A Porter on the Chadar Trek

I’m Published Again! – Voyage Magazine China

It was nice to find the following words on the front page of an article in the August Edition of China’s Voyage Magazine. This marks my third major publication.

Author / Russ 
 Taylor 
 high Xiaotao 
 | 
 Photography / Russ 
 Taylor 
 
 Ren Jianjun

撰文/Russ
Taylor
高晓涛
|
摄影/Russ
Taylor

任建军

I have to admit that I wasn’t quite sure how this was all going to work out when Daisy Huang contacted me about using some of my photographs in an article and then asked me to contribute to the writing of the article. I agreed each step of the way but in the back of my mind I wondered if sending high resolution images through the internet to China would actually result in greenbacks in my hand. We haggled over the number of words written and what would be paid for them. There is indeed a difference in the number of written words in English versus the number of characters in Chinese.

At one point I decided I’d call the cell phone number that Daisy had given me, just to be sure this was all real. I was greeted by a most pleasant voice that reminded me that it was past one o’clock in the morning in Beijing. After a short talk and an apology for the inopportune hour at which I’d called I breathed a sigh of relief. “She’s real, and this article is actually going to happen.” Daisy must have said, “Don’t worry” to me several times throughout this whole process. In the end it all worked out just like you’d hope it would.

Working with Daisy Huang has been a real pleasure and I can now add Voyage Magazine to The Adirondack Review and Glimpse Magazine as magazines in which I’ve been published.

The English translation of the article follows along with an image or two used in the magazine, plus one or two that weren’t, which I’ve added to this version.  Some of the phrases were written knowing that they’d be translated into Chinese and not necessarily a phrase I’d keep in English.  So with that caveat let us begin.

The land is so barren and the passes so high that only the best friends or fiercest enemies would want to visit us.”  – A Ladakhi Proverb

It doesn’t take long to become a friend of Ladakh. Walking along the streets of the capital city of Leh, which sits at 11,500ft (3,505m), the visitor is greeted by the word, “Julley!” It’s a word you hear constantly as it means hello, goodbye, please and thank you. Learn the word Julley and you’re well on your way to making friends with this most hospitable mountain people.

Ladakh is a high desert nestled among the high mountains and valleys of the Himalaya and is surely one of the most beautiful places in all of Asia. Once an independent kingdom, Ladakh is today a part of India’s Jammu and Kashmir State. To the north lies the ancient kingdom of Baltistan in today’s Pakistan and to the east sits the ancient kingdom of Tibet, part of modern day China.

Ladakh’s Changtang

The Tibetan plateau extends into Ladakh and is called the Changtang plateau. Here high lakes rest at altitudes of over 15,000ft, (4,572m) along which nomadic shepherds still tend to their sheep and goats and earn a living by selling pashmina wool to carpet makers in the city of Srinagar.

Semi-nomadic, several times a year the nomads drive their yak herds down from the mountains and load them with all of their belongings. In the darkness of morning, before even a hint of dawn, they begin their journey to new pastures where they stay for several months before moving again.

The Changtang plateau is filled with unexpected wildlife sightings, from the “kyang,” a wild ass, to the black-necked crane, which makes an annual migration to the shores of Tso Moriri Lake and Tso Kar Lake.  In the high places, if you are fortunate, you might even catch a glimpse of the Himalayan Condor.

As you wind down the roads from the Changtang you eventually meet the Indus River, one of the oldest rivers in the world. During the fall season the river is turquoise and tranquil, during the winter it is partially frozen and during the summer it is grey with glacial silt and rages enough to be enjoyed by white water rafting enthusiasts.

Following the Indus River Valley you find fields still plowed by yaks and dzos (a cross between a yak and a cow). Traditionally Ladakhis grew barley and traded barley and salt for other needs. Today they are growing a wider variety of vegetables, even using greenhouses to grow tomatoes and greens.

The Indus River Valley, Ladakh

Along the Indus River Valley and built neatly onto the tops of hills are some of the oldest monasteries in the world. Ladakh is traditionally a Buddhist kingdom that has remained largely intact even with the intermingling of Islam from the western part of the state. The monasteries are best visited in the early morning when the monks hold a daily puja, or worship ceremony. Here the chill air inside the monastery is filled with the smell of incense and butter lamps. The monks chanting along with cymbals clashing can be almost hypnotic and somewhat haunting.

