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Ladakhis proud of nature, try to keep mountains clean, says Canadian diplomat on World Environment Day

IANS | June 05, 2023 11:19 AM

NEW DELHI: Trekking through the Himalayas in Ladakh, a global biodiversity hotspot, is challenging, but the region is generally quite clean. Ladakhis are proud of their nature and try to keep the mountains, rivers and lakes exempt from trash and plastic, remarked Annabelle Larouche St-Sauveur, Senior Trade Commissioner with Canada High Commission here, on World Environment Day that falls on June 5.

Last week she summited Ladakh's Mentok Kangri, a "snow climb" at an altitude of a 6, 250m or 20, 500 ft borders the brackish the Tso Moriri lake, that can't be climbed without crampons, But no ice climbing experience is required.

In principle, Mentok Kangri peak is not considered difficult in the summer but the challenge was that it was still covered in snow, the wind was very strong and the weather was unstable in the Spring.

On being asked about encountering trash left behind by trekkers or tourists, she told IANS that the company they hired was very strict that they could not leave anything behind.

"I like that because the beauty of the mountains is negatively impacted when you hike and you see all the trash along the path, like during Triund Trek (uphill McLeodganj in Himachal Pradesh) which is quite popular and has camping site but not necessarily all the proper infrastructure to manage garbage left behind."

Ladakh -- once the hub of the ancient Silk Route -- is aptly described as a place where Buddhist spirituality and its ancient culture reign supreme amidst virgin nature.

Sharing her experience about capturing Mentok Kangri, Annabelle told IANS she wanted to climb her first peak above 6, 000 m.

"I also wanted to visit Ladakh again and see the magnificent Tso Moriri lake. Mentok Kangri was the perfect opportunity to combine both objectives. For my first ascent above 6, 000 m, it was also a good choice because there are no technical challenges to climbing Mentok Kangri, except for wearing crampons in the snow and having to rope all climbers together for the final part of the ascent for safety purposes.

"You don't need ice climbing experience for example, as is the case for some peaks in Nepal that are above 6, 000 m."

Annabelle fell in love with high altitude mountains when she completed the Annapurna trek in April 2022.

"I decided to try Everest Base Camp next for my birthday in December 2022. I contacted a French speaking Nepalese guide I had met at a guesthouse while completing the Annapurna trek. It was a great adventure, " she recalled.

What's next? She replied, "My hiking buddy and I have our eyes set on Lobuche East and Mera Peak in Nepal. Mera Peak is less technical so this could be a good option for the next peak above 6, 000 m. I would also love to conquer Ama Dablam (6, 812 m) but it requires more time and also technical skills I don't yet possess so it is a longer term objective."

She said owing to busy schedule for the ongoing G20 ministerial meetings, she could not take any time off in June-August. aceSo this is why I decided to try in May (last week). We were the first group to reach the peak this season (my hiking buddy Stefanie Bergeron and two guides). Two other groups had tried a few days before we arrived but they did not make it because of the weather and abundant snow. The total experience was 11 days but this includes acclimatization in Leh and the driving from Leh to Korzok.a

Of course, she said, she was impacted by altitude sickness. "The same happened to me during the Everest Base Camp trek around 4, 800 m. I had to go down to Karzok and spend a day in bed while my hiking buddy went up to Camp 2. My symptoms were headache, nausea and fatigue. I took some Diamox and 24 hours later I was able to start climbing again despite being quite tired and weakened because I was not able to eat for over a day."

Regarding advice to the trekkers who are planning to conquer high-latitude peaks of Ladakh, she told IANS, the entire Ladakh region is quite high with extreme weather.

"So I would recommend trekkers to follow basic safety rules: wearing the proper hiking gear, carrying warm clothing, not consuming alcohol while at high altitude, hiring a good guide, checking yourself for altitude sickness symptoms and planning enough time for acclimatization. We spend 3 days in Leh before driving to Karzok, " she added.

Ladakh is a cold desert in northern India, dotted by tiny hamlets spread over the Himalayan peaks adjoining Tibet, where one can simultaneously have a close brush with sunburn and frostbite in summer.

Leh, the headquarters of Ladakh, is connected by road -- open only five months a year due to heavy snowfall -- from Srinagar and the distance of 434 km takes two days with a night halt at Kargil town; and almost equidistant from the picturesque Manali tourist resort in Himachal Pradesh via the picturesque Lahaul Valley. The latter route is more treacherous.

The entire Ladakh region is populated mainly by tribals. The climatic conditions are harsh as much of the land is a cold desert where the mercury remains below minus 30 degrees Celsius in winter for weeks on end.

The staple food is barley, wheat, peas, rice, rapeseed and salted tea mixed with yak butter.

Leh is connected by air from Delhi, Chandigarh and Jammu.

Where to stay in Leh: Small hotels, guesthouses and even homestays with local people.

Buddhist leader The Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual head of over 1, 000-year-old Drukpa Order, is promoting homestays among the locals by adopting eco-friendly ways.

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