We proudly present our two new promotional videos showing what our trekking tours in Ladakh looks like.

Videos by Patrick Haderer 

 

This is trekking in Ladakh

 

When you step out of the plane in Leh, you already are at 3500 m of altitude. That’s no small thing. The plane is (hopefully!) pressurized to around sea level values, so regardless if you came down from the sky or drove up from a lower area, your body has to first get used to the thin air of Ladakh. Not for nothing we take great care to start slow, giving you time to adapt before carrying on with the trip program. After arriving, put your feet up and take a deep breath. The flight (or drive) is usually quite exhausting, the altitude makes it worse, and you usually need some time to shed the stress of the trip. On the first day, therefore, we typically do nothing but rest. The day after that we start slowly, get to know Leh, stroll around and take the city in. There is a lot to see in the colorful and chaotic capital of Ladakh. The following day we focus on its cultural highlights, visiting some of the most beautiful Buddhist monasteries, listening to the vibrant voices of the monks while they sing Buddhist prayers, marveling at the extraordinary sounds of Tibetan musical instruments, delving into the mystical Tibetan Buddhist mythology and wandering around a bit. The body has now finally caught up and we have regained our strength. Breathing is still a bit harder than what we are used to at home, but we can manage. We get accustomed to the slowness of this place in the Himalayas, and learn to appreciate it.

This is how your first days in Ladakh can look like:

 

 

But the day comes when it is time to leave. Off to the mountains, out into freedom, into happiness, into the silence. Where we can become one with nature, find the essence of our being. Discover a simpler, slower way of living. In walking, the most basic form of locomotion, we return to ourselves. We leave behind the complexity of everyday life. The head is free of polluting thought-clouds. Breathing and walking become one single action, the mind placidly and unobtrusively tags along. It’s not always easy to climb a mountain pass. It’s exhausting, it’s demanding, it makes us think about giving up, we quarrel with each other, with ourselves: why are you doing this when you could be lying on a floating bed on the Adriatic instead… But then you’re up there, among the colorful prayer flags, looking at the majestic, otherworldly expanse of the Tibetan plateau and realize that it was worth the effort. Pushing to the limit, stepping out of our comfort zone lets us discover new worlds, new meanings, new aspects of ourselves. They are worth it. Absolutely. And they stay with us. Forever.

And this is how this journey of self discovery can look like:

 

 

Eager Feet?

 

Would you like to know more about this tour? Patrick Haderer and his friends took part in our popular trekking tour “Classic Tsomoriri Trek”.

This impressive journey leads across the Tibetan Plateau, past the Salt Lake Tsokar, through traditional nomadic summer camps and to the deep blue shimmering waters of Lake Tsomoriri.

High mountain passes, wide plains and breathtaking panoramas determine the character of this tour. We find wild donkeys, rare black-necked cranes, and huge herds of yak and sheep. Walking under the seemingly endless horizon acts as a balm for stress-laden souls.

 

>>To the tour>>




We are often asked by our guests whether they should bring small (or sometimes larger) presents with them on their journeys, and if so what would be the best kind of gift. This isn’t a question with a simple answer, so we have written this post to look at the most important aspects.

 

Should you give presents to people in the host country?

We don’t think that arbitrarily giving stuff away is such a good idea. Of course, the intention is good, but receiving a present from an unknown, non-related person, almost as if it were a blessing from heaven, can seem and feel more than a bit strange. It is a loaded gesture that reminds of the patriarchal “rich white”, who acts as a savior and helps the “poor” while at the same time denies them the chance to help themselves.

Carelessly giving things to children has a negative effect!

No matter how good the intentions, random gifts – especially among children – often have the effect of inducing them to beg. Too frequently, even in remote mountain villages, one can hear little kids of preschool age asking for “one pen”, “one chocolate”, “one rupee” or “one bonbon”. Obviously someone in the past (maybe even the very recent past), passed through the region giving away pens, chocolate and other sweets (or simply money) to the children along the way, inadvertently sending the wrong message. In the short term sure, the children are happy, but in the long term this may not have a positive learning effect on the youngsters. On the contrary, their motto becomes a sad one: “I just have to look cute and beg a bit, then I will get presents.” (Not to mention the fact that many children barely brush their teeth, and too many sweets are not exactly beneficial for their dental health… but this is another issue.)

So… no presents?

Well, not necessarily. Gifts are ok, and a very nice gesture to show gratitude. So why not? When we are invited to someone’s house back in our home country, we usually also bring something for the host, or at least something to share with them. You can also do this abroad. Traveling in India often results in spontaneous invitations to tea, dinner or even a big feast. When this happens, one usually has already established some kind of relationship with the host, and so a small gift feels natural. A visit to a school is another appropriate ocassion for this: you can give for example crayons or football balls as a thank you.

Spontaneous invitations while traveling are memorable experiences. A small gift for the host is a nice gesture, but there are no expectations.

In the course of a trip, our guests often develop feelings of camaraderie and gratitude for the team members who support them, and many want to thank them in the end with something more than the customary tip. This is all totally ok, and will certainly bring joy to all parties involved. No need to worry about making a faux pas!

 

But what present to give?

This is a difficult question, because the answer always depends a lot on who you want to give the present to. In most cases you don’t know in advance who you will meet on the way – many encounters are spontaneous  and unplanned. But it is not necessary to bring something all the way from home: in case of need, you can also quickly get small gifts on the spot. This has the extra benefit of strengthening the local economy, and on the other hand it is usually much cheaper than in the home country. In situ, you will know more about what might happen the next day, and your guide will be happy to help you deciding what you could give to the hosts. If you are invited, for example, to a meal with a nomad family, he will advise you to get some fresh fruits and vegetables, as the nomads don’t have easy access to such foods.

As far as children’s gifts are concerned, we find balls, coloring pens, puzzles or other games and far more sensible than sweets. But if the idea is to give something typical from the home country, things like the Mozartkugeln from Austria or Finnish licorice are two good examples. Not only the children but also the parents will be happy to taste them!

 

A ball is a better and more lasting gift for children than chocolate and other sweets.

If you don’t want to bring certain things back home at the end of a trip, you can leave them in the host country too, especially if you think this will make someone happy. A good pair of sunglasses, which you would rather change for a new one, can be given for example to a horse handler in Ladakh, who often suffers from eye irritation due to the intense sun exposure. An old used (but not broken) fleece jacket or hiking pants may also find a very happy new owner. Such gifts are usually extremely well received, because high-quality trekking equipment is, in general, more expensive and harder to get in the host country.

And now the big BUT

Do not worry now about the big gift questions: What should I bring? How much should I bring? Should I plan in advance? There is absolutely no need to worry about it. Planning a trip is in itself already exhausting enough. Gifts are not a must and are usually not expected. If something spontaneous happens and there’s no material token available to give away, a well-intentioned thank-you with a sincere smile is worth at least as much. Because:

The best things about traveling are the unplanned experiences and unexpected situations, and finding new friendships that are not based on gifts and convenience.

The best things about traveling are unexpected, spontaneous encounters. Gifts and presents for the new friends are not necessary.

The best things about traveling are unexpected, spontaneous encounters. Gifts and presents for the new friends are not necessary.




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Trekking in the Markha Valley is one of the most popular activities in Ladakh. The trail is wonderfully varied in the charms it hides, and can be dealt with in many different ways. We have compiled a few facts you should know before putting your hiking boots on.

 

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8 Facts about Trekking in the Markha Valley

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1 Location

The Markha Trek runs through the Hemis National Park, which is a more or less protected area due to the rare plants and animals that can be found in it. Its most famous inhabitant is the snow leopard, but you will not be able to see it in summer. The chances would be quite good in winter though.

The Markha River gives the trek its name. On the classic route, the 2 most important mountain passes are the Ganda La (4.900m) and the Kongmaru La (4.950m). The Stok mountain range is the defining geological landmark of the park. Around the Nimaling plateau several 6k peaks invite and await to be climbed. In the Markha Valley there are several small villages not yet connected to the road, although there are plans to grant them such access in the near future.

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The Markha trekking route is located in this region. Section from: Trekking in Ladakh. Map by Sonam Tsetan and Henk Thoma.

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2 Variants

The classic route leads from Spituk to Hemis or Martsellang. But we have not hiked this route for a long time, because it is not really interesting since new roads have been constructed. It now leads from Spituk to Zhingchen, and after a break it continues again in Shang Sumdo. Therefore we recommend a shortened version that goes from Zhingchen to Shang Sumdo. Of course, there are many alternatives. It is possible to start in Chilling, which means you can avoid the abrupt increase in altitude at the Ganda La mountain pass, and acclimatise more comfortably. When starting from Stok, it is also possible to extend the trekking slightly adding another mountain pass (Namlung La or Stok La). The end may also vary: some will continue via Matho Phu and Shang Phu and end their trek in Stok; others can decide to turn to Hangkar and hike across the Zalung Karpo La to the land of the nomads; and others still will walk all the way to Zanskar along the Zhunglam variant. This is just to mention a few of the many possible trails available.

