Saturday, August 7, 2010

Under the bridge

Beginning of the trek.

For our trek in Ladakh we have chosen to go to Markha Valley. We were four (me, Wojtek, Olga and Asia) and decided to rent a tent for three people which was big enough for four people and was also very light. It was a low quality tent, but the price was also very low and in Ladakh it never rains, so it should have been fine. We also organized some food.

Unfortunately after the first one and a half day of trek Asia got sick (stomach problems) and we decided to split for few next days. Wojtek and Asia chosen to do shorter track with home-stays on the way, and me and Olga wanted to complete Markha Valley trek for which we needed the tent.

The second night of the trek, on the 4000 meters altitude.... it started to rain and of course our tent started to leak. We managed to survive it till the sunrise without getting our feather sleeping bags wet.

GandaLa (4950m) my first high pass.
In the morning we departure for our first ever high pass GandaLa (4950 meters). The weather cleared out. The last 500 meters before the pass were very difficult. I needed many breathing breaks on the way, but we reached it and enjoyed beautiful views. Then we went down through beautiful valley crossing one river at least twelve times. We reached Skiu for the night, set up our tent hoping that it would not rain that night. Unfortunately that night it was raining even more than the last one.

Crossing the river after
In the morning we started walking
to Markha but on the way few people discouraged us from this idea. There was a need to cross the Markha river without the bridge, but the level of the water raised so much that it was currently impossible. We did not wanted to wait for unknown number of days for the water level to drop, so we retracted and we decided to go back other way to Chiling. On the way to Chiling we needed to cross much bigger river - Zanskar river, but there was a toll bridge there. I did not really now before what is a toll bridge.

Toll Bridge over Zanskar.
Basically there is a metal rope connecting two sides of the river and below there is a small wooden basket in which one have to go. In order to get to the other side you have to pull the rope, or alternatively the rope is pulled by someone on the other side of the river. Sounds easy... but it is not so easy, at least not in the windy and a bit stormy conditions that we experienced. We were on the side of the river where there was no one. After few minutes of waiting and waiving we were spotted and two men released the wooden basket from the other side. I helped Olga to get to the basket together with her rucksack and she safely arrived to the other side. Now it was my turn.

Furious Zanskar.
The wind was getting stronger and I had to get to the basket. There was no one to help me on this side of the river, I was holding basket with one hand and the metal wire with the other, but I did not know how to jump to this basket without risking falling to the river. It took me quite a few extremely long minutes to find out a way, and finally I managed to get inside getting only one small injury to my fingernail (i did not manage to remove my hand on time from the metal wire). But I was safely in the basket which was going on to the other side, and suddenly it STOPPED!!!
The rope on the side that I was starting got stacked around the concrete basement of the bridge. "No, no, no" I thought. I do not want to go back to the starting point. I was feeling safe in my basket being pulled to the "safe side" of the river. I did not want to get out from my basket on my own and what was even more scary I did not want to get back to the basket again. I tired to released the blocking rope, but no chance. I had even idea of cutting the blocking rope, but in this way no one else could use the bridge after me. The only reasonable option was to get back to the initial bank. I pulled myself back and I managed to get out from my basket, untied the rope and send only my rucksack to the other side. Then one guy from the staff got to the basket. With his help it was fairly easy to get to the basket and travel across the river.

Crossing mood slide.

This night we decided not to sleep in our leaky tent and we wanted to find a home-stay. Just before the sun set we managed to find one and despite of heavy rainfalls (much bigger than the previous ones) and the fact that our home-stay was also leaky I slept like a baby.

Initially in the morning we wanted to go and continue with our hike on the alternative route, but because heavy rainfalls everything seems to be blocked. Few years ago government set up satellite phones in every village which is in the touristic destination for hikers. Thanks to this we got know that in the night there were big floods in Leh and we got worried about Wojtek and Asia who could have already reached Leh. We were told that all the roads are blocked but there might be a chance to go back to the Leh by the main asphalt road. It is blocked for the cars, but we were told that it might be possible to hike around. We decided to take this chance.

We hit the road. The road was leading down a valley surrounded by steep mounties on both sides parallel to the Zanskar river, which because of the heavy rainfalls was much bigger than usual.

After crossing the mood slide.

Indeed we experienced quite a few land slides and mood avalanches on the way, which made impossible for a car to drive and were a bit challenging to hike over it, but possible. We were counting that in two days we should had been able to reach the main road leading to Leh by walking.
We planed to stay the night in the village in the middle of the way. But in the afternoon of the first day we encountered difficulties that dramatically slowed us down. Significant part of the road was simply.... under the water of Zanskar river. We did not had to get anyhow close to the main current of the river, but we needed to go to the water over our knees!!! It was not too dangerous but damn cold. Luckily we managed. We still had more than one hour of the sun light and only a short distance to cover to our village.
Suddenly it started to rain very heavily. We took out our rain proof jackets with hoods and sped up.

Our road under Zanskar.
We already noticed our bridge on the Zanskar river, luckily traditional bridge this time, not the toll bridge, from which we had only two kilometers to go to our village. So almost there.
Unexpectedly I heard some strange sound ABOVE ME. I noticed a strange movement far, far above us.... and I realized that it is possible mood avalanche coming at us. I turned to Olga and shouted "RUN, RUN MOOD AVALANCHE" and despite of the heave rucksacks we started to run without turning back and reached our bridge in matter of seconds. We turned around and indeed it was mood avalanche, which went down to the river. After looking around we decided that it is too far and to dangerous to go to the village - we were afraid about next mood avalanches, but we noticed 400 meters from us a parachute tent.
We were not really sure if the tent was placed in the land slide secure place, but it was still standing and it seemed that we did not have a choice. It was heavily raining and the sunset would come in less then half an hour. We departed in the direction of the parachute tent. In the middle of the way we noticed.... a big stone falling down the mountain coming few meters from our aimed tent and dropping to Zanskar river. We stopped doubting that the tent is anyhow secure for us as a shelter for the night. And suddenly much bigger stone started to roll down in our direction. I noticed it pointed it for Olga, shout RETRACT TO THE BRIDGE and starting to run in this direction. The stone was rolling down and because of its irregular shapes it was changing its direction with every single bump. We were very, very lucky. It fell to Zanskar river only few meters from me...

