The traditional Lungnak trek leads from Raru-Pepula/Pipula, a 6-8 hour deadly boring trail. There’s nothing to see but barren hills and more barren hills in full sun. Day 2 is the section from Pepula-Purne, 6-8 hours. Day 3 is from Purne-Puktal and back, all in one day. Days 4-5 is the return on the same trails. Some people walk all the way back to Padum, another extremely boring stretch of trail. Good trekkers would have made the distance from Pepula to Purne in one long day and possibly even continued to Phuktal and camped there.
Our changed schedule had us trekking from Surley to Purne 2, also called Khangsar, a 12 kilometer/7.5 miles that actually took us less than four hours; we’re getting stronger by the day! Hiking less than two miles an hour may not sound like much to those of you who have never trekked at altitude but 1.5 miles/hour is considered average.
Hindsight is 20/20: The second half of the trek from Tsetang to Puktal is the most interesting with more varied scenery, small villages and patched of green in the mountains.
An even earlier start at 6:30a to hit the trail before it got really hot. Many, many locals were on the trails, heading towards Padum, herding yaks, trekkers heading to Manali on the Darcha-Padum Trek accompanied by horses carrying all equipment. Stanzin #1 said that is a very difficult trek which includes passes over 5,000 meters/16,404 feet, and fast running glacial melt makes for dangerous river crossings. The currents are strong, water can get above hips and if Stanzin says it’s difficult, it is difficult. Since both Stanzins are from this area of Zanskar, they knew everybody and everything, have been there…done it. We met uncles, cousins, their friends, other guides on the trail and would stop for occasional chats.
All farming in Zanskar is sustenance. Families barter goods with each other and think nothing of heading off on the trails to Padum to shop or conduct business. Stanzin #1 lives is a 14-family village not far from Khangsar and intends to walk there after finishing the trek today, stay overnight, and return early tomorrow morning. There are no roads in the remote regions of Padum, ergo no cars. No cell towers for mobile phones. No electricity. A real sustenance existence.
There are two paths leading to Purne. A safe one high above the river or a shorter section next to the Tsarap river. I actually have no idea which one we took. Stanzin #1 walked, we followed, asking no questions other than, “How much further?”
Past another campsite that may have been called “Kelbok”, and rows of mani stones, until we reached a spot where the Tsarap and Kargyak Rivers meet. Kargyak is the last village in the valley and of the highest villages in Zanskar. Across a good bridge towards Purne and Dolma’s home stay/camping site, also called Purne #1. Dolma’s sold Coca Colas and we promptly sat down for a refreshing Coke break before continuing on to Khangsar Camp, Purne #2.
The Khangsar camp also rents out rooms to guests, sells soft drinks, food, has terraces to camp on, a toilet area (of course you have to walk down two terraces of stone steps to access the hole in the ground) and is shady. There were actually trees on the side of one terrace along with tables and regular chairs. Oh so green.
Only two other people were staying at Khangsar besides us; extremely fit “older” Italians from Stresa who had trekked in from Darcha. Just so you don’t think that we are the only wimps complaining about the head, this man moved into the Khangsar house to recuperate from the heat. He said that the heat was so intense on the unshaded high altitude trails that he became ill. The Italians were shocked that we knew Stresa, let alone hiked trails above Stresa. Oh yes, we have been there…done it. If Signor Stresa recuperates by tomorrow, they would set off towards Padum and continue on the 10-day Lamarayu trek. (I told you they were fit.)
How pleasant to sit in the shade for a change doing nothing but watching my favorite baby yaks who belonged to this family poke their heads into our tent. I swear they look just like big shaggy dogs.
Morning brings milking the yaks. Plaintive grunts and snorts from the babies kept away until their mothers are milked. After the mother yak is milked, the baby is released. Many of them ran to the wrong mothers. (Duh…) The Zanskari women smacked them away and pushed them in the right direction. Fun to watch, not fun for the Zanskari women cleaning dirt, and shit off the yak’s hairy body, milking, taking milk inside, going on to the next yak, repeating over and over again. I think the women lead a harder existence then the men. How they have the strength to even smile was beyond me…