Our trip began with the daunting challenge of packing – getting everything ready keeping the weight down (especially for the pack ponies) for two adults, two kids and to cope with a variety of temperatures and scenarios was quite a task but with the help of loads of Rohan kit and the bonus of being light weight, eventually we succeeded! Once packed, we were ready to go, and began the long journey to reach our destination – Ladakh (via Frankfurt and Delhi).
We spent the first few days acclimatising, as starting off at 3,500 metres /13,500 feet is pretty high straight from sea level. Getting our bodies used to the high altitude and temperatures needed time, we all suffered in varying degrees from headaches, nausea, increased heart rate and breathing rate, insomnia etc. Trying to stop the children from overdoing it was hard as they wanted to continually go out and about!
We had plenty of time to explore the town of Leh and for the children to experience a new culture. They loved it, and the atmosphere in the town was buzzing as there was to be a visit by the Dalai Lama in the next few days and it was being bedecked with bunting and prayer flags. The kids loved the markets, learning quickly the art of bartering and having a refreshing lassi or fresh mango juice in the ‘Pizza de Hutt’ cafe. The weather was pretty hot so the lightweight Rohan shirts and underwear were great to keep cool and rinse out to be dry by the next day. We did a few short acclimatising walks from Leh to visit Monasteries or Gompas. A highlight for all was seeing the Dalai Lama. Whilst we were waiting the crowds grew and what a sight to see, all manner of Ladakhi people wearing fabulous clothes, holding white scarves and turning handheld prayer wheels, all waiting patiently to catch a glimpse of their revered spiritual leader. What wonderful serene people, no hassling or jostling simply a good natured and spiritual crowd.
Travelling with children brings different twists, at our hotel building was in progress by a team of Nepalese workers, both men and women. There were also two children in tow, when we were relaxing on the roof terrace, these children possibly aged three and seven came straight up to our kids and that was it, they were curious. To break the ice we got out paper, pencils and paints that we had brought with us, hours of creative interaction with our kids ensued, it was great to watch. The two Nepalese kids so young but very bright and quick, they already had a good grasp of English writing. Sadly, these kids had been offered schooling by the Ladakhi owners of the hotel at the local christian mission school but the parents didn’t trust the fact that it was ‘christian’. A real shame as these children appeared so keen to learn, yet had to spend their days at the hotel running about rickety scaffolding whilst both their parents worked all day. All the same what independent children, no whining, no toys, they simply got on with amusing themselves, creating mischievous fun out of very little. We have much to learn or perhaps re learn, simplicity is the order of the day!
Another highlight was a white water rafting trip on the Indus river. Two of the Mums were a bit sceptical about it, one having been a former river rafting guide, both having done many river trips both canoeing or rafting. They thought it may be a bit dull, being only a grade 2 section of the river. However, it was spectacular, the scenery was awe inspiring and the rapids enough to give us all a thrill, certainly more than a British grade 2. We even had a swim in the muddy water! A quick drying Rohan top was fab as the water was a little chilly and although it was hot there was a strong wind blowing which made sitting in a raft with wet clothes quite cold.
We met our trekking guide Pekma Lama and sorted out a few details and early the next day we set out for our trek. Callum my 12 year old son was in his element as to get to the start of the trek we had to drive over ‘world’s highest motorable road’ the Khardungla La Pass at 5602m/18,380ft. (He loves to watch TV’s The World’s Most Dangerous Roads) I am sure this counts as one of them! Hairy in the extreme, overtaking on blind bends with thousands of feet drop below you. The Indian Army keep the pass open all year, most of the traffic seemed to be Indian army truck convoys. We all briefly got out of the jeeps at the top of the pass but with banging headaches and short of breath we didn’t linger long. On the descent from the pass we had to wait whilst the road was being built as great piles of earth blocked our way!
The trek started at Hundar near a bridge that was closed to all traffic except Indian Army as it is too close to the disputed Indian/Pakistani border only a few km’s away. We met some of the team who were going to look after us and set off on quite a gradual uphill walk beside a river in a gorge, the altitude and heat made us all a bit slow but I had my Ether trekking poles which became my trusted daily companions for the next 12 days, amazingly light yet strong with very comfortable straps.
