Ladakh after the mudslip


It’s harvest time in the metal smith village of Chilling (population 70; school children 4; teachers 2; classrooms 6). Everyone is cutting, carrying and threshing the barley, even the 75 year old metal smith, but they are not too busy to greet us and we wander through the fields to cries of “Julay” and friendly smiles. Chilling has been lucky and there is a harvest to bring in, unlike some parts of the Leh Valley which we have seen this past week. The August earthslip not only took houses and lives; it also took the crops essential to get through the winter for the subsistence farmers of Ladakh.

We’re glad we came. It was touch and go as we faced the dilemma of whether it was more important to stay away and not stretch the fragile infrastructure any further, or whether our tourist dollars were
important enough to the local economy to make coming here the right thing to do. Since we arrived everyone we meet has made us feel that we made the right choice. “First they had the rain and the landslip, then the tourists all left” Hugo Kimber, of Shakti Himalaya, tells us. “It was double jeopardy.”

We wander from the village back to our campsite where Shakti’s logistics team have not only erected and equipped our tent; they have also made sure the water is hot for our showers and laid out a bar. It’s taking six staff to support our night’s camp out. Normally we wouldn’t be camping but one of the village houses which Shakti normally use has been damaged in the landslip. Their field staff came up with the camping alternative and, here we are. It’s about as close to luxury camping as you can get. It’s been a long day, with a morning visit to Stok Palace and a surprise social call on a Bactrian camel breeding centre before a leisurely raft down the Zanskar River and drive to Chilling, all punctuated with a picnic lunch under a pavilion while we admired the agility of a wall climbing yak.

Today has been the last day of a whirlwind week which started with my knees and head going in opposite directions as I tried to fill out the forms at the foreigners registration desk at Leh airport. Flying in to 3200m means no acclimatization on the way and while I tried to avoid plaiting my feet my companion was developing an altitude headache. We did what we were told and laid about Shakti’s house at Nimoo village for the day in order to be able to fill the rest of our week with visits to monasteries; a trip over the third highest pass in the world (Chang La) for a picnic lunch beside a salt lake at 4200m; walking, cooking lessons and bazaar shopping; all interspersed with wonderful meals and personal attention.

S Wilde

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