The orange dots correspond to the classic route; the blue ones are some of the variants.

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3 Homestay or tent?

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Homestays are a good opportunity to get to know and share with the locals.

The Markha Trek is one of the few treks in Ladakh which allows to spend the nights in homestays. This is particularly recommended for those with a smaller budget, single travelers and/or all those who want to have as much contact as possible with the local people. In any case, it is a special experience that will be remembered. The homestays are not comparable to the lodges in Nepal, which are usually very comfortable. The homestays in the Markha Valley are simple and authentic: houses of real farmers who reserve a few rooms for guests. Therefore – and this can deeply disturb some people – it can sometimes happen that one is bitten by a flea or even a bedbug. Farmers’ lives are closely interwoven with those of their animals, so it’s not surprising that some pests find their way into the house. Showers or even just proper bathrooms are also a very rare commodity. On the Markha Trek, there is a rotation principle among the homestays, that is, you can’t choose your accommodation yourself: you are assigned one according to a fair system.

Homestays are not recommendable for people who give great importance to cleanliness and hygiene, nor for large groups, since only a few homestays are big enough to accommodate them. Also notice that homestays are only available along the classic route.

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4 Best time

The high season at the Markha Trek spans the summer months of July and August. Many people complain nowadays that the routes are somehow overcrowded, but that depends a bit on the where and when you start. On some occasions, many large groups start at the same time and in the same place as you; some other days, you can be one between just a few travelers. On the trail itself things are different, because every person has a different hiking speed and not everyone walks the same route or spends the night in the same camp. Nevertheless, we can recommend the Markha Trek especially for the months of June and September; during this time there are fewer people on the road. In any case, the trek is wonderfully charming the whole year… we love especially September and the mesmerizing changing colors of the fields and trees. There is always the possibility to go the Markha Trek outside the months June-September. You simply have to pack something warmer.

markha8

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5 Horses, porters or alone?

Which option is the best depends of course of each individual traveler. Most people need help when transporting their luggage while trekking in Ladakh, since walking at such high altitudes is considerably harder than at home, even with a very light backpack. Therefore, these people will need horses or porters. But if you are confident and, for example, choose to spend the nights at a Homestay instead of camping, you may be able to carry your luggage yourself. It is naturally more difficult if you have a tent and provisions. Then you will probably need some help. Horses are recommended for proper trekking tours, in particular if the party includes a cook. Since it is hardly possible to find a horse handler who agrees to go on a trek with less than 4 horses*, this option can be too much for people traveling without crew or people sleeping in homestays. For such travelers, the better option is to hire porters.

*To be clear: horse handlers charge per horse and per trekking day, so going on a trip with just one horse is usually not good business… understandably, since they have to earn enough during the short summer months to maintain their families in winter. It has nothing to do with being greedy.

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6 Markha for climbers

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Dzo Jongo West

The region around the Nimaling plateau, blessed with several imposing 6k peaks, can be considered a paradise for mountaineers. Many of these mountains are also well-suited for the less experienced climbers: Dzo Jongo, Tasken Ri, Regoni Mallai Ri and, of course, the prominent Kangyatse, are probably the most famous. You can find more information about ascents in the Nimaling region on the homepage of Harmut Bielefeldt (this website is only available in german), who visited us in 2014 in company of his wife, child and friends, and has already conquered numerous summits.

For those who have the Stok Kangri in their sights, the Markha Trek is recommended as an acclimatization tour. The increase in altitude can also be achieved steadily and without interruptions via Shang Phu and Matho Phu.

 

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7 Physical condition

We have classified this trekking tour as moderate. In any case the high altitude is an important factor to consider, because walking at such heights can be particularly exhausting. At an appropriate pace, however, it shouldn’t represent a problem for anyone in good physical condition. You should be able to walk between 4 and 8 hours a day. However, the stages can also be adapted to the conditions of the individual hikers, and we have even undertaken trekking tours in the Markha Valley with children.

If you are looking for something more challenging, you can for example start with the Markha Valley classic trail and then turn towards Changthang or Zanskar. There are also alternative and harder routes that will require more from you, or you can simply plan longer stages according to your own stamina.

 

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8 The right contact for your trekking tour in the Markha Valley

Well, of course we won’t lose the opportunity to promote ourselves a bit. We have already done so many trekking tours that start, end or run inside the Hemis National Park, that there’s not much we couldn’t tell you. As a summer or a winter trip; as a homestay tour or a fully equipped camping one; for lone travelers or large groups; with or without expeditions; along the classic route or off the beaten path… We know what we’re talking about, trust us. You can contact us anytime, no matter if you have basic questions or have already decided to take the Markha Valley tour: Contact

 

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Our affordable and popular Markha Trek

Markha Valley Trek & Culture Feeling
Ladakh

Classic and diverse Trekkingtour in the famous Hemis National Park.
Group Trip: between 4 and 10 participants.
Individual Trip: starting from 1 person, on date request.

 

Several dates available. Also possible to arrange dates individually.

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“Are you going alone to India? But you’re a woman! That’s too dangerous!!” Too often have I heard these words – from best friends to work colleagues or even my own family doctor. In the meantime, I have already traveled seven times to India. Sometimes accompanied by friends, but very often alone. And I have had almost exclusively good experiences.

by Ulli Felber

 

Through India as a woman: dream destination or danger zone?

Since I have developed such a close relationship with India, the negative coverage of this unique country makes me quite sad. At the same time, it is good that all these terrible incidents were and are frequently and thoroughly reported in the media, because that has set things in motion – and there’s still a lot to be done. Rape is a horrible crime that must be punished – everywhere in the world.

The vast majority of my own personal experiences in India have been good or very good. Even more so: I have enjoyed many beautiful and surprising moments. Often, people helped me spontaneously – with honorable intentions, without someone being intrusive. The few dangerous situations in which I found myself in could have been avoided, if at the time I had been already following these tips:

My 10 Tips for women travelling alone in India

  1. Dress with moderation
    In India, shoulders, cleavage and knees are considered particularly erotic, as is any sort of tight clothing. There are some differences depending on the region, too. For example, touristy Goa is relatively relaxed in this aspect, while the opposite is true for the conservative and strict Muslim region of Kashmir. In principle, however, and this applies to all regions, a moderate dress is fashionable – something wide and airy that keeps your shoulders and knees covered. Tank tops, wide necklines, leggings (except when combined with dresses or skirts), shorts and hot pants are complete no-gos. Note: This also applies to yoga classes! (Even when the courageous instructor is used to it.)

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Dressing moderately prevents many awkward situations. Here pictured: Ulli Felber.

  1. Just in case: avoid eye contact
    Eye contact is a very big deal in India. Strangers can start behaving in an uncomfortably friendly way (or worse, a threatening or confrontational one) after locking eyes for just a second. Whoever wants to be left alone – by pushy taxi drivers, random strangers or inquisitive (if very dear) Indian extended families – must learn to look away quickly. This is specially recommended in areas where you do not feel comfortable, or in the evening hours. In any case, never lose sight of the situation!

 

  1. Girls only!
    In recent years a lot has been done to specifically improve the quality of life of women in India… or at least in its major cities. There are taxis that are only for women – and have also exclusively female drivers (for example, in Delhi: “Meru EVE”). At metro stations, there are sections that are reserved for women, and the trains themselves have cars and compartments destined only to women. The same applies to buses. Wherever you may have to go through a security control (Airport, Train Station, museums, shopping centers, etc.) there is always a separate line for women and a female security officer performing the check.

 

  1. Be smart
    Travelling alone as a woman, one is naturally more exposed to danger than when in a group – no matter where in the world. Common sense goes a long way in many situations:
    • Ideally, always research previously in which areas you will be travelling.
    • Do not wander alone in poor neighborhoods and rural areas, especially at night.
    • When riding taxis alone, try to do it during daytime.
    • When on the (night) train, best to be seated next to a local, nice family.
    • Do not fall for the lies of illegal traders, transport pirates and other opportunists that claim to offer supposedly better accommodation at train stations and airports.

 

  1. Fake wedding ring
    Those women who’d like to have peace and quiet to travel should purchase a false wedding ring. A smaller, cheap gold ring can be worth a lot! Once in India, you will be asked soon enough, and very frequently, by an endless list of suitors of all ages, eager to become husbands. To throw water on such unwanted propositions, just show your ring and tell briefly of your beloved husband at home… maybe add a few children to your story too, just in case ;-). Optionally, you can also say that your husband is already on the way “here”, etc. Especially when a woman has reached the 30-year-old-limit and is “still” travelling alone, a false wedding ring can do wonders in keeping unwanted attention away – like pityful looks at you or, on the other side, well intentioned Indian families who try to match you with a relative.

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Any woman travelling alone on the train is best suited next to a family. That can also be fun!

  1. Good Story
    For emergencies, a good story can always be a good deterrent. Depending on the situation: the husband is coming soon to…; the father has a high position in the government; etc. Sounds silly, but it can have a big impact.

 

  1. Always with you
    For anybody that doesn’t want to travel without her trustworthy pepper spray on the handbag: this great defense tool is cheap and easy to find in many Indian drugstores.

