Kashmir, Ladakh and Zanskar Trek

August - September 1999


All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2008. Not to be copied, duplicated or used for any purpose without permission.



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In 1999 Kendy and I went to Northern India for a 6 week trekking expedition in Zanskar, Ladakh and Kashmir. Our adventure commenced in Delhi in August 1999 and concluded at the end of September in Srinagar. The trip was a true adventure, with some harrowing experiences as well as the adventure of travelling through such a rugged, remote and tourist free area.

Our trip was led by Manzoor Billoo, who now lives in Brisbane, Australia and runs a small Himalayan trekking agency called Snow Leopard Expeditions. Manzoor was assisted by Afzul, a cook, guide and friend who lives in Kashmir, not far from Srinagar. Also on the trek was Shoga who helped Manzoor and Afzul in the running of the expedition. We also had the company and services of two pony boys, whose responsibility was looking after the mules that would carry our supplies for the expedition.

The journey started in Delhi, from where we set off by 4WD for a 27 hour horror drive northwards to Darcha where our trek began. The long drive took us northwards from Delhi, through the sprawling outskirts of the city and polluted plains beyond. It was a hellish journey with suffocating pollution from vehicles of every shape and size, all of which belched black and sooty exhaust. After many hours of this we began climbing into the mountains, by which time it was the small hours of the morning. On and on we drove, well into the next day, when at last we arrived at Darcha where the skies were clear and the air relatively crisp and cool.

From Darcha we began our 20 day trek to Lamayuru and here our adventures were only just beginning. On the very first evening of our trek, only 1 day out of Darcha, our peaceful camp was attacked by people from the village who accused our pony boys of kidnapping. They attacked Manzoor, Afzul and Shoga with clubs inflicting multiple injuries. Afzul suffered a direct blow to the head which he was lucky to survive, and a broken hand. Their brutality broke Manzoor's arm and caused many other injuries. Despite these injuries and our limited first aid supplies, Manzoor, Afzul and Shoga refused to abandon the trek to go to hospital, as that would have necessitated returning through the village from whence the attackers had come. So the trek continued, with only some minor modifications to the original plan.

Despite these injuries we continued on the trek to Lamayuru, crossing several passes above 5000m and passing through dramatic mountain scenery. These mountains are home to some ancient Buddhist monasteries, often located in dramatic mountain aspects or clinging high to a mountainside. There were numerous beautiful Buddhist villages en route. We camped in some spectacular places and the surrounding landscape was dramatic. The entire region of this stage of the trek is an alpine desert. The mountains are stark and barren, the geology laid bare on sides of mountains thrust to great height by the great forces that built the Himalayas. The only greenery were the grasslands along the river valleys and the cultivated zones surrounding the villages that were situated on alluvial fans created by streams and rivers gushing forth from the mountains.

When we arrived in Lamayuru, some 20 days after leaving Darcha and 19 days after the attack on our camp, Manzoor left us to travel to Srinagar to get his broken arm attended to at hospital. Afzul and Shoga led us on the second stage of our trek from Lamayuru to Ringdom Gompa and Pansi La. This stage of the trek took 8 days and included a side trip to Pansi La. Like the first stage of the trek this area was an arid alpine region, starkly coloured in a medley of ochres, greys and browns. However this region includes some standout mountains and glaciers, such as the 7000m peaks Kun and Nun, and the dramatic shaped peak called Sickle Moon. From Pansi La can be seen a huge glacier, one of the largest in India.

Our pony boys and mules left us at Tashidongze, leaving Afzul and Shoga to arrange our transport into Kashmir. Afzul and Shoga waved down a truck which gave us a lift into Kargil, a frontier town on the road between Srinagar and Leh. We spent a night here before travelling by 4WD towards Srinagar and the final stage of the trek. At Sonnamarg we were met by Manzoor, whose broken arm was now set in plaster after his visit to Srinagar hospital. From near Sonnamarg we began a 7 day trek into an area of alpine lakes surrounded by mountains.

This area of Kashmir is breathtakingly beautiful. Unfortunately the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan over this province restricted our movements, but on the other hand conflict had meant the area is unspoilt by tourism as it rarely sees trekkers. In dramatic contrast to the starkness of the uplands of Ladakh and Zanskar, this area is lush and beautiful. Pine forest clings to the lower slopes of peaks that rise to 4800m, and the tops of the peaks boast dustings of fresh snow. Rivers run clear and are stocked with trout. The deep valleys are lush and richly vegetated. It is like the European Alps only 2000m higher and completely undeveloped. The local people live in wooden houses that are of a very different design to the architecture we had become used to in Ladakh and Zanskar.

Finally after 7 days in this militarized paradise, our adventure ended in Srinigar, which can only be described as a magical city. The city hugs the shores and islands of Dal Lake, and throughout the lake are moored house boats which offer excellent accommodation. We stayed for 2 nights on Manzoor's family house boat and enjoyed the idyllic surrounds for a day or two where we recovered from our adventure prior to our journey back to Australia. Dal Lake is beautiful, the water is crystal clear and you can swim in it. Travel to and from our house boat was by shikara, a wide canoe with a canopy, whose owner would paddle us to our destination for a few rupees. The idyllic and apparently peaceful environment of Dal Lake belies the ongoing conflict for which Kashmir is infamous. We were often reminded of the tensions that lie just below the surface in Srinagar. The military, police and security presence is never far away, and nor is the prospect of conflict or violence.

This was without doubt one of the most memorable trekking experiences of my life, and Kashmir, its mountains and its people will always remain close to my heart as a result of this 6 week adventure that I spent there.

Take a look at the photos of the trip by clicking on one of the links below. I hope you enjoy them.

Stage 1 - Darcha to Lamayuru
Stage 2 - Lamayuru to Ringdom Gompa and Pansi La
Stage 3 - Sonnamarg, Kashmir Lakes and Srinagar



Web page created 9 Feb 2008, last updated 9 Feb 2008.

All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2008. Not to be copied, duplicated or used for any purpose without permission.