There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief ~ Aeschylus
Sersank La and Pot La were successfully summited in 2013. The plan was audacious from the word go and the master executioner, Pandit Ji had planned it to perfection. Our guides got drunk at Sersank La. They even refused to carry our loads. Despite all that trouble, we went across smoothly.
Our next target was Pot La. A treacherous pass standing five thousand meter high in the Great Himalayan Ranges.
Now that the master is gone, all we are left with are memories. Memories of infinite joy buried in the past burdened by the pain of irreparable loss.
Towards Pot La
The celebrations of crossing Sersank La lasted only for a night. A higher crossing lay in front of us and we had a clear weather window of only 3-4 days. How difficult would be Pot La? Would it be as difficult as Sersank La or even harder? Our minds were flooding with such doubts.
Our guides assured us of an easy crossing ahead. But little did we know about what lay ahead.
We started from our campsite at Tarla and walked all along the glacier down to the valley below. We could see the Dharlang Nallah in its full spate from quite a distance. It was a walk down the spur leading to the upper Dharlang Valley.
The biggest challenge that lay in front of us was crossing the Dharlang Nallah as the trail was on the left bank of the Dharlang Nallah . Rather than jumping in the stream and getting washed away we decided to look for a narrower crossing. Soon we were hopping over big boulders ,it was taxing to say the least .
The big glacier that fed the nallah was covered with huge boulders and after walking for over 3 hours we were able to find a safe passage over glacier and boulders to the left bank of Dharlang nallah. The trail eased out a bit for a while but soon a side stream blocked our passage. After deliberating for an hour we decided to call it a day and camp there right in front of the stream.
Crossing the Dharlang Nallah
However, Pandit Ji had other plans. After carefully analyzing the flow pattern of nallah, he declared that we could cross it. A little downstream lay a big flat ground where this stream had split into smaller streams and that was our only chance. We crossed it holding our hands.
The water, mind you, was very turbulent, freezing cold and thigh deep. At 1700 Hours, we unanimously decided to pitch our tent . Panditji decided to prepare special meal and since we had yeast he said, “lets make bhaturus”. It was a sumptuous meal , the best we had . We listened to some music , talked about a few things and soon slept .
The next day we had to walk over moraines and an endless boulder zone. After walking for over 3 hours we were at the snout of a glacier . IT was very refreshing sight . Finally there we no boulders !!!
The glacier was miles long . Soon we were walking and singing on this glacier. We kept walking but there was no end to the glacier . The distances are always deceptive when one walks on glaciers. Our next destination looked near but it took us 2 hours to reach the boulder zone. On our way, we could see chocolate wrappers and almonds scattered which clearly suggested that a climbing party had been on this route a few days back .
It was only 11 am and were very near to the base camp Jhala. It was again a climb over boulders and scree. We were at our campsite by 1400 Hours. Our guide directed us towards the place where we had to pitch our tent and he set off towards the glacier zone nearby in search of precious stones like Crystal , Neelum ( Blue Stone ) etc.
For us, It was a well deserved rest. I’d consider basking in the Himalayan sunshine as one of the few achievements of my life. It was a beautiful campsite surrounded by high peaks on all sides and glaciers which seemed to have no end . We had an early dinner and slept praying to the almighty to grant us a safe passage and a good weather next day.
The Summit Day
The excitement of crossings a pass in the Great Himalayan Range is indescribable in few words. We set out for the pass around 0700 am. It was a tough walk over huge unstable boulders . The pass was still not visible. Soon we crossed a ridge and were at small glacier zone . The pass lay bang in front of us on top a ridge which was around 300 meters high from where we stood.
We walked on that slippery hard ice for 30 minutes. Now we were at the base of that ridge. The climb to the top was near-vertical from here. The rarified air made things very difficult as we had to gasp for breath after climbing 2-3 steps. If this was not enough, slippery unstable rocks that tumbled from above only made things worse. We had to struggle all our way to the top.
I could now see the prayer flags fluttering in a distance and soon we heard our guides singing “Om Mani Padme Hum” and “Ki Ki So Lha Gyal Ho” . We knew they were at the top and were also only a few meters from the top . And finally, after a grind of 2 days, and a wait of more than three years, we were atop the treacherous yet equally rewarding Pot La Pass.
The view from the pass was scenic. We could see the glacier running down which would lead us to Zanskar also called as the Hidden Kingdom on this earth. The high peaks dominated the skyline on all sides.
Towards the Hidden Kingdom of Zasnkar
It was time to bid farewell to Dharlang Valley. After a well deserved rest we started descending to Zanskar. The initial descent was over scree but soon we were on a crevassed glacier zone. We carefully made our way down to the main glacier. The glacier soon disappeared and were again hopping on boulders and scree. This turned out to be the toughest part of our trek.
The descent on this section took a very heavy toll on our legs. There seemed to be no end to this torturous walk. It took us nearly 4 hours to reach a flatter ground. The glacier disappeared and there were first signs of vegetation in the form of grass. We had to ford two very turbulent and deep streams on our way but after breaking our legs on that boulder field nothing seemed to be difficult. Soon we were at a point of confluence of streams coming from Pot La and Kang La pass called Khanjor.
We decided to walk a little down and camp. Our next destination was Bardan Gompa but that took another day to reach there. A cold stream blocked our way and we lazily decided to wait for the next morning to cross. After spending two weeks in the mountains, we were finally in the company of learned monks.
From Bardan, our guides decided to walk across another pass to reach Pangi, over the Shinku La pass. We chose the easier way out of the valley. The next morning as we left for Kargil in a shared cab, the mountains appeared smiling back to us, inviting us for another sojourn in the Himalaya.
We did go back to the mountains in 2015. Unfortunately, only one of us would come back while Pandit Ji made these mountains his permanent home. As they say, the mountain will always have the last word. The mountain had the last word. The strongest of us all is now guarding the valleys of the Himalaya.