fine & I could not feel any stress on my eyes too. It was not normal, I knew that. I wanted to talk to Sandeep, but he was nowhere to be seen. Looking at the continuity of the situation, I drank some water & continued toward the base camp, hoping to find the company soon enough. The thought of getting such attack on my way to summit haunted me. I was a little stressed but in no way ready to quit.
Alone in the valley with no human soul visible for miles, I walked at a feeble pace. I was out of water & thirsty due to the tireless walk up the slopes. The trail was endless & I couldn’t help but go on with a hope of finding my fellow trekkers at every next turn. This went on for another hour before I saw Sandeep along with the others some 800 feet behind me. I was on an ascent to a steep cliff & couldn’t stop to wave back, so I moved on. Howsoever brief the sight may have been, I felt relieved on seeing another person. But I was obviously scared of having another such vision blur.
Another 45 minutes of dreadful walk up the slope took me to the gateway to the badlands of the base camp. And suddenly the scenery changed. Though the Stok Kangri summit is not visible from the site, it was a perfectly flat stretch with the Stok ranges mounting high in the backdrop & numerous fixed campsites. It was immense relief reaching the frightening base camp after struggling with vision blurriness & no water. I walked in almost a limping fashion towards the Bikat camps & saw David coming out to welcome me. I hugged him & took a deep breath at last. I was so happy & thrilled to see him after hours; he held me and calmed me down. It took me a minute to realize that I made it to the base camp of the highest trekkable peak in India. It was proud moment & I was overwhelmed at the effort that went into it.
I had body pain, but my vision was fine. David offered me a hot cup of tea, thanks to the amazing staff we had at Bikat Adventures. We sat inside the camp for some time & waited for everyone else to arrive. David told me about his struggles on his way to the campsite & we could resonate on how a forceful effort for survival breaks us down but yet, makes us stronger. It appeared to me that I was meant to be there, howsoever I struggled. The long walk up the hill, countering nature’s malignant trails, I was content to be where I was supposed to be. We were at 16,500 feet above sea level, the highest I’d ever trekked before.
Soon after Sandeep showed up at the camp, I took time to sit along with him & discuss the problems I’d been having with my vision. The whole pack was in-house & enjoyed some evening snacks before heading out for a walk int the higher stretches of Stok ranges. We were on the heights where altitude sickness can show up in different forms. Prolonged altitude exposure, even with acclimatization, can affect the body organs in different ways. What I was experiencing was one of the symptoms of the altitude sickness, as per Sandeep. He suggested I drank water at regular intervals & walked small patches but regularly during the evening walk. His explanation, although not on medical grounds, put me at ease.
We left for the evening walk all decked up as the temperatures were soring around 3-4-degree Celsius & at the base camp, mercury would drop further drastically at night. To ease up the mood, it started snowing. It had been years that I experience snowfall and at a place like that, it was pure bliss. I couldn’t have asked for more at that point of time; a company of good friends, chasing our fears together & it snowed. As time passed, the snow density increased & we knew it was time to get back to the tents. It was freezing cold & it was difficult to stretch out while walking. I took small steps towards the campsite while others too made their way back.
Tired from the day’s struggles, we turned in after a light dinner. We had the next entire day for acclimatization & getting up close to the summit.
This day taught me a plethora of things about myself & in general. I felt proud that I didn’t break down or relied solely on others to lift me up while I was tired & alone. On the vast canvas of the dusty terrain, I was just another peg of rock, but I held my grounds. Altitude sickness got to me & my vision got hazy. Though only for moments, I faced total blurriness. If that could have prevailed, I’d get into serious trouble. Since it was meant to be, so it did. I was happy to have lived through those moments & looked forward to a brighter tomorrow. Basecamp played its tricks, now it was our turn, to conquer our fears.
Day 6 | Stok Kangri Base Camp | Silence Before The Storm
Today was about relaxing in the malignant weather, soaking up the thin air & acclimatizing in the conditions. It is advised to spend a considerable amount of time at the base camp for the body to adjust completely to the prevailing conditions & ready for action.
