“Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
It was stunning to turn a corner in the middle of the high desert Himalayas only to find a speck of green perched atop some cliff or a small patch down in the valley, the marks of civilization. These tiny villages, composed of three to a few dozen homes were simply astounding because of where they were, literally in the middle of nowhere, and because of the harsh conditions a winter above 4,000m must bring. As we passed from Ladakh into the Zanskar valley the villages became larger and more well connected as there are new roads being built all throughout the area. Though photos will never do these villages justice, here are a few of my favorites from trekking through Ladakh and Zanskar.
“This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, strop watching tv. If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love… Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself. Some opportunities only come once, seize them…”
A smiling almost toothless man greeted us before ushering us upstairs and brining us tea before disappearing. His daughter, a twenty-two year old nun who usually lives in Dharamsala (a large Indian city with a very prominent Tibetan Buddhist community and many monasteries and nunneries) shyly began talking with us in her broken English as her fifteen year old monk brother helped her out. They showed us around the very small nunnery the village of twenty houses had to offer before sending us back on our way to the house with their key. (Imagine leaving a complete stranger with your key. We definitely aren’t in the United States anymore!) On our way back we got called over by a group of older villagers who were all sitting together drinking what we assumed was tea. Boy were we wrong!
“Live simply, travel lightly, love passionately, and never forget to breath.”
Though it took us a week of walking to arrive, we finally officially arrived in Zanskar once we met up with the river after our third pass. Though we had brought a lot of food with us, we did run out which meant that we would be relying on homestays every night throughout the rest of the trek to keep us fed. Since there was a constant water source and no huge passes left to Padum we figured there would be a few more villages than in the previous region, and thankfully we were indeed able to find somewhere to stay every night.
“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like an answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life.”
“Homestay homestay?!” The Ladakhi man asked us as we passed through his small village, mostly green pastures with a few houses perched on the only flat ground in the region. We quickly realized that he didn’t know any English except that one important word, so we found another man in the village to translate prices (five dollars each for dinner, breakfast, a whole lot of tea, and a place to sleep) then followed him to his home. Though we have been staying in our tent and cooking for ourselves the last few nights, we were starting to run low on food and figured now would be a great time to try out this homestay arrangement that has become prevalent for trekkers throughout the region. Though I have done plenty of homestays in the past, this one would be different because for my first time I would be a paying guest. As there are no shops or places to buy food along the way, trekkers have taken to paying villagers for a meal and a space on their floor in order to get by.
“If you want to be successful, it’s just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing.”
Everything is laborious. It’s either too hot, or too cold. And every three steps you find yourself completely out of breath. That, in short, is what living at altitude is like. Though it sounds nothing short of miserable, and more often than not is, I have definitely felt the pull towards trekking, climbing, and cycling at altitude since my first taste in South America (LINK CLIMBING). After cycling and trekking over 5,000m this trip, I have decided that I enjoy walking up much more than pedaling, but that the descent on a bike is obviously a lot more fun than the treacherous walk down.