It is 7.20 in the morning. I woke up in a tiny village called Likir in a room that is freezing. I just did a very interesting squatting exercise over a type of toilet that until now I was able to avoid to have to use. A super friendly Ladakhi couple with an amazingly handsome 7-month-old baby Buddha hosts me. I wonder if their parents have arranged their marriage. If so then the parents did a good job: they seem quite happy together.
Yesterday I woke up for the first time without a headache. The visit to the hospital, the oxygen, the injection and the pills were doing their work. After a nice morning meditation I decided to take the bus to the village where I am now. I would do what was called a ‘baby-hike’. No guide needed. I bought some bananas and cashew nut and jumped on the bus. It is always an experience to be the only white guy in a bus that is obviously built for shorter people.
Two hours after departure from Leh it was made clear to me that I had to leave the bus. I find myself on a junction in a moonscape desert. I started to walk the road in the direction the bus guy had pointed out to me. After the first few steps I already felt the altitude. I ask myself if it was such a good idea to go hiking one day after admission into the hospital. But as I proceed I also start to enjoy the tingle of adventure.
When I find the village and ask for drinking water I am directed to a hose that comes out of the ground. Now one thing that can make you very sick in India is the tap water. On the other hand: we are high in the mountains, not in the slums. I fill my bottle. There are no shops in sight to offer an alternative. Not for the first time I realize how much trust we must have in our fellow human beings.
The plan is to walk from Likir to Yentang, a 3 to 4 hour walk. With help of villagers I am pointed into the right direction. It is 1 am when I really crossed the village and the surrounding farmlands and I am on my way. The surroundings are stunningly beautiful and I am completely alone. I follow a track that is clearly man-made that takes me into a gorge.
The track starts to incline more and more and when I get around a corner I see it get up pretty steep. At the top I can see a glimpse of something white. I assume it is buildings from the village of Yentang. I proceed walking. Now I don’t want to be a whiner but if this is a baby trek what do the advanced treks look like? And surely I will do no advanced treks. I come from a flat country, dammit. The ‘signs’ that i find on my way are becoming more obscure.
Although I am approaching the summit, I am getting more and more exhausted. I am wondering, either Ladakhi’s have a completely different concept of a baby trek or I am on the wrong path. And if I am on the wrong path the buildings that I can barely see at the top could be a deserted monastery and I will have to sleep in an improvised place. I found some melting ice and an old hunters hut so I would have some water and shelter. I would be cold but I was sure I would be ok. The other thought that crossed my mind was: what if I make to the buildings and it indeed turns out to be a monastery and I am welcomed by some ultimately cool enlightened master?
Now I am climbing with my hand and feet. I am not walking any more. Rocks are starting to slide now and then. The progress that I make per 15 minutes is very little. My water is running out. Although the top looks close I ma sure it will take me more than an hour to reach it.
I decide to turn back.
It is 4 pm now and if I go back to where I came from I should be able to come back before darkness. This way I am sure I will sleep and eat tonight. I feel weird as I go back. Am I a loser for giving up? But it also feel very nice to go down wards. I can ski the pebbles and rocks: it is that steep. I can feel the exhaustion in my legs and I am happy not having to climb anymore. And: the surroundings are still more than stunning. I might not have reached the planned destination, I did have a most epic hike.
What goes on in my mind is what the villagers will say if I tell my story. Will they say “oh, you where just around the corner, why did you go back, you crazy man?” It turned out that nobody recognized the place from the pictures I took and that they were fully impressed and laughing about the steep peak I had almost climbed. I was teasing one of the men who was a mountain guide but could not tell me which monastery was on to of the mountain.
Now today I will to the baby hike with a couple of guys that planned the same trip. I have mixed feelings. I want to know what the ‘right’ direction was. But I also feel superior to baby hikes after my 6 hour walk in heavy terrain. I am happy I had the wisdom to turn around. I am also happy about the beauty of the scenery and the fitness of my body.
Again I have proven to be terrible at finding the right way. In some sense I think I have learned not to trust my own judgment and prepare better or hire a guide. I seem to be able to get lost in ways and places that even surprise the locals. On the other hand I saw something really, really beautiful and I feel triggered to develop my courage more and maybe learn to read a map. Deep down I want to do this again.
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