After 4 days of overlanding on the roughest road in the world I was ready to get out of the car. My back was sore, and I was on the verge of whiplash. It was a 12 hour drive to Leh from where I left Gerry in Jispa. I was now hanging out with Chotak Tubak, a native Ladakhi, who would become a good friend over the next 12 days. On our way to Leh we drive over the Tanglangla Pass, the second highest pass in the world at 17,540 ft. This is the highest I’ve ever been on the ground! I’m definitely feeling the altitude but luckily I’ve had enough time to acclimate that I don’t get sick.Finally in Leh, I have two nights here to rest and acclimate further and my rest day also happens to be my 31st birthday! Good timing.
.I have been wanting to visit this place since I worked as the colorist on The Tenth Step Film, seeing the landscape, the people, and it’s culture grew in me a longing to experience it for myself and now, 2 years later, I am actually here! Chotak takes me to a great place for lunch and then I wander the city myself exploring its various nooks and crannies. It is an old town for sure, unlike anything I am accustomed to. And it’s beautiful. I don’t understand the language but lucky enough of the people here at least semi-understand what you are trying to say, and all the signs and menus are in English as well. The only Ladakhi word I know is the only one you really need; Julley, it means Hello. It also means goodbye. It means please, thank you, and you’re welcome, too.
I wander up to the Shanti Stupa that resides above the town and get a good view of Leh. Fun fact: This stupa happened to be erected the same year I was born!My new friend Chotak insists that he take me to dinner for my birthday and so he gathers some of his friends and we get dinner and a beer, experiencing the Ladakhi night life.The next morning we gather up most of our gear, leaving a handful of unneeded things in Leh until our return, and hop in a fully loaded Mahindra complete with raft, kayak, and expedition crew. 5 of us in total now have a 3 days drive and a couple hours trek to Phugtal Monastery where we will meet up with Gerry who has a 3 day’s solo paddle down the Tserap Chu in his Kayak. So many things could go wrong, let’s pray that they don’t.
Another 2 days over-landing on rough road takes us west towards Pakistan and to a place called the Zanskar Valley. We reach Paddum, the town where the confluence of the Tserap Chu and the Zanskar River is located.From here we can drive 4 more hours up the Tserap Chu toward Phugtal where we are meeting Gerry. They are in the middle of extending this road further through the mountains and now what used to be a couple days hike to Phugtal from Paddum, only takes us two hours.We are now at about 14,000ft in elevation and it is taking its toll on me, making this hike more challenging than it should be. But I am just so amazed by where I am and what I get to be doing that I don’t care. Looking down at the Tserap Chu and in awe of how blue it is. Looking up at the mountains and how red they are. It truly is an astonishing sight to take in.Finally I make my way around the mountain and round a corner to see the monastery. What a sight to see. A 1,000 year old monastery built into an ancient cave in the side of a cliff. Incredible. We get to spend two nights here.