The children began to think why were they here! The sun was intensely strong and very hot, not ideal trekking weather, especially where young children are concerned. However, we all coped and the scenery was mind blowing, arid with glacial gouged rocks and boulders strewn everywhere. No sign of habitation except chortens and prayer flags every so often. The trail was very narrow and in some places rocky and steep, one wrong step and hundreds of feet drop into a raging mountain river. Still, none of seemed concerned, least of all the kids. How the pack ponies managed these paths with their wide heavy loads was astounding, they instantly won my respect.
Our first camp was by the confluence of a river, the pack ponies arrived and then so quickly our camp emerged, cook tent, mess tent, our sleeping tents, loo tents and the amazing pony men’s tent. This was made out of a disused Indian army parachute, we saw these being used a lot on our trek by shepherds.
The ponies, all 23 of them were let loose, firstly they all collapsed and rolled to have a good scratch, then they calmly wandered off to graze wherever they wanted on what seemed meagre grass but actually there was plenty of grass along the river banks. They were very well cared for and in excellent condition, very fit. Clearly the pony men loved their horses, one was quite sick, very thin but the pony men made sure that this pony was always the first to have grazing, any food going, extra grain rations and the load it carried was light. I am a horse lover so took a great interest in the ponies, they were calm and got on so well as a big group. Sometimes at night they wandered high into the mountains to graze, but they were easily led back to our camp. Not by head collars, most of them were loose, they simply followed the call of the pony men.
Us mums felt like true colonial memsahibs, tea and biscuits were brought to us, then hot water to wash, then dinner in the mess tent. Amazing, we had never had it so good! Pekma and his team were incredible, nothing was too much trouble. We began to feel guilty being waited on hand and foot! Next morning at 6.30 a.m bed tea arrived at our tents to wake us up gently. Then breakfast in the mess tent and so the routine of camp life and trekking began. Most mornings we hit the trail by 8.00 a.m to avoid the heat of the day. Each day we carried a day sack containing mostly 2/3 litres of purified water, we had brought along our own water purifying pumps and spent every evening pumping water from mountain streams. They often seemed wonderfully clear and pure, but with so many animals and glacial debris it was necessary to have clean water.
Our Rohan Stravaig day sacks of varying sizes were so comfortable, never an aching shoulder, very robust, they had to be, due to plenty of rough handling, dust, dirt and all kinds of weather! Thank goodness for the Rohan buffs, the sun was so strong, they were a great shield, yet light, so not hot to wear. Also the dust was incredible so a great barrier when the wind blew plumes of dirt over us. We soon got into the swing of trekking and day two was another hot yet wonderful day.
Our second camp was in the small village of Wachan, we were greeted by the village children with their usual curiosity especially with our kids. As soon as camp was set up the marathon session of games drawing and painting continued in our mess tent with village children and our kids. Again we were struck how well educated the local children were and how keen they were to learn. They were so polite and and well mannered, (please Callum and Bee take note!). Unfortunately Bee my 14 year old was not feeling well, she had started the trek with a sore throat and swollen glands, we started a course of antibiotics and I think she reacted to these coinciding with altitude. She suffered amongst overthings, a severe headache. Luckily we had a rest day the next day, in the night she vomited in the tent all over everything! Try clearing that lot up at 3.00a.m! The next day she was worse, increased heart rate, alarmingly high, breathing rate and raised temperature. I was beginning to get concerned being in such a remote region. It was a hot day so her tent was like an oven, but Tim who has done many such expeditions had an ingenious method of keeping the tent cool. Sleeping bags were draped over the tent, wet sleeping bag liners and a portable shelter, to keep the sun off were strung up by a series of trekking poles. Poor Bee just had to sweat it out all day, I made her drink as much as possible which was hard. At that moment in time all she wanted to do was go home. However, a good nights rest helped, we set out the next day and Bee rode a pack pony as she was too weak to walk all day in the hot sun, she shared the pony with the youngest member who was also struggling with long days of walking.
Our trek continued up into the mountains, we set off up a remote valley to where our two peaks were and where we spent the next 5 nights. To reach the base camp we walked through a wide valley of deposited glacial moraines, massive in scale a huge moonscape you could easily get lost in. This opened out into a wide flat area with many shallow streams and plenty of grass for the ponies. There were was a summer shepherds camp here, every morning and evening two shepherds herded their animals, several hundred, goats and sheep past our tents up to higher pastures. We were camping at just over 4200m and we all getting well acclimatised with the odd headache and Callum suffered heavy nosebleeds.