To reach the Nubra Valley in Ladakh most visitors will share a jeep that will churn its way up and around the barren desert mountains until reaching a pass called the Kardung La, which at over 18,380ft is reputed to be the world’s highest motorable road. While that itself is most memorable, you’ll bring back even more memories from the Nubra Valley where the visitor can ride the Bactrian Camels, the same kind of camels that were used for trade along the Silk Road in previous centuries.  The camel drivers will take you along the massive sand dunes, reminiscent of the days when the road led north to Yarkand.

Ladakh’s Nubra Valley

Ladakh also has something to offer the mountaineer. Stok Kangri stands proudly at 20,123ft (6,123m) and offers views of the both the Himalayan and Karakoram Mountain Ranges. It is Asia’s most accessible peak and can be climbed in a four day round trip from just outside of the capital city of Leh. On a rare occasion the climber may run across the fabled snow leopard. This writer saw two snow leopards while on an ascent of Stok Kangri in 2004.

The most hearty of travelers will also make the time to visit the Zanskar Valley, one of the most remote and beautiful regions of Ladakh. While it can be reached by a two-day jeep ride from Leh to Padum via Kargil it is perhaps best reached on foot. Ladakh has many travel agencies that are willing to arrange treks complete with ponies to carry the heavy loads, pony men who set up your tent before you arrive at camp and who cook the most delicious of meals. Treks of various lengths can be arranged, and it’s a wonderful way to adapt to the pace of nature.

While the best times of the year to visit Ladakh are between early June and late September, Ladakh saves some of its best for the visitor who braves the harshest cold of a Ladakhi winter. During winter, nighttime temperatures can plummet to nearly -30 degrees (Celsius). It is then, between early January and mid-February that you can trek the frozen Zanskar River, traditionally called the Chadar, a journey that takes about two weeks round trip and follows ancient trade routes.

The Chadar Trek

On this trek you’ll be exploring a region that has been cut off from the outside world for over half the year and can be visited in winter only along the frozen Zanskar River. During the day the warm Himalayan sun helps remove the chill from your bones and holding many cups of Ladakhi tea will warm your hands, while the hospitality warms your heart.

A Porter on the Chadar Trek

Whether you visit Ladakh for two days, two weeks, or two months you’ll find the finest of hospitality.  Visitors are welcomed into homes, served sweet tea and yak butter tea and with the word “Julley!” and an adventurous spirit you’ll leave Ladakh with enough memories to last a lifetime.

Getting there:  There are two daily flights from Delhi to Leh by three airlines between May and October. Jet Airways, Air India and Kingsfisher Red all fly two daily flights during the summer months. During the winter Jet Airways and Air India continue almost daily flights. All flights are early morning flights and are pretty reliable, but due to mountain weather some flights may be canceled. When a flight is canceled the airlines are pretty good about putting you up in a hotel room for free.

There are also weekly flights by Air India from Srinagar to Leh (return) on Wednesdays and from Jammu to Leh (return) on Monday’s and Fridays.

Flying is definitely the best way to reach Leh. (I don’t necessarily believe this, but it seemed like the right thing to say to an upscale Chinese audience). The mountain roads are notoriously bumpy, the vehicles crowded, and you’re dealing with altitude. If you are planning to travel during the summer months it is important to book in advance, as tickets are expensive (US $139 – $335).

You won’t save that much money riding in a shared jeep, but if you prefer to travel overland you can do so by shared jeep from Manali (July – September) and from Srinagar (May to November). The road from Srinagar is much more comfortable.

Once you are in Leh and want to travel through Ladakh the main options are to travel by shared jeep or by bus. Those who are up for a little more adventure may want to rent a motorbike (about US $12 per day), usually a classic Royal Enfield Motorcycle. It’s a fun way to get around the countryside, but you do have to watch for large convoys of army vehicles.

Roads to Ladakh close during the winter months due to snow and flying from November through May is the only option.

To view more images of Ladakh please visit the Beneath a Cerulean Sky; The Land and People of Ladakh album.

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152 thoughts on “I’m Published Again! – Voyage Magazine China

  1. Gorgeous photos, Ladakh is on my list of places to go so it’s great to get this info, thanks. And I LOVED your Eastern Sierras gallery, it’s one of my fav. places, and the pic of J.Tree at night, wonderful. I’ve bookmarked it and will be back for another look. And congrats on getting published in such a high level mag. Happy travels.