The day started with a mild but healthy breakfast. Snow from the last night’s snowfall was still resting on our tents, it was a good sight. Almost everyone was cold but determined. I experienced some headache the night before but was nothing serious. It was a bright morning, so we stayed out & shared endless talks. Sandeep instructed us to get ready for an early acclimatization walk up the ridge standing right in front of us. And to be modest, it was humongous.
Though the walking trail on the ridge looked easily doable, we knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. We packed minimal essentials in our backpacks & headed out for the final preparatory walk. I packed along a couple of protein bars for I was famished. With the sun lighting our pathway, we continued on the gradual ascent. It was strenuous, not because of the distance but due to the height we were reaching.
After an uneasy ascent up the ridge, we reached a rendezvous point that, as per my altimeter, stood at 18,600 ft. That’s slightly above the world’s highest motorable road at Khardung La (18,380 ft). I was the first one to point it out & the group broke into delight. We stayed there for half an hour & tried to click the immense landscape in our lenses. The small township of Choglamsar (11,300 ft) was visible clearly from there.
We continued ahead & reached the point right below the snow-capped patch of the Stok range we’re ascending. Sandeep asked us to halt & rest at the place. It was important for us to get some breath & adjust to the height, for we were at approximately 18,900 ft above sea level. The spot was way higher than we expected to reach, but it was pleasant there. We sat around & soaked in the mild sunshine. The Stok Kangri summit was right by our side & looked stunning in the distance. In a matter of 24 hours from that moment, we were going to be on top of the summit; this thought motivated us to keep going on. We were not tired anymore, for the summit in the backdrop lifted our spirits immeasurably.
Having spent an hour or so there, we began our descent towards the base camp. It was still light out, around 3 pm, however, we were supposed to be in good shape physically & mentally hours before we’d head for our summit attempt hours after midnight. Sandeep suggested us to get some good quality sleep in the evening & wake up fresh by midnight to gear up for the final ascent. That’s what we did. Had light dinner, packed our essentials for the trek ahead, set up alarms for midnight & turned in for the evening. It would be a dark unending night when we’d set ablaze for the summit. A lot was in store for the journey ahead, and we were in high spirits.
The day was about being one with the place and synching our energies well. It was immensely positive how everyone came together & motivated each other for the mammoth climb the next day. It was a gigantic task, but every huge success begins with a first step. And we were in the right minds to take on the terrain. The group synergy was up high, that added to the positivity & everyone greeted each other with optimistic smiles. We were set to climb!
Day 7 | Base Camp – Stok Kangri Summit – Base Camp | Summit Day
It was the seventh day of the expedition, and we started our ascent a couple of hours after midnight. The attempt for Stok Kangri summit is usually executed this way. Starting at midnight gives an edge over attempting this feat in the broad daylight. It easily takes around 8-9 hours to reach the summit from the base camp & if this is attempted in daylight or even at dawn, there’s a chance one may find trouble during the descent due to low light.
The group was up & ready by 01:30 am. The local staff suggested we didn’t need the Crampons to walk on the glacial ice & the snow up the shoulder of the mountain. I packed protein bars & a Red Bull for the show, and most importantly, the note for my parents back home. If everything went well, I’d be flashing the message from the summit soon. Sandeep wrapped up a quick briefing session & we were on our way. We were nine people & Sandeep had us walk in a particular sequence to balance the group dynamics during the trek. We switched on the head torches, for it was the darkest night so far. Usually, in such a vast landscape, the cliffs around you would be visible under the moonlight, but for some reason, we couldn’t see anything apart from a frail track ahead of us we knew we were to follow up the hill. We followed the spur above the base camp to fade into the depths of the unknown.
