AUG 8, 2008 .. LADAKH Part 1/4

Date: Friday, August 8, 2008, 10:18 PM

This is going to be a very (extremely) long post, so I hope you have brought your popcorn along with you to keep you company as you read this.

This series of what ends up being four posts began as a mere two day.. two session writing. Initially I began on Friday August 8th and wrapped it up on Saturday August 9th. I had to ‘cut it off’ at a point and continue it later making it a two-part post.

We have The Nation of India that .. like the United States .. is sub-divided into states.. divided into regions.. divided into districts.. divided if you will into sub-districts..

I am in the STATE called Jammu-Kashmir.. Jammu-Kashmir is
in the extreme North of India.. I am in the REGION of Jammu-Kashmir called Ladakh..

Ladakh is further sub-divided into ‘districts’.. the Leh District and the Kargil District.. Leh and Kargil being Ladakh’s largest cities..

Now the name ‘Zanskar’..

BEFORE ARRIVING INTO THE CITY OF KARGIL IN THE DISTRICT CALLED LADAKH on July the 20th.. 2008 .. I had never heard the word ‘Zanskar’. When I got here it was a ‘new word to me’.

Well NO one could really define what ‘Zanskar’ is.. I heard a lot of chit-chat.. but no one really tied it down..

‘Zanskar’ is a specific Valley .. The ‘Zanskar Valley’ and it is part of the Kargil District of Ladakh. I could not get everyone to agree on that.. some said “NO.. Zanskar’ is NOT part of Ladakh”.. they are incorrect.. I know that now..

To get to the Zanskar Valley.. you head South from the City of Kargil. Eventually you come to the ‘Pensi La Pass’. The word pass is ‘La’.. so properly you write it ‘Pensi La’ but they run it into one word.. and add the word ‘pass’ which is totally redundant.. ‘Pensila Pass’. When you cross the ‘Pensila Pass’ you have entered into the ‘Zanskar Valley’. The pass is a medium pass as the passes here go.. BUT it still ‘tops out’ at Four Thousand Four Hundred and One Metres.. 4,401 metres.. or if you like.. 14,435 Ft.. not too shabby because after-all we are in the Himalaya Mountain Range!  You must pant-pant for air at this elevation!

Ever since coming to Ladakh.. this place called ‘Zanskar’ has held a fascination for me. As I just wrote above.. I had NEVER HEARD THE WORD until I got to Leh.. Ladakh..

To the ‘real world travellers’ word-amongst-them is ‘Zanskar’ IS WHERE IT’S AT..

Now I know it is properly the ‘Zanskar Valley’ .. and I now
know its boundries.. and now I know the ‘Zanskar Valley’ IS
WITHIN THE LADAKH REGION.. the one (1) major city in the
‘Zanskar Valley’ is called Padam or Padum.. with an ‘a’ or
with a ‘u’.. IN the actual village of PadUm.. it is called
PadUm with a ‘u’.. on maps and other literature.. it is more
commonly called PadAm with an ‘a’.. go figure.. since it is
called PadUm in the village of PadUm (mostly not 100%) I
will call it Padum..

Last Sunday August 3rd.. late afternoon.. say 5:15 PM
‘or so’.. I met ‘Tim and Ann’ from Antwerp.. Belgium..
moving quickly here..

road from Kargil South to Padum is horrible.. the ‘Lonely
Planet’ says it is bad.. and every one who has traveled the
road says it is bad.. there is total agreement on this. I
have not heard one single person who has travelled the road
say “Well it is bad BUT..”.. all say “It is bad” period.. no
ifs.. no ands.. and no buts..

From Kargil to Padum it is 235 Kilometres.. or 146 miles..

By bus it takes fourteen (14) hours IF the road is open and not blocked by rocks or streams overflowing onto to and inundating the road or some ‘road work’ in progress.. I would say fourteen (14) hours by bus is as good as it gets.. the taxis do it quicker. I have heard a taxi driver say he does it in eight (8) hours.

I had pretty much decided.. I REALLY WANT TO GO TO ZANSKAR BUT I DO NOT WANT.. AND I DO NOT NEED.. THE ROAD FROM HELL.. (read) I think that I will-pass on the trip. This decision I made BEFORE I met Tim and Ann.

