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DAY 6: ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh, India

Before the trip, we thought of doing the Markha Valley Trek, but then gave up the idea because of the lack of time.  On our last day at Ladakh, the hotel manager suggested us to make a short hike to Zingchen Gorge, where many travelers started their Markha Valley Trek.  Tashi again was our driver of the day.  We left the hotel at around 7am.  Our car headed south, passed the Spituk Gompa and continued our journey until Tashi pulled over on a country road where a lady sat below a tree.  Tashi told us to get a ticket from the lady for the admission of Hemis National Park, where Zingchen Gorge was located.  Soon our car drove into a desert valley of the gorge.  Tashi dropped us off at the end of the road.  We then crossed a bridge and entered a natural portal flanked by majestic stone cliffs to begin our half-day hike through the Zingchen Gorge.

We had no particular destination in mind, but aiming to walk as far as we could in a few hours of time.  We walked leisurely on a stony road at the bottom of a rocky valley for about half an hour until reaching a local home where two donkeys were resting under a tree.  From then on we walked for another hour or so on a mountain trail in the Zingchen Gorge towards the Village of Rumbak.  During the hike, we crossed the river a few times via wooden bridges.  After about two hours on the trail, we finally had a glimpse of the snow-capped mountains beyond the gorge.  After we exited the gorge, we reached a small pile of stones and goat skulls that signified the gorge’s mouth.  Further down the trail at an open area we sat by a large round pile of mani stones where we had our lunch break.  After the break, we decided to head back into Zingchen Gorge to meet up with our driver Tashi.  We took our time to hike back to the entrance of the gorge, and walked further down the main road until we saw Tashi and his car at Zingchen Village.

Despite short, at the last two days of our stay we had a good taste of hiking in the mountains near Leh.  Hopefully in the future we would have an opportunity to do a multi-day trek in Ladakh to really experience the natural beauty of this region.

DSC_5983.JPGThe natural rock portal formed a perfect entrance to the Zingchen Gorge.

dsc_5993For the first half hour we were walking on a valley road.

dsc_6004The arid landscape and the greenery down at the river valley.

dsc_6013The surrounding landscape was extremely dry.

dsc_6024We met two donkey at the end of the road.

DSC_6028.JPGThe path get narrower beyond the end of road.

dsc_6058Just like the other days we experienced in Ladakh, the weather in the morning and early afternoon was always sunny.

dsc_6077White khatas, prayer flags and mani stones were common at rest stops.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter two hours of hike, we had our first glimpse of the snow-capped mountains beyond the gorge.

dsc_6137At the end of the gorge.

dsc_6141The pile of stones and goat skull.

dsc_6149The round pile of mani stones where we had our lunch break by the river.

dsc_6175Heading back into the gorge for our return journey.

dsc_6180Impressive rock formations and wild flowers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALocals and their donkeys.

dsc_6278Wild flowers close to the gorge entrance.

dsc_6287We planned to stay for only half day in Hemis National Park. We walked as far as we could and then returned to the gorge entrance on the same route.  Despite the same route, the views and experience were never the same at different times of the day.  On our return, we were attracted by the rock patterns of a mountain near the gorge entrance, something that we didn’t take notice when we entered the gorge earlier in the morning.

dsc_6331We were attracted by interesting rock formations during the hike.

dsc_6342The landscape was always dry and rocky.

dsc_6357After 5 hours of hiking in Hemis National Park, we returned to the park entrance to meet up with our driver Tashi.

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Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi

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WAYLLABAMBA TO PACAMAYO, Inca Trail, Peru

After spending the night at Wayllabamba, we began hiking after an early breakfast outside of our tents, where the staff of Peru Treks set up a long table and plates of pancakes.  After breakfast, one by one we picked up our day packs and left Wayllabamba behind.  We were told that the second day of Inca Trail would be the toughest, as we would reach the highest point of the entire trek, Warmiwanusqa or the Dead Woman’s Pass.  Before reaching the pass, we would need to go through four stages of uphill hike, with a total of about 1,100m of ascend in one morning.

Not sure when did we find ourselves followed by a friendly dog from Wayllabamba.  We went through the first stage of ascend without much troubles.  A 15-minute break with snacks and drinks was the reward after completing the first uphill hike.  The second stage of the ascend took us through a dense forest and hundreds of uneven steps, some of which belonged to the original Inca Trail where the Incas traveled hundreds of years ago.  The second stage of uphill hike ended at an open valley, where dense forest gave way to grasslands and alpine tundra.  A long table was already set up by our guides and porters at the valley, where we enjoyed our second breakfast of the day.  Soon we were on our way on the third stage of the uphill hike.  It was a nice walk through a highland valley, in the embrace of mountains and glaciers.  In the valley, a wild llama walked alongside us with its head up.