Bee was recovering and still a little weak but didn’t want to be left behind on our acclimatisation hike to high camp at 4800m as she knew if she didn’t do this walk she wouldn’t be able to attempt the summit day. With a little bit of cajoling she managed to do the walk, Callum needed much more encouragement at this point as he totally ran out of steam but managed in the end. He was like a mountain goat on the way down! The next day we packed up and re ascended to 4800m to our high camp, it was a wonderful evening a little chilly, we agreed for a 4.00 a.m rise to set off by 5.00 a.m for what we named the family peak 5800m, we were all in bed early. In the night the clouds rolled in and the rain started and gradually grew heavier, this then turned to hail and a few of the tents started to leak, yuk. Despite the continuing rain we rose early and had breakfast and we were on the road by 5.00 a.m crampons and ice axes packed. The rain did not let up and it was extremely gloomy, Callum and I were the first to give up, he sensibly said why are we doing this Mum? I had to agree, so we trudged back to the cook tent where the pony men and cooks were huddled. We spent a very pleasant morning drinking tea and hot chocolate, Callum and I taught the cooks and pony men card games and they showed us card tricks. Gradually the rest of the team filtered back in increasingly bedraggled states! Tim and Chris however, were determined and reached the summit of family peak in driving snow with very little visibility, in true hardy mountaineer fashion, well done them! We all slowly made our way back to base camp in typically British summer weather. I thought we had left that all behind, sadly no! We spent a lazy afternoon recovering from our exertions playing cards, drawing/painting or generally doing nothing much.
The next day we set off back down to Wachan and then headed up another valley towards the Lasermo La Pass 5359m/17,850 feet. The weather was cool so fleeces and jackets were the order of the day, my pinnacle jacket with the microgrid fleece worked well, It was great to have really effective breathability and not to have to keep stopping to strip off to cool down or put more layers on.
The valley we walked up was spectacular, our campsite equally so, another wide flat area crossed by numerous shallow streams with plenty of grass for the ponies who grazed happily right by our tents, man and beast were very content! Our longest walking day was coming up. Pekma our Sirdar said only 4-5 hours, but we knew we could almost double that! We had got used to his overoptimistic estimates over the last week or so!
Again we were walking through a fantastic wide valley, Thanglespo 4660/15,280ft with green mountain pastures and wildflowers. The only people we had come across for most of the trek were people from the few tiny villages in that area, a truly remote region. In this valley were herds of yaks, dzomos, sheep and goats, there is a local tradition that one or two families from the village of Hundar Dok come up to these high summer pastures to graze all the village livestock, they also spin yak wool, make cheese and butter for the long winter months ahead. We met a friendly shepherd who was spinning yak wool as he walked along with his herd, with a hand held wooden spinning contraption, it appears as though nothing has changed much here for hundreds of years.
Our highest camp to date was at 5000m, we had to camp as high as possible as the next day we would be walking over the Lasermo La Pass. We would have to set out very early for the ponies. Most of the morning would be spent walking on a glacier and if we set out too late the snow would melt and the ponies would sink in too deep. The terrain was extremely rugged and bleak but our camp was comfortable and there was enough grazing for the ponies. Unfortunately, during the night it rained, hailed and snowed, the poor tents were seriously sagging! Although we were ready to go early the weather had closed in again so we delayed our start and there was no chance of snow melting so the ponies would be ok. Finally we set off and slowly trudged up the glacier, Pema and his team were so patient as some us were very slow, not the children! Two of the cook team had picked fresh wildflowers and carried them up to the top of the pass as an offering. We didn’t linger too long as there was a bitingly cold wind and it was too claggy so not much of a view, which on a clear day would have been amazing, we would have seen the Zanskar, Stok and Ladakh range of mountains. Instead it reminded me of being on the top of a mountain in Wales on a rainy cold day but with the addition of prayer flags and pack ponies!