Base Camp – Spur
We started ascending up the trail which was a fine gravel ridden path disappearing into the bundle of mountain peaks. Soon after we left the humble abode of the base camp, the world around us changed. The scenery nearing the Stok Kangri was now more ravishing than ever, something which was never accessible before that point in time. The surroundings were lush black however the sky has a hazy shade of blue enough to light up the path ahead of us for few yards. There were no stars up there, just silent thin mountain air eyeing at us. It felt like the loneliest place on earth, yet that was the path chosen. For long stretches, the group was silent, no one uttered a word, but everyone followed the trek guide ahead of us. Sandeep kept talking though about what we could expect at every next turn or a hump; for he chose to be the last in the pack & was leading the group from there.
Hours went by & we negotiated our way into the deepest parts of the Stok ranges where the rocks turned white & the ground turned glassy. It was 03:30 am & we were at the rendezvous point where the trail at the roof of the spur meets the Stok glacier. Earlier this point was used as the Old High Camp where alpine trekkers would set up camp, aiming for the summit attempt. It is no longer used now, for the weather deteriorated quickly in this area & the place is prone to accidents. More recently due to environmental concerns, people no longer get permission to camp anywhere above base camp. We had gained close to 700 ft & were at 17,200 ft elevation now.
On one end of the roof, we could see the immensely detailed valley where the base camp was perched & looked frail enough. And on the other side, the trail would take us to the glacial ice driven to move underneath us & make matters worse. But what we had achieved so far, was just the warm-up.
Spur – Glacier
We walked ahead on the shadowy trail under the fragile light, making our way through the loose rocky patch at every step. It was getting tiring since each step had to be put forth with care & utmost attention. Such a paradigm was draining a lot of energy out of us. We stopped at regular intervals to catch our breath; for elevation wasn’t the only hurdle, at the time, the temperature was down to -5 degree Celsius & breathing was not as easy.
Hustling down the flat trail towards the glacier, we were at the mouth of the glacial ice patch that had to be crossed cautiously to reach the foothill of the long steep climb up the hill. I had never walked on glacial ice before & no idea how to go by it. While we halted at the mouth of the glacier, Sandeep instructed us about the do’s-n-don’ts in that zone to avoid any pitfalls. As per him, each one of us had to be attentive at all times & walk carefully. There were crevasses on the ice big enough to swallow a couple of us & no one would know. I wish I had some pictures from the point to share but unfortunately, I didn’t have the strength to grab my camera & click. I was freezing cold & barely breathing fine. I kept removing my muffler from my mouth to breath in the damp glacial air & would close back since it was freezing out there. We were at 17,600 ft. It was tough to breathe & soon, walk straight.
We initiated our walk down the glacier. It was flat with some bumps scattered across, but we were on the glacial moraine now. We walked on the true right of the glacier. Crampons were not really required since the gradient is quite low on glacial ice, but utmost care is to be given at every step. Sandeep walked right in front of the group with the assistant trek lead & other staff walked along with us. It’s approximately 600 meters walk through the slippery glass road to reach the foot of the Southeast face of Mt. Stok Kangri.
As we walked on, our vision was limited to the illumination of our headlamps. The ice underneath was crisp but hard. I could hear the creaking sound as I put down each step on the brittle tarmac. While walking on glacial ice, one must be varied of Verglas – thin slippery layer of ice. It is often not visible & in those conditions, it was impossible to make out if you hit one. We may have overlooked such patches as we moved on but fortunately, no one lost grip & fell. We were past the icy patch in about 45 minutes from start. With a tiny gain in altitude, we were standing at a little under 18,000 ft.
Walking on the glacial debris wasn’t the most pleasant experience but it was thrilling to the core. I could tell, we were scared at first but as we went on taking each step forward, we enjoyed the ecstasy of that space. At moments, I would look on the side & there would be a wide crevasse aching to swallow me down. I would be terrified but the motivation in such opportunity was enough to keep me going. It was like walking on the most fragile path but with a smile on my face. Nothing was a miracle, all dealt with on ground zero.
