The Ladakh Reflections - Day 4

(The view from the Leh-Kargil road)

(Spectacular terrain just before Nimu on Leh-Kargil road)

Today is rafting day! Got up early as had a pick up at 8:15 am. Did a quick breakfast and packed an extra pair of clothes for change just in case. The rafting operator was Splash Ladakh which had host of other packages as well. The taxi stopped at couple of more places to pick up other rafting enthusiasts and by the time we were done, we had an American, two Danes and two Indians besides me. I had a nice little conversation going with the American and the two guys from Bhopal. Out of the city, we took a right to the road that goes to the airport and Kargil beyond that with the Indus on our sides.The first destination was Nimu, a small village on the Kargil road that would be serve as the stopping point of the rafting exercise. As we moved out of the city, we were again with the mountains, the clear blue sky and the clouds. The big blue country indeed. One could see the road for miles and miles ahead. We sped by what was a Indian oil cylinder refilling complex. The hills on both side were a lot smaller and there was some rain drops on the windscreen even though there were no clouds over us. The road was darkened by the this invisible rain but the rest of the environs, the gravel on the sides & the hills remained the same. The road was straight and we drove fast, until the driver took a shortcut from the highway for Nimu village. The road was now sloping down sharply across sharp turns and blind corners. A little forward and the terrain changed to mud hills with small round rocks embedded in them like a river bed and there mud hills encroached on the roads. It was a surreal feeling as if straight out of moon or mars, except of course the road. All you could see were severely eroded hills around and rocks strewn around. Occasionally you could make out arches shaped structures in these mud hills except that they were caused by erosion. I wondered what it would be like to get lost here on a full moon night when these mud hills impose gigantic shadows. Clearing out from this terrain, I could see a splash of green on what was Nimu village (28 km from Leh) and i could see Indus all over again. The slow place of the river allowing it to make sand islands in between its midst.

(Zanskar river from the Nimu-Chilling road)

(Zanskar river from the Nimu-Chilling road)

We took off again for the starting point of our rafting which was Chilling village (60 km from Leh) on the banks of river Zanskar. We crossed Indus again, and left Ladakh range for more treacherous Zanskar range. No more smooth gravel hills, instead we had sharp edged rocks jutting out dangerously on the road. After a short while, the river Zanskar meandered across besides us with it cream colored water. The road to Chilling had the deep river on one side and the rock face on the other, besides the road was not as good as the Nimu stretch as it narrow and had lot of blind turns. Anyways, it did not matter, i was more occupied with my camera. We crossed the Zanskar river, but still drove besides the river but now on opposite side, and were gaining altitude. The river was slowly getting rougher and you could see eddies and currents in it. One could hardly see the river beyond hundred meters at any point of time, because it was doing zig zag between the mountains. Over looking the river, the many colored mountains look ominous & dark and pregnant with intrigue. I wonder if one would survive if the raft crashed against the sharp edges on the river banks. The driver told that we had reached Chilling and the starting point lay 3 km beyond Chilling. I somehow was more interested in traveling the road to where ever it took us rather than rafting. After more than 2 hours of leaving Leh, we reached the starting point (around 11am). Couple of more jeeps were lined on the sides, while one with the gear was parked right besides the river. It took an hour for them to take out their gear, ready the rafts and for us to wear the suits, helmets and waterproof. After a quick introduction by our raft guide(is there a proper term for it?) and the safety guidelines, we were on our rafts. There were 3 rafts in the water besides couple of safety guys on their kayaks.

(Starting point of the rafting)

(view from the raft)

The water was sure cold. Besides me, there were the guys from Bhopal, two ladies from Bombay and a father-daughter duo from Ranchi. Since the water was fast, all we had to do was steering the raft to avoid the edges and the eddies. The current did the rest of us, meanwhile i enjoyed the spectacular view the Zanskar had to offer. The mountains gave way to more mountains which in turn gave way to more mountains. Again, there were huge alluvial fans on the slopes caused by erosion and shades of violet color in the hills besides the usual brown. There were differences in terrain as we drifted in the river, sometimes one could see chocolate colored rocks on the sides all smooth and shinning as if someone has polished them, sometimes you saw the slate and the shale jutting out from underneath with perfectly preserved layers. Yet other times you could see the sand and pebble mix hills on the sides that looked lot like a biscuit with nuts in it. With all that rest you did between the rapids you had enough to enjoys the sight all around you and since i was alone in the group, i did not mind that i had no one to talk. The rapids were good and some of them did require maneuvering to avoid the eddies or slamming into the edges. Thankfully the guide was good at dictating short commands for us to follow. He told me that the Zanskar stretch is more difficult to do then the Indus stretch, besides there is not much water in Indus this time of the year so it would not be that much fun. He said that these are Level3 rapids and some are 3+. At the midway of our rafting around one and half hours into it, we took a short break along the somewhat smooth banks. I unzipped my booties and baked my near frozen legs on the hot warm sand and rocks nearby. It felt so good. I pulled a loose shale stone from the ground like a book from the the library rack and flipped its thin layers hoping to get lucky with a fossil or two. Some wild flowering grew in the sand. Meanwhile the refreshments were out now for all to eat. Another 10 minutes, and we were again in the river. The water was fast and it created small caves at the edge of the rock face where the water meets the banks. Couple of thick wires passed over our head and when i looked back, i could see a small iron chair on the other side of the river tied to the wires and this was the way to cross the river to go to the isolated village on the other side. Pretty dangerous, i thought!. I was still not sure if it was the right time to take out the camera holstered in water proofing as the water was still unruly. I was glad that we did not had much work to do ploughing the water, except when the rapids approach otherwise this terrain would leave you seriously out of breath. Overhead the bridge through which we crossed Zanskar passed us. After an hour in water, the water calmed down and i took out my camera for some shots of the environs. The river required more paddling now as the current was slow. I could see the willows of Nimu from the distance. It was 3 p.m now and we had reached Nimu, it took us a little less then 3 hours to complete the route and we were all tired and more so due to the heavy lifting that we had to do to take the raft out from the water and into the gear area. We got out of gear and a hot lunch awaited us besides the Indus banks. It tasted nice, i guess any thing tastes nice when you are so tired. The usual dal, chawal, matter paneer and couple of other side dish. It took a while before the lunch was over as the foreigners had to work their way around Indian food just as they had to do on the raft.

(The gates of hell are not very far from the gates of heaven)

We left for Leh around 4pm back on the Leh-Kargil highway, following the same route from where we came. On the way back, saw a tilted and accident stuck qualis by the roadside, a piece of heaven can be hell for some i wondered. As soon as i reached home, we talked about my experiences over many cups of kawa, before i took a break to rest. Nawang told that on the same river that we rafted today, in winters there is a trek called Chaddar Trek that goes from Chilling to Zanskar and the trek in over the frozen Zanskar river. In the night we all took off to "The Tibetan Kitchen" in the center city for a nice hefty original Chinese dinner over beer. To a day well earned. Cheers!!

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