Saturday, August 4, 2007

Ode to the Himalaya

(Note: This is an entry from our journal, dated 7/29. So, when I say yesterday, I really mean July 28th. Since this entry, we spent a few days in Leh, then embarked on a 5 day bike tour north to the Nubra Valley....more details to come in later posts!)

I'm obsessed with the Himalaya! Yesterday we too an epic 16 hour (300 km) bus trip from Keylong to Leh, up, around, and thru the Himalaya. We've been in the mountains for a month now, but yesterday provided one of the most invigorating vistas of this massive mountain range we've had so far. We began in a green-ish valley, at about 3000 meters, with some snow and glacier-capped peaks in the distance. We then climbed to a scenic pass, then drove across a high plateau, ringed by jagged snow-capped peaks. Then, it was over another pass, this one the second highest motorable pass in the world (complete with a sign saying "17,780 feet - Incredible, Is It Not?"!). Then, we began our descent in to Leh, which lies at 3500 meters. This was my favorite part of the journey. I stood at the front of the bus (Steve and I had one seat between the two of us, so we rotated standing and sitting; it broke up the journey a bit, but made for an extra joint-jolting trip), which is tough on the body, but allows full views from the front and side windows. We switchbacked down the pass, then followed a river down the valley. All around us were sharp valley walls, dry, but with rock colors varying from bring purple to orange to green, shining metallically in the sun. Every mountain-side looked like a rock accordian, folded into perfect Ruffles ridges by the massive plate collisions that formed the Himalaya. Looking straight up the mountainside from the bus, you could see these vertical ridges standing on end. It looked like a stegasaurus's back, but colored by rainbow rocks. The geology of this area is unreal - the scenery has an incredibly raw dynamic feel to it. (I wish I was a geologist, so I could describe the area better, but unfortunately you get my 3rd grade interpretation of the area.) You look outside and you can tell that the Himalaya are young mountains, and are still asserting themselves in the landscape. The rivers rage, full of sediment from fallen rock and debris, and are cluttered with monstrous rocks that have fallen from the ridges above. Several times Steve and I have attempted to dayhike/scramble up to a ridge, to see over the other side, only to get half-way up and realize that the ridge is still 2000 meters above us, the ridge is not a ridge but a huge impenetrable rock face, and, worst of all, our target destination is only a false summit. These mountains are HUGE! There are no Bird Ridges, or Flattops, here. Day hikes are expeditions. It's intimidating, and frustrating, but also very exciting. I love it!

Speaking of expeditions, Steve and I just returned from a five day bike trip. We rented semi-quality bikes, packed our tent and sleeping bags into one pannier and a ghetto string-and- bungee bundle, and took off toward the Nubra Valley and the town of Diskit, 120 km away. It was all uphill for the first 40 km, up to the "highest motorable pass in the world", sitting at 5600 meters, then (mostly) downhill to Diskit. We had intended on biking home too, but the pass slaughtered us, and after climbing for 1 1/2 days, we were barely able to coast downhill to Diskit, much less turn around and do it all over again. However, the pass was scenic, (although I was too tired to enjoy it much), and Nubra Valley was incredible (more incredible Himalayan scenery!). We camped in sand dunes, along a rushing river, explored a cool monastery, and generally took it easy for a few days, then hitched back up to the pass, and rode the 40 km downhil this morning into Leh. Downhill is good, uphill is bad. Honestly, I have a new appreciation for long-distance bikers. It's tough!

Next up, a day of rest, then some trekking!

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