I noticed the entire group made it the foot of the southeast face but wasn’t in the best of its shape. While some struggled with frost bites, a few found it hard to breathe. I too had difficulty withstanding the brutal conditions but somehow stood my ground. We spent 15-20 minutes at the bottom of the face while everyone came back to their right senses & were ready to head uphill.
Foot of SE face – South Ridge (Shoulder)
From here on, the slowest part of the climb starts. Up ahead lies a loose gravel slope (almost 50 degrees), prone to slippage & debris falling off at any moment. This entire section is considered the toughest to negotiate, yet it is the crux of the climb to the summit. Moving forward, the altitude effect showed up on each step up the slope. At 04:30 am, the elevation was now 18,300 ft. & the mercury dropped down to -7 degree Celsius.
Although the incline was consistent but felt rapidly toying with our strengths. It seemed like the ground underneath was constantly moving & we had to hold a good grip before taking the next step. It was both tiring & terrifying, for I could see the gradual downwards slope ending don’t know where. I realized I had slowed down significantly, but so did everyone. While the assistant trek lead was leading the group from the front, Sandeep stayed at last with the slowest trekkers & pushed them forth. In such conditions, self-motivation can be a boon & one must talk to themselves when in doubt. I kept reminding myself of the reason why I chose to go there, but somehow, the summit that was now feebly visible on the vertical horizon seemed unachievable. I said to myself multiple times, “The summit is too far & too high. How could I ever reach there?” That was probably my weak & tired condition talking. But for sure I was drained out of energy.
If I paced myself too much, I’d be out of breath in no time & would spend 10-15 minutes to catch up. If I went too slow, well, I’d just be slow. It was tough to maintain a pace that would drain me gradually & yet keep me going on. Slowing down on this face is recommended by experts but sitting or taking too much rest should be avoided. Slow breathing is friendlier than taking long hollow breaths. But it’s an effort you should make up your mind for.
Half an hour would have gone by & I noticed the first light of the day. I stumbled upon to my wristwatch & discovered that it was already 05:35 am. At first, it felt like too much time has gone by, we’d not make it to the summit in the right shape. It’s best to reach the summit while it’s still dawn & descend back to avoid working it out with the warm melting icy patches. But we couldn’t help it.
The early sunlight enlightened the entire Stok glacial & the ivory white shine filled the place. For the first time in hours, I turned back & noticed my fellow trekkers were struggling to walk along with Sandeep. I was somewhere in the middle of the pack, slowly ascending. The glacial rubble looked stunning in the morning light & that energized me quite a lot. In no time, it was bright as day. Hustling through the loose rocky slopes somehow became apparent to us. I could manifest the terrain better than before & now kept a good pace.
Living it up for the night & fighting it out with the most malignant terrain we’d walk on, we made it to the South Ridge of Mt. Stok Kangri ay 08:30 am. We couldn’t witness the sunrise for we were too late to the party due to the slow pace, but we were calm & content to have made it to the shoulder. It was satisfying to witness the daybreak with young souls gutting it out against the tough piece of rock standing proudly in front of us. From the shoulder, I gazed down & could figure out the tireless efforts we had made all night long. The mouth of the glacier from where we started the glacial walk, seemed like miles away. And the steep incline of the terrain we juggled with, looked fierce. In totality, I was delighted & content to have reached the shoulder.
South Ridge (Shoulder)
Looking straight up from the shoulder, the summit is visible at a vertical horizon. It seems like a vertical climb to the mighty summit. It’s motivating and at the same time a cruel reminder of one’s physical & mental condition. I felt weak while sitting there while my fellow trekkers reached. Sandeep sat alongside me & asked if I was ok, for I had a sad silent look on my face. It wasn’t the externalities, but what went inside my head. I didn’t answer, just stayed there.