We reached the bridge and we agreed that it is probably the safest construction in neighborhood. Under the bridge there was only a little bit of place to squat and sit on the pile of stone, which were not particularly stable. One had to be careful not to slid down to the furious Zanskar river. But it was dry place. We changed our completely soaked clothes and wear all the warm and dry clothes that we had. We set on the sleeping mat and covered ourselves with the tent. Our tent was a brilliant wind protection. On one hand, we felt safe since none of the falling stones could crash us, on the other hand we were quite close to the rough Zanskar river. From our position we could observe the massive mood avalanche on the other side of the shore feeding the Zanskar river with fresh mood. This was the place that we had started our run before reaching the bridge.

It was getting dark and the rain finally was decreasing in its power. After one hour it stopped raining but it was completely dark outside. Since we were only 1 meter over the water surface we had to observe river to make sure that the Zanskar would not "claim us" during the night. It would have been also possible to slide down to the river in a sleep. I thought it was to risky to take turns for sleeping since it could be tragical if the other person also fell asleep. This was incredible long night since indeed we were very tired after the whole hiking day and Olga was getting extremely sleepy. I was checking the water levels with my headlamp every 15 minutes and the time every 5 minutes in order to kill the time. We were talking about everything and nothing, playing different games, everything to make sure that we would not fell asleep. It was fine till two o'clock in the night than the tiredness kicked in even harder. My eyebrows were heavy like a stone and it seemed that Olga is doing even worst. I used all my energy to make sure that Olga is not felling asleep coming with different word games. I was succeeding for 5 seconds, failing for next five seconds, but luckily succeeding for next five seconds. This lasted for ever but luckily it was closer and closer to the sun rise. It was not raining for last hours, and we did not hear any stones falling down. The first moment that it got a bit brighter we got out from our shelter, and set up a tent on the bridge in a safe distance from any of the shore. Olga felt a sleep immediately, I was still to afraid about everything around, so I was standing aside the tent trying to spot any unexpected danger.

Around seven I got so tired that I was afraid of felling asleep standing. It was not really raining, it did not seem that any stone is falling down and it did not seem that the levels of Zanskar is rising, so there was no real danger that Zanskar would break off the bridge. I really needed a nap. I went to the tent a fell asleep immediately. In half an hour knocking to the tent woke us up. It was a local person. Apparently there were walking to Leh. They were called to help with rebuilding Leh after the floods. We immediately packed our tent and followed our seven local guides. It was not very easy to keep up with them, they did not have luggage, they slept in the night much longer than we, they were a bit in hurry and what makes always the biggest difference they were locals, so they were completely used to walking. But we did not have a choice. We had to keep up with them. After the experience from the previous night, we were to afraid to walk on this road on our own. Our guides were so nice and they took Olga's rucksack. Initially all of them wanted to carry it, but finally they were swapping it in between themselves every half an hour. I am not a girl... so unfortunately they did not offer to take my rucksack...

It was very useful to hike with the locals. They really knew the mountains and they knew where was a dangerous part of the road, and where we had to run for a few minutes since the stones might have started to fall in every single moment. On the way it started to rain, and immediately they found a cave for a shelter. If the locals are not walking in this mounties when it is raining it means that it is really dangerous....

In five hours of very fast hike + jog we reached Indus river and the bridge over it. Well the bridges are usually over the river... this bridge seemed to be built on the surface of the river. The Indus water was extremely high. It was first time in my life that I have seen only 5 centimeters of clearances between the bridge and the water and apparently the day before our bridge was even under the water.... so we were very lucky it was still standing.

We managed to get to the civilization to the town called Nimmu. We thought that from here we would have reached Leh very easily, since we were on the main road of the regions. But there was a next challenge on the way. Leh neighborhood was also hit by the floods very seriously the previous night and nine main bridges were broken off. There were two bridges missing between us and Leh. Personally I was dreaming only about a cup of tea and any vertical position for my weaken body, but on the other hand we were really worry about Wojtek and Asia and we wanted to make sure that they were fine. We reached the city center and inquired about any possibility of getting back to Leh as fast as possible. Apparently there was one. One had to hike up to one of the high passes for 3-4 hours from where there should have been a possibility of transport back to Leh. Since we had only 5 hours before the sun set, we ate fast meal, and departure almost immediately in the direction of Leh. Apparently quite a few people were following this route trying to go back to Leh. There was also big group of retired women, that went for the bus trip and got stuck on their way back to Leh. They had to hike back not being prepared and used to hiking on the very difficult road.... since this road was also damage by mood and stone slides.
When we reached high pass there was an army truck waiting for people to give them a lift for few kilometers. Then we had to cross a small river over two pieces of wood, cross the huge field of mood and stone avalanche and get on the next truck. This truck took us again several kilometers to the another river, which we had to cross over the ladder. And we were on the suburbs of Leh. I was surprise how well this detour was organized. From there we managed to get three lifts in some privet cars and we were in center of Leh, where we found our friends who were fine. Finally, we were all fine.

About the floods in Leh I will tell you few words in my next post.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Miko! good to hear that u are safe! oh man these kind of experiences you will never forget! I went through something similar in vietnam..makes u feel alive and grateful!