Both of us were ready by seven am, waiting for our guide Pema to accompany us to Lashar valley or Zachu, as the locals popularly called it. Last evening Pema had seemed a bit skeptical about our intention to go to Zachu valley in a day. According to him, it would take us a good five hours to reach there, contrary to the three hours we had been told in Lachen. So we readily heeded his advice of leaving by seven in the morning so that we could be back in Thangu the same evening.
From the very beginning itself Pema was sprinting up as though he were getting late to catch a train. Our walking path criss-crossed the motorable road, which was in the process of being built, all the way to Bamzay. It made me wonder if a road would be built all the way till Lashar, but I really hope not.
Quarter of an hour into our climb I am panting like mad, finding it difficult to keep pace with Pema who always seemed to be running away. My mind drifted, thinking of one of the crazy Vijay-type hikes back in the Sahyadris. My dear friend Vijay is quite fabled for killer hikes, having a sort of a faithful imaginary clan to which I belong. His unassuming physical appearance does not give out much – just a glance at his thin stumpy legs gives a feeling of being barely able to walk. But once these sticks pick up pace, they never seem to tire, making me wonder how such thin legs could have so much power. To be a part of this crazy clan your backpack must weigh a minimum of 20 kgs, almost like an entry criteria. But it does not end over here. This is the minimum weight after which we’d compete as to who is carrying the most weight, as though we’re training to be mules. The irony of this being that despite all the stuff we carry to weigh our bags like water, stones (literally) and other impertinent paraphernalia, we never seem to carry food or enough of it, the most essential of all things. Once the hike starts there is not much opportunity for a break except if you are lucky enough to get lost or have to answer nature’s call. Even the few fruits we carry are generally had while we are walking. Well it’s not as bad as it sounds, for I am party to this insane clan and completely enjoying it.
By the time I came back to my senses Pema and Nima were way ahead of me making me pick up my
pace. The one and a half hour climb was quite a killer though I have a feeling it was the height rather than my fitness that was getting to me. At this point we took a much needed break to quench our parched throats and also to eat sometime to replenish energy. From here, the path became relatively easy with gentle ups and downs. Now that I was more relaxed, I could really marvel at the view ahead and behind us, enjoying my walk. After about an hour we reached an open expanse of green meadows completely laden with rhododendrons , wild poppies and other wild flowers. I was gleeful to be in the midst of these vivid wild flowers, like a small child who had just received a surprise gift. This time I had ample opportunity to photograph the blue poppies, making me go completely trigger happy. Rejuvenated, we begun our walk towards Damboche village from where the path gently descended down to enter Lashar valley.
Once we entered Lashar valley we were in altogether a different world. Everything seemed so serene and still as though the earth had stopped rotating. The serpentine river meandering through the valley floor flowed so gently giving one an appearance that it had come to a complete standstill. A little further down we saw a large heard of sheep on the grass less slopes being tended by a Dokpa, with whom Pema immediately got into conversation. Dokpa are the nomadic Tibetan herders who inhabit these high valleys of Lachen, most of their settlements are in Muguthang valley but there are a few in Lashar as well. Further down we could see the snow capped mountains with their hanging glaciers like a spectacular necklace meant to bedazzle the onlooker, and a little ahead was Sebu la – the connecting pass to Lachung. Crossing this 17,000 foot pass is supposed to be quite challenging but very rewarding too, the major issue in this region is arranging for the logistics which is a nightmarish activity. Though sometime in the future I would really love to do this three-day trek from Thangu to Yumthang. One more hour of walking through the calm Lashar valley got us to a small, dilapidated hut which was seemingly used by the Survey of India people while mapping the valley. This hut marked the end of our five hour journey to the base of Sibu la. Took a half hour lunch break over here, enjoying views of Kanchgyao (22600 feet) and other mountains to our North.
Now that there is some food in my tummy and my body sufficiently rested, am able to keep my pace with Pema on our return journey. The path skirts over the bank of the Lashar chu unable to give us a good perspective of the serpentine river meandering through the valley. Pema makes us climb the ridge to Phalung from where he says we would get excellent views of the river, beginning our
scramble over loose rocks and steep slopes, puffing and panting as we move further up. To our misfortune dull grey clouds decide to envelope the entire valley at this very movement, turning our climb into a futile exercise as we are unable to get any good snaps. The downward journey proves to be extremely tricky, being more of a sliding cum balancing act rather than a climbing down. Over here we spotted a pair brahmini ducks playfully flirting with each other, while quacking out loud to break the silence within the valley. For a few minutes we watch their constant ritual of landing over the river, to take off again the next instant. Pema shows me the watch to indicate that we need to keep moving to reach Thangu by early evening. Our amazing and arduous trek finally came to an end at three in the afternoon, eight hours after we had left.
The variety of flora to be found in the Lachen valley is simply amazing. The great explorer botanist J.D. Hooker was completely awed by the variety of flora he found in the Lachen valley during his exploratory trip in 1849,
making the following entry in his diary ” At first it appears incredible that so limited an area should present nearly all the types of flora found in the north temperate zone” . These wild flowers held a captivating fascination for me as well. Managed to capture a few of these beauties during my excursions to Lashar, Thangu, Dewthang and Tarum.