IF tough twenty year old backpackers say “I was exhausted from the trip by bus” I believe them.. they don’t say ” I was exhausted “.. they say ”I was (colorful adjective) EXHAUSTED!”.

Well Tim and Ann.. BOTH ‘tough to the core’.. trekkers and backpackers both.. introduced me to a NEW concept.. going South from Kargil to Padum in three stages..

Stage I.. Kargil to Panikhar a distance of 63 Km or 39 miles.. OR Kargil (further) to Parakachik.. about 86 Km or 53 miles.. rest a day or so. STAGE II go from Parakachik to
Ringdom Gompa.. 39 Km or 24 miles.. again.. rest a day or so. Finally STAGE III.. the push from Ringdom Gompa to Padum.. this being the longest stage.. 110 Km or 68 miles.

I can hear some-of-you chuckling .. 53 miles and 24 miles and 68 miles and taking three days to do this!?

This was their plan and they were going from Kargil to Panikhar on Monday August 4th. The next day as in ‘tomorrow’. So out exploring we went and we three found where the bus from Kargil to Panikhar left from (let me assure you that this was NO easy task).. and they were ‘set to DO it’.

This made so much sense to me. I might be able to actually DO and survive a
fourteen hours bus ride .. BUT I do NOT WANT to do this. I CAN I figured do four to six hours.. four hours to Panikhar.. or on to Parakachik another hour and a half. Rest overnight or longer then I CAN do another four hours to Ringdom Gompa. Rest again.  Then do six or more hours down to Padum..

So last Sunday.. August 3rd.. at about 11 o’clock PM (2300
hours) late at night.. I decided “I AM going to Panikhar
with Tim and Ann tomorrow (Monday August 4th)”..

No time to call anyone.. the bus leaves Kargil for Panikhar
at 7 AM and the phone STD/ISD booking offices open at 10

And so I actually went to Panikhar with Tim and Ann last Monday August the
4th. For Fifty Six Rupees.. we rode a ‘local bus’ to Panikhar.. I totally.. and I completely.. flipped out over the majestic beauty of the Himalaya Mountains going South from Kargil down the Suru River Valley..

OK.. while IN Panikhar.. on Monday the 4th of August.. Tim
and Ann learned another tidbit. It is just seemingly
impossible to learn it all in one fell swoop here in India!
Tim and Ann found out that three days a week.. there is
another ‘local bus’ that goes FROM Kargil South into and
past Panikhar to this small village further down the road to
the ‘Zanskar Valley and to Padum’ called Panakachik. They
learned that this other local bus arrives into Panikhar at
(approximately) 3 PM on Monday.. at 3 PM on Wednesday.. and
at 3 PM on Friday afternoons. So Tim and Ann figured they
would catch this bus and travel on down the road to
Panakachik on Wednesday the 6th of August..

OK.. by going with Tim and Ann ‘on the spur of the moment’ to Panikhar last Monday the 4th of August.. I LEARNED THIS: I WANT TO SEE AND TO EXPERIENCE MORE OF THE HIMALAYA MOUNTAINS..

I did NOT go with Tim and Ann prepared to make the push to Zanskar and Padum as they were set to do. I went with them ONLY TO SEE WHAT I COULD SEE.. and of course I did and the ‘hook’ was taken and ‘set’ into my mouth. I was REALLY ‘HOOKED’ on the Himalaya Mountains. AH-BUT I lacked the one MOST necessary ingredient to make the trip. I HAD NOT TAKEN enough money with me when I rode down with them on Monday the 4th of August!

I simply did NOT have enough money to stay in Panikhar and just go with them on Wednesday the 6th down the road to Panakachik..

So I returned to Kargil on Tuesday the 5th of August leaving Panikhar on the noon local bus. Back in Kargil (thank goodness the National Bank of India’s ATM was working.. this is not always the case.. don’t want to shock you here..) I got money and several other things I needed to make a longer trip.. you know.. more clothes pins.. an extra hand towel.. little stuff but things I wanted having done the overnight in Panikhar with Tim and Ann..