  2. Congratulations! As a freelance writer myself, I can relate to the haggling over word count/pay … I can honestly say I would never have thought about the difference between English words and Chinese characters!

    🙂

  3. What a fantastic post and incredible photographs!! I can see why Daisy wanted to contact you!

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed…just another form of publication added to the list, and I’m sure there will be even more to come. 🙂

  4. Hey there! I spent 3 weeks in Leh a few years ago. It was in the middle of the winter, so impossible to leave the 60km radius around the city. But did get a chance to mingle with the sweetest people of all: the Ladakhi. And visit incredible monasteries, drink butter tea with kid monks at 5am, and just marvel at the landscape. – Ania

  5. Having grown up in the valley of Kashmir, in the vicinity of Ladakh, this piece definitely was nostalgia revisted. And with “Julley”, you summed up the amazing hospitality of the Ladakhis in one simple word. Well captured!

    • anastacio, i read somewhere on wordpress the suggestion that you have no more than 10 categories. i’ve exceeded that. i saw on wordpress that some of the major categories were travel, photography, writing, art, and categories of that nature. i decided that i’d use the categories that people hit most often so i’d have greater chances of getting seen.

      and the chadar trek is amazing. but they are building a road alongside the river so you need to do it in the next year or two. once that road is finished it will become a thing of the past…

  6. This is a great post and some beautiful pictures. I’ve been thinking of visting Ladakh for some time now, it will definitely be on my itinerary when I next go to India, thanks for a great read.

    • thanks grace. i decided i was going to post my blogs and my photos whether i was getting many hits or not, just because i enjoy doing it. and today it suddenly got some wider attention. one of those times that perseverance, or doing what you love just because you love it, pays off.

  7. Congratulations on your publication in a third magazine and for being Freshly Pressed today! Great article on a very interesting place, and amazing photographs. The image of the Nubra Valley was particularily beautiful.

  8. It’s a place where all you have to do to get a nice picture is press that button on your camera.

    I had my own memorable rendezvous with Leh and Ladakh a few months back.
    Wonderful place.
    Absolutely amazing !

    • you’re right, i used to say that about ladakh too. you can take your camera and swing it around your head and make a nice photo. it’s such an amazing place. or as ansel adams once said, “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”

    • it’s okay when it’s hot, but when it’s had time to sit at room temperature for awhile it’s pretty tough to take. definitely an acquired taste, or at least you learn how to take really small sips…

  9. Beautiful! Thanks for the information on how to get there, because I now want to get to remote places and this is often the key lacking point in other travel articles.

  10. I was excited to see a post about Ladakh featured on the wordpress homepage. I traveled there last summer and loved the region, and your photos really capture the beauty of it. I especially loved the hockey photo on your photoshelter gallery!
    I’ve been working with Tibetans for years, and I was curious as to how much editing or censoring you felt that you had to do for the Chinese magazine in regards to your mentioning of Tibet. It’s hard to write about Ladakh without including something about Tibet, and I noticed you called it “the ancient kingdom of Tibet, part of modern day China,” rather than the commonly-used “Chinese-occupied Tibet,” or something of the like. No doubt that would not have gone over well in a Chinese magazine. Did you find you had to censor or avoid the subject of Tibet when working with the magazine, or were they open and receptive at your mentioning of it?

    • thanks for the comments on the hockey photo, that’s one of my personal favorites. on the tibet question, i think you nailed it. i was not about to use the phrase “chinese occupied tibet” when dealing with an editor of a chinese magazine. it would be in bad taste in my opinion. ladakh was also an independent kingdom that is now part of modern day india. i did not write the article with the idea of making any political statements, i simply wanted to draw the traveler’s attention to the beauty of both the land and people of ladakh.

    • pauline, you’d be amazed at the highways now, so wide and smooth! and with a new power plant coming online next year (we’ll see) there will be more than just four hours of electricity per day.

  11. Congrats on another credit to your name and artistic career! I really admire people who have done what you’re doing- out there exploring the world and documenting it as you can. Thanks for shaing your experiences here!

    • frenchchick, you can get by with english, and some of the trekking guides know a bit of french. and it’s amazing how little it takes to travel if you save and travel wisely. you should do it!

  12. Great life. I think hiking everywhere is greater than scaling tallest mountains.

    You published few photos than I expected to find here. That would have brought me everywhere there when I cannot by myself.

  13. Your photos are really moving. It’s like telling me to come over but I am a bit intimidated how it looks inviting and intimidating at the same time. Congratulations on being FPed!