 

  1. Don’t touch me!
    From time to time one hears of travelling women that they were groped by anonymous men in the thick of a busy street. Just to embarrass this disgusting kind of man, you should scream loudly: “Do not touch me!” As my Indian friends recommend, the first step should be just verbal and without personal insults. For an Indian, this simple call to attention is incredibly embarrassing and they will usually disappear in the blink of an eye.

 

  1. Be calm, firm and explicit
    In extremes cases, when things go really bad, this has helped me: first, calmly but very firmly express your discomfort and anger – without being rude. Even better, follow up (always keeping calm and firm) with an oversized side-dish of lies (the best ones always include mentioning some important or famous character that we know personally!). It’s worth to try… In my case, it has always worked out.

 

  1. Shout it out loud
    When all else fails: leash out and defend yourself vociferously. Take it all out. Just don’t show any fear! Indian men don’t expect such a reaction and can be easily intimidated. But ATTENTION: Here I speak from personal experience. This is not a universal panacea and can also sometimes have the opposite reaction.

 

To summarize: Travel smart. I feel that India is not more dangerous than other places that I have visited. Naturally, something can always happen. But for me India was and remains as worthy destination! And whoever pays attention, respects the local ethos and generally travels with open eyes and an open heart, will without question enjoy an indescribably great country and many beautiful experiences.

 

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Ladakh is much safer for women than most other regions of India.

 

Alone as woman in Ladakh
Alone in Ladakh as a woman: Ladakh is culturally very different from the rest of India – here it is much safer for a woman to travel alone, and one hardly sees herself exposed to dangerous situations.

WITH US YOU ARE ALWAYS SAFE
Whoever doesn’t want to travel alone in India despite the advice from Ulli Felber, is in good hands with us. We know our drivers, guides and all other staff. And if you travel in a group, you are even safer: to our group tours!

 




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Like every year also 2017 will have it’s cultural highlights which are really worth to be seen. To be able to plan already now your trip 2017 to Ladakh we put the most important dates together. 

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Ladakh: Monastery festivals & and other important dates for 2017

 

Name of festival
Venue
2017
Spituk Gustor Spituk 25.+26. January
Dosmochey Leh & Likir 24.+25. February
Yargon Tungshak Nubra (Yarma) 2.+3. March
Stok Guru Tsechu Stok 6.+7. March
Matho Nagrang Matho 11.+12. March
Saka Dawa All of Ladakh 9. June
Yuru Kabgyat Lamayuru 21.+22. June
Hemis Tsechu Hemis 3.+4.July
Dalai Lama’s Birthday
Jivatsal, Shey 6. July
Sachukul Gustor Sachukul 11.+12. July
Stongde Gustor Stongde, Zanskar 12.+13. July
Ladakh Polo Festival Chushot 11.-17. July
Karsha Gustor Karsha, Zanskar 21.+22. July
Phyang Tsesdup Phyang 21.+22. July
Korzok Gustor Tsomoriri 26.+27. July
Dakthok Tseschu Thakthok 2.+3. August
Sani Nasjal Sani, Zanskar 6.+7. August
Diskit Gustor Diskit, Nubra 17.+18. October
Thikse Gustor Thikse  6.+7. November
Chemde Wangchok / Padum Chemde 16.+17. November
Galden Namchot All of Ladakh 12. December
Ladakhi Losar (New year)
All of Ladakh 19. December

 

 

To get a little taste of what it is like have a look at this short video from the monastery festival in Matho 2016.

 

 

Do you need help with the Design of your tour?
We’d love to help you planning your trip to Ladakh – either in a pre-designed group tour or in your tailor made individual travel. We will choose the right festival for your and your tour.
Note: If you are truly interested in the cultue of Ladakh, we strongly suggest you to come in winter and be part of a monastery festival during this season as they are really special.




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They pull at your shirt, look at you with big supplicant eyes, one open hand outstretched, the other pointing to their mouth while they repeat the words “Chapati! Chapati! Madam, please!”. It hurts when children who have not even reached school age stand on the street, filthy and half naked, and ask you for money with their large dark eyes and small empty stomachs. You don’t have to be a parent to feel the desire to help these poor little ones. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t automatically reach for your wallet and give them what they ask for. Here we will tell you why.

 

India is one of those states that in spite of a rapid economic growth still struggles with inequality, and hasn’t been able to find a solution to overspread poverty and the ancient tradition of begging. At the same time that a very small group of the population see their life quality soar along the official GDP number, there is a vast multitude of people who do not benefit from it at all.

 

What you should know about begging in India

We don’t want to dismiss the issue of poverty. It exists, it is bad, and it must be fought. But almsgiving is not the way to end poverty; in fact, it just makes clearer the difference between the rich and the poor.

Behind almost all beggars hide well organized gangs. To be allowed to beg in a given territory, beggars have to give a big part of their earnings to the gang leaders. Of course, you are hardly aware of this. Often the beggars are also crippled, blind or noticeably sick. There are even those who ask with open, festering wounds, and who clearly need the money for medical care. But too often are these wounds self-inflicted or caused by a gang leader to appeal to the tourist’s pity and collect a bigger booty.

 

(c) Josef Reifenauer

It is really hard not to give anything to the begging children. (c) Josef Reifenauer

It is also common to find women with (almost always sleeping) babies, begging for money so they can feed them. You should know that these babies are often “rented” and, even worse, sedated with drugs or alcohol. This keeps them quiet and still but evidently has harmful and irreversible consequences.

 

When you give money, you keep the system running

Beggars are always where the tourists are. They know how to appeal to your conscience and even if you manage not to give, you’ll somehow feel that there is something to be done. But what happens when every tourist gives every beggar something? Begging becomes an even more lucrative source of income, the big bosses behind the curtains get richer and bring more beggars into the scheme, to generate still greater profits.

So what to do?

  1. Never give money to the beggars. And look out for some really ingenious setups. For example, some “mothers” will ask you to buy formula or milk for their hungry babies at a nearby shop. What should one do, but to give them what they need? BUT the woman is actually working with the business owner: the money will be divided between them, and the milk will remain in the shop.
  2. Support local NGOs that try to keep the kids off the streets. This is sustainable and brings so much more than handing them 10 or 20 rupees. (At the end of this post you’ll find a few links to NGOs working with child beggars)
  3. If you still want to give something, then it should be food that you already bought, or even some of your time (this might sound ridiculous, but for a child who begs day after day, a few friendly words or a cool trick can make a world of difference).

 

Don’t make beggars out of children

In many places it’s also possible to find children who aren’t poor nor hungry and are begging just for fun. They have learned that tourists like to give candies or other small gifts (pens, etc.) indiscriminately. We understand that this is intended as a nice simple gesture, but it is also teaching the children that begging works. Many will turn their backs to school and instead run to the streets to follow the wealthy westerners, cheekily yelling “one pen”, “one chocolate”, “one bonbon” or even “one rupee”.

Gifts are ok, but take care of giving them only to people for whom you also show respect: when you are drinking tea with a peasant family, you can give a small present to the children of the house, as a gesture of gratitude. A planned visit to a school is also a good opportunity to do this.

 

 

Ladakh: Imported beggars

(c) Markus Brixle

Attractions draw in not just tourists, but also beggars. (c) Markus Brixle

At the beginning of every tourist season, and for many years now, several organized gangs of beggars are brought to Ladakh (sometimes even on an airplane!!!). These mostly establish their place of “work” in Leh or at the entrance to the most famous tourist sites. At the end of the season they are transported to some other lucrative place to continue their neverending begging. Ladakh itself has almost no local beggars; no one in Ladakh lives on the street. Please don’t give money to any beggars in Ladakh! As hard as it sounds, these poor people are not ladakhi and are usually brought here by greedy immoral gang leaders to profit on the good will and naivety of the tourists.

Sustainable help
The following NGOs have made it their goal to give begging children a better future:




 

As mentioned in our earlier blog, the Hemis Festival 2016 is one of the most important celebrations in the whole Himalaya regions in 2016. Check out our blog: Hemis Festival 2016: What is it about? But in this blog we want to inform you about the official programme.

 

Attention: The programme has been changed. All events except the Hemis Monastery-Festival itself (this will stay in july) have been shifted to september – from 13th september to 1st october 2016!

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Schwarzhut Hemis Festival

1.-5. July 2016: Celebrating the diversity of Himalayas
A Pan-Himalayan Celebration of different tribal and village traditions, with traditional sports activities, dance competition and many others

6.-13. July 2016: The 7th annual Drukpa Council
Envisioned by His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, His Holiness the 70th Je Khenpo and many other great Drukpa masters, the Annual Drukpa Council (ADC) is for it to become an annual event where all the masters of the lineage from Tibet, Bhutan, Ladakh, Kinnaur, Lahaul, Sikkim and other parts of the Himalayas and its followers could come together to revive some unique aspects of the Drukpa Lineage and share the 1000 over years old rich spiritual legacy with the world through the inspiration of teachings, initiations and oral transmissions. This 7th edition of ADC will embrace different aspects of the Himalayan region, including an exhibition of the diversity of Himalayan cultures and traditions.