Our route from now on was down, which felt sad as the end of the trek was in sight. My Ether trekking poles were a Godsend as going down is so much worse on the knees than going up. All around we could hear the marmots call each other, they are quite timid so not often seen. Coming into our last camp, we saw loads as though we were camping in marmot city, they obviously had plenty to eat as they were extremely fat. The cooks had baked us a cake for our last night and we had a tip giving ceremony. The children had made envelopes which they painted and each Nepalese team member and the pony men received some money and two pieces of kit each that we had all donated. We walked for a few hours to a village where a truck picked us up, Callum was happy as we all rode in the back in the open air at breakneck speed on the edge of a precipice, scary stuff, not for 12 year boys though! There were some very sad farewells and huge thank yous, each and every one of Nepalese and Ladhaki team were wonderful, gentle and caring people.
Back in Leh we had one more night so it was last minute shopping and the inevitable pizza and lassi at ‘Pizza de Hutt’ as the children had been dreaming of all the food they wanted post trek, as they were getting a bit fed up of trekking food! Bee had resorted to drawing and painting all the food she wanted to eat! I hasten to add the food on our trek was fantastic and varied right up to the last day. We were all impressed with what the cooks managed to produce given that all the supplies were bought at the beginning of the trek. Carolyn and I even managed to fit in a walk up to the Japanese Gompa which I had missed at the beginning due altitude sickness, but by I was fully acclimatised. Early the next morning we flew to Delhi with very heavy hearts, very reluctant to leave beautiful Ladakh and it’s wonderful people.
Still more treats were in store for us, we had hired a bus to take us to Agra so we could see the Taj Mahal. We had a two night stay in a lovely hotel with a swimming pool for the children. Our bus driver took us on the very newly opened, only the day before, motorway from Delhi to Agra. Nowhere is quite like India, there were cars on the hard shoulder driving the wrong way, people stopping their cars to get out and take photos, motorbikes with Dad on the front with helmet on, Mum riding elegantly side saddle on the back sari flowing, no helmet on, holding baby or two in her arms also without protection!! Never had a motorway in the world been so lacking in traffic, just wait it won’t last long. Agra was a feast for the eyes wherever you turn, again the children loved it but did find the constant begging, poverty, people sleeping everywhere hard to handle. A good wake up call to not take all they have for granted. The Taj Mahal was magical even for the kids, despite making them get up at 5.00 a.m. yet again. The monsoon rains hit hard at this time of year, it made the whole Taj complex even more awe inspiring. The hotel we stayed at could have been anywhere in the world but what made it special were the staff, what service and the pride they took in their jobs, whatever they were. The children had their two days of relaxation in the pool and wondering about Agra in a tuk tuk or rickshaw they deserved their little bit of luxury after a hard trek. All in all a wonderful holiday, hard work but completely rewarding and a yearning by all for adventures in the future.
Thank you to Rimo Expeditions for an extremely well orgnised trip with fantastic staff from beginning to end. I would definately go with them again.
Thank you to Rohan, great clothes and kit - Charly - Rohan Betws-y-Coed
Our Rohan Kit List:
90 litre dry locker bag ( it was like Mary Poppins bottomless carpet bag, endless kit could be packed away in it!)
Wash bags – loved the hooks, so useful in far flung places.
Light cells/soft cells – really great for organising a chaotic family, with kit and clothes all over the place, I particularly loved these.
Ether trekking poles – excellent so light weight you hardly noticed they were there, yet gave you all the necessary support and were strong enough.
Pinnacle Jacket – suberb waterproof and very breathable especially needed if you sweat alot like me!
Merino wool base layers tops – fab day and night, sometimes mine were on for several days (too cold and lazy to change) yet not smelly at all.
Expedition shirt – great in every way.
Microgrid fleeces – superb light but warm
Socks for warmth and cold – very good.
Snow gaiters – so light weight – great piece of kit
Lapka boots – no blisters, very comfortable from day one, fully waterproof. Great
Stravaig day rucksacks various litreage – very comfortable, sturdy, good features, loved the waterproof cover which we needed in heavy downpours, no aching, moulded well for men and women.
Rohan buffs – very useful, take up no space, keeps the sun off your neck, gives an extra layer of warmth at night when the temperature plummets, useful as a dust barrier.
Charly – Rohan Betws-y-Coed