The Apricot trail photo story

Mountain Homestays kicked off with its first expedition on 27 Aug 2016. The expedition started in Leh with an aim to truly engage in Ladakhi culture and understand their organic farming practices. We visited three remote villages of Ladakh (Yurutse, Shingo and Tsogsty) where we stayed alongside the villagers in their homestays and experienced the Ladakhi way of living. This photo story narrates the tale of our 7-day journey.

Day 1

After pickup from airpot the participants just acclimatized first day to high altitude in our guest house.

Our guest house at Leh

Day 2

We started early morning to attend the chanting by Buddhist monks at Thikse monastery. Thikse situated at a beautiful site on a hill top.

Thikse monastery, also known as second Lhasa

The chanting was performed by monks of all ages. From old monks to the ones as young as five.

Young monks chanted loudly unperturbed by the audience around.

Then we headed towards the Shey Palace, a prominent heritage site of Ladakh.

Shey palace was summer capital of Ladakh

The Shanti Stupa is a landmark of Leh from where you get an eagle eye view of the entire city

Shanti Stupa was built in 1991

The Leh palace was another marvel site. We went to all the 9 levels of this magnificent palace. The meditation hall inside the palace offered a peaceful break for the day.

Climbing towards the Leh palace

Day 3

After an hour of drive from Leh, we now headed to our trek through the mountains from our base village Zingchen. It was an easy hike to start with but the clouds above kept us anxious.

Climbing towards Rumbak

Our entire trek was through the Hemis national park but were not expecting to see some wildlife so soon. Thanks to our guide Spalzang we were able to spot a Himalayan pica at the start of the trek.

A Himalayan Pica

Moments later we saw a herd of Blue sheeps grazing at a distant mountain.

Expert climbers - a herd of Himalayan blue sheeps

It was an exciting start to our trek as we kept spotting a number of birds as well. After a short halt at Rumbak for a cup of tea we continued our trek till Yurutse.

Trek continued

Yurutse was an amazing site. Just a single household in middle of the hills, offers a great homestay experience.

That's Yurutse, a single homestay

We rested here sipping some hot chai, reading books and talking with other fellow travelers. Rinchen, the owner of this homestay talked about some unique travelers who visit his homestay and various snow leopard stories. One such traveler is famous author of “Chasing the phantom”, Mr.Eduard Fischer

Tea and books - can't get better

The dinner that was served at Yurutse was unbelievable. It started with a hot soup followed by a huge main course. Nobody expected this amazing meal at 13000 feet.

What a meal!

Day 4

A tough day of trekking as we had to cross the Ganda-La pass at 16000+ feets. The early morning omens were not so great as it was drizzling. The distant mountains had some fresh snow on them. But without any hiccups we pulled over our rain jackets and started the trek.

All excited for another wonderful day!

We were gradually ascending to the pass following the trail.

Near the Ganda-La base camp

We spotted more wildlife. A Himalayan weasel, many birds and many wild hares.

A wild hare just jumped across our route.

It drizzled and hailed for some time but as we approached closer to the pass the weather started to clear up.

The blue sky was visible finally

The climb became steeper near the pass but we kept going slowly and steadily.

Last steps near the pass.

After an arduous climb we finally reached the Ganda-la pass. We stayed at the pass for some time among the guzzling wind and the flying prayer flags.

At Ganda-la pass

Further trek till Shingo was all downhill. We all walked swiftly through the valley.

Easy walk ahead

We spotted a lot of Himalayan marmots and many other birds during this easy downhill hike.

A Himalayan marmot

It was about 1PM now. After about 5 hours of continuous trekking a halt for lunch was necessary. We sat at a small meadow and opened our packed lunch packets.

Lunch amidst the vast valley

Final steps towards Shingo.

Approaching Shingo

Shingo is a beautiful village with 3 households. The homestays are beautiful with amazing rooms and dining space.

The Khangbu homestay of Shingo offered a great stay.

About a year ago GHE provided solar electricity to Shingo. The solar panels sit on the roof of each house. The lights switch on automatically as the sun sets. They are working perfectly since their installation.

Solar panels over rooftops. Beautiful!

It was a clear sky tonight and we observed numerous stars, constellations and meteors.

Day 5

Another exciting day for all trekkers as we hike downhill towards Skiu. It was an easy walk among some beautiful mountains. We crossed the river stream numerous times during this hike.

