I’m always amazed at how backpacker towns all seem the same — and Manali is what you could describe as a “destination backpacker town”. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Yangshuo, China; Chalten, Argentina; or Tamarindo, Costa Rica; these places are all about making hippies feel good about themselves for traveling while subtly providing all the comforts of back home (cheap drugs, food that won’t make you sick, and the ability to check your email every ten feet). Anyways, it took only a day in Manali to buy food, arrange a cook, (Maybe the only fortunate legacy from India’s two centuries of colonial rule is that most Indians speak at least a little English) and then we were off again. This time it was a 10 hour drive over the Rhotang Pass and down into the Lahul Valley: basically a ten hour, 4x4 mission in a jeep to reach Tingrit.
The Miyar Valley is definitely off the beaten track. Over the past ten years, Italian, Spanish, and Slovenian climbers have visited the area, but only at the rate of one or two expeditions a year. Nobody in Tingrit has even thought to open up a tea house yet, so we camped on the lawn of the local grade school. Farming is the main source of income in the Miyar – particularly a wonderfully fat strain of green peas that are cultivated in terraced gardens, then harvested and sold all over India. Higher up, the valley is used as grazing lands for thousands of goat, sheep, and cattle.
Other than acclimatizing by smoking beedie cigarettes with our porters, my main occupation during the approach hike to basecamp was restraining Mr. Sharratt from breaking his ankles on the many appealing bouldering problems we passed along the way. (Recall that the goal of expeditioning is to get to basecamp in good health.) Dave’s nickname is “the Monster”, and for good reason: the guy craves hard rock climbing the way the rest of us need beer and oxygen to survive. On the map the British had made of the approach, one spot about a day below basecamp was clearly labeled “massive blocks”. Dave was first out of camp that morning, racing up valley towards the mysterious boulders. By mid-afternoon we had reached the blocks – an impressive boulder field that tumbled across a well grazed flat field from a hillside to the east. Dave ran around like a kid in a candy store, while I issued strong warnings not screw up the whole trip with a twisted ankle. So, I did my best to protect him by providing a spot.
Beware of the shepherds.... these guys know how to party.Photo by Freddie Wilkinson.
So it was that we had our first encounter with the infamous shepherds, while Pat and I were laying on the grass drying our socks and watching the "Monster" boulder. Three scrappy looking fellows approached us, carry several water jugs and towing a goat on a leash. What to do – should we hide our gear, run for cover, pretend to be asleep? Pat and I tried to play it cool as they sat down next to us and offered us a sketchy looking drink as a gesture of friendship. “Be careful Freddie”, Pat whispered between his teeth. “These guys aren’t just crafty, they’re cunning.”
I’m still not sure what happened next, but within fifteen minutes one of them had appropriated Dave’s MP3 player, I had given another my two lighters and a pen, we were officially made blood brothers to the shepherds – and we were all smashed.
Luckily we made it to basecamp the next day, a bit tired and hung-over, but having nevertheless succeeded in the first goal of expedition climbing.
Whiteout storms, splitter cracks and virgin Himlayan summits – stay tuned for it all in Freddie’s Problog 5.