Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Markha Valley Trek - Part I

Ashesh Ambasta trekked with South Col Expeditions through the Markha Valley in Ladakh in September 2013. In this three part essay, Ashesh recounts his journey through this wild and desolate landscape. A very enjoyable account which gives an insight into the daily travails on a South Col trek!

Chronicles of the Markhian Voyagers (MV)
Crew: Ashesh Ambasta, Dipan Bhattacharya, Hanif Barma, Kanika Pal, Kankana Das, Sujoy Das, Tenzing (guide cum cook), Pema (Assistant to Tenzing), Ongchuk ( Helper) and Jigmet (ponyman and his six ponies)

Day 1 (4th September 2013) - Leh

The view of the Indus just before landing at Leh
Dipan takes the early morning flight to Leh to catch the sunrise over the mountains as he’s flying in. Lands and catches up on sleep thereafter.
Hanif, Kanika and Ashesh land by 10 am and are received by Sujoy and driven to the hotel where they are joined by Dipan looking refreshed and ready-to-go. So, the whole team, bar one, is together for the first time (Kankana is somewhere in the vastness of Ladakh, having smartly given herself extra crucial days to acclimatize to the high altitude). Nice; no awkwardness or discomfort amongst us from the word go. We sip tea and exchange notes with a group which had been sent back by the army half way from Nubra because of heavy snowfall. Snow on their vehicle bore testimony to their tale.
Thereafter, Hanif and Kanika retire to their respective rooms for a snooze (Hanif’s first of many, as we were to realise later!).
Sujoy leaves for the market to make arrangements for our trip. Ashesh buttonholes Dipan to give him a crash course on photography, which lasts until lunch time - appreciate his forbearance, which was in evidence throughout the trip.  Hanif and Kanika still lost to the world, deep in their dreams.
Sujoy, Dipan and Ashesh trot off for lunch at Tibetan Kitchen, an eating place frequented by the locals.  Quaint place with atmosphere and great food – the mutton momos and the talumein soup were outstanding.  Highly recommended restaurant. 
Leisurely evening tea on the terrace in the hotel. Climbed up on the half-finished roof for shoots. Dipan was after birds, magpies I think (who, according to the cognoscenti amongst us, were always to be found in pairs; I always found them alone). Ashesh valiantly trying to practice the photography lessons of the morning but evidently with little success! Hanif finally surfaced and has toast and tea for lunch. Sujoy finally returned from the errand connected to our trip. 
Dinner by the MVs at Dreamland. The sixth member of the group, Kankana, continued to remain outside communication range. Captain mulls if a search party is warranted yet. Great food here too.
Back to the hotel for the first night in Leh. Sleep for all; not for Hanif, poor man – Auditory Assaults of the Worst Kind was the title of his nightmare. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Annapurna Sanctuary (ABC) Trek : Walking Times

For many of you who do the popular Annapurna Base Camp Trek, here are the trekking times for an average trekker. For stops add around 20% to these times. For a lunch break on the way add another hour to the days walking time. Happy trekking and hope to see some of you on the trail this April when South Col will be running their spring trek!

Times in hours and minutes

Phedi to Dhampus 1:30; Dhampus to Pothana 1:30; Pothana to Deorali 0:50; Deorali to Tolka 2:00
Tolka to Landrung 0:55; Landrung to New Bridge 1:30; New Bridge to Jhinu Danda 2:00; Jhinu Danda to Upper Chomrong 1:30

Chomrong to Bhanuwa 1:35; Bhanuwa to Sinuwa 1:00; Sinuwa to Kuldi 1:30; Kuldi to Bamboo 0:35;
Bamboo to Doban 1:00; Doban to Himalaya 1:20; Himalaya to Deorali 1:15

Deorali to Macchapuchare Base Camp 2:30
Macchapuchare Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp 2:00
Annapurna Base Camp to Macchapuchare Base Camp 1:15; Macchapuchare Base Camp to Deorali 1:45; Deorali to Himlaya 1:10; Himalaya to Doban 1:00
Doban to Bamboo 0:45; Bamboo to Sinuwa 1:30; Sinuwa to Chomrong Top 2:00

Chromrong to Kimrong 1:45; Kimrong to Ghandrung 2:30

DAY 10
Ghandrung to Birethanti 2:45; Birethanti to Nayapul 0:30: Nayapul to Pokhara by vehicle.

