The Comprehensive preparations
Let’s start from the beginning, from when the No Limits project was created. The starting point was the idea and the idea was to set forth to all corners of the Himalayas, and make this trip available to such people who wouldn’t, under normal conditions, even think of a similar trip. Earlier this year I met Antonín Kolář, teacher and leader of the Pilsen Travel Club and after speaking briefly about the Himalayas, it was clear that our future steps would lead us jointly. The program D of E - The Duke of Edinburg award, is backed by the Travel Club. It’s an educational program that enables young people from 14 to 25 years of age to develop their skills and actively use their leisure time.
When I told Antonín about my intentions to prepare a trip to the Ladakh region with handicapped people, he immediately saw the opportunity for students, under the D of E program, to achieve tasks. One thing led to another and we offered this opportunity to some students and ten registered for the announced trip.
To be ready for the demanding Himalaya conditions they have, since February of this year been preparing, going through rigorous intensive training. Perhaps most importantly, the participants were taught the skills needed for safe movement and for a stay in high-alpine terrain. They were prepared for the cultural differences and also attended psychological training and pre-departure preparations which included equally important fundraising and promotional activities. We found affinity and support from the Hannah Company of Pilsen. Due to the Hannah Grant project, we were able to equip our team with the necessary gear for the challenging high-alpine conditions.
The mysterious splendor of the monasteries and the first expedition
We are actually in Léh, the administrative town of Ladakh and the first few days are dedicated to acclimatization in this region. The most of the participants are gradually adjusting to an abrupt change of altitude as we are “only” at an altitude of 3600 m above sea level. Acclimatization takes place in the spirit of short trips for knowledge of local culture and Buddhist monasteries, Honza Krauskopf confirms that this region is not absolutely problem free for people using a wheelchair. After a few days spent in the capital - Léh, we boarded a rented bus and headed to Zanskar. On the way we stopped at important places like the Lamayuru Monastery, a pilgrimage site where the significant spiritual teacher Marpa and his pupil Milarepa stayed. In the rocky terrain there are embedded earthen buildings surrounded by sacred stupas, a number of flags and other symbols of Buddhism. A place like this will take your breath and your words away, not only because of the altitude, but also with its mysterious beauty. Looking across the valley to the rocks and debris of the multi-colored slopes opposite and listening to the magical silence disturbed only by the quiet sound from the distant fluttering of flags and the occasional creaking of prayer wheels. No one knew that the road to Padum town would be in such a terrible state, and that a 260 km long stretch would take us 16 hours to drive. Shaking the soul out of our bodies and far exceeding the drive on the D1 Highway from Prague to Brno. Some parts resembled a riverbed rather than a first-class road. At night we arrived in Padum, the capital of the sub district of Zanskar. After a day of relaxing, the students get up at daybreak, having fully recovered their strength again. They get going to fulfill their commitments to the D of E program, a challenging four-day expedition. Within the framework of this expedition, they undertake a trek trough the valley of the Zanskar River, the team is left to fend for themselves with their own resources. In the role of the D of E expedition assessor, I meet the group every day and I talk to them about their day program. It’s beautiful to see how the students are developing right before your eyes! Apart from the omnipresent dust and dirt adhering to their faces and clothing, they more and more resemble the local population. With the change of attitude, their personality manifests an increasing self-confidence and the adaptability to both their surroundings and their own discomfort are the most significant changes. After four days we officially end the students challenging expedition and we head back together in the back of a truck, to Padum which is located 30 km away.
A raging river and makeshift bridges
In the meantime, the group together with Honza, moved to the start of our next trek where the locals are already waiting for us at a camp located near the village of Emmu. From there we will set forth to Darcha, crossing through the 5100 m high Shingo La saddle. Honza puts away his wheelchair and his legs are “replaced” by a horse, for now. There we meet with our local horse-keepers. The first news from them was not very pleasant for our team because last year there was a major flood that destroyed most of the roads and bridges. There are now stretched makeshift suspension bridges, which neither a horse nor Honza will cross. In addition, the new roads that have been built on the steep-slopes of the riverbed, are well suited for horses carrying a load, but they are very risky for horses with a rider. So we agree, we will go to explore the terrain and find out what is the actual situation. Information provided by the locals differs according to the time of day and depending on the mood of the questioned persons. We descend toward the river and prepare to overcome the first major obstacle of our journey.
