Friday, July 25, 2008

Ladakh Trip: Day Fourteen. Rumbak.

I find my own N-spot early in the morning. It feels - as Dave Barry says - good, but also very fundamentally wrong. Your civilized mind is still going, 'Hey! Did you lock the door? Where's the walls?' while nature takes it's course.
Ns, too used to western-style, finds his legs aching painfully, and described his experience as a series of alternating hops, cramps, scrambles, and stretches.

Our guide, Mutuk, leads the way across Hemis National Park, a high-altitude national sanctuary (and, incidentally, India's largest sanctuary, a fact I didn't realize until a year later). You have a chance to meet Argali, Bharal, Shapu, ibex, tibetan wolves, himalayan marmots, brown bears, mountain weasels, golden eagles, and, of course, the peak of the ecological food-chain pyramid, the famous Snow Leopard.

close encounters with Snow Leopard
- unfortunately, not by us

Occasional caravans of donkeys meander past, with a single or two weathered-faced drivers, wrinkles crinkling in grins and the ubiquitous 'Julley!' as they ride past. The scenery is changing now, and the barren lands are gone - now it's shadier, between the rocks and in narrow valleys, surrounded by juniper, dry birch and fir trees.

Solar cooker

Pass through a village, where we're greeted by a sudden rush of excitedly squealing children, and their mothers sitting in a group at a doorstep, sorting grain. We pause for a bit here, letting the rest of the group catch up, at a local - temple? Holy spot? Something like that, anyway, marked by a collection of bones and skulls painted a blood-red and decorated with ibex horns.

Have lunch, and continue. Not a good idea. The food sits heavy in our stomachs, and it's tough going. By the time we reach Rumbak, my legs are heavy, lungs labouring, head pounding with oxygen lack and black spots doing the occasional swirl in my vision. Perspective is all wrong - everything is too far away. Distances you thought you could walk in ten minutes take nearly half an hour to complete.

Rumbak campsite is in the middle of a flat bowl-shaped valley, surrounded on all sides by mountains, perched dead center in a flat plateau. No vegetation at all. Or rocks. Finding the N-spot here tomorrow morning is going to be a serious issue. Yes, there is a hut-like thingy off to the side, with a dry pit underneath - but trust me, you do not want to go in there. You just don't.

Mutuk catches forty winks while evaluating his charges' chances of surviving the next 72 hours

Take a bath in a stream, though I'm still dead tired and gasping, because in another forty minutes the sun will slip behind the mountain and it'll be too cold to even think of water. It's cold all right, but not icy. With every mugful, energy comes roaring back - this is unbelievably refreshing. This is like magic. I bathe, wash a change of clothes, hang it on a couple of posts to dry, and I'm literally bounding around like a rabbit, I'm feeling so fresh. In fact, I inspire Ns to do it too - who in turn inspires St, who builds an elaborate bathing tent for herself.

Now, I desperately need tea - dusk is falling, and I can't feel my fingers anymore.

Professorism #2: Prof. PP checks out the loo hut, and makes a very significant observation - "Couples will like this. The romantic thing is that, in the bathroom, they have put two stools."
Ah. The Defecating Duo. How truly romantic, indeed...

Set up the dining tent, and recharge with boiling-hot tea (and more importantly, in a boiling-hot mug) as night falls.
Stare up at the sky at night - They say you can see 3,600 stars in the night sky from the ground. In a city, you're lucky to get to a hundred. Here - it's a blaze. With no light-pollution from streetlights and traffic leaking into the sky, you can see big stars, small stars, tiny stars, something that could be planets, the occasional spark of a satellite or maybe the ISS slowly moving across the firmament...

For the second time in my life, after almost fifteen years, I can see the galaxy we live in again.

(image courtesy wikipedia. My digicam can't do brilliant stuff like this)

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