For photographs from the Annapurna region please do visit .http://www.sujoydas.com/Nepal-Himalaya/Annapurna

For details of the South Col Expeditions Annapurna Base Camp trek April 13-24 2014 please do visit

Monday, February 10, 2014

Nikon Lens Rebates February 2014

Nikon is offering rebates on a number of their most popular lenses. The rebates are valid until 1st March 2014. There are lenses for both DX and FX shooters including some of their most popular lenses like the 24-120 f4 and 16-85 DX VR! Rebates will be honored by major on line retailers as well like Adorama and B&H.

Nikon is also offering some rebates on camera and lens combinations which would also expire on March 1, 2014.

Nikon Camera and Lens Bundle Savings

So those of you who are looking for new lenses or camera-lens combinations this is a good time to take advantage of these rebates! Happy shooting!

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Outdoor Journal : Essentials for a Hike

Essential Gear to Take on a Hike

By The Outdoor Journal, Friday, December 6, 2013 - 16:05, New Delhi

Seasoned trek leader Sujoy Das gives us the lowdown on essential hiking gear.

Sujoy Das has over thirty years of experience trekking and photographing in the Himalaya. He’s trekked in the Annapurna region six times and in the Everest region more than ten times. Sujoy now heads his own company South Col Expeditions that provides carefully tailored hiking journeys to people with little or no trekking experience. We asked him to give us a list of five essentials to help you pack for your next big hike!

The Five Essentials by Sujoy Das

Sleeping Bag
A good sleeping bag can make the difference between a successful trek and a nightmare. This is possibly the single most important item of equipment that you need to carry with you. A sleeping bag should be selected based on the minimum temperature you expect to encounter on the trek. If you are a cold sleeper, it is recommended to buy a bag which is rated at least 5 degrees Celsius below the lowest temperature. If you plan to trek in the rainy season a synthetic bag would be preferred to down. In cold dry conditions, nothing beats a down bag for warmth and compressibility. Sleeping bags are rated according to the seasons: for a summer or autumn trek buy a three season bag and for a winter trek like the Chadar, a four season is a must. Some of the leading companies who make top notch bags are Marmot, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear and the doyen of all, Western Mountaineering.

Trekkers have replaced the torch with a headlamp as it allows hands-free operation. Some of the reputed headlamps made by Petzl, Black Diamond etc. have different settings and often can run for up to 150 hours on a single set of batteries! For reading inside a tent, answering the call of nature at night and navigating the trail before dawn, a good headlamp is essential.


Like a sleeping bag, a pair of boots can make or mar a trek! You need to make sure that your boots are well broken in before the trek – never start off on a trek with new boots! Always try the new boots with the socks you plan to wear on the trail.  There are a number of options available like – full grain leather, fabric-leather, nubuck etc. Some boots have water proof liners like Gore-tex which is useful in wet conditions. Some of the leading brands are Merrell, Scarpa, Vasque, Lowa and Zamberlan.

Trekking Poles
On of the indispensable aids on a trek, these poles have multifarious uses. You can use them to ford a swift flowing stream, negotiate a steep scree slope,  walk through snow and climb up to the top of a pass. The newer poles fold down to around 12 inches and are very light weight. Leki and Black Diamond are the leading companies manufacturing trekking poles.

Water Purification Filters/Tablets
Iodine and chlorine tablets are the easiest ways of purifying water on the trail. There are also  water filters made by companies like Sawyer, MSR, Katadyn are useful for purifying large quantities of water and are often used by groups on expeditions.

