Spiti and Zanskar - An experience of changing times

#1 Oct 1st, 2018, 19:22
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  • marcopolo123456 is offline
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Three years ago i visited spiti valley and was struck by the great atmosphere, beauty of the places and geniality of the people there, this was in September. I trekked solo from Kaza through pin valley via mudh to sarahan, where i now gather a road is being built.

A few months ago i crossed the mountains again from manali, in early June and decided to try going the other way, to ladakh and zanskar.

Keylong, Leh, Lamayuru, Kargil, down to Padum and then trekking down to Darcha. I found this a very mixed experience.

Leh is a beautiful place with many great experiences awaiting. The main buddhist temple was incredibly hospitable and a great social environment. However, the volume of traffic, noise and pollution was awful and made it impossible to enjoy being there, walking anywhere etc. Construction noise also. Anyone going there, i would highly recommend avoiding the months of June and July, perhaps August also. Go in September and fly back out if necessary if the road back is impassable.

Even small places such as Lamayuru were overwhelmed by tourists and Kargil was just a place you didn't want to remain. I felt very uncomfortable and unwelcome there while waiting for a taxi to Padum for 3 days. Padum was similar, i didn't feel at all at ease there and experienced a lot of resentment from young males, especially of a certain cultural background. The Tibetans were univerally amazing and it's the monastary of Karsha that remains in my memory, where i stayed for ten days... incredible. The physical geography of ladakh and zanskar is utterly beautiful but it seemed hard to enjoy it very much unless you are trekking.

I imagine that Spiti has changed enormously since i was there 3 years ago, as has so much in the Himalaya. I just would say that if you have one trip across the Rohtang from manali, from my experience you're better off turning right and heading to Spiti, and not going in peak season for domestic tourists. Times are a changing everywhere up there and so i recommend you go soon. I dread to think what it's going to be like in another few years and feel sorry for the locals in some of these places, who have no idea what's coming to their towns and villages.
#2 Oct 1st, 2018, 23:39
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  • captain bruce is offline
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30 years ago my girlfriend ( now my wife) and I stumbled off an unroadworthy bus after two 14 hour days on it in pitch darkness to be met at the bus stop by 2-3 locals who had waited for hours in the hope of picking up someone like us. We stayed at a very basic guesthouse behind the Polo ground and pottered up and down the Indus Valley gompas and finished with a trek in the markha Valley. We found a horseman by hanging around in the bazaar until someone tried his luck. The family were delightful, the trekking spectacular and Leh pretty much deserted touristwise. There was no landlines available to re-confirm our flight back from Delhi, we ended up in the army-post and asked a friendly soldier if we could use their phone - it didnt work. In Markha, a 10 year old girl with kerosene fire burns on her face pathetically asked us for face cream.

I have gone back most years.  I got to know my regular horseman and when he asked me to help with is daughter's school fees I did  so - it wasnt much in my terms. That woman is now a fully qualified ICU theatre nurse in New Zealand - having started from pretty much nothing - that is her achievement, not mine. Her nomad mother died from TB when she was 6.

The Buddhist Theory Of Impermanence teaches that all life is change. 

Now that little girl might have had better medical care and my God daughter might have gone to school anyway, her mother would have been cured by a few rupees worth of anti-biotics.

My father in law grew up in a fishing village without electricity, on a diet of oats and kippers, he studied by the light of a fish-oil lamp. When the village finally got an electricity supply, his father said triumphantly " We have got a refridgerator, I will never have to eat herring again!"

So much for tradition........

There's good and bad about the changes in Ladakh.

#3 Oct 2nd, 2018, 13:48
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Spiti and Zanskar - An experience of changing times

First time for me to Markha Valley was in 1983. I enjoyed that trek a lot. Leh was a quiet place with hardly any traffic.
#4 Oct 8th, 2018, 11:15
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It's about to get so much worse, now that the southern Indians have 'discovered' the place in droves. India's population now approaches 1400 million, and the middle class is growing fast. Leh is a massive construction site, all day jackhammers and windborne dust. The old palace is still a wreck, how about some lime whitewash, fellas?

The roads in most directions are becoming tough to travel, you risk being run off the road by the southerners, many of whom are middle class belligerents who cannot drive a nail let alone the monster Fortunas they fang around in. They have literally no idea about mountain driving. Crashes block roads frequently.

The Rohtang tunnel arrives next year, the hotelier at Keylong slumped when we chatted about the impact this would have on Lahaul. I did hear they were going to institute a permit system to try to manage things somewhat. Last June (2018) we witnessed the amazing spectacle of many thousands of cars and trucks near the top of the Rohtang - people frolicking in the thin residual snow cover. It took 3 hours to cover 10 kms of chock-a-block traffic to arrive in the present day hellhole of Manali.

Now to be positive and helpful, hard as it may be. Do not go at the end of May or early June - when the hordes are trying to escape the heat of the plains. Best time is end of season, September-October (most Indians hate the cold). Now where to go: In Ladakh, you can see the new road in north Zanskar as far as Yulchung and stay with the villagers there or at Potoksar or Hanupatta. You cannot even buy bottled water there, as an indication of the remoteness; and it's all just 20 kms off the road to Srinagar, even the Lamayuru locals don't go there. This mostly sealed road carries maybe 10-20 vehicles a day.