14. July 2016: Hemis Festival
The festival is held every summer, in honour of Guru Padmasambhava‘s birth anniversary. Hemis has the largest silk embroidered brocade in Ladakh, which is unfurled, once in 12 years, in the year of the Monkey.

15.-18. July 2016: Preparatory gituals and teachings
His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa will lead yogis, yoginis, monks, nuns and lay practitioners in a series of preparatory rituals to purify obstacles and negativity, to get everyone ready for the program on 19 July 2015.

19. July 2016: Naropa millenial anniversary
On the millennial birth anniversary of Naropa, His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa would don the Six Ornaments of Naropa to grant blessing, and this only happens once every 12 years.

20.-22. July 2016: Public display and viewing of bone ornaments

23.-31. July 2016: Ritual parade of bone ornaments and pilgrimage
A ritual parade of the Six Bone Ornaments and a walking pilgrimage from Hemis to a renowned prediction lake in Ladakh, along the way there will be holy sites of pilgrimage for reverence.

 

!!Programme subject to change!!

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Naropa is in the center of attention of Hemis 2016

 

 

Are you going to join?

If you want to attend this special occasion in 2016, you can contact us. One of our fix tours visits Hemis Festival on the most important day (on the other days you will see other highlights of Ladakh): Basics of Ladakh with Hemisfestival

If you prefer to visit Hemis Festival with your friends/family and/or if you want to spend more time at Hemis Festival, we will be happily building your own individual tour: Contact

Hemis Festival for buddhists
If you are a buddhist and would like to join Hemis Festival with your buddhist group, we would like to help you with booking of accommodations, flights and the arrangement of transports.  We could also reserve special seats for you at Hemis festival, so you are able to witness as much as possible.

 




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Companies have facades instead of faces; logos instead of eyes. It’s easy to get lost in a labyrinth of products, services and impersonal business conditions. Like the Wizard of Oz, they appear lifeless and artificial. But behind the curtains everything is quite human. Let me tell you the story behind Gesar Travel. It all starts with two people: Daniela & Tashi.

By Daniela Luschin-Wangail

 

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a girl from Austria who had an idea for her research thesis. The girl was I, only 24 years old, then a student of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. I intended to write a thesis about the young people of Ladakh. What did they think of marriage, what had changed compared to their parents’ generation? I wasn’t expecting then that the theme of love and marriage would occupy myself all of a sudden, and in such a personal manner.

But already during my first flight, looking down into the barren alpine desert of Ladakh, where the inhabitable areas are scarce and hard to find, revealed just by a few green spots in the landscape, I was overcome with a strange feeling that this would be my second home. It was something that I couldn’t explain.

 

Fate caused me to play Postwoman, since I had to deliver a package from Austria. The receiver was the man who was to change my life from scratch. He was not big, but good-looking. I liked Tashi from the first moment, but the alarm bells were ringing like crazy, because he was not only handsome, but also a guide. And just as ski instructors in Austria, many guides in Ladakh have a reputation as gigolos and heartbreakers. And I really didn’t want that. So I kept my distance, even though he was very charming and every smile melted my heart a little more.

But the walls I had built began to crumble eventually, and under the rubble was love.

First some obstacles, then the wedding bells began tolling

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Our wedding in England

Anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that after the first major phase of falling in love, the real work begins. Tashi and I also had to face some obstacles. The largest for both of us was the different origins. Many situations that are usually not a problem for couples with the same cultural background, were in our case a source of tension and sometimes prompted fights and discussions. But this also came to pass, after we both agreed to adapt, make several compromises and increase our mutual tolerance limit.

Afterwards, many years came in which I spent the summer months in Ladakh and Tashi discovered the magical beauty of the Austrian winter ;). Four years after our first meeting, the wedding took place. We didn’t want to rush. We got married in 2005, in England. The attempts to do it in Austria and India – two countries that excel at bureaucracy and have an uncontrollable tendency to demand documents that simply don’t exist in the other country – had failed miserably.

And I had made the decision to go with him to Ladakh. I quit my job, left my apartment, sold or gave everything away and canceled my bank account. Our first apartment in Ladakh was very traditional: outside toilet, no running water – we had to walk every morning to get it from a public fountain down the street – and hardly any electricity. During the cold winter nights, every visit to the toilet and every (bucket)-shower required a lot of careful consideration and was delayed as much as humanely possible. Even doing the laundry (by hand, of course) was a challenge in itself 😉

Tashi’s family took me from the start with open hearts and arms. Not only did they treat me well, they actually treated me too well! Almost like a princess! There was always a cushion at hand, so that I could sit comfortably. And sitting I should, because no one was willing to let me work at all! (At least at the beginning)

The Birth of Gesar Travel and 1, 2, 3 little Tashis

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Tashi and Daniela in front of the Gesar Travel office in 2005

Already in 2004, Tashi had left his job as a tour guide and fulfilled his dream of owning a travel agency. I helped him from the start, and also especially during the move to Ladakh in 2005. At the time I had basically no idea about the travel business. But thanks to Tashi’s years of experience in the field as a guide, and my basic knowledge in office management (thanks, Handelsakademie!) we were able to create a successful agency from scratch. Just as it is today, our close contact with our guests was a very important component in our enterprise. We are still in contact with some of our first clients J.

 

The name Gesar
The name Gesar reminds Tashi of his grandfather, who liked to tell and sing the great stories of the mythical hero Gesar. King Gesar is a common mythical figure throughout Central Asia and Mongolia. To this day, on cold winter evenings sitting around the fire drinking tee, many enjoy the retelling (mostly in the form of songs and poems) of his legendary adventures, rich in supernatural feats and fantastic creatures like giants, gods and demons.

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The Wangails: Luis, Tashi, Emil, Daniela & Elvis

In 2007, our first son Elvis – Ladakhi name Konchok Gyaltsen – saw in Delhi the light of the day. And as Tashi Junior grew and developed, so did my longing for home. After the 2007 season, I went back to Austria with Elvis, while Tashi shuttled back and forth. Then in 2011 our next son arrived: Luis Thayas, born with a small extra chromosome (Down syndrome). And finally, in 2015, Emil Khenrab, our youngest son, came to complete our Ladakhi-Austrian family. We still spend the summer months in Ladakh and, just as it was at the beginning, we take care of our guests personally during this season.

 

… And after many years in Austria our yearning for Ladakh has grown to a healthy size and who knows, maybe one day we dare to step all the way back to India once again J

A glance at our private gallery from the early years

(The quality of some images is sadly not so good)




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What is a Mudra?

Mudras are symbolic hand gestures that play a major role in Hinduism and Buddhism. In addition, mudras are also present in the Indian dancing tradition, and are an important part of yoga, where they are not only symbolic, but should also have an effect on the body and mind.

Sooner or later, anyone interested in Buddhist iconography will have to deal with mudras, since they are also a big help when identifying different Buddhas, bodhisattvas and deities (see also our blogpost: The 10 most important Buddhas & Deities).

We want to introduce you here to the 10 most important mudras of Tibetan Buddhism.

 

Bhumisparsa Mudra – “Gesture of the Earth Witness“

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The Bhumisparsa Mudra or Gesture of Witness plays an important role in the history of the historical Buddha. While Buddha meditated under the Bodhi tree, he was disturbed by Mara, the god of sensual desire, who tempted him by taking the form of a naked girl. But Siddhartha wouldn’t deviate from his path to enlightenment, and so he touched the earth with the fingertips of his right hand and said, “the earth shall be my witness, I will not let myself be seduced”

Depiction: The right hand touches the earth with the tips of its fingers (the palm inwards), while the legs remain in meditation posture.

This mudra represents the historical Buddha Siddhartha Gautama.

 


 

 

Varada Mudra – “Gesture of Generosity“

The Varada Mudra is the gesture for generosity, charity and compassion; it represents the granting of wishes, blessings or even pardon. It symbolizes the “gift of truth” (= the Buddhist teachings) of Buddha. The five fingers stand for the 5 perfections: generosity, morality, patience, diligence, and meditation.

Depiction: Unlike the Bhumisparsa Mudra, in the Varada tha palm is directed outwards and hangs down. It usually also touches the right leg. The Varada Mudra is rarely seen without another mudra used by the right hand, typically the Abhayamudra (see below).

The Varada Mudra is commonly found in representations of the green and white Tara.
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Dhyana Mudra – “Gesture of Meditation“

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The Dhyana Mudra symbolizes the state of deep contemplation during meditation. Buddha meditated in this way under the Bodhi tree.

Depiction: While the legs are crossed (meditation posture / Lotus position), both hands rest loosely on the lap, with the thumbs touching each other. However, there are also some representations in which the Dhyana Mudra is seen performed with one single hand (usually the left one): this is the half Dhyana Mudra – the historical Buddha in conjunction with Bhumisparsa Mudra.

This Mudra is most commonly associated to the historical Buddha, but usually in combination with the Bhumisparsa. When both hands are used, the Dhyana Mudra can represent for example the Buddha Amithaba.

