The same route back down from Khangsar, across the confluence of the two river, and same trail heading back on the trail towards Raru. Ups. Downs and only four hours to Tsetang on a very windy day. Now I knew why all the local guides, horse drivers, and Zanskari are covered from head to toe including faces. Sand, dirt, and stinging gravel whipped at faces and covered bodies. Even with hair under a cowboy hat, a Zanskari woman could have probably use my hair to clean the shit off their yaks; that’s how stiff and filled with dirt it was. The upside of all this was a cooler day thanks to the wind.
There were groups of women milking yaks, yaks on the trail. (I’ll miss the yaks more than anything else when the trek is over.) When talking about trekking in Zanskar, just remember the four “S’s”: Sand…scree…stones…and shit (yak and horses).
We plodded along on the trail, counting footsteps, doing the old “99 bottles of beer on the wall,” anything to keep moving. Down towards the Tsarap River where Tsetang campsite was located in a farmers field. A beautiful camp facing the rushing water with ripening barley fields. “Yes, Stanzin. I know. Don’t poop in the fields.” We threw ourselves down in the grass to wait for crew, horses to arrive, discussing tomorrow’s possible option.
At first, Stanzin #1 suggested crossing a bridge over the river and then hiking along the trail to where the road began. That could be much easier as well as shorten the last day of the trek and sounded good to us. Crew, and horses arrived; made camp for tonight. A short time later, Stanzin reappeared and asked me to walk to look at the bridge. He was having second thoughts. Well, if this swinging bridge constructed of straw, pieces of wood, with gaping holes, flimsy supports on both sides wasn’t the all-time world’s scariest bridge, I don’t know what would be. Stanzin said, “I watched some people cross on it and it really sways a lot.” I sputtered, “Have you ever crossed on it?” “No.” It was made of straw for gods-sakes!
I made ex-Marine come and see (really good close-ups in the video). He turned white under his deep tan and there was no way in hell either of us was going to cross on that thing. We’ll just take the long, harder way back towards Raru.
The last day dawned clear, hot, and windless even though we left at 6:45a. Two major ups and downs, and back through the gorge. At last at Dorzong camp, I asked Stanzin #1 if we were camping here for the night. He answered, “Yes.” Five minutes later he walked over to ask, “Can you go 30 minutes more up there?” pointing across the river. Annoyed, I responded, “Just tell me what you want us to do!” He thinks, says, “We’ll camp here.”
It couldn’t have been more than another 20 minutes until all camping gear was completely unloaded that we discovered today was the last day of the horseman’s contract. Now the crew will have to schlep everything across the river tomorrow to the jeep pick up point! Duh. All he had to do was tell us and we would have gladly hiked 30 more minutes. We felt so bad for Stanzin #2 and Baikaji who would have to carry all this gear across, up an incline because of a ridiculous decision. But it was too late to do anything about it.
Two people from Holland and their crew were also camping here. And then local woman on her way back from Phuktal Monastery walked into the camp for some conversation with the crew. Not young by any stretch of the imagination, she was a sight to behold. Traditionally dressed with cool, mirrored sunglasses.
That was it for us. We did it! Pretty proud of the fact that two 70 and 71-year old lowlanders from Chicago made it to Phuktal (3970 meters/13,024 feet) and back on the Lungnak Trek in Zanskar.