To be honest, I could head everyone but didn’t utter a word. At times I thought I should speak, or I’ll go crazy, but I didn’t. I realized I was completely drained out. I had consumed the last protein bar somewhere up the trail & Red Bull wasn’t the best resort in these conditions. I grabbed a couple of cookies & slowly took a few bites. It didn’t make me feel better & before I knew it, I broke down. It wasn’t the physical turmoil I was going through but the mental pressure of not making it to the summit after reaching the shoulder. I hadn’t felt that weak on the entire journey so far. The thought of not reading out the message to my parents from the pinnacle haunted me. I sobbed in my own fears.
The mind plays curious games at the most malevolent times. I crawled into my backpack & pulled out the sheet of paper I’d written the message on. I handed it to my fellow trekker & requested them to read it out loud from the summit. Not for me, but for my folks back home. It was the toughest thing I had to do, given I had just walked on tons of glacial ice & had been wide awake for almost ten hours. I was sure I wasn’t going forward. I felt broke. The mountain knocked me down with its charm & now I was ready to give up. My parents face flashed by my eyes as I sat there, completely sapped out. I could not hear anyone else’s voice. Sitting at 19,500 ft, I went silent, soaking in my defeat.
“When you’re ready to give up, remember why you started!”. I’d read this message a million times before, but never knew it would make a good reason for me to revive myself from the distress I experience up high.
I looked at what time it was (09:25 am) & I stood right up. My fellow groupmates were awestruck & cheered for me. It felt like I was back to life. I was not low on energy anymore & could stand upright. Sandeep turned up to me & asked me if I was willing to go on. Without wasting another moment, I responded affirmatively. But having considered me struck seriously with high altitude sickness, he wasn’t ready to allow me to move forward. I humbly explained to him that I felt fine. Still unsure, Sandeep asked me to lift my left leg & keep it suspended in the air till he counted to 10. He had to be sure I was not delusional anymore & was in my right senses. Tell you what, I did good & was back to my sporting spirits. Sandeep was delighted & gave me a power hug. I asked for my message back & gazed the summit in the distance. At that moment, I knew why I had to do this. Not for any accolade, not for my self-worth or for this hefty travelogue. I did this to make parents proud & at that moment, I knew I’d make it to the summit.
We roped up in a particular sequence & started moving up. It’s a dominant vertical climb from the shoulder to the summit & is to be dealt with utmost caution. The way up the summit is along the ridge & it exposed to both sides of the mountain, so one needs to be extremely cautious. It was predominantly scary at first. The loose gravel on the pathway & the water seeping from the snow-capped summit made matters worse. Every now & then, I could hear someone behind me yelling, “Are we there yet?” It took us two long hours negotiating through the toughest terrain on the trek, risking it up the ridge to reach the snowy flatline that ended at the summit just a few meters ahead of us.
The first sight of the Tibetan prayer flags at the summit (20,182 ft) melted my heart. I made it. We all did. We burst in celebrations & congratulated each other on the success. I hugged my fellow trekkers & appreciated their efforts. It was evident from everyone’s face, they were proud of being there & so was I. But more importantly, I was proud of not giving in to the pain. Statistics suggest that of all the people who make it to the south ridge of Stok Kangri, 90% of them make it to the summit. I felt blessed to share that strength.
From the summit, you get a 360-degree view of the massive Himalayan territory, with the Karakoram range beyond the Khardung La to the north, Zanskar ranges to the west and towards the Chang La and Changthang valley and dark-brown hills rolling towards Tibet. In the end, the views and the feeling of summiting a mountain made me feel that it was worth all the effort! I did my photography rituals & most importantly, delivered the heartfelt message to my parents back in Delhi from the top of the world. I was overwhelmed knowing that the last several hours had been immensely challenging & yet worthwhile.
Now reaching the summit is the job half done, we’d have to get down safely. Most climbers find trouble descending down as it’s easy to lose focus under the shadow of accomplishment. We roped up again & started the descent slowly but gradually. Again, the ridge is exposed to the vertical drop on one side & the steep incline on the other, so we took it nice & easy. Soon enough, we made it to the shoulder from where it all started. I had mixed thoughts looking at the spot I rested & almost gave up at. But for the love for mountains, I smiled & bid the place goodbye. Since everyone was keeping different pace, I lead from the front with the assistant trek lead, jostling down the loose rocky incline.