 


 

Abhaya Mudra – “Gesture of Fearlessness“

The Abhayamudra can be translated as the gesture of courage. It symbolizes protection, peace and the elimination of fear.

Depiction: The right hand is raised with the palm outward towards the viewer at chest level. One finds this gesture often in conjunction with the Varada Mudra (see above).

It is found in images of standing Buddhas and Tara. The fifth Dhyani Buddha Amogasiddhi is also represented with the Abhayamudra.


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Dharmacakra Mudra – “Gesture of Teaching“

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The Buddhist teachings (Dharma) are often symbolized as a wheel (cakra). The Dharmacakra Mudra therefore represents the agency of the Buddhist teachings and is translated as the “Preacher” or “Teacher” gesture. The gesture reminds of one of the most important moments in the life of the Buddha, when he was in the park at Sarnath giving his five students the 4 noble truths and the eightfold path (the main pillars of Buddhism).

Depiction: In this gesture both hands are held against the chest, the left facing inward, covering the right facing outward. The index finger and the thumb of each hand touch, forming a circle that represents the wheel of dharma.

This gesture plays an important role in the representation of the Buddha Maitreya (Buddha of the future), and also Tsongkhapa (founder of the Gelugpa school), because both are said to have put the wheel of Dharma in movement again, after it had come to a stop.

 

 


 

Vitarka Mudra – “Gesture of Argument“

The Vitarka Mudra is the gesture of discussion and argument. It is characteristic of those regarded as teachers and instructors.

Depiction: The right arm is bent, the hand raised with the palm outwards. Thumb and forefinger touch and thus form the “Wheel of Dharma”.

One finds this gesture often in depictions of the Buddha, but also in pictures and sculptures of the Tara.


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Tarjani Mudra – “Gesture of Warning“

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Not only parents use the Tarjani Mudra 😉 – in Buddhism it is also an expression of warning or admonition.

Depiction: The right hand is held vertically in front of the chest and only the index finger is stretched upward while the other fingers and thumb roll into a fist.

One finds this gesture especially in wrathful deities. Note: In some sources, the Tarjani Mudra is interchanged with the Karana Mudra (see below).

 


 

Namaskara Mudra – “Gesture of Praying and Salutation”

Although this Mudra doesn’t play such an important role in Tibetan Buddhism, we wanted to mention it anyway because it is very common in India’s everyday life. The Namaskara Mudra is a gesture for greeting (Namaskar is Hindi for “good day”), but also for prayer and admiration.

Depiction: In this gesture, the hands are kept close to the chest in devotional attitude. The palms and fingers lie flat against each other and point upwards.

This Mudra is not found in Buddha representations. It is used only by monks, nuns or disciples, symbolizing the fact that they worship someone (e.g. Buddha).

 


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Karana Mudra – “Gesture to ward off the evil“

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The Karana Mudra is a symbolical protection to keep demons and other negative influences at bay.

Depiction: In this Mudra, the hand is outstretched vertically or horizontally and with the palm facing forward. The two middle fingers are held down under the thumb. The index and the little fingers extend upwards.

 

 


 

Uttarabodhi Mudra – “Gesture of Perfection“

The Uttarabodhi Mudra represents supreme enlightenment and should bring positive energy and vibrations. By performing this Mudra, we connect with the universal divine energy.

Depiction: Both hands are folded across the chest. The two index fingers touch each other and point upwards. The thumbs are interwoven. The remaining fingers encircle each opposite hand.


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These tours with focus on buddhism might be interesting for you


lamayuru

Basics of Ladakh
Cultural trips with dayhikes
Our starter’s travel for those who do not know Ladakh and would like to visit the classic highlights and some insider spots within a relatively short time. Impressive dayhikes put the little extra to this marvelous tour.
On date request also possible for single persons
Best time: June-October


Mystic Ladakh
A travel to the spiritual roots
During this tour you are not only visiting monasteries but also special spiritual places and people like oracles, shamans and healers, who have a deep connection to their religion and important functions.
On date request also possible for single persons
Best time: June-October


Culture & Hiking in Sikkim
Cultural tour with dayhikes
This travel is ideal to get to know the former kingdom of Sikkim and the colonial town Darjeeling. Beautiful accomodations combines with impressive cultural sites and memorable day hikes.
On date request also possible for single persons
Best time: March-May & October-December





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Zanskar remains one of the very few places on Earth that, for several months every year, becomes almost entirely isolated from the rest of the world. It can only be reached, or left, via the frozen river Zanskar. Our guide Phunchok Motup – also known simply as Kalyan – comes from that region, and he has shared with us his 10 favorite places.

 

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One of our best guides, Kalyan from Tsazar, talks about his favorite places

 

General information about Zanskar

Zanskar is part of the district of Kargil, which constitutes the westernmost part of Ladakh. The administrative center of the subdistrict is the small town (but still biggest town of Zanskar) Padum. Geographically, the Zanskar mountain range separates this region from the rest of Ladakh.

According to the tradition, Zanskar is actually written Zangskar – indicating the presence of copper (“zang”) in the region. The real meaning of the second half of the word is however somewhat controversial: it can be translated as white (“dkar”), palace (“mkhar”) or star (“skar”).

Back to Geography: The Zanskar region covers approximately 7,000 km2 at an altitude of 3.500-7.000m. The river of the same name is responsible for the many deep valleys that decorate the country, and is the greatest contributor to Zanskar’s characteristic landscape. It is fed by two rivers: the Doda, which has its origin near the Pensi La (4.400m), and the Kargyak, with its source near the Shingo La (5.100m), which then merges with the Tsarap River and is hereinafter referred to as Lungnak. In the Central Valley of Zanskar, the Doda and the Lungnak combine to give birth to the great Zanskar River.

 

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On the way to Zanskar one must go through many breathtaking landscapes … like this glacier.

The lenghty trip to Zanskar requires patience, endurance and an iron but. 😉

It crosses the Pensi La and takes at least two long days of driving, no matter if you leave from Leh or Srinagar. However, not too long ago they started building the new road, which slowly gropes its way into the center of Zanskar both from the north (starting in Lamayuru) and the south (starting in Wanla).

You can find more information about this in our blog post: Why the Great Zanskar trek is not so great anymore.
 

Kalyans Top 10 places in Zanskar

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Overview of Kalyan’s favorite places. (Map by Sonam Tsetan & Henk Thoma)

 

1. Rangdum

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Monastery Rangdum

Rangdum is surrounded by mountains and cliffs in all possible shades and colors. Most prominent, however, are the twin mountains Nun & Kun – both 7000s. For me, the mountain views make Rangdum a unique place in the world. In addition, the marshes of Rangdum attract every summer countless birds that are a pleasure to observe and admire. More personally, I associate Rangdum with many happy memories. From here I started the first trek of my life: one April, when the road to Zanskar was still blocked by the snow, I walked all the way to Zanskar over the Pensi La. Tip: Be sure to witness the sunset here! It is really unbelievable.

 

2. Tsazar

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Kalyan’s village during winter

This is the village in which I was born and where I spent my early childhood. For me that’s reason enough to include this typical zanskari village in this list.

3. Karsha

Karsha (c) Tashi Wangail

View from Karsha monastery

Karsha is the village with the largest monastery of Zanskar. I love to join the morning Puja of the monks and watch the young novices, who might one day become important spiritual teachers of the country. The view of the central valley, from the monastery, is absolutely breathtaking

4. Phuktal

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Phuktal is the most isolated monastery in Zanskar. I have often visited it, especially when I was hiking on the Great Zanskar Trek. To get there is always one of the biggest highlights in a trip. The sight and the architecture are truly breathtaking. The place always makes me think of a giant beehive.

5. Stongde

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Stongde is the closest monastery to my village, which is why I have also spent a lot of time there. I appreciate the stillness of this place, in addition of course to the magnificent view of the mountains and the village at the foot of the monastery.

6. Zangla

Zangla is one of the largest villages of Zanskar. I love to walk through the town to watch the old people with their prayer wheels, sitting under the warm sun, and listen to them while murmur their prayers. Zangla is the village of my grandmother, and many of my relatives live here.

7. Shade

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In Shade, people still live extremely isolated from the rest of the world

Shade is one of the most remote villages in the whole of Zanskar and Ladakh, if not the world. Even the natives, walking with fast feet over known trails, need at least two days to get here. I was there recently and it was very impressive to see how well here the interaction between man, animal and nature still works.

 

 

8. Gonbo Rangjon

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Gonbo Rangjon is a spiritually important mountain for the Zanskari

Gonbo Rangjon, a sacred mountain, is located along the trekking route to Darcha, before Shingo La. I call the region around Gonbo Rangjon “the summer paradise of Zanskar”. It is a dream to wander here and admire the flowers that grow in the mountain pastures.

 

9. Purne

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This beautiful little village is home to just two families. Purne is my favorite camping site, whenever I’m on a trekking tour. The first really nice and homelike Resthouse/Homestay/Hostal with clean rooms and good local food is also located in Purne.

