Parting Thoughts on Ladakh

Parting Thoughts on Ladakh

Parting Thoughts on Ladakh
Dispatches from the front lines of travel.
Aug. 22 2002 2:42 PM

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Longitude: 77.25 E Latitude: 32.45 N Altitude: 16,140 feet Today's audio update

Last night, we uplinked our text and photos by candlelight—sitting in a tent on a barren plain as the cold wind howled all around us. We stole electricity from the car battery with alligator clips. We aimed our satellite dish up into the vast, open sky, praying for a signal from some lonely corner.

Of course, our field producer Jonathan had a quadruple-redundancy plan, so success was never in doubt, but still, the whole operation had a rather fragile feel. It reminded us that we have bumped up on the edge of nowhere. In fact, you really can't get much more nowhere than this if you're not in a boat or spacecraft. Even Stan's old trekking pals were quite impressed when he called them on the sat-phone and explained just how out there we'd managed to get.

The “Gata Loops” include 21 switchbacks
The "Gata Loops" include 21 switchbacks

When we wake up in nowhere, we see that a heavy duvet has been draped on the mountains. It rained on us, it snowed up there. We strike camp early and hit the dirt roads again. But after just 20 minutes, we reach pavement. We've met up with the legendary Leh to Manali road—a frequently trekked ribbon of way-high highway. (Mind you, the pavement here isn't all that much smoother than the dirt—you still feel like you're in Snoop Dogg's hydraulic Caddy.)

Ho hum, another 170 switchbacks. Ho hum, more simply astounding countryside. I'm running out of words to convey the majesty of these mountains, so I hope you'll look at Jonathan's many photos. For context: We have been sleeping well above 15,000 feet the last two nights. Today we drive over two 16,000-foot passes. And all the while, the mountains are looming much higher up above us. Don't quote me on this (I have no research facilities here), but I believe the very highest peaks in the lower 48 top out at a little more than 14,000 feet. [Editor's note: Seth's memory is pretty accurate; California's Mount Whitney, the mainland's highest peak, is 14,494 feet.]

Every mile of this trans-Himalayan highway is a geology lesson
Every mile of this trans-Himalayan highway is a geology lesson

After several hours, we exit Ladakh for the first time on this trip. We are now entering the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. But as we bid it farewell, let me say just a word on the plight of Ladakh:

Seth Stevenson, often found shopping for Slate, recently filed a "Diary" from Bangkok.