Sunday, November 18, 2007

Round Two

OK, here goes another try. A little relaxation and recovery in Delhi - hot shower, laundry, and good food, now off again. A little lower elevation this time, not quite as cold, and on our own. Keeping it simple, just out to enjoy and explore. Up to Dharamsala and Manali, scoping out actual ski terrain for Lin to tackle in the spring once there's snow. Hoping to be gone for a while to avoid lots of travel back and forth to Delhi, but as always, we'll see what comes up. Ah, the off-season...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

To the North and back again

Ah, India. Land where nothing is what you think, but that means there's always something you haven't thought of. Lin and I went up to Leh, in the Ladakh region of Jammu&Kashmir, to get high in the Himalaya. It's a little late in the season for 20,000 feet, so we signed up with a guide, cook and horseman. If you've never trekked with hoofed animals to carry all your gear and someone cooking for you, you're missing out. I'm a pretty self-reliant person, but it's awfully nice. *grin*

It's long past the trekking season there at 11.600', so the town was much more local-feeling, and quite Tibetan in its flavor - butter tea and the like. Our guest house was delightful - no heat in the room or running water as it is now cold enough for the pipes to freeze, but wireless high-speed internet available (as long as the power isn't out)! Good local food and a few interesting solo travelers from around the world.

We set off toward Stok Kangri - a beautiful acclimatization hike with all of our warmest gear along. Camped at 16,200' the second night and prepared to climb the next morning. Reconnaissance showed a few inches of snow, but nothing different than we're used to in the Northwest; the guide said this would be difficult, unlike summer conditions. We shall see.

Walking by 3am in 10 degree darkness, clear but with light snowflakes materializing out of the air. Around the bottom of the moraine, guide a little turned around in the snow and clearly not liking the snowy conditions. Cold toes and fingers, definitely, but good. Sunrise found us on the rocky lateral moraine beside a pretty benign glacier, guide clearly unhappy and not wanting to continue. Why? Looked good to us - the snow had stopped and there were rocks to walk along to the upper part of the route.

Turns out the "guide", despite answering yes our direct questions, did not have plastic or even heavy boots! He was climbing in low-top hikers, with gaiters that didn't come down over the tops of his shoes! In snowy conditions his feet were wet and very cold, and he certainly didn't appear to have climbed Stok Kangri at this time of year before. Aargh! Lin and I decided to press on around the corner - I broke trail for an hour up to 18,300' to look around.

The upper part of the route appeared to be a snow-and-scree scramble, over a shoulder and up to the summit. By this time, however, it was 10am and we weren't sure of our speed or safety in getting up and back before dark and 2000' of scree wasn't all that appealing. To go or not to go? Thoughts of coming on our own the next morning, but it was pretty cold and I wasn't excited about another long day following this. Our guide said flat out, "I'm not going up there." Wow. Is there something we don't know? So far everything seemed pretty standard snow travel, but as a guide I ask people to follow my advice, so it's hard to disregard him. But really, no snow boots??

Ultimately we decided to go down, rather disappointed and certainly miffed at the inadequacy of our "guide's" gear despite direct questioning. I had brought my skis in case the glacier was skiable, but by that point had decided he wasn't worth much in the way of accurate information. Headed out the next day, never seeing our cook who was supposed to return for the last day after going to a friend's wedding mid-trip, and made it back to Leh that night. The power was, of course, out, making it slightly more difficult to finalize travel plans back to Delhi.

Ah, India. The airline we wanted had an office but couldn't sell us tickets, another could use frequent flyer miles but only if you hadn't missed the deadline 15 minutes ago by waiting for them to get to you, the third wasn't flying today. The first airline would take our cash in Delhi, but only for the next hour. Time crunch - Lin's husband and driver collaborated to get to the Delhi airport to buy tickets there(no ma'am, we require payment 1 1/2 hours before the flight now, not 1 hour). Of course, the flight might leave early if everyone has arrived. Lin distracted the office person for an hour as people were going through security in Leh so he wouldn't leave and not come back before we were booked. Finally our names came through and we were allowed through security, informed that no carryon luggage was allowed out of Leh (due to its proximity to Kashmir's troubles), charged extra for checking too much baggage, and rushed into the next room to wait with everyone else. Ha! Frisked four more times (seriously), and finally allowed on the plane and out of Leh. Whew! I'm not sure which was more of an adventure - climbing or flying!

On return to Delhi, noticed that evening that my camera hadn't turned up. In rushedly checking my carryon, I hadn't thought to reposition my camera, and am fairly certain that someone in Delhi's luggage handling has a new black market item to sell. Talk about insult to injury...

So I have no pictures, but am hoping to collage one of the scenes that stuck in my head. For now, be glad that you can buy airline tickets online, have reliable electricity, and don't have politically unstable neighbors stealing your camera.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Holy Jetlag, Batman

That's one whopping 13.5-hour time difference. Combined with the smog and dust of the city, these have been a couple of tired days. But it has been interesting and, more importantly, Lin and I are leaving tomorrow morning for Ladakh and some mountain time.

Delhi has been interesting - not so different from most other partially-developed nations and cities. Funny little three-wheeled cabs we call tuk-tuks, the familiar odd mixture of western advertising and man-handled local goods, 15th century architecture in the park, more haze than your lungs know what to do with, haggling for prices, and getting temporarily misplaced among the various streets marked in letters from a foreign language.

We went shopping for salwar kamis (local costume) and got me decked out, went running in the local park where coddled living-room plants grow heartily (ficus trees, even!), found the two closet-sized outdoor stores that exist in Delhi (get what you need before you come!), and I went for a stroll to India Gate and past the Parliament building.

There are 16million people in Delhi, and those without shelter end up everywhere, hawking trinkets to people at stoplights, sometimes begging in public spots, and occasionally bathing in the park fountains. Life can be rough here.

Enough of the flatlands. Orange-sunrise, that lowland haze, squawking birds in flowery trees (I finally know what bougainvilla looks like) - Rudyard Kipling makes a lot more sense now.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Weddings and races

Most importantly, my sister got married yesterday on a beautiful fall day at my parents place in Maryland. Being Halloween, bride and groom and guests were all appropriately attired, and a beautiful simple ceremony was followed by a potluck and much catching up between old friends. Despite occasional reservations by my parents, they seem to have a really good relationship, and it's nice to see two individuals who share so much be that happy. And despite my mother's anxiety about all the many facets of hosting a wedding, everything went smashingly, and Morgana (Laura) and Ben are officially hitched. Congratulations!

Prior to this, I met an old rowing friend in Philly who has been working toward national team status for a while now. A storm sent whole trees floating down the river, so the day's races were cancelled, but a fully-saturated run in the rain made up for it. Rower Halloween party, pumpkin carving, and many of her friends rounded out the weekend. No pictures, unfortunately - just imagine a lot of really tall, really motivated athletes...

This ends the east coast portion of our trip - please enjoy your stay while I run off to India for six weeks... *grin* More from Delhi!