To find out more about South Col Expeditions, go to www.southcol.com, or email Sujoy at sujoyrdas@gmail.com

To read the article on line please visit

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ten Great Books on the Himalaya

This is my personal list of ten "must read" books on the Himalaya in no particular order!

In 1934, Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman made an amazing  exploratory attempt and reached the fabled Nanda Devi sanctuary in the Garhwal Himalaya. Noted mountaineer Hugh Ruttledge and former Commissioner of the erstwhile United Provinces described the Nanda Devi massif as “ a seventy mile barrier ring on which stand 12 measured peaks over 21,000 feet high. The Rishi Gorge, rising at the foot of Nanda Devi and draining an area of some 250 miles of snow and ice has carved for itself what must be one of the most terrific gorges in the world. So tremendous is the aspect of the Rishi Gorge that Hindu mythology described it as the last earthly home of the Seven Rishis. Here if anywhere, their meditations might be undisturbed”. The two climbers assisted by the indomitable sherpa Angtharkay and his team  made an dramatic exit from the sanctuary via Sunderdhunga khal.   Subsequently in 1936, Bill Tilman and Noel Odell summited the peak.  These two books now released together give an insight into the exploration of the Nanda Devi basin and as well as the climb. One of my favourites!

"It’s a preposterous plan. Still, if you do get up it, I think it’ll be the hardest thing that’s been done in the Himalayas.’ So spoke Chris Bonington when Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker presented him with their plan to tackle the unclimbed West Wall of Changabang – the Shining Mountain – in 1976. Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker made it to the summit from base camp without any sherpa support. The duo designed  hammocks to sleep every night as the sheer west face of the mountain would not provide a ledge to pitch a tent! Hauling their own supplies and equipment up the mountain, this was probably the most outstanding achievement of their climbing careers. Sadly in 1982  both climbers were lost heading for the summit of Everest on the north east ridge over 8000 metres. Boardman is an outstanding writer and this is one of the most gripping books in mountaineering history.

In 1931 while descending from  from a successful expedition to Kamet, Frank Smythe and R L Holdsworth entered a valley in the Himalaya on a wet monsoon day. In Holdsworth's words " All of a sudden, I realised I was simply surrounded by primulas. Forgotten were all the pains and cold and lost porters. And what a primula it was..  six inches high, its flowers were enormous for it's stature.. and in colour of the most heavenly French blue, sweetly scented." In 1937, Smythe returned to the Bhyundar valley and spent four happy months camping and climbing in the valley. At the end of the expedition, the team is also made a successful ascent of Mana Peak. In Smythe's words " so ended the the longest, grandest and hardest  mountain climb of our lives".

The 1963 the American Everest expedition had a number of firsts to their credit - the first climb of the West Ridge by Unsoeld and Horbein and the first traverse of the mountain as well as a high altitude bivouac on the slopes of Everest. Four climbers survived to tell the tale but at a dreadful cost - Unsoeld lost nine toes and Bishop six to frostbite. Jerstad and Horbein were lucky to get away unscathed. In  Everest- The West Ridge Horbein wrote "The night was overpoweringly empty. Stars shed cold, unshimmering light. The heat lightning dancing along the plains spoke of a world of warmth and flatness. The black silhouette ofLhotse lurked half-sensed, half-seen, still below. Only the ridge we were on rose higher, disappearing into the night, a last lonely outpost of the world." A tremendous read! 

There have been many books written about the Everest expeditions 1921, 1922 and 1924 but none as comprehensive and well researched as this six hundred odd pages thesis by Wade Davis! The book also  deals with World War I and the effect it had on the Everest climbers, an angle not explored earlier. The book throws up some interesting insights like the surveyor Oliver  Wheeler finding the route through the East Rongbuk glacier  to Everest and not  George Mallory!  For sheer detailing, meticulous research and fact finding, Wade Davis's book will be hard to beat! Highly recommended!