The suspension bridge is made of steel ropes and the base of the bridge is composed of loose laid batons and larger stones. Under this suspension bridge is rushing the 50 m wide Zanskar River which has an extremely high level of water after previous rains. There is quite a rickety-bridge and the downfall from it into the raging river only means one thing… We take out ropes and climbing equipment and we affix a belay rope under the bridge. Within twenty minutes, using a simple pulley tackle, we have ready the support for our test of our determination. The first individuals of the team cross to the other side. The river rises and drops from the rapids and splash as if they are trying to reach us on the footbridge. Finally, we all reach safety on the other side. Here, the horse-keepers load up the horses with our baggage and together we are going to the camp situated 15 km away in Yal. We walk through steep slopes and rocky canyons at an altitude about 40m above the river. The walkway crumbles beneath our feet, and stones are rolling down into the empty void below with a loud noise. With each step forward, we realize that the horse-keepers are right and this road is more like “Russian roulette” for Honza on horseback. We discuss this fact in the camp with the whole team that night. We voted and the result clearly and strongly indicated that the name of our team “No Limits” doesn’t mean that we don’t respect the limits! Honza and other adventures would like to reach Shingo La, so we finally choose the option that they will drive across to the other side of the mountain by car and we will meet them from the opposite direction, in Shingo La.
Over the saddle and through the fords
The students set off on the trip and plan to stop in Kargyak in the local “Sun School”, a project of Czech volunteers. With increasing altitude and a decreasing distance from Shingo La, some of us are more and more slowing down and our breathing is getting shorter. After five days of the journey, we reached Shingo La saddle. The euphoria and joy that accompanied this success is a little reduced by the feeling that we are not complete. We then descend to the other side of Shingo La Mountain, and we arrive at the designated point at the exact time when Honza and his accompanists arrive.
At 9 a.m. the following day, we prepare the horse and we do the test drives with our own, hypo-therapy equipment that we had brought with us. Honza is contentedly nodding from the back of a horse. Yeah, that works! We then set off uphill! The valley that we are walking through is gradually opening with increasing altitude. It gives us the view of moonscapes with eternal snow and inhospitable rugged mountain peaks. At 5000 m above sea level, the river is crossing our road, and due to the night rain, a stream had just flooded in this area and we are forced to overcome a swollen bursting stream. Honza, on the horseback, doesn’t even notice the raging water but the rest of the team feel it strongly Especially Lenka, who because of slipping on a stone, falls into the water and is completely wet through. We immediately take out spare pieces of clothing from our backpacks. The air temperature at this altitude is close to zero, and the ice-cold wind further reduces the temperature. We help her overcome this inconvenience and we continue together as a team, to conquer the last dozen or so meters to our peak! In front of us have appeared several stupas, made from rocks and festooned with plenty of Tibetan prayer flags. With a sense of sadness, happiness and joy, and on the verge of tears, we reach the highest point. An altitude of 5100 m above sea level appears on our watches. I’m observing Honza, he has an excellent view of the surrounding beauty from the back of the horse. Quietly and with happiness, he fully experiences this moment as if he’s trying to remember every piece of stone, every contour of the rocks, each cloud in the sky. In silence and with humility, we are surveying the surroundings and are experiencing this very special moment. Our eyes meet, Honza and all of us feel, we do not even have to speak. “It was worth it “reverberates in our heads”!
We come back into Léh, from where the plane will take us back home in a few days. After three weeks of wandering through these inhospitable landscapes, everyone felt physical fatigue. These moments awakened our sense of belonging, our sense of connection and a sense of gratitude. It changed completely our perception of values and showed us a new view of the world around us. These lessons and experiences are difficult to portray verbally, they must be experienced! That is why each of the participants that you ask “what did this trip gave you” takes a deep breath, smiles and has a sip of tea. Do not expect a different answer…