 

10. Dzongkhul

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Here is a meditation cave of Naropa and many other great lamas were here. From Dzongkhul also starts the route through the Paldar Valley. I’ve always liked the stories from travelers who came through this valley: the Paldar Valley connects Zanskar with Jammu and until today, people from both sides use it to meet, share and commerce with each other. Also Zorawar Singh, who took Ladakh from the hands of the Maharaja of Jammu, started his campaign here, leading ultimately to the loss of independence of the country.

I'll show you my favorite places
On the tour route Trekking & Culture in Zanskar Kalyan will show you almost all of these places and tell you a lot more about each one.




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Expeditions in the Himalayas? The majority will automatically think about Nepal. And yes, Nepal has a much longer history when it comes to climbing tourism and they are truly experienced in that business and has the advantage of having the maximum mountains above 8000m.

And there is one more thing that makes expeditions in the indian parts of the Himalayas a little complicate – „The Great Indian bureaucracy“ which even did not spare the spirit of mountaineeering adventure. Although India has just one peak above 8000m, (the Khanchendzonga , the third highest peak in the world- see featured image above) this great country has the maximum numbers of peaks between 6000m to slightly below 8000m. India‘s Himalaya stretches from Arunachal Pradesh in the east to the Karakuram range in Ladakh (in the west) and covering a length above 2500 kilometers.
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1. Note regional differences

It always depends, where you want to climb a mountain. The rules are different in Ladakh, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and so on. It is easier to climb a mountain in Ladakh than in Sikkim and the procederes are different as well. For example you can get your peak permit for many peaks in Ladakh directly in Leh – for Stok Kangri even at the base camp upon paying a minor penalty. For Sikkim and Uttarakhand on the other hand you have to approach the IMF (Indian Mountaineering Foundation) headquarter in Delhi.

Additionally you have to think about the location of the mountain to be climbed. If it is located close to the border, the regulations will be more complex than the ones away from the border. Permission for expeditions to peaks in the Karakorum range in the valley of Nubra (north and northwest of the river Shayok) are by far more difficult to get granted. No foreign expedition team is allowed to climb without an indian partner and the expedition leader has to be an indian national.

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On the way to Stok Kangri (c) Josef Reifenauer

 

2. Note the height

Peaks below 6.000 meter are usually not a problem and can be climbed without a permit from IMF. Then there are these so called trekking peaks, which are technically easier. For them you will need a permit which can be obtained without much hassles and comparatively at lower price. Unfortunately, at the moment a very few peaks (especially in Ladakh) fall into this category. The only trekking peak which we find in the IMF trekking peak list is Stok Kangri. Though permits for the Nimaling area (Kangyatse north shoulder, Regoni Mallai Ri, Dzo Jongo etc.) are still granted easily.

Additionally there are open Peaks and those which are banned. That matter is more complex. First of all the regulations are by far more complicate once you envisage a peak above 6.400m and the permits will get more expensive and have to be applied in Delhi. Secondly with any expedition to a peak that does not fall under trekking peak category has to be accompanied by a liasion officer of IMF. And of course you have to pay for him as well. This rule is relatively new and most travel agencies truly resent this for good reasons. So we are all hoping for some sensible changes.

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Mountains in Changthang (c) Josef Reienauer

 

3. Climbing without permit?

Of course there are many who simply carry their backpacks and head straight towards the peaks without a permit … Usually this will not be notified, since the mountain regions are vast and not all peaks can be controlled. But if you head towards the areas which are frequented by expeditions teams then better don’t try, if you are not the elusive snowleopard! Even around lesser climbed peaks you might be unlucky and come accross an expedition team accompanied with a liasion officer. The consequences depend on the person you are getting involved with.

 

4. Stay up to date

There are constance changes with IMF. That means you have to keep yourself informed again and again how things are evolving. An example: For a long time, the Chamser and Lungser peaks on the eastern shore of Tsomoriri Lake were open peaks and one could easily obtain permit and climb . But suddenly a new army battalion arrives and banned climbing these peaks probably due to fear of any potential spy among the climbers. In these situation, the gaint IMF is powerless for reasons not very clear. We are still waiting for the re-opening of these peak as many are interested to climb these Twin peaks above 6.600m. Best is to wait and drink a cup of tea.

Regularly have a look at the homepage of IMF – there you will find a list of open peaks. But take your time as the regulations are sometimes really confusing and the procedure for applying for permits is complicate.

If you need assistance, we hope you know with whom to get in touch with: Contact

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Kangyatse in Nimaling region

 

Some of our expeditions

Of course there is more possible. These are only a few possibilites. If you intend to climb another peak, simply write to us: daniela@gesar-travel.com or tashi@gesar-travel.comspacer


Two sixthousanders in a row
Expedition with climbing of two 6000ers
If you need a challenge and want to climb not one but two six-thousanders, this is exactly the right trip for you. You will cimb two mountains in the Mentok range at Tsomoriri lake.

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(c) Barbara Esser

Stok Kangri in 2 weeks
Expedition to a 6000er
We offer you a two-weeks tour with ideal preparation for the ascent of Stok Kangri (6.154m), you get acclimatized by daily hikes and a short trek before our endeavor starts. So we are perfectly prepared and our chances are higher to summit the six-thousander at the end of our trip!

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(c) Markus Brixle

Sky of the nomads
Trekking & Expedition in Changthang
On this tour we fly at higher game: the nine-day-trek leads you through the the Tibetan High Plateau. And then you even climb a six-thousander.

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Hemis Festival is held every year, but every 12 years it is very special. 2016 will be one of those years. In the 5th lunar month of the monkey year several hundred thousand people from tibetan-buddhist areas and the whole world will gather to celebrate the life of Naropa.

 

Hemis Festival: Every 12 years 1 month celebration

Hemis Festival 2016 will be one of the most important festivals of the decade in india. 1 month long several rare events will be held. Tibetan buddhists believe if you watch these events you will liberated through sight.

At the same time the famous silk thangka of Padmasambhava will be displayed that reaches from the roof of the monastery nearly down to the earth. This thangka is only displayed in public during Hemis Festival.

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Naropa

 

Who is Naropa?

The real high light of Hemis Festival 2016 is the display of the famed, holy 6 bones ornament from Naropa. It will be shown by Gyalwang Drukpa, the head of Drukpa School. The six bone ornament is said to be one of the holiest treasures of the himalayas.

Naropa lived during the 11th century and is one of the most remarkable buddhist holy men that lived at that time in india. He is one of the 84 Mahasiddhas. A Siddha (Sanskrit for: great ruler of perfect skills) is a person who gained Siddhi – a level of spiritual practice that enables a person for supernatural powers and abilites. In tibetan buddhism a Siddha is someone who reached a higher level of realization til awakening.

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The Drukpa are commonly called “red-hat-sect” in the west

 

Drukpa: What is it?

Hemis Festival 2016 will be the biggest gathering of Drukpa teachers. Drukpa is a lineage or school of tibetan buddhism, most commonly called “red-hat-sect”. They belong to the Kagyu- (Kargyud-)lineage of tibetan buddhism and to the schools of “new translations”. And to make things a bit more complicate: the Drukpa lineage has again several sub-school. The Drukpa lineage is prominent in Kham (eastern Tibet), Ladakh and Bhutan. Especially in Bhutan it has a great significance, as it is the dominant school and state religion.

 

Are you going to join?

If you want to attend this special occasion in 2016, you can contact us. One of our fix tours visits Hemis Festival on the most important day (on the other days you will see other highlights of Ladakh): Basics of Ladakh with Hemisfestival

If you prefer to visit Hemis Festival with your friends/family and/or if you want to spend more time at Hemis Festival, we will be happily building your own individual tour: Contact

Hemis Festival for buddhists
If you are a buddhist and would like to join Hemis Festival with your buddhist group, we would like to help you with booking of accommodations, flights and the arrangement of transports.  We could also reserve special seats for you at Hemis festival, so you are able to witness as much as possible.

 

Pictures from the festival 2015

 

Short video from last year’s festival




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Once a year, every monastery in Ladakh is celebrating with a festival. Most of the monastery festivals take place in the winter months – those are the ones we recommend visiting the most – but of course there is one or the other festival happening in summer.

 

Dates for Monastery festivals 2016

Spituk Gustor in Spituk: 7. + 8. January 2016

Dosmochey Leh & Likir Monastery: 6. + 7. February 2016

Yargon Tungshak Nubra (Yarma): 12. + 13. February 2016

Stok Guru Tsechu in Monastery Stok: 16. + 17. February 2016

Matho Nagrang in Monastery Matho: 21. + 22. February 2016   – Our tour Ladakh & Goa will visit this festival

Saka Dawa all over Ladakh: 20. May 2016

Yuru Kabgyat in Monastery Lamayuru: 1. + 2. July 2016

Hemis Tsechu in Monastery Hemis:  14. + 15. July 2016  – Our journey Basics of Ladakh will visit this festial!