At the end of the valley, the last stage of ascend was made up of sloped path and steps leading all the way up to Warmiwanusqa (Dead Woman’s Pass).  At 4,200m, reaching the Dead Woman’s Pass has always been one of the the most daring feat of the Classic Inca Trail.  Luck was on our side.  It was clear, warm and sunny when we reached Dead Woman Pass, which is usually foggy and windy.  We were among the first ones in our trekking group arriving at the pass.  Fog approached Dead Woman Pass as we waited for our group.  After everyone arrived, Freddie led us up a rocky slope where each of us placed a piece of stone which we picked up from our camp site at Wayllabamba onto a large rock, forming a small vertical pile of stones. He and another porter took out a bottle of rum, and we held a small ritual paying respect to the “pachamama” (Mother Earth).

After the small sip of rum, one by one we descended the other side of Dead Woman Pass. It was a 600m downhill hike to our camp site at Pacamayo (Pakaymayu).  At the camp site, Freddie gathered all the cooks and porters and introduced them to us one by one.  It started raining after we arrived at Pacamayo, and the rain lasted all night.  We were just so lucky of not suffering from a drop of rain while we hiked.

5090385044_f268fa33eb_o_01Early morning breakfast at our camp site at Wayllabamba.

01Farewell to the sleepy village of Wayllabamba.

02We rested and snacked below an exotic tree.

04The second stage of ascend took us into dense forest.

05Steps were uneven throughout most of the second stage ascend.

07Second breakfast was awaiting us by the time we reached the open valley.

08A wild llama walked alongside our shoulders for a bit as we walked through the valley.

09Halfway up the last stage of ascend to Warmiwanusqa (Dead Woman’s Pass) took us face to face with splendid mountain scenery.

12Almost reaching the Warmiwanusqa (Dead Woman’s Pass).

14After 1,100m of ascend, we finally reached Warmiwanusqa (Dead Woman’s Pass) just after noontime.

15After some snacks and a sip of rum, our descend began at the other side of the Dead Woman’s Pass.

13It was a 600m descend to the campsite at Pakaymayu.

17At Pakaymayu, our guide Freddie (front right) introduced us to each of the fantastic cooks and porters.  Without their support, our trek would simply be impossible.

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Read other posts on Peru Trip 2010

LIMA
1. Peru Trip 2010
2.  Bumpy Arrival, Lima & Arequipa, Peru
AREQUIPA & COLCA CANYON
3.  Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru
4.  Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
5.  Volcanoes and Vicuna, Pampa Canahuas Natural Reserve, Patahuasi, and Patapampa, Peru
6.  Yanque, Colca Canyon, Peru
7. Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru
8. Farming Terraces, Colca Canyon, Peru
PUNO & TITICACA
9. Road to Titicaca, Colca Canyon to Puno, Peru
10. Afternoon on Taquile Island, Titicaca, Peru
11. Morning on Taquile, Titicaca, Peru
12. Inka Express, Puno to Cusco, Peru
CUSCO & SACRED VALLEY
13. Pisac & Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
14. Salinas de Maras, & Moray, Sacred Valley, Peru
15. Lucuma Milkshake & Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
16. Saksaywaman, Cusco, Peru
INCA TRAIL
17. KM 82 to Wayllabamba, Inca Trail, Peru
18. Wayllabamba to Pacamayo, Inca Trail, Peru
19. Pacasmayo to Winay Wayna, Inca Trail, Peru
20. Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Peru
21. Machu Piccu, Inca Trail, Peru
22. Machu Picchu in Black and White, Inca Trail, Peru
23. Afterthought, Inca Trail, Peru
LAST DAY IN CUSCO & LIMA
24. Farewell to the Incas, Cusco, Peru
25. Last Day in Peru, Lima, Peru


KM 82 TO WAYLLABAMBA, Inca Trail, Peru

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Peru.  In order to reduce trail erosion, the government sets limits of 500 trekkers per day and a handful of companies that can provide guiding service.  Most people go for the Classic route, starting the trail from Km 82, reaching the highest point at Warmiwanusqa (Dead Woman Pass) on the second day, passing by Andean cloud forests and Inca ruins on the third day, and ending the trek at the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu at sunrise on the fourth day.

At 05:30, a 4×4 from Peru Treks came to our hotel in Cusco to pick us up for our 4-day trek. They took us first to Ollantaytambo for breakfast, and then to the trail-head at Km 82, the starting point of the Inca Trail. At Km 82, we left our rented sleeping bags, mats and warm clothing to the porters. With a small day pack of personal belongings, water, broad brim hat and a pair of hiking poles, we followed our guide Freddie to embark for a full day of challenge.  As we departed for the hike, a tourist train ran ahead of us into the valley  towards Machu Picchu, taking a train load of tourists (70% of visitors of Machu Picchu) who rather skipped the magnificent Inca Trail to reach the lost city in about three hours (train + shuttle bus).

