Part 2: Stok to Mankarmo
12 August 2015
Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called Ego.
I almost woke up groaning and dreading that ‘yet another day feeding the middle class disposition’ feeling but for the breakfast cackle of the sparrows. It wasn’t cold, and almost made you ponder over a storm in the offing. Digant and Anant had already biked quite a bit around these lands and were Leh-d up proper, but no matter how much you ride, the pedestrian’s travail has their own special charms. No matter how much the armchair vacillator may sketch routes, pore over maps or dissect weather forecasts, it all takes its own sweet rhythm as soon as you kick up the dust.
A leisurely start at 9:30 after introductions with Mingma, our Sherpa; we hit the dusty path along the riverbed, a leisurely stroll of half an hour followed by a small pass before Chang Ma, the otherwise first campsite for those who want to take it slow (a trail for Rumbak also diverges from here), the trail now ascending continuously but gently.
We reached Chang Ma around one, gobbling up that home made bread from Stok and boiled eggs washed down with another one of those countless cup of black tea (of which I easily consumed gallons this time around, straight in, lemon, or honey, or honey ginger lemon, or whatever hot that would come one’s way and be labelled 'tea' in any way). The pace was good, with Anant leisurely sweeping up. Chang Ma was succeeded by a steep pass which went into the final valley for the day, or the Gates of Mordor now jutted out in proximity, for the imaginative muses while traversing the rocky riverbed.
From the pass to the riverbed was another couple of hours, a rather drab bit of flooring, scattered with irritating little streams (if their has to be a water crossing, it has to atleast make a man out of thee) and pebbles, but the brown barren gorge was a universe rather satisfied in its own cocoon, a tapestry content with its efforts at contrast.
The highlight of the day were the blue sheep, though. Noticing a couple busy with their stunts on a slope a couple of hundred meters away, I creeped nearer onto to discover the camouflage stripping away, my two precious jewels now numbering to almost a hundred, with segregated male and female groups munching along the bits of grass managing to survive on the steepness. We spent almost fifteen minutes observing the drove, a particularly heartwarming instance being of two cossets unable to take the frightening jumps on their own, with the mother climbing up from the riverbed and nudging the reluctant offspring down the slope.
Mankorma is where one gets the final glimpses of the summit before the base camp, a picturesque campsite with patches of green carpets, with a trail branching out to Markha Valley, and a youthful stream gurgling around one flank. Ladakh Mitra has a large base here, and people mostly here use their mess services. The usual fare of Coke and chips is easily available, and so was (rather surprisingly), beer. Yippee noodles were making merry of Maggi’s woes, and it still, was not as cold as expected. That I’d last camped during winters could’ve skewed my cognitive judgement was a possibility.
It had been a good day of walking, and we settled for an early dinner. After three days, I finally decided to bid farewell to Diamox. Altitude had not been a problem till now, and I did simply detest those brief calls of nature that make you crawl out of the tent at three in the morning, not that there was a guarantee without the pill.
The clouds cleared up post dinner, and we had the most sumptuous sighting of satellites ever, tracing almost a dozen of those flying saucers in their orbital meanderings, punctuated by a shooting star or two, the pale of milky way illuminating a couple of hopes maybe, or a sigh off to sleep, tired but too exuberant for the dawn.
|that first step... hiking along the riverbed as one moves out of Stok|
|over the shoulder... Stok village from the far end...|
|Chang Ma campsite from the pass immediately following it...|
|the pass after Chang Ma campsite...|
|the usual devotional fare...|
|the trail was mostly along the riverbed, and that 'twas not that challenging a hike save the summit push was becoming apparent|
|Mankorma was a neat (not literally) green campsite, with ample arrangements for the gate crashing hiker too, which I am not sure is such a good idea in the long term as tourist footfall grows|
|'twas all a muse o' Tolkien, or so it seemed...|
|we saw close to a hundred bharal, out for a team lunch maybe, the better halves being the more gregarious of the lot...|
|there was this heartwarming little scene as the young one found themselves on a rock face too steep for their naive liking|
|all permutations were tried, dear sir, all of 'em...|
|before the restless mother had had enough...|
Hiking from Stok Village to Mankarmo campsite, Stok Kangri trek, Ladakh, India