There is a little trick to using the ATMs here.. you start
with the amount of money you want.. you may get it.. if you
do not.. if you get some message that the machine is not
working.. you just lower your ante.. and keep doing so.. you
may then hit the money at a lower amount.. good to know this

OK here we are into ‘new information’.. it is NOT new
information to some of you that I ‘talk’ to people .. on the
bus from Kargil down to Panikhar I got to know.. by names..
the two bus conductors and the bus driver.. the conductors
are Jaffar Ali (senior conductor) and Sadar Ali.. the driver
Saffi Ali.. all are Ali’s but not related..

When I showed up to board their bus back to Kargil at noon
last Tuesday.. all were happy to see me again.. keep in mind
I met them on Monday going to Panikhar..

When we got back to Kargil on Tuesday afternoon.. we pulled into the J&K State Road Transport Corporation Bus Stand.. and I asked Saffi Ali the bus driver “What do I do to get the bus to Parakachik tomorrow”.. and he ‘took my by the hand’ and SHOWED ME the window where I was to get my ticket.. he said “Be at this window at 9 AM tomorrow.. the bus for Parakachik leaves at ll AM (showing me the bus stall) here”..

When I showed up at 8:30 AM (early) on Wednesday morning
the 6th.. Sadar Ali (the junior conductor on the Kargil to
Panikhar route Monday) spotted me and gleefully grabbed me
and said “I am the conductor on the bus to Parakachik
today”.. he then ‘took me by the hand’ to the driver
(another driver not the one I rode to Panikhar with) AND THE
DRIVER ‘took me by the hand’ to THE window and HE.. the
driver.. cutting into the head of the line.. got me my
ticket .. whew.. pays to have friends.. I slipped this
driver a Fifty Rupee note (the fare was 75 Rupees.. so a 50
Rupee ‘tip’ was a big tip)..

And off I went for a reunion with Tim and Ann in Panikhar
and then we three further to the end of the line in
Parakachik .. me with a ‘window’ seat!

Monday it took 4 hours 3 minutes Kargil to Panikhar..
Wednesday it took 4 hours to the minute to make the same
trip.. very very close in timing.. we left 20 minutes late
so got into Panikhar at 3:20 PM. There were Tim and Ann..
BUT since they were boarding in ‘mid route’ .. they had to
fight their way aboard and Ann sat in the back and Tim sat
further up front.. with the aisle full of standees..  a real wonder
each got a seat..

The scenery from Panikhar to Parakachik was beyond the
beyond.. whew.. how else to describe it..

When we got to Panakachik we had a ‘bit of a trek’ from the
road up to the State of Jammu-Kashmir Official Tourist
Hostel.. the elevation in Parakachik is in the 11,000 foot
range.. prior to coming.. Tim and Ann had done ALL of the
planning here.. they KNEW for instance.. that there was a
State Tourist Hostel in Parakachik.. it is NOT a ‘given’
there will even be a hotel or guest house of any ilk.. just
invaluable to me.. the walk was a bit of a challenge for
me.. but I lived.. out of breath and panting.. but I lived..
Tim and Ann were very much ‘protective’ of me.. walked slow
and easy beside me.. “No hurry.. take your time Cap..” so
NICE.. checked in.. dinner time..

NOW IT GETS INTERESTING.. (Hello all of you who just
‘skipped the above’)..

As Tim and Ann and I sat down for dinner.. at the Tourist
Hostel in Parakachik.. in walked easily one of the most
incredible world travellers that it has ever been my
pleasure to meet and to interact with.. and trust me on
this.. daily.. DAILY.. over the years.. I have met a lot of
‘real’ world travellers..

I WANT YOU ALL TO MEET:  Mr. and Mrs. Clement and
Patricia Olinger and their eleven year old son.. Merlin..
they are from France.. the South East.. the French Alps

I just can NOT present Clement’s credentials here BUT
Patricia is a teacher (third grade I think) and Clement..
well Clement travels around the world and then does slide
and other shows and presentations of his travels.. in other
words.. his ‘line of work’ is titled: Professional World

Are you sitting down.. are you holding onto your chairs..
Clement and Patricia and Merlin ARRIVED RIDING (rented in
New Delhi).. 

