Readers’ wildlife photos

March 6, 2021 • 8:00 am

About two weeks ago I showed some photos from my French-Canadian friend Anne-Marie, who used to lead strenuous adventure tours, including to Baffin Island, Morocco, and, today, a voyage to the Indian Himalayas. Her captions are indented, and you can enlarge her photos by clicking on them.

Destination: Indian Himalayas

Other souvenirs from a past trip in a faraway place. This time I was working with a local tour operator. My task was to make sure that my six customers were safe and happy.

I discovered Ladakh through the lens of Oliver Föllmi, a Franco-Swiss photographer and adventurer. So it was with a strong sense of wonder that I set foot on the Tibetan plateau. After New Delhi (216 m), the next stop was Leh (3524 m), the largest town in Ladakh. So, acclimatizing to the altitude was a must before beginning the Chadar trek toward Zanskar, a valley cloistered within the Indian Himalayas.

A Zanskarpa wearing her Perak for the Likkir monastery festival. The Perak is the headdress studded with turquoise stones.

A coppersmith in Chilling, a small village at the beginning of the Chadar.

Chadar is a local word for sheets of ice forming on the Zanskar river during their bone-chilling winters: it means “The Frozen One” For centuries, it has been a lifeline to the outside world during winter months that would be otherwise spent in autarky (self-sufficiency and limited trade). Every January and February, the locals use this route to commute and transport goods such as copper utensils, yak butter, goatskin, etc.

A Zanskarpa woman who was walking for four days on the Frozen One (if the weather is good) to visit one of her daughters living outside the valley. [JAC: Anne-Marie is behind her.]

Leaving the valley is not an easy walk. Set within narrow gorges, the Zanskar river is narrow, fast flowing and never completely frozen. Back in 1998, we were the only outsiders. Now it’s another story, for adventure travel has became very popular. Last February (2020), 41 trekkers were evacuated by the Indian Air Force and Army due to flash floods. Climate change is palpable in the region, and people are afraid the Chadar will disappear.

The river’s caprices sometimes forced us onto alternate routes. We all felt clumsy climbing down the cliff, but not the locals, who told us where to place our feet.

Hay is stored on the flat roof of the two-story houses. The walls are made of mud bricks. In wintertime, families live in the basement, near their yak, dzo (a cow-yak hybrid), horse and goat. Here, I am holding the key to the toilet, a hole in the floor. When we were there, human excrement was considered very valuable, as it was used as fertilizer.

Making friends who invited me into their winter kitchen for butter tea (made with hot water, yak butter and salt). It was cooked on a small stove using yak dung as fuel.

One of their sturdy little horses.

My friend offering me a gift: a small goat. I needed our local guide to explain why I could not accept it.

22 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. “Here, I am holding the key to the toilet, a hole in the floor. When we were there, human excrement was considered very valuable, as it was used as fertilizer.” – I encountered a similar hole in the floor arrangement in Khaplu in Pakistan in the late ’80s, though there was no building or key, just a low wall so everybody’s upper body could be seen when using the facilities!

    Very lovely photos, thanks!

  2. Incredible! So many different ways to live….
    Too bad you couldn’t accept that very cute gift!
    Thank you for sharing this adventure!

  3. This is pretty much the most interesting sort of place I can imagine to visit.
    The place you landed is noticeably higher than the peaks of Rundle and Cascade mountains at Banff. Very nice pics of the people!

    I did not notice mention of it, but those people must have long ago concocted footware to cope with walking on steep ice, probably centuries ago when us westerners still regarded mountains as monsters.

    The shadows of the descending people show that cliff is just as steep as the picture makes it look, maybe steeper!

    From Leh to Zanskar looks like it might be a 100 km walk. How many days for the trek?

    As to a hole in the floor for doing one’s poop, that still existed in places in Spain at least till the mid 1960s. Whether used for fertilizer down in Andalusia I don’t know.

    1. Hello Peter!
      From Leh to Chilling, in a small bus on some narrow roads…or should I call them paths?!!
      Some customers closed their eyes most of the way and prayed.
      Then we walked some 65 km on the Chadar. Walked, slipped, fell 🙂

      Climbing down the cliff in rubber boots was quite a challenge.

  4. I must ask if our intrepid adventurer is related to Yvan Cournoyer, hero of the ’72 Summit Series?

  5. Now that is an adventure…everything would seem new- the landscape, the people, the culture, the animals. No matter where humans decide to settle, they tend to succeed. The girl with the baby goat photo could be in National Geographic.

    1. Thanks Mark!

      A very remote place indeed! Less remote today as they are working on other ways in and out the valley. And disturbing the snow leopards of the area, among other species.

  6. Really brings back memories. Leh is one of the favourite places I’ve visited. Astounding landscape and wonderful people

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