We maintained a good pace, but altitude sickness wasn’t done with me. It so happened & the loose gravel under my shoe slipped drastically toppling me down on my ass. Since the steep was too obscure, I slipped haphazardly several meters upon the rocky trail hitting every bump along the way. If it wasn’t for my fellow trekker, I’d be peddling down the cliff like a peg of damp soil and end up on the glacier. And we all know once you topple on the glacial ice, it doesn’t end well. He held me from my waist & somehow stopped my uncontrolled descent, which could’ve been fatal if we lost more time.
During the fall, I had enough sense to avoid hitting my head but couldn’t control the fall. My trek pants were torn, I have bruises on my palm, but I was worried about my savior, who experience several bruises on his knee & damaged his gear immensely. I’m 6’2 & weight plenty, but he still saved me from hurting myself further. I thanked him & discussed his well-being while we dusted ourselves up. As we moved forward. The humble fella held my hand to avoid such instance. He was from Nepal & a had mountaineering in his blood. He got me down the glacial debris calmly & dealt with my uncontrolled walk due to sickness. In a situation like that, it must have been a whale of a job handling a 200-pounder like me through the most spiteful walking trails. But he kept his nerve & brought me down to the base camp safely.
While we took aside to rest at the roof of the Spur just above the base camp, other trekkers arrived. Leading them was David with a wide grin. We congratulated each other & asked each other’s well-being. It was a tiring descent & took us hours to accommodate. Time was 04:00 pm & I realized we descended really slow, it usually didn’t take that long. Fortunately, in spite of struggling with fatigue, David made it in good time. Hats off! I didn’t click any pictures on the day, given my physical condition. As soon as we reached the base camp, I took to my tent, drank some Electral water & dozed off.
The next thing I remember was seeing Sandeep & others sitting out front, enjoying the evening snacks & sharing their versions of the story we just carved on the mountain. Everyone greeted me & asked about my health (mostly mental) while I joined them. We spent the humble evening talking about the grand endeavor we took on & the much-deserved respect for one another. Words were plenty but not enough to encompass the emotions that existed in us. We chatted for hours while dinner got served. Fortunately, everyone was in good health & there was a positive synergy in the team. Moments passed; I don’t remember when the night sheltered us & we went off to sleep. All I remember was that we smiled & didn’t let ourselves down.
Day 8 | Base Camp – Leh | Back With Memories
Everyone was up early & started packing their stuff. We were blessed with a bright morning, but the memories of the windy bone-chilling night before remained fresh. We grabbed a quick breakfast while Sandeep recorded the trek impressions in several video clips with each & every one of us. It was humbling to see everyone expressing their thoughts wide open. That was the opportunity for me to my heart out. I did try to wrap modest words around the feelings stimulated in me on the trek, & somehow incorporated every emotion in a 5-minute video.
With a heavy heart filled with countless memories from the journey, we bid goodbye to the base camp that was our abode for the past few days. It was an exhilarating yet delightful experience leaving the base camp for good & heading back home. With the trek leaders whistle, we took off for the walk downhill.
Making our way through the same roads we’d struggled upon & lived the stranded moments with gratitude, we reached Mankorma in little less than two hours. The shop owners at Mankorma welcomed the group delightfully. While we spent some time chatting at the spot, I could manage to click the zone in my 70-300 mm lens.
We continued down the trail, crossing multiple river streams to reach Chang Ma by noon. On the way, we stopped multiple times to click some funny photographs & to make the most of the gift nature had bestowed upon us. Being there & experiencing the aura, was literally a great opportunity. Everyone was talking about one or the other moment from the trek & the discussion just didn’t stop. We sang, we laughed, we fell & we got back up. In a nutshell, it was an immense feeling. I clicked my heart out in those desolate traces to nurture my love for the Himalayas.
