THE RETURN JOURNEY
DAY FOUR: – Skiu to Chilling to Mahey Guesthouse
L and MN left real early in the morning since it was the toughest climb yet of the trek. Wishing them luck and waving goodbye to them, we breakfasted on toast and eggs. An hour later, we left too. Assuming my legs were fine, I started the journey by walking.
A couple of hours later, I chose the horse. The remainder of the group continued to walk which resulted in me moving ahead. You could see the concentration and effort made by the horse to ensure that he or she didn’t topple you off and at the same time go downhill carefully. One of the cooks was guiding the horse and since it was to be a long journey he suggested we keep each other company by talking instead of staying mum.
So in a strange way we had our own little conversation about my life in a city, his life in the hills, how he could recognize each and every mountain etc. To prove it, he pointed a mountain to me and said “that is how we walked the day before.” Of course I couldn’t recognize it. I told him so but he just smiled shyly. He also showed me a few interesting things like the black sand and various other mountains. It was a fascinating journey with a cook and a horse.
About 45 minutes later, we reached the Zanskar River. The only way to cross this river is by sitting in a wooden box. There are a maximum of three people on each side of the river pulling and tugging the box (with people sitting in it, mind you) across the river. The strength required to do so was massive. The men you see pull it, well; I guess the mountain air has some sort of magical powers for those scrawny sized people to be able to pull the box with ease! There was another sort travel mode available too. My horse guide pointed out this triangle sort of thing where only one person could go across and there was no one to pull it but you had to do it on your own. I was stunned because I thought the adventures were supposedly over but I was so wrong.
He looked at me and asked “would you like to travel in that and wait for the others on the other side of the river?” Cheeky man, I tell you! I politely declined saying that I’ll wait for the others first. Dropping me off there, he went to get SK who had begun to struggle again. About 40 minutes later SK appeared and looked calmly at our mode of river crossing. I wasn’t panicking but I definitely found it a bit amusing.
Soon enough the others reached huffing and puffing and also surprised at the way we had to cross the river. It was excitement plus nerves combined. The feeling was indescribable. There were quite a few people waiting to cross the river so we just sat and rested for the lot to go ahead. It was a funny sight actually. Some of the locals were actually swinging on the triangle one! Our unanimous vote went for the wooden box. Safer, you see. Of course, the horses went via a different route. You can’t expect those giant beasts get into a tiny little box that could carry a maximum of two people.
Once everyone baring us crossed over, we sent our tents, sleeping bags etc. with one of the cooks first. Next, SK with a few more luggage items (so that he could help in pulling us across). By this time there were just our cooks on either side to help pull the box and it was easier said than done. Equipment sent my sister and I got in next. Neither of us was scared but I sure was hoping we weren’t heavy for the poor guy doing the pulling. He was an extremely scrawny guy and I was praying that we just flew across!
Once the box moves from the starting point, it sets off easily in a slightly downward slope, stops in the middle for a minute because the rope is extremely long and the guy at the other end has to really tug and pull on the rope in a swift manner. As the loose rope reaches the level where you have to really heave the box it becomes rather hard to do so. You could see the strain on the guys’ hands and the concentration on his face while doing so and all I can do is commend him. We’ve crossed the river safely and my sister and I profusely thank him.
It’s R and SB’s turn next and the whole ritual starts again. Last to remain are RR and the second cook. In the end it was R.R. and the other cook to cross the river. From here on, it’s a 4 km walk until and unless we could procure a lift from a passing vehicle for eight people and their luggage. Our cooks (now guides) asked us to wait for some time hoping to stop a passing truck that happens to be going to the same destination.
Around 20 minutes later, our luck worked. Post lunch we set off on what was to be an extremely bumpy ride. The truck driver warned us, of course, of the bumpiness, considering the whole path wasn’t much of a road. So we braced ourselves and enjoyed bumping along the way. SB, who was sitting right at the entrance of the back of the truck, was literally bouncing up and down like a rubber ball! It was quite comical and we all had a hearty laugh.
Although our journey was now via a truck, it didn’t take anything away from the view. The mountains, the river flowing across the way, the blue sky… a peaceful and warm sight to behold. Few hours later, we reached the familiar Leh market and knew we were now minutes away from the guesthouse, from hot showers, hot teas and a warm bed.
You can read more about Ladakh in another post of mine, Ladakh Adventures.