I was nervous, but I had to do this. Coming all this way with the dream of embracing the majestic Himalayas; I wasn’t going to let anyone or anything stop me from my expedition. “Run. Run even if you can’t feel the ground under your feet,” I was told. And so, I ran. Within moments I was flying high in the sky. All you need is the spirit, the courage and a paragliding pilot!
I’m not afraid of heights but jumping from a height!? That’s another ballgame. Gathering the courage to jump off a cliff hoping that everything was going to be alright (after following all the safety protocols, let me add), was a different adrenaline rush of sorts. When I landed, all I could think about was the number of people who might’ve died during this experience. If you were to ask me if I’d do this again, I’d have said, sorry bhai, humse na ho paaega! But fate had other plans. I went paragliding again. Why? Because the first time around, we didn’t get the best shots! This is the story of how we survived the offbeat Himalayan trail!
If you were to try just one thing when in Ladakh, let it be Tsemik, a yoghurt-based dip prepared with mountain mint. Unique to the village of Turtuk, the dish is so named because of the herb Tsemik that’s used in it. It tastes like a cross between mint, basil and a hint of thyme. Green chillies provide a spice kick. Tsemik is polished clean with buckwheat pancakes, Kissir.
Eat with locals, and you’re cornered into eating beyond your belly’s capacity. Goodbye, abs! Balti breakfast is unique to India’s Baltistan. The cook went back and forth from the kitchen to the dining table until it was piled with eight dishes, after which we took our seats. Would you believe me if I told you all those eight dishes were made using just two types of grains and apricots? Despite limited resources and extreme weather conditions, the locals display amazing creativity and share their food with so much warmth!
"Despite limited resources and extreme weather conditions, the locals display amazing creativity and share their food with so much warmth!"
After almost every meal during our time in Ladakh, we sipped on miniature barley chhaangs, Ladakh’s desi wine, whilst rubbing our food babies err bellies. Chhaang is typically brewed from rice, but we were lucky enough to lay our hands on some freshly brewed barley chhaang, which turned out to be interesting in terms of flavour. Chhaang drinking (and production) is a longstanding tradition in Ladakh. A few swigs of chhaang are considered a great way to keep the biting cold at bay. Until this day, Ladakhis huddle together to sip on chhaang, which we could rightly call as customary bonding.
If you asked me what intrigued me the most, I’d list dried yak cheese and mountain garlic. The yak cheese is mostly part of soups called Skyu, it has amazing umami and meaty texture. Before you ask, the Nubra Valley is probably the best place to treat yourself to some high-quality yak cheese. The dried mountain garlic, on the other hand, is something available throughout Ladakh. If you ever get a chance to try the sea buckthorn juice, go for it. Made from the sea buckthorn berry, called Ladakh’s gold, the juice is a rich source of vitamins. However, the most bizarre thing I came across was keeda jadi, a caterpillar-infested with a fungus. I couldn’t try it because of its steep price—we are talking ₹ 18 lakhs per kilogram! This fungus finds home in a caterpillar, travels through it and sprouts out when it rains. Completely edible, it is prized for its medicinal properties. If you’re willing to buy me some of this, I can already picture us being friends.
"However, the most bizarre thing I came across was keeda jadi, a caterpillar-infested with a fungus."
I knew trekking in The Himalayas wouldn’t be a piece of cake—my legs begged me to stop the relentless uphill slog, but the views were breathtaking and the stories enthralling. I wasn’t really hoping to make it through most of the treks, but not only did I complete them, but I also did it in good time! The ups and downs of the trail can be deceiving and distort the distance. The two-day trek to Turtuk in Ladakh was definitely the most exhausting moment of my trip. We survived sudden changes in temperature (from 18 degrees to -2-degree drop), rain and hailstorms. The 7-kilometre trek was a test of my stamina and endurance.
Turtuk is a beautiful village in Nubra Valley, and home to the Balti tribe. This northernmost village of India lies near the LoC between India and Pakistan. The village has a Polo Ground with breathtaking views. The turquoise-green waters of the Shyok river on one end and snow peaks on the other. It seemed as if the mountains on the other side called out to us. Throughout my journey, the Himalayas taught me life lessons—a lesson in humility—mountains have a way of putting an end to your ego. I witnessed how people who lived with just bare minimum resources had so much to offer us. I also learnt the big lesson that often the toughest looking people are the ones with soul-hugging smiles.
"Throughout my journey, the Himalayas taught me life lessons."
Pashmina trail through the Changtang region we met members of the Changpa tribe—Ladakhi nomads who are involved in the rearing of cashmere or pashmina. As a token of gratitude, I gifted our guide my Pashmina hat. He held it with both hands and told me never before did he have the chance to own a finished product of Pashmina. It was a moving moment we shared.
This offbeat adventure had several other surprises in store. Discovering the ancient wisdom from which our modern techniques are born out of. For instance, freeze-drying turnips or potatoes on the snow are ancient techniques. And then there’s cold stone grinding where flour is ground on water mills. These are techniques we are trying now. Little did I know that these were inherently ancient and have been used by the wise and warm people who live in the foothills of the imposing Himalayas.
As told to Annabelle D’Costa
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Himalayas:The Offbeat Adventure