Royal Enfield.. Bullet 350
Machismo.. Fifty Years in India.. The
Legend Rides On.. MOTOR CYCLES..
Clement riding with Merlin behind
him and Patricia riding solo..

IF you are an India Traveler.. you KNOW what this says..
IF not.. well you have no idea of what riding motorcycles
here in India is about.. especially up from New Delhi.. it
is a certifiable  w o w .. no it is a certifiable
W O W .. and they looked the part.. wind blown and sun
burned.. I mean I could NOT believe this.. then Clement
‘opened his mouth’ and I just sat TRANSFIXED UNABLE TO SAY
ONE WORD OF INTEREST.. with us were a couple from Italy
themselves fun to have in the ‘mix’.. the man from Italy a
professional ‘trainer’ of sports and trekkers and other
outdoors types..

Clement Olinger age (about to be) Fifty Two.. on September
4th.. I will be age Seventy Two on September 5th.. birthdays
one day apart.. I did tell Clement that “I am proof that YOU
TOO will be doing what you do at an advanced age”..


Tim and Ann.. to whom ‘I owe’ this entire adventure.. read
quietly said to me .. “Cap.. Ann and I have decided NOT to
go further.. we will NOT be going to Ringdom Gompa NOR will
we be going to Zanskar or to Padum.. we are cutting this
part of our trip short so we can visit Rajastahn in the West
of India.. we will head back to Kargil on Saturday the

I tried.. I mean I REALLY TRIED to convince them to ‘just
go to Ringdom Gompa’ to no avail.. I said that “I’ve been to
Rajastahn and I know what is there and I think you are
making a mistake cutting this part short when you are so far
into it’.. to no avail..

Clement and the couple from Italy and I visited ‘late into
the night’.. his wife and son and Tim and Ann retired ..

I had a restless night.. altitude had me again.. pant pant
pant.. ‘air up’ and start to fall asleep and pant pant pant
for (gasping) air.. not fun at all.. it is a living.. it is
a dying.. bitch.. I do NOT like it..

The Tourist Hostel in Parakachik is located at the top of a
long mountain grade.. during the night I heard only one time.. the
sound(s) of traffic on the road.. I looked out and saw two
(2) sets of headlights.. and with motors ‘laboring’.. I
watched them come slowly up the grade.. I stayed with them
and saw that it was a pair of ‘over the road’ heavy trucks..
I thought to myself.. “Boy would I love to ‘hitch’ a ride
with an ‘over the road’ trucker”.. word on the street here
is that the truckers will .. if they have room in their
cabs.. take passengers along with them.. it is a ‘hit and a
miss’ thing.. you have to catch one ‘just correct’ to manage
such a ride.. oh well.. one can dream dreams can’t one..

AND DURING THE NIGHT I DECIDED: “I AM going forward alone
without Tim and Ann.. I AM going to DO this thing”.. “I AM
going to go South to the Zanskar Valley”..

I was up early Thursday morning the 7th of August.. about 4
AM.. (quick aside.. thank goodness I took with me two LARGE
CANDLES .. I really needed them bad.. I did not even have a
light in my room.. I was in a dorm but alone.. and those
candles really came in handy..) and I ‘solidified my
resolve’ to PRESS ON.. alone but press on.. it was in the
very high.. but it WAS in the Forties the night of August
6th in Parakachik.. what a different world it is up here..

Determined to press on.. I was downstairs at 6 AM ready to
get out on the road.. the cooks said “If you want to eat now
we will cook you breakfast now.. you don’t have to wait till
later”.. so I had one.. and then a second.. to-die-for
omelete with chapatis and butter and jam.. and water..

I knocked on Tim and Ann’s door.. awakening them.. I did
NOT want to leave without a thanks.. I told Tim. “Tim.. I AM
going forward in honor of your assistance to me I WILL
complete this trip for the three of us.. I am ‘outta heah’
Tim..”.. he smiled..

I also saw.. and I also checked out with Clement Olinger
from France.. the real world traveler with wife and son ON

I headed out the door of the Hostel and down the long
driveway for the highway.. it was about 6:30 AM.. Thursday..
August 7th..

I was off for ‘Zanskar’.. MUCH MUCH MUCH JOY.. Cap..