    • thanks. ladakh is a really good place to travel, the people are super friendly and it’s pretty easy to get around there. getting through delhi and lower india, maybe a bit intimidating to the inexperienced traveler, but you can fly straight up to ladakh and avoid the madness of the indian plains.

  14. Hey congratulations. And wow you’re Freshly Pressed also now! I forgot how I got here. Interesting to read your excitement about the call and the published experience. Wish you the best, your work looks great, will read it later ’cause my head is tied up in sleepiness right now.
    Cheerios.

  15. I feel I haven’t lived – I haven’t seen Ladakh! Your post was just great, really vivid. Loved the photos too. And well done on being published. 🙂

  16. I thoroughly enjoyed your post and the photographs are stunning. I too, like others above have indicated, was unfamiliar with Ladakh until reading this (actually, wholly ignorant of its existence, to be completely truthful) and am now ready to visit there. (I live and Shanghai and had been planning a visit to Tibet next August; we may now have to rethink our itinerary somewhat.)

    Thank you for a lovely post…and for your inspiration! Congratulations on your publications, as well.

    • thanks for the kind words! it’s fun to introduce people to ladakh, i usually end up having to explain where it is, “you know, in the far north of india…”

      the nice thing about ladakh is that its culture, while historically intertwined with tibet, is almost wholly intact. so in ladakh you experience a much more authentic tibet.

      due to the closed border with china it is a bit tricky to get to logistically. from lhasa you could take an overland jeep to kathmandu, then fly to delhi from there and on up to leh.

      hope you guys have a good trip, i’d be glad to hear about it.

      thanks again!

  17. Great post. I too went to Ladakh about 5/6 years ago. Such a beautiful place – dry moonscapes and then small plush green valleys. And the people are so chilled…quite a change from the states to the south once you pass over the mountains!

  18. This is fantastic. What’s more awesome is how I took the same photo on the same seat in front of the Taj Mahal earlier this summer. I’m a college student and I think I’m sort of heading into the type of work you do. I have barely any experience with photography but I’m getting into it now. I sort of want to be that traveling photojournalist that’s in the action in another country. I’ve traveled to a few places so far and I must say traveling is one of the greatest things in the world to do. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed, and I look forward to seeing more of your work.

  19. That article turned out to be awesome, but my favorite part was the photography, the landscape there is really stunning and you captured it well… Isn’t it funny how after all these years of internet business etc, that we still have a tendency to question the integrity of online contacts?

    • thanks, the landscape there is really something. after living in india several years i’ve learned to cover my bases when it comes to photo rights and things of that nature. in fairness to my indian friends i’ve always been treated right, but it’s only wise to do all you can to make sure you know who you’re dealing with.

  20. Pingback: I’m Published Again! – Voyage Magazine China (via nomadruss in words and photos) « Myjournal

  21. What a timely post … and serendipitous. I was only just this morning talking to friends about their adventures in Ladakh. Great congratulations on the publishing of your story. What a thrill for you (and it made for enjoyable reading as a preamble to your post!)

  22. I’m sure you’ve hear this all the time, but I still have to say it: your photographs are amazing! I especially love the Nubra Valley photo in this posting.
    Hats off to ya!

  23. Ahh fantastic post, thank you. My eye was also caught by the word ‘Ladakh’, and your photographs are so magnificent they don’t disappoint. I have to go there, someday! Keep writing (and adventuring, of course!) xx

  24. I was already planning to bike it to Leh Ladakh next year. Had started to save up and and train myself for it. Your post just made me look forward even more to this trip…Leh Ladakh…. place where Angels can be found…. 🙂

  25. Hey i have been to all these places and it was a sheer pleasure going cherishing those memories again while reading your Blog. Lovely pictures and i just cant wait to visit this beautiful and breath taking beauty once again. The only place I haven’t been to is Chadar Trek. Have heard a lot about it though. Your Blog has just inspired me to make plans for Leh-Ladakh once again.
    Thank you for sharing these pictures and Congratulations on being FP. 🙂
    ~ Vaishnavi
    For, JIVRAJ TEA LTD.
    http://WWW.J9TEA.COM
    http://jivraj9teaindia.wordpress.com/

  26. Pingback: Chadar trek « kvenna ráð

  27. Pingback: Words İn Chinese | | LANGUAGE LEARNİNGLANGUAGE LEARNİNG

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