It got cloudy when we reached the Stok village from where we started our journey into the realms of nature. While waiting for our trek staff to arrive, I managed to play some cricket with the local folks who helped us on the trek. Gotta say these guys make the most of what they got. They might not have the best of resources, but they endure a respectful smile & appreciate life the way it is. After we enjoyed some Maggi at the local shop, everyone loaded their rucksacks on the truck & hopped on to our seats for the drive back to Leh. It was like heading back to school after a vacation, only with some breathtaking memories from the moments survived in the thin air of the mighty Stok Kangri. The humble ride back to our guest house took roughly 30 minutes. We settled in, and since no one was in a mood to nap, we checked ourselves out & headed out for a late team lunch. A series of local cuisines followed while we chatted at length about the last few days. We probably were the loudest around there, but then, we were the happiest too.
We called it a day after a long stroll into the Leh market picking up souvenirs. I got myself a “Stok Kangri 6153” patch to sow on my rucksack as an eternal memory of the expedition of a lifetime. As the night crawled upon us, we bid each other goodbye until next time & headed back to our respective hotels.
Thousands of memories instilled in my thoughts, would stay & remind me of the times lived on my own terms. Though the toughest, the last few days had been enthralling & presented a great learning experience. The more I stepped out, the more I knew myself better.
Epilogue | Leh – Delhi | Until Next Time
I boarded the flight back to Delhi with a heavy heart but was sure to retain the positivity I’d gain while traversing through the curious turns in the barren heights. All said & done, I was proud to have accomplished what I’d set out for. Sandeep presented all of us with the dearest accolade every mountaineer thrives for; the white sheet of fabric made from Ladakhi drapery. It was a token for respect for the diligent mountaineers & a warm acknowledgment of their efforts to scale a mountain. I felt honored & promised myself to always live up to the respect that accolade exhibits.
With that thought in mind, I enjoyed a reasonably heavy breakfast before heading out for the airport. Carrying a massive bunch of memories wasn’t convenient but getting back home & cherishing the moments with my family kept me going.
So, what did I learn or achieve by doing this? There’s no easy answer to that. I aspired to take on the biggest of the challenges & live through them on my own terms. I feel blessed to have done that right. As is evident from the words I shared, I fell through the gaps of time a lot of times. But getting back up was my only option. And I’m glad I got back up every time I got knocked down. I now know what I’m made of & what I’m capable of doing. The journey to the glorious summit taught me how hurdles in our lives are just loose gravel on a trail. If we work through them patiently & stay focused, it’s only a matter of time that we will find ourselves scaling new heights. This realization is my prime jewel. It’s a blessing in disguise.
An adventure is nothing if we don’t cherish moments spent with those who accompanied us & shared struggle and laughter throughout the journey.
I would like to thank Bikat Adventures for this wonderful opportunity & the recognition. The trek was organized in an effective manner with professional assistance throughout the trek. A special thanks to our trek leader, Sandeep Kumar for his constant guidance & eternal motivation along the journey. That man took us to the top & brought us back safely. Kudos to your spirit.
A warm note of appreciation for my fellow trekkers & the Bikat staff. You guys were a great company; we met as strangers, became friends & left as eternal buddies. We may not talk every day, but we’re connected with that one thread that binds us all, love for mountains. I’m thrilled at the kind of support & cognizance we shared among ourselves, something that can drive great hopes into a worn-out conscious. Once again, thanks for being there!
I’d close with a quick remark. For all my friends reading this excerpt, I implore you to find your calling. There’s nothing bigger than finding your true self & working tirelessly to achieve greatness. Don’t leave yourself incomplete; don’t comply before you make that last rebellious effort. Certainly, don’t give up, before you have shed every drop of blood & sweat, in being who you deserve to be. Hustle & live to celebrate your dreams.
If we weren’t here to become better every day & find peace with ourselves, then why are we here?
See you on the other side,