Trek continues till Skiu

It was a sunny day. As we closed towards Skiu we walked through an open landscape. The bright sun drained us all and made us really tired.

Open valley and clear sky

Skiu had a beautiful monastery that outshined against the bright blue sky.

The 13th century old monastery of Skiu

It was a walk for the next few hours and we finally reached the river Indus. We took rest and had our lunch at this small tent near the river.

Final few steps

Trek got over. We relaxed at this tent for some time.

It was time to cross the Indus now to reach our village Tsogsty. There is only one way across, to use the trolley that passes through a metal cable.

The cable trolley that we crossed one-by-one

We waited a while for our vehicle to come. We were lucky that Mr. Sonam, the local counselor of Markha valley was with us. He assured us we’ll get a vehicle soon. We all decided to walk till the nearest village Chilling from where we can use a satellite phone to check for the vehicle.

Walk till village Chilling

Our vehicle arrived and we all loaded our bags on the roof. Mr. Phunsuk was an avid driver who maneuvered through the twisty roads of Zanskar.

Our ride for Tsogsty

We were at Tsogty near darkness. The village entrance was already giving us good vibes and the homestay here was a real beautiful one.

Homestay at Tsogsty

Day 6

Tsogsty village surprised us. It had much more to offer than we ever imagined. Among lush green farms of apple, apricots and walnuts, the village is at a unique site at the edge of Zanskar river. A small stream flows behind the village where you can spot numerous birds.
In the morning we started to explore the apple and apricot farms of the village. The fresh apples clinging to the branches of the trees were a temptation for all.

Walking through the apple orchards

We learnt about the 5 different varieties of apples that grow here. Tsogsty made it special as it was harvest time for apples. We got to taste the various varieties which we plucked directly from the trees while we strolled through the farms.

Temptations hanging on trees.

The vegetables as well were plucked from the farms minutes before they were cooked and served to us.

Our homestay mother getting fresh vegetables from the farms.

At the homestay we got to try a delicious Ladakhi dish called Shu-tagi. Staying in Ladakhi villages had its advantages. Whatever food we had in last four days was all organic and fresh from the farms, that essentially drained all toxins from our bodies.

Shu-tagi

While we played with the two pet cats of the house, Anu was helping the aunty to break apricot seeds for the almonds inside.

Vinot and cat

it's like meditation

We now visited other homestays in the village. Thanks to our guide Spalzang for introducing us to other villagers.

Another homestay room at Tsogsty

Among the people we met in the village, Mr. Thetan Wangyal was the most interesting one. This 65yr old copper artisan was very excited to show us his work.

Thetan Wangyal ji, an inspiration

A real hardworking fellow. Apart from copper art he was good at making wooden crafts and farming shovels. He also handles his farms and was good at making apricot jams too.

Thetan ji busy in his wooden work

A water mill took our attention. It wasn’t working though.

An old water mill

Day went by exploring the village. It was our last evening in village so we celebrated with a special dinner and a glass of Chhang, the local barley drink.

Celebrations for our last evening of the Trip

We also tasted the special apricot dessert which we ourselves prepared. The easiest recipe as we just dipped dry apricots (type: phating) into some sugar water. The dessert was ready in 2 hrs.

Khumani

Day 7

As it was our last day in village we got up early and went for a morning walk. We spotted a Blue whistling thrush hiding near the water stream.

A Blue whisling thrush

Then we all tried our hands on Archery which is very integral to Ladakhi culture and played here as a recreation. While we were struggling to aim to the target for a long time, our porter Nurbu was an expert and hitting almost all his shots on target.

Ah.. Archery!

The perfect stance of Nurbu!

Later Anu requested Wangyal ji to make a bow for her. Wangyal ji did not waste any time and made it for her in less than 2 hours.

Happiness!

After the amazing two days in Tsogtsy we started back for Leh. It was nostalgic as we bid adieu to the villagers.

Almost the entire village came to bid us goodbye.

The impact

With our first Apricot trail in August we already started our impact story. Our 4 days of trekking took us to many remote villages where our participants stayed alongside the villages in their homestays. Our focus village Tsogsty gave a life enriching experience. It had has huge farms of apricots, apples and walnuts which we explored. The village is also home to some of the few remaining metal artisans of Ladakh. The village homestays here are really good and provide a great quality of stay, but Tsogsty do not receive many tourists. The season was already ending and we were the only second group that visited Tsogsty this year. We were happy as we stayed here for two nights and helped generate some income for the village.