Stongday Gustor in Zanskar:  22. + 23. July 2016

Karsha Gustor in Zanskar:  31. July + 01. August 2016

Phyang Tsesdup in Monastery Phyang: 31. July + 01. August 2016

Sachukul Gustor in Monastery Sachukul: 21. + 22. July 2016

Korzok Gustor at Tsomoriri:   5. + 6. August 2016

Dakthok Tseschu in Monastery Thakthok:  13. + 14. August 2016

Sani Nasjal in Zanskar:  17. + 18. August 2016 – Our journey Trekking & Culture in Zanskar will visit Sani-Festival

Deskit Gustor in Nubra: 28. + 29. October 2016

Thiksey Gustor in Monastery Thiksey: 17. + 18. November 2016

Chemday Wangchok in Monastery Chemday & Padum Chemray Monastery (Zanskar):  27. + 28. November 2016

Galden Namchot all over Ladakh:  23. December 2016

Ladakhi Losar (Ladakhi New Year):   30. December 2016




spacerThis post is not a theoretical essay on long-distance traveling with children: it is a collection of my own experiences as a mother of three who, for at least two months every year, packs her bags and takes her young on an adventurous journey. And no, it is not always a cheerful, problem-free scenario, and it sure requires lots of energy. But the workload at home is already heavy enough for a 3-times mother… So off to India!

By Daniela Luschin-Wangail (Mother of Elvis, 8, Luis Thayas, 4, and Emil Kenrab, 0)

The ultimate thrill

Are you one of those people who are always on the lookout for a new kick? Bungee jumping, skydiving and base jumping make you yawn? Then I have a great suggestion on how to get your adrenaline fix: take a baby, a stubborn child with Down Syndrome who loves nothing more than to resist parental authority and a know-all pre-pubescent boy, and sit with them in an airplane. Oh, did I forget to mention that the father is already at the destination point and won’t be flying with you? So forget any hopes of an adult helping hand. Believe me, there have been many exciting moments in my life, but none as nerve-racking as this. I was so worried I started losing my sleep several days before the actual trip. And then, surprisingly, it all works out (almost) like clockwork. The children somehow know that you can’t manage without their help and behave exemplary (the two younger ones were asleep most of the time). The stewardesses come in 5-minute intervals and ask kindly (pityingly, even) whether they can help you in any way, and you can even watch almost an entire movie on the screen in front of you. The babies that cry all around do not belong to you, and none of the passengers look disapprovingly at you, with that self-righteous expression that means something like “What kind of mother are you that can’t control your kid? Make it stop already!”

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Travelling with children? An extra pair of hands would be very useful!

 

Was I just lucky? Maybe. But then I was lucky because I have been traveling to and in India, with my child(ren), for eight years already. And there have been certainly some complications when flying with my boys, but nothing unsolvable. For example, a kid’s nose that wouldn’t stop bleeding even after trying different (and completely contradictory) methods suggested by the very excited flight attendants, until a doctor, answering to an on board call over the speakers, came as an angel and provided both immediate clotting and general relief. For the child I had a change of clothes ready (please never forget to bring one!), but I had nothing with what to replace my own blood-drenched outfit which caused a little chaos at the arrival port as some people thought I needed first aid.

Then there was that time when my dear middle son threw up an abnormal amount of his stomach contents all over the seat. The flight attendants, suddenly victims themselves of severe nausea, weren’t able to clean the mess, so I threw a couple of paper tissues on top, removed the bigger food bits I could find, and covered the seat with a clean towel from my hand luggage (Tip #2: Always pack a towel in your hand luggage!). My son, exhausted and with an empty stomach, slept peacefully the rest of the flight.

But in spite of all the stressful moments and energy-draining situations that take place during a flight with my children, I wouldn’t stay home for anything in the world. Even at home, things happen that will bring us to the brink of a nervous breakdown, and even there we are sometimes helpless and desperate. So why not change at least the scenery, so that the everyday horror scenarios shine with a new light? That’s another reason why I enjoy alternating my residence between Austria and India.

 

Es geht los, Baby!

Here we go, baby!

India is a paradise for kids

Only on the surface is Austria a great country for children. “Do not do that!”, “This isn’t right!”, “Please, be quiet!”, “Behave!”… I don’t know how many times I have to tell my children these things whenever we leave our house to go to public spaces (or other people’s houses). At the supermarket, at the restaurant, at the city offices, on the train, at the doctor, at relatives’ or friends’… Everything is clean, beautiful, calm and orderly. And it should stay that way. Children here become quickly disruptive factors. I am not one of those anti-authoritarian mothers who let their children do whatever they want. We are in Austria, after all, and they have to behave according to the country’s cultural rules. And they do… after I tell them so two or three or four times in a row 😉 But it’s sooo hard!
India on the other hand is just like a paradise! Children can be children. Run around. Be loud. Be naughty. Protest. Get dirty. Break stuff. Here, the burned-out, responsibility-choked mother can finally breathe and stop worrying. No one looks at you, shaking his head in disapproval. No one feels disturbed when your child runs endlessly in circles inside the restaurant. If you’re visiting someone’s home and something breaks or gets stained, and you reflexively scold the children, you are immediately stopped by the hosts, who tell you not to be so strict. They are still children after all! This will warm your heart and make you remember: oh, yeah, I’m in India! J

 

Daniela und zwei ihrer drei Kinder am Pangong-See

Daniela and two of her kids at Pangong lake

Lock up your worries

When someone asks me for advice about traveling with children, the first thing it occurs to me is that you need to stop worrying so much. Positive thinking brings positive experiences. Believe in yourself and your luck, ask the children to cooperate (even babies seem to understand this!). Don’t overthink things, don’t try to prepare for all that could go wrong. And this brings me to a very important aspect of long-distance travel with children: healthcare. For many parents, this is the top priority and seems to require a lot of thinking and preparation… well, I don’t consider it that big of a deal. I usually carry nothing but a Nureflex bottle (thank God for this miraculous panacea ;-)) and some band aids. There are no other drugs to be found in my luggage. Negligent? No, practical. India is one of the largest producers of generic pharmaceutical remedies in the world, so there’s no reason to worry, in case my children, or I, would need medication. Also, the country is home to many fantastic doctors – both trained in conventional medicine, or with an Ayurvedic or homeopathic background. I usually feel better supplied here than in Austria.

I don’t want to give the impression that our trips with the kids are always smooth and relaxed. But the alternative – staying at home – is, for me (us), out of the question.

I prefer to spice up the soup called life! 😉

Moments like this in Kerala compensate for everything

 

 




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Many tourists travel with a bad conscience and think that travel, in general, brings more harm than good. It destroys the environment, the traditions and the culture of the host…  And yet they travel, hoping to be the exception.

Every traveler leaves traces. Every step does, even at home. It is the nature of a step to leave a footprint. But it is up to us to decide what shoes to wear and how to act. If we put the shoes with spikes on, and trample carelessly through the neighborhood, the footprints will be very different to those we would leave while walking softly with leather slippers. The choice is yours!

There are several arguments for staying home. Let’s take a closer look to some of them:

Argument 1: Tourists destroy traditions

Tourism is hastily blamed when mobile phones, televisions and Co. suddenly appear in formerly idyllic places, changing or downright replacing old traditions and outdated ways of communication. Let’s take Ladakh: How easily is the tourist made responsible for the way in which, nowadays, the local girls and boys prefer to don jeans instead their traditional Gonchas, or the monks ride colorful mopeds, take selfies with their smartphones, and would rather look at the world through trendy Ray Bans than from a Buddhist perspective. It is quite obvious that things have changed, and that today’s Ladakh is very different from that of the 70s. But isn’t that true for the whole world? Many cultures have also changed, sometimes radically so, without the intervention of tourists. In Austria, with the exception of special holidays and festivals, people no longer wear Lederhosen and Dirndl or go around yodeling. Therefore, we claim here that Ladakh would have changed even without tourism, because no region of the world is completely secluded from the rest. Even centuries ago, during the apogee of the Silk Road trading routes, it was practically impossible to remain completely isolated and avoid intercultural exchange. And so it is now that every corner of the Global Village is just a mouse click or a touch-screen tap away.

On the contrary, we say: Tourists are strongly interested in ancient cultures and traditions, and so their interest promotes and revives old customs and rituals, bringing new life to what would otherwise, maybe, be lost to the local youth.

Gochak – a buddhist ritual

 

Argument 2: Tourism destroys the environment

Yes, they do exist: the littering-prone tourists who leave garbage everywhere and do more harm than good. That is undeniable. Let’s use Ladakh again as an example. Leh has become a “big” city thanks to tourism, hotels and guest houses sprouting all around like mushrooms, with barely a thought given to sustainability and environmental impact.

