The next day was a long and tedious motorbiking round trip to Lamayuru, totalling 300 kms and visiting the gonpas (monasteries) at Alchi, Likir, Lamayuru and the Patthar Saheb Gurudwara. The best part being lunch at a restaurant at Khalsi, where a buddhist monk and me being the only customers, got to talking and he, very graciously spoke for a couple of hours answering all my queries related to spirituality in general and Buddhism in particular. That made my day. Oh and the worst part being riding the motorbike after dusk, without a working headlight, in the mountain roads, for about 24 kms. Definitely try this once.
The 19th was a rest day finally and on the 20th, I was back motorbiking to the monasteries of Shey, Thiksey, Hemis and Spituk.
The 21st was the start of my expedition to Stok Kangri, a Himalayan peak at over 20,000 ft, with a German mountain veteran, Christoph and a British guy Will. We had a mountain guide and everything taken care of by XploreLadakh, a Leh tour operator (whom you should stay away from [:)]). By now the weather was turning bad at Leh, with Stok Kangri always under clouds and snowfall. Preparing with over 3 months of continuous climbing including Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Mt. Tallac, Mt. Elbert and the Maroon Bells, I thought I was ready for this. A few jackets, ice axes and crampons later, we were all set.
The first night we camped at 14,000 ft, entertained all along by our cook-cum-guide-cum-entertainer, who I learnt was a professional vote buyer during the elections and claimed to have interacted with lots of terrorists and seen rooms full of ammunition. The second day, we went upto 15,000 ft to camp in the ice and snow. I made it last, with an upset stomach, tired body and a few antibiotics in. Not wanting to spoil the big day ahead, it made sense to take it easy, and I thankfully recovered the next morning at 1 a.m. to ascend Stok Kangri.
We had a guide who believed he could easily take us up to Stok Kangri in jeans, trainers and a sweatshirt, a helper with just 2 layers, no headlamps with either. In short not very good for such a high altitude hike considering the bad weather, continuous snowfall and knee-deep fresh snow. As I expected, we had to abort our trip at 18,000 ft after we crossed a glacier because we didn’t think our guide could make it till the end, even though we had some veterans who could have easily led. I was not very disappointed since that was my first high altitude climbing in those conditions.
The last day at Leh was mostly catching up with people I met during my stay there, goodbye’s and exchanging of contact information. By now I really wanted to go home, a first since I can ever remember. It is tough to describe how my parents felt seeing me home, considering I chose not to tell them that I was in India. Meeting a few friends, fewer relatives, watching some Purushottam Karandak plays, a trek to Kalavantincha durga and it was time to get back to school at Stanford, where the quarter had already started and I had to catch up with studies and work immediately.
If experiences are the metric to judge a trip, I had a terrific trip. If meeting people is a metric, I had an even better trip. It was never meant to be a philosophical or spiritual journey (never understood what that means anyways), but it ended up teaching me a whole lot of things and giving me a few nice, happy, tough, thoughful and ecstatic memories, enough to say that the amount that disappeared from my bank account at the end was among my best investments to date.
If I had to say just one sentence after the whole journey, I would have to say ……………….. I am tired.
P.S. : Snaps here.