Lamayuru itself is a magical overnight stop - most blow-ins simply do a return day trip from Leh before flying back to Bombay. The old village is seriously authentic. Nubra is very easy to visit but you must be over the pass early at any time to avoid more traffic. The north as far as Yama Gompa is outside their agendas, and it's a fine drive alongside the eastern Karakoram. If you can go in the cold at either end of the season, Korzok and the Tso Moriri are pretty unspoilt and as close to knockout West Tibet landscapes as you'll see in India. Return via Tso Kar for another memorable drive.

Spiti is going down fast, very fast. It's also been 'discovered' recently. Again, late season is best, although the roads get hammered by then. A hotelier in Tabo told me the town has just 400 beds, we got his last room at midday. The southern crowds get around in small stout 'Traveller' buses, very solid vehicles but they carry 15 persons each. 3-4 of them pull up every little while, you can imagine the rest. Kaza is a dump zone, head out fast to the eastern loop, though there are some fine small villages like Tangyud, Lhalung. You can base in Keylong fairly easily too, and drive up to as far as Kargyak these days, a beautiful valley like the descent from Baralacha to the valley floor. There is also the world's scariest road past Udaipur - this one will be upgraded soon. There is a tunnel under the Zoji La underway. Military are everywhere, whole towns at times. And then there are vast numbers of Indian 'easy riders' living the Enfield dream, all riding along together in huge numbers.

Try not to wander around in Delhi, the PM2.5 and PM10 exceed all levels, off the charts a lot of the time! Ideal is under 20, they get readings of 700 or more. Incredibly sad for children. The city shut down the entire construction industry and ordered children indoors for several days in June. You start coughing in an hour or so. I'd wear a industrial mask if staying for a week or so. Even the 5 star hotels apparently do not filter air properly. The sun casts the weakest of shadows, the traffic is jammed solid. India has gained 700 million extra human beings since several of us (like me and Captain) first went there in the 1980s. It's a planning disaster we all saw in the making, now it has arrived.

OP, if you head to Padum via Kargil, first call in town is the taxi stand office, hook up a ride for the next morning, then stay half way in Rangdum - a heavenly place with a 'tourist bungalow'. Kargil is the kind of place you want eyes in the back of your head, even the ATM had armed guards last time.

You know the last place that will remain culturally and physically pristine in the Tibetan Cultural World? Tibet. The govt is managing it very well, even Darchen is a clean small town these days, and you can eat your breakfast off the streets in Lhasa and Tsetang. Lhasa is now the most modern city in the world, the cleanest air, an amazing destination and you can go in winter very easily. My Buddhist Ladakhi friends would love to go but the visas are very hard for them to obtain.
#5 Oct 8th, 2018, 21:10
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Not a bad summing up, Pip.

The answer is always to avoid the roads completely. Ladakh now has what I call the 'Yosemite' experience; in that 90% of the visitors go on 10% of the park. That leaves the rest to those who want it. Thats fine by me, walking in the Ladakh range north of the Upshi road meant 2 weeks with no tourists at all - in August - and not even a local beyond the last village, we had to hire an ex-shepherd to show us over the Gongma La and he hadnt been up there for 3 years. No footprints, horse-poop, litter nothing. Bliss

Leh is now a car park. The old guest-house owner who I stayed with for visits for over 10 years has built what is a 4 star and I mean 4 star place in the centre that can only have been financed with hedgefund or mafia money. There is a water shortage in Leh, domestic tourists take 2 showers a day and leave the tap on and the sewage system leaks into the groundwater.

I wear a gas mask/filter in Delhi, the rhinitis kicks in after 24 hours.

Lhasa? Culturally pristine? When the Chinese have demolished the Bharkor/Old town for reasons of riot management? My photos from '86 dont show any 'Plaza'.......the whole point about Lhasa was that it wasnt modern.

Read this for the 80's version:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ho...f_of_the_World


See you up there
#6 Dec 29th, 2018, 13:12
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Back again, been trying to find out when the Pensi La opens and what roads are good in April before the season starts in earnest. But to the Tibet situation, I was there this November (2018) again. So bit of an update.

The Chinese authorities have encouraged restoration of virtually all monasteries everywhere, up small valleys etc. There are thousands of them, BTW. They have kept Mt Kailash in very good condition, same at the Manasarovar Lake. All the temples are in great shape in Lhasa. They had a sprinkler system running in Samye, an 8th century site (first full sized Tibetan Buddhist monastery actually) now fully restored, first sprinklers I've seen in the region, lol. Grass is exceedingly rare in Tibet in October, so people were sprawled out on it.

The infrastructure and population are the big story. Lhasa Shigatse and Tsetang are getting very large fast, all in high rise blocks with top flight planning, wide boulevardes, clean everywhere, but a lot of people, traffic. At first the population is unsettling but its very well-managed and does not spill into the huge countryside much as yet. Tibet is almost as big as Western Europe, it's massive in size.

Small villages are like 15-20kms away from Lhasa. There are unbelievable new highways linking Tsetang to Lhasa and Shigatse, plus a (due in 2025) 160km high speed train line from Chengdu, across and through (Chinese are the world's best infra engineers) mountain sides. Very enviro sensitive. These are the Eastern Himalayas - I've seen them from the air, very beautiful and extensive, most of the range in fact, it takes 90 mins to fly across them. Not as tall as Everest, which the KTM flight passes within 500m of, but 6-7000m in East Tibet.
#7 Jan 1st, 2019, 22:05
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Interesting update, especially on the monastery restoration. I remember on my first visit in 86 the front gates of the Jokhang were still hanging off from where the Chinese drove that tank through. Buddhist Theory of impermanence again.....
be interesting to know if the Head Lama still has to consult the local Commisar....

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