In 1973 the famous naturalist George Schaller accompanied by Peter Matthieson made a journey to the Crystal Mountain in  Western Nepal to research the bharal (blue sheep).  This book almost metaphysical in it journey, traces the route  to the Crystal  mountain, Shey and Phoksumdo lake and the land of Dolpo situated in the rain shadow of the Himalaya. . Matthiesen is  student of Zen Buddhism and book other than being an exploratory journey develops into a quest for the meaning of Being. Mattheisen says " Upon the path.... lies the yellow and grey blue feather of an unknown bird. And there comes a piercing intuition, by no means understood, that in this feather on the silver path, this rhythm of wood and leather sounds, ... sun and wind, and the rush of the river, in a landscape without past or future time- in this instant...transience and eternity, death and life are one."

In 1849, Joseph Dalton Hooker a British botanist accompanied by Dr Campbell made an exploration into remote Sikkim in search of the rhododendron and other flowers. This pioneering journey is told in two volumes and covers what must be the first  documented  survey of Sikkim. Not only did Hooker visit Western Sikkim including Dzongri and the Goecha la, he went from Choontam (now called Chungthang) all the way to the Tibetan frontier and then reached the high pass of Dongkya La from where he overlooked Cholamu lake and Tibet. I was fortunate enough in  the summer of 1987 to stand on another pass east of Dongkya la, the Dorji La and see a similar view which had prompted Hooker to say "... here the colourings are those of the fiery desert.. while the climate is that of the poles. Never in the course of all my wanderings, had my eye rested on a scene so dreary and inhospitable." For all lovers of Sikkim do not miss this book!

Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer
Jon Krakauer was a journalist with Outside Magazine and was sent to cover the guided Everest expedition as a part of Rob Hall's Adventure Consultants team in the summer of 1996. Krakauer summitted Everest and lived to tell the tale but other members were not so lucky. A fierce storm lashed Everest on 10th May 1996 and at the end of it five climbers lost their lives including highly respected guides Hall and Fischer. Krakauer's book which catapulted Everest from the ciy  realms of the Himalaya into the drawing rooms of the United States reads like a gripping thriller - it also dwells on decisions which can go horribly wrong at those rarefied altitudes leading to disastrous consequences. A good book to read after this is Anatoli Boukreev's Climb which presents Boukreev's account of the 1996 disaster.

In 1899, Douglas Freshfield accompanied by the famous Italian photographer Vittorio Sella set off from Darjeeling to make the first circuit of Kangchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world.The team went up the Teesta valley and into the Zemu glacier. They could not cross the Nepal and Zemu Gaps due to the great storm of September 24th 1899. They then entered the Lhonak valley and crossed the Jonsong La into Nepal. They travelled through Ghunsa and crossed back into Sikkim through the passes of Chunjerma and Kang la reaching Dzongri and the Goeche La. Sella's magnificent photographs, especially of Jannu from Chunjerma and Siniolchu from the Zemu valley stand out even today. The book has been out of print  but I did see a reprint  it in Pilgrims bookshop in Kathmandu.

Included in" the 100 best adventure books of all time", Terray account of his climbs in the Alps and Himalayas make heady reading. He was a French climber who climbed Makalu in 1955 and Cerro  Fitzroy in Patagonia in 1962. He was also a member of Herzog's Annapurna 1950 expedition where with a Sherpa  he assisted Herzog and Lachenal down from the mountain. Terray returned to the forefront when he was part of the team who rescued four climbers from the north face of the Eiger in 1957. Possibly his best achievement in the mountaineering world was the first ascent of Jannu in 1962. After climbing Alaska's Mount Huntingdon in 1965, Terray said "If the conquest of a great peak brings moments of exultation and bliss, which in the monotonous, materialistic existence of modern times nothing else can approach, it also presents great dangers. It is not the goal of *grand alpinisme* to face peril, but it is one of the tests one must undergo to deserve the joy of rising for an instant above the state of crawling grubs." 


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