Ladakh – Been There

Ladakh: land of blizzards, brigands and pashmina

For the winter term, there is only one route available to children from remote communities going to boarding school in Leh, and that is down the frozen Zanskar river.  With the consistently sub-zero temperatures at this time of the year, the waterway forms an icy road that the locals call Chadar or "bedsheet" in reference to its covering.

Photo by Timothy Allen

Ladakh – Been There

Ladakh: land of blizzards, brigands and pashmina

High, high in the mountains, where the air is almost too thin to breathe, the mule train picks its way, hoofs clicking on rough rock, carrying its precious cargo for the boutiques of Fifth Avenue and the Champs-Élysées.

Jeff Fuchs
Jeff Fuchs Explorer

Nothing was more valued or precious on this route than pashmina, silky to the touch, combed and pulled from the tough goats that live in these mountains. It made its way from here through snowbound passes into markets that still bulge with it, before being traded down into the hot, dusty plains of India and beyond, there to be sold in fashionable and expensive clothing lines.

Tashi, a local guide of understated strength, points to a windswept series of ridges north of our camp. “There is where the smart thieves would wait,” he says. In days gone by, bandits added to the hazards of blizzards and disorienting snow passes. They would hide among the peaks, knowing that the time and place to strike was when the caravans were comfortable and secure. Robbing the tough muleteers was not without risk and the chances were best in this slim basin before the 5,600-meter Parangla Pass.

I look around, imagining the brigands planning their ambush, moving in at dawn with knives in hand and wearing leather skin boots to keep silent on the stones. Much within these mountain realms was down to grit and knowledge but, if the brat twins of fate and luck were against you, nothing could save you.

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