Our trek started off with an easy hike into the mountains. After some uphill walking, we arrived at the first Inca ruin Patallaqta. It was an Inca settlement for ancient travelers and soldiers located at the intersection between two valleys. Our guide Freddie called this the Valley of the Wind, because of the constant strong wind.  An optional climb up a hill gave us a better view of the terraces of Patallaqta.  We continued to hike towards our camp site of the first night at Wayllabamba.  Along the way, we get glimpses of the Cordillera Urubamba.  After about 12km of hiking and a few resting spots where water and gatorade were sold, we arrived at Wayllabamba in mid afternoon. The camp site has a great view to the Cordillera Urubamba.

At Wayllabamba, we were assigned with our tents, one tent for two people.  We settled ourselves and took a short break.  Our guide Freddie, porters and some local villagers decided to play a game of football (soccer) on an open field.  I joined them for the game but retreated after playing for about 30 minutes.  It was extremely tiring to exercise on high altitude, no wonder I was the only one from our trekking group willing to join the game.  After the game, we went to get water at a nearby village, and passed by a community church as we headed back to our camp.  At night, the entire group (16 of us) and the guides had dinner in the dinning tent.  The meal was very impressive given we were high up on the mountains.  We got to have a good sleep to gear up for the toughest challenge of the Inca Trail, the 1100m climb to Warmiwanusqa (Dead Woman Pass) in the next morning.

01Tourist train rushing ahead of us at Km 82.

02Beginning of the Classic Inca Trail near Km 82.

03The Kusichaka Valley led towards the magnificent ruin of Patallaqta.

04The ruin of Patallaqta, at the intersection of Kusichaka River and Willkanuta Rivers.

05Patallaqta was once an important Inca settlement in the Sacred Valley.

06Snow-capped mountains of Cordillera Urubamba often came to sight.

07The community church near our camp site at Wayllabamba.

08Our camp site at Wayllabamba.

09A nearby settlement from Wayllabamba where we could use the toilets and get water.

10The mighty Andean peaks dominate the backdrop of Wayllabamba.

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Read other posts on Peru Trip 2010

LIMA
1. Peru Trip 2010
2.  Bumpy Arrival, Lima & Arequipa, Peru
AREQUIPA & COLCA CANYON
3.  Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru
4.  Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
5.  Volcanoes and Vicuna, Pampa Canahuas Natural Reserve, Patahuasi, and Patapampa, Peru
6.  Yanque, Colca Canyon, Peru
7. Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru
8. Farming Terraces, Colca Canyon, Peru
PUNO & TITICACA
9. Road to Titicaca, Colca Canyon to Puno, Peru
10. Afternoon on Taquile Island, Titicaca, Peru
11. Morning on Taquile, Titicaca, Peru
12. Inka Express, Puno to Cusco, Peru
CUSCO & SACRED VALLEY
13. Pisac & Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
14. Salinas de Maras, & Moray, Sacred Valley, Peru
15. Lucuma Milkshake & Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
16. Saksaywaman, Cusco, Peru
INCA TRAIL
17. KM 82 to Wayllabamba, Inca Trail, Peru
18. Wayllabamba to Pacamayo, Inca Trail, Peru
19. Pacasmayo to Winay Wayna, Inca Trail, Peru
20. Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Peru
21. Machu Piccu, Inca Trail, Peru
22. Machu Picchu in Black and White, Inca Trail, Peru
23. Afterthought, Inca Trail, Peru
LAST DAY IN CUSCO & LIMA
24. Farewell to the Incas, Cusco, Peru
25. Last Day in Peru, Lima, Peru