And yes, the solar energy hot water system has taken roots, plastic bags are banned, and the sewage network is growing steadily, but there are still many shortcomings and a general disregard (mostly ignorance-fueled) for environmental protection. But let’s see more closely! Who throws carelessly his garbage away? Most waste is naturally caused by the Ladakhi and the Indian guests themselves, and cutting tourism completely would have a negligible effect on the problem. In societies such as India, in which just a few years ago non-biodegradable trash was basically unknown and then, suddenly, faced a sudden invasion of plastic packaged goods, you have to start at school… just as we did back in the 80s. Subject: Environmental awareness. Those who don’t see the problem, will continue to throw plastic bottles carelessly out of the car window, or leave chips bags everywhere for the wind to lift up and carry away. Also on the trekking routes, seldom are the European and American tourists the ones leaving their trash behind – rather, it is the accompanying trekking crew that is to blame, always reluctant to bother to collect the garbage and bring it back to Leh.

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Trekking in Ladakh (c) Roland Amon

And again, just like we said about the local traditions: it is usually the (Western) tourist that demands an ecologically gentler way of life, and thus, many local agencies and administrations are forced to make a change.

 

Argument 3: tourists have no respect for the hosts of their travel destination

Constantly putting their monstrous camera lenses in the face of their photo subjects, sitting on the tables of the praying monks, speaking disparagingly of their hosts, repeatingly disrespecting the values ​​and traditions of the country they are visiting: this is the 3rd category of tourists in our prejudice-list. We have seen (and silently condemned) many. And we have also dealt with people expelled of their staying place, because they have simply gone too far. Often, the transgressor isn’t even aware of what rule or norm he or she has broken. That’s why it is so important to inform yourself beforehand. We always recommend to put yourself in place of the people visited. What wouldn’t I like if it happened in my own home? Would I enjoy someone entering my garden and taking a close-up picture of me? Would I feel happy if a horde of loud, fast-clicking people would disturb my herd, drive my clients away or interrupt the Morning Prayer while scurrying from one corner to another?
For more about respecting localtraditions in Ladakh, read: 10 rules forLadakh

Leh (c) Roland Amon

 

There are many arguments against it, but like so many things in life, tourism has two sides. It is important that all parts of the golden triangle (the guest/traveler, the host/local, and the tour operator/organizer), find a common solution as balanced as possible, giving everyone what they want, while respecting what they need.

 

So put your light shoes on and watch your step – we’re together in this!




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News: India declares 500 and 1000 rupee notes worthless
The Indian government withdrew all 500 and 1,000 rupee notes on 09th november 2016, essentially leaving millions of people with invalid cash in their wallets. The move is designed to combat corruption and the black money economy. The old notes can be exchanged for cash or deposited into accounts at banks and some post offices in India until Friday December 30. Customers can exchange any number of notes but will only receive up to 4,000 rupees in cash. Any value above this won’t be issued in cash – it’ll be paid into a bank account.

Instead of the old notes Indian government issued brand new bank notes of 500 and 2,000 rupee denominations.

neu-wertlos-rupie-eng

For your planned travel this will be of not much effect. The new notes will be soon available. But please be aware and check the notes you are getting to avoid getting invalid old ones. If you still have old notes at home you better travel quickly to india or check within your country if there is a possibility to change it there. Elsewise you can burn them as they will be worth nothing. As at 11.11.2016

 

Whoever goes on a trip also needs money. Even as the most frugal backpacker you still have to pay for various things, from food and accommodation to souvenirs and tips. But how much is appropriate? How much money should you plan on spending? How much should you take in cash? When and where can you pay with credit or debit card? Many of the questions you should ask yourself before traveling to India.

The first thing to consider is the manner in which you will travel. Are you on your own, focusing on one issue at a time, taking care of things on site as they happen? Or do you have a trip already booked and planned from home? Both ways have its advantages: the backpacker can often (but not always) arrange cheaper accommodation – rooms are generally cheaper if you negotiate locally and point out to the owner that a cheap room is better than an empty one. On the other hand, the tourist who has booked in advance, if at a higher cost, doesn’t have to waste time wandering from hostel to hostel looking for a room to spend the night. At the same time, arranging things locally usually means spending a little more money with small things, because booked tours usually include everything from airport transfers to hotel breakfasts (please always read thoroughly the services provided!).

 

Cash or card?

We would advise you to rely on both. Take some cash with you for emergency cases or spontaneous purchases, but don’t leave your credit card at home, because now most businesses in big cities accept payments with it, and also there are ATMs everywhere. Attention however when retrieving money from an ATM, especially with a debit (instead of a credit) card: normally it will be accepted in any bank, including India and other non-member countries, but there can be extra fees and withdrawal limits. The daily limit for withdrawals amounts generally to 20,000 rupees, but some banks allow a maximum of 10,000 rupees per ATM use … so you’d have to make two withdrawals of 10,000 each. In any case, like in every place on Earth, machines sometimes fail, so a little cash is always good.

Rupees can’t be changed abroad, so you must always enter the country with foreign currency. However, it is no longer necessary to carry US dollars: the Euro is often taken anywhere. Of course the British Pound and even the Swiss franc are popular currencies!

Traveler’s checks have the advantage that you have a certain degree of security in case you lose your wallet, so this is an option to be considered.

A note on credit cards: in the larger cities you can often also pay directly with credit card – but for traveling to Ladakh or other remote regions of India one may very well leave the plastic currency at home.

IMG_7139 (1280x853)

 

Daily expenses: 100, 1000, 10,000? How much money do I need?

We are often asked by our guests how much extra money they should bring, per day. Our travels usually consider, for the big cities, just breakfast or half pension; but anywhere else (small towns, rural areas, etc) a full pension is expected. So how much money should be calculated for food, when some important meals are not included in the reservation? This is a difficult question, because it is highly variable.

Do you eat meat, or are you a vegetarian? Do you usually drink alcohol when you eat? Do you enjoy eating at a local Dhaba, or do you prefer a chic restaurant in Hauz Khas in Delhi? If you eat locally and simple vegetarian, even 100 rupees are enough. But for those who prefer to go to restaurants that “promise a more hygienic” preparation, 100 rupees will be too short. Whoever wants to eat meat in such restaurants should expect to spend at least 250 rupees. You want a beer with that? Then the bill quickly raises to 500 rupees (alcohol is generally very expensive in India!). If the plan is letting oneself go and enjoy the experience at a trendy restaurant in Delhi or any other big city, the budget, including drinks, shouldn’t be less than about 1,000 rupees. As you can see, there is a wide range: 100-1,000 rupees / meal / person. But we just want you to get a taste (pun intended) of what to expect when paying for food in India. Likely, you will also have a coffee with a piece of cake at the end, so add some rupees to the sum. As a tip you should give as much (relatively) as you are used to do at home (for example, if the bill makes 370 rupees, leave 400 rupees).

 

Souvenirs, Souvenirs

Well, that’s the other thing. And even more difficult than the food question! So, what do you want to bring home? A silk carpet? A real Pashmina? Or just a few prayer flags or a small wooden elephant? Sure, you can find enough cheap souvenirs, but also at least as many luxury items that (sometimes) are also worth the money. And one thing to remember: bargaining is almost always a must – because the price can quickly drop to a half (or even less) of the originally stated. But I said “almost always” for a reason – Ladakhi sellers for example often do not listen to reason and stay with their fixed prices, no matter how high they could be.

Tipping etiquette

And the question of all questions concerning the money is: the tip. How much should you give? What is appropriate? What’s too little? What too much? Our experience over the years has led us to recommend, for trekking / tour packages (mostly in Ladakh), a tip of 4-6 Eur per guest per day (4-6€/guest/day). This is an average and can (and should) of course vary, because ultimately the amount to tip depends on the performance of the team. That is also the reason why we did not include tip expenditure in the tour price. Where else is the incentive for a particularly good performance?

The tip should be given to the team members at the end of the travel / trekking journey – don’t give it all to the guide and hope that he distributes the tip fairly (which he would probably do, we are not insinuating the opposite). If everybody in the group had a similarly good performance, the tip is to be divided according to the team hierarchy – the guide is always at the highest, followed by the cook, then the helpers and the porters/horse men.

For examples of how to distribute the tip, you can check the entry “What about the tip? Does anybody expect anything? How much?” in our FAQ section.

In many hotels, many employees expect a tip for every service. To avoid a daily endless whipping out of 10-rupee notes, you can also point out friendly that you will leave the tip at the end of your stay, in the tip box on the front desk (in this way the money will also reach all those who work “behind the curtains”, eg. the kitchen staff).

 

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How, when and where to change?

The best exchange rate is always found in banks, but the opening times are often very unfavorable (from 10:00 to 16:00, minus lunchbreak) – exactly when you’re most probably traveling. Therefore you won’t visit them often. It is worth to compare a few money exchange offices before taking a decision, as prices often vary greatly. Be aware of moneychangers that promise a good rate at first glance, but then pile charge after charge until the end result is ridiculously high. A tip: do not change your money at the airport in Delhi, or do so with only very small amounts – the exchange rates are terrible there and several exchange offices earn a fortune with their fees. It’s much better to get a few rupees with your card directly from the ATM.

And when changing money, remember always to ask for a few notes of small denomination – especially if you intend to spend a long time away from larger cities – because a rural shop owner on the countryside may not have change for your 1,000-rupee note when you just want to buy a small bottle of water!

Last but not least: 1 EUR = about 70 rupees (as of November 2016)