DAY 75 (1 OF 2) – LAGUNA TORRE, PARQUE NACIONAL LOS GLACIARES (NORTH), EL CHALTEN, ARGENTINA

In Chalten, there are two mandatory hikes for most trekkers: Sendero al Fitz Roy and Senda a Laguna Torre. The former leads hikers for a close encounter of Laguna and Glacier de los Tres with Cerro Fitz Roy in the background, and the latter for Laguna and Glacier Torre with Cerro Torre in the background.
The weather seemed fine in the morning in El Chalten. Cerro Fitz Roy was mostly visible behind thin clouds. The host of our guesthouse told us that the weather would turn bad tomorrow, and they suggested us to try doing the Senda a Laguna Torre, despite the fact that the chance of seeing Cerro Torre was slim. We thought it would be nice to take the less demanding Laguna Torre hike (7 hours return) on our first day of trekking in El Chalten.
It took us about an hour from the trailhead at El Chalten to reach Mirador Torre, a lookout with a panoramic view of Cerro Torre and the adjacent glacier and mountain range. Despite blue sky above us at Mirador Torre, we saw that the distant Cerro Torre was covered in clouds. Although from a distance, we could feel the strong cold wind coming from the direction of Cerro Torre. We continued walking against strong wind until we reached Laguna Torre an hour and a half later. The sky was heavy with drizzling and strong wind, but the scenery of the lagoon, floating icebergs, glaciers and snow-capped mountains was breathtaking. At the last 15 minutes of hike, the path was rugged with sand and rocks until we reached the ridge of a stony hill right before Laguna Torre. We walked down to the beach and sat down on a boulder. Under the strong wind, the clouds were moving quickly. We set up the tripod and did a timelapse to capture the moving clouds and their shadows on the glacier and turquoise lagoon.
After the beach, we continued our hike to Mirador Maestri. The 40-minute hike up to Mirador Maestri at the northeast shore of Laguna Torre was mainly walking on the ridge of a rocky hill. The constant gusty wind was always a threat, but we managed to reach the mirador that offered us a spectacular close view of Glacier Torre and the half-hidden Cerro Torre. We stayed at the mirador for about an hour to take a timelapse, while hoping for a moment of clear sky and a glimpse of Cerro Torre. Unfortunately clouds and fog kept on moving in our direction from behind Cerro Torre, bringing occasional rain upon us. It was getting late and we had no choice but to turn back. By the time we were halfway back to El Chalten, the sky was clear again. Though whenever we looked back towards Cerro Torre we could only see a thick layer of cloud. We reached El Chalten at almost 9pm, but the light was still pretty good. Overall we enjoyed this hike very much with its glacier, lagoon and mountains. Let’s hope for better weather in the coming three days!
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Read more on El Chalten in 2013 South America
Day 74 – Patagonia Once Again, Ushuaia to El Calafate
Day 75.1 – Laguna Torres, El Chalten
Day 75.2 – Estepa Restaurant, El Chalten
Day 76.1 – El Muro, El Chalten
Day 76.2 – Laguna Capri, El Chalten
Day 77.1 – Laguna Torre Once Again, El Chalten
Day 77.2 – Domo Blanco Ice-cream, El Chalten
Day 78.1 – Sendero al Fitz Roy, El Chalten
Day 78.2 – In-house Dinner, El Chalten
Day 79.1 – Goodbye El Chalten

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought


DAY 30 (1 OF 2) – CLOUD FOREST AT AMBORO NATIONAL PARK, SAMAIPATA, BOLIVIA

Other than El Fuerte, Amboro National Park is the other big draw for visitors coming to Samaipata.  Located roughly 40 minutes of drive from Samaipata, Amboro is relatively easy to access comparing to other national parks in Bolivia.  Amboro is famous for its diverse landscapes and terrains, offering a large variety of vegetation from Amazonian rainforest, Chaco plains of cactus and palms, to cloud forest of ferns and trees.  We chose the cloud forest as our destination to check out its prehistoric vegetation.  Situated from 1800m to 3500m above sea level, the cloud forests of Amboro serves as a major water source supporting cities and towns at the lowlands, including Santa Cruz.  The cloud forest acts like a sponge, capturing the moisture in the air and gradually releasing the water to streams and rivers.  For us, the biggest highlight of Amboro’s cloud forest is the giant ferns.  They are the rare survivors from the prehistoric eras.  According to our guide, one species of the ferns even predates the dinosaurs, while the other major species originates from the Jurassic Period.  Since ferns reproduce by spores instead of flowers and seeds, there are little resources in the fern forest to support a large population of animals.  We did see a few interesting birds during the trek.  With steep and muddy ascends and descends, the trek turned out to be tougher than what we imagined, but we were glad that we made it to see the giant ferns, some reaching more than 10m tall.  Given that some grow only 1 to 2cm per year, some of the ferns we saw are hundreds and even over a thousand years of age.
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Read other posts on Samaipata & Santa Cruz, Bolivia:
Day 27.2 – Night Arrival, Samaipata, Bolivia
Day 28.1 – El Fuerte, Samaipata, Bolivia
Day 28.2 – Town, Samaipata, Bolivia
Day 29.1 – Finca la Vispera, Sampaipata, Bolivia
Day 29.2 – Garden Cafe at Finca la Vispera, Samaipata, Bolivia
Day 30.1 – Cloud Forest at Amboro National Park, Samaipata, Bolivia
Day 30.2 – Starry Night, Samaipata, Bolivia
Day 31.1 – Goodbye, Samaipata, Bolivia
Day 31.2 – Centro, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought