Mt. Stok Kangri Expedition


Day 2 | Leh | Ancient Joyride
The second day on the trip was the most relaxed one of the forthcoming times. I slept well & woke up to the bright sunshine gazing upon the curious city. The Stok Kangri summit peeping from behind the haze looked spellbinding & for sure was enough for some morning motivation. Shankar prepared a delightful coffee that did the trick. I was up & running in no time, ready to wander in-n-around the humble streets.

I received a call from our trek lead, Sandeep Kumar from Bikat Adventures that they have arrived in Leh & were on their way to the guest house booked by the company. I checked out, inquired about the new place & started walking with my rucksack loaded on back. It was fun strolling with a pack in the local streets, with everyone giving you a friendly respectful gaze. I greeted multiple folks on the go with a smile-assisted “Juley” & reached the guest house within half an hour.

It was the first time I met Sandeep, the young & energetic trek lead. It was wonderful him & the rest of the pack. We mingled, shared our stories that led us there & our aspirations from the expedition. With the like-minded folks around me, I felt cared for & most importantly, at home. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast. I settled in & took a brief nap while some from the group headed for Khardung La sightseeing & others went into the city market. I stayed back to absorb the Himalayan air a little more before heading out for a stroll on a rented mountain bike.

Gotta say, riding a bike on those mildly crowded yet entrancing roads was one of the best experiences so far. One could find hawkers by the roadside selling Himalayan apple & other exotic fruits, and then there were countless Chinese & Tibetan cuisine stalls. The sun was bearable for quite a while & I wandered around the airport road for some time. But by late noon, it started to get a little unpleasant, for I was wearing two layers of clothing given the chilly morning air. I settled in at a nearby café & gulped down a glass of fresh juice while I removed the woolen fleece I was hauling over a regular cotton tee.

I had a light lunch at 3 pm & returned the bike to the vendor at the market. From then on, I was on-foot, clicking my way through the busy roads on that warm Himalayan afternoon. I climbed up the hill to reach the Leh Palace, porched flamboyantly on top of the ridge. One has to negotiate innumerable turns & stairs to reach the gateway to the palace. Once there, the splendid wings of the solitude open up. The palace eyes at the city from quite a height & one gets a clear view of the crowded construction of the Leh household.

Built by Tsewang Namgyal and completed by Sengge Namgyal, both from the Namgyal dynasty of Ladakh, the Leh Palace was the former Royal Palace of Ladakh. The sorted attraction boasts the medieval Tibetan architecture & is a popular hit among tourists. The view from the numerous balconies is overly picturesque. Towards the back, the self-effacing view of Shanti Stupa resting peacefully on the hilltop makes up for a tranquil scenery. And out front, the 270-degree view of the valley encompasses the true beauty of the Leh region. Here are some clicks from the majestic building:

Needless to mention, my true reason for this trip, the mighty Stok Kangri summit was clearly visible in the distance from there.

I stayed there till the sun started dipping behind the dark mountain peaks upfront. It was 5:30 pm & they started vacating the place. I bought some essentials like protein bars, sunscreen & a couple of Red Bull cans for the journey ahead. It was the last time we’d get to shop for the trek, since the next morning, we were heading for the extensive walk up the mountain. We got together for the last supper & turned in pretty early to be ready for the mammoth of a journey ahead.

Getting up close with the city life had a humbling effect on my senses. Out there in the middle of nowhere, the Ladakhi locals have a fulfilling lifestyle. Though the city receives an enormous number of obnoxious tourists every year, the age-old memories of the secluded valley still walk the soil. And if you’d like to experience this first-hand, I suggest you visit the old-fashioned valley & see for yourself.

Take care,

Rahul Arora


Day 3 | Leh – Stok Village – Chang Ma | The First Step
The most awaited day arrived when a pack of adventurers was to take the first step towards the biggest celebration of their lives. For me, it was the start of a transformation that’d stay with my whole life through. The morning was filled with enthusiasm & the will to conquer our fears. I was pumped & ready to go.

Sandeep called out for us after the light breakfast while we packed our stuff & got ready to leave for the journey. As we stepped out of the guest house, a mini truck was waiting for us to hop on & it’d take us to the Stok village (where the trek started. The rest of the trekking staff was waiting for us at the starting point in Stok village, making necessary arrangements to ensure safety & comfort during the trek.

We boarded the rusty vehicle & made our way to the starting line. The road towards the Stok village is like a scene out of an old-fashioned war movie with barren lands running in parallel while the snow-capped peaks stare you from distance. I had dibs on the front seat next to the driver & that allowed me to click some clear photographs en route the destination.

Stok village (11,550 ft) is roughly 15 km out of the city of Leh & we were there in a little over half an hour. We met the cook, the helpers, the hoarders & the assistant trek leader at the rendezvous point. After a precise briefing from the trek leaders & a group photograph, we set off for the trek we’d desperately waited for.

The trek in the mildly green farmlands of Stok village goes primarily through a series of ups-n-downs with occasional river stream crossings. It was pretty light for the first hour to walk on the gravel-ridden pathways that negotiated around the rocky patches that lay around us. The cliffs encompassing the narrow path to Chang Ma (our destination for the day), were eroded through successions of washouts & were astonishingly attractive to look at.

Soon after the flatlands, the scenery opened up & our paths climbed up the hills, all driven to take a toll on our energy levels. It was noon already & the sun was on its prime. The group made its way through the muddy yet steep tracks to reach the top of the cliff from where we got the first view of the Leh city, far in the distant space. We decided to take a halt while everyone caught up to the point & eased out. At that point, I realized we were away from civilization into the depths of nature. It is then when I realized I had let go & now everything ahead of me, was to be dealt in person. I felt a calming relief in the lap of nature, sitting atop the cliff, riding us into the cracks of the rocky terrain ahead of us. I felt delighted & had a faint smile on my face. While sweat rolled down my face, I cherished the efforts I had put in being there. It was a long road ahead, but I was unpretentious. I was already home.

We got down from the cliff on our way to the pebble-ridden patch of the trek that leads to the Chang Ma campsite. Each one of us captured the aura in our lenses & some got captured too.

Seeping through the wild bushes & the rocky soils, we saw the Chang Ma campsite in the distance. It was 03:30 pm when I along with Sandeep & couple of other trekkers made it to the campsite. Soon after, others joined & celebrations began. We were happy to reach our first milestone & congratulated one another.

Chang Ma (12,950 ft) is a secluded campsite, situated 5.5 km from the Stok village. The level of ascent during the walk was moderate & we’d gain a little over 1000 feet in altitude. It’s noteworthy that in the Himalayas, an altitude gain comes with its own repercussions. One must comply with safety procedures, take good care of themselves & inform fellow trekkers if they feel uneasy or nauseous. I, on the other hand, went a little hasty & drank half a bottle of water upon reaching the Chang Ma campsite.

Now drinking water is advised to maintain body water-balance. However, you’ve got to give your body time to adjust to the thin air when you gain altitude. As a result, I felt upset & after a couple of uneasy minutes spent roaming around the campsite, vomited rigorously. It’s pretty common at such heights; had to learn the hard way. Sandeep suggested me to mix some Electral (containing rehydration salts)with water to avoid dehydration & bring balance. Moments passed & I felt better. And that’s when I could mix up with the group & experience the joy.

The Chang Ma campsite is located right at the bottom of some pretty high cliffs with a river stream towards the back & wide-open barren land in the perspective. We climbed one of the steep patches for acclimatization in the evening. If my wristwatch’s altimeter served me right, we were at 14,300 ft when we reached a rendezvous point on the cliff from where everything we left behind looked tiny. The view was breath-taking from there & it felt proud to have come across this high with no technical help. The steep climb was mostly through the loose gravel resting on the slopes, waiting to slide down any moment. I along with a couple of other trekkers reached last, while others accompanied by Sandeep made it well in time. But since it’s not a race, I took my humble time to familiarize myself with the challenges of an unassisted climb.

Once there, we talked about our journey so far & previous treks in the Himalayas. Teo & David (both from Romania) shared their experiences from their native expeditions. It was dusky & light fell pretty quickly. Sandeep instructed us to get down from the cliff & safely trek down the slopes. On the way, he showed me how to make use of the grooves under the trekking shoes to avoid slipping on almost any surface. It was thoroughly helpful, I slipped only twice!

We got down to the campsite, took some easy breaths & pitched our tents. I learned how to pitch a tent on a rocky surface. Sandeep knows his game well; so, he stepped aside & he let us pitch our own tents. Some of us collected wood for lighting the campfire while others tried reception on their cellphones. Surprisingly, my Airtel postpaid still caught reception & I made that one awaited phone call back home. We enjoyed the lovely dinner prepared by our staff & danced to some awesome Punjabi music. Being the only one from the Punjabi community in the group, I didn’t shy away from throwing some flamboyant moves & taught my Romanian friends a couple of ‘em too.

It was a day well spent with lots of lessons, a plethora of thin air, some great jokes & immense satisfaction. There is so much to learn from nature. Each one of us had something to contribute to the other person’s story & somehow, it made it better. The group was happy to be together on this adventure & pumped up for the challenge ahead. The night sheltered us from above while our hearts ached for more. In the dark colors of the cold Himalayan night, we dozed off only to meet another enthralling day ahead of us.

And the fire lives on,

Rahul Arora


Day 4 | Chang Ma – Mankorma | Into The Depths
By the day, we were matured in our minds. We knew what lay ahead of us & what have we left behind. The recognition of accomplishment stayed with us while we meditated along with some captivating morning Yoga at the Chang Ma campsite. Thanks to Vyshnavie for conducting the insightful & necessary Yoga session.

Soon after the breakfast, we packed our stuff & left for the next milestone, Mankorma campsite. The rocky terrain followed us all through the trail but the spectacular rocks along the way carved into the faces of the peaks around us kept the shutterbugs busy & our souls, content. An hour later, we reached a rendezvous point up the hill where we halted for some time & appreciated the beauty around us. Sandeep guided us with the history of the trekking fraternity in the region & informed us of what we could expect further down the trail.

We continued on the ridden path down the trail, crossed some feeble river streams but couldn’t get enough of the barren yet wonderous sight that accompanied us. I clicked with whatever lens I could get my hands on quickly.

Along the way, I had a deepening conversation with Teo. We were crossing a rocky patch & came to a resting point where he asked me “So Rahul, why are you here? Why do you want to reach the summit?”. I felt humbled by the question since I love to talk about my passions & am often get emotional. While others walked past us, we stayed & talked. I answered, “I’m here coz I don’t want to be the guy who didn’t climb the mountain just coz he wasn’t cut for it, for the rest of his life”. I told him that being there was not a result of some strength I had that I was going to put to trial. My mere existence on the trek was to put my weaknesses to test & see if I could be further broken. It was to see if I could move on if I fell & hurt myself. Most importantly, I was there to prove to my own self, that an average person like me with an average physical enigma & tremendous love for mountains, can scale a mammoth height. This was both experiential as well as a spiritual endeavor for me.

Teo smiled & gave me a fist-punch. He mentioned he was there to discover what he’s capable of becoming apart from a regular office-goer. He was looking for a meaning, set apart from what we’re usually told. And for that, he left his job & traveled. Respect! We shared some friendly laughs & continued on our way.

We were the last ones to reach the Mankorma campsite (15,100 ft). Others had settled in & were enjoying tea & snacks. Without further ado, I hopped on some snacks too. Sandeep asked us to get some lunch & prepare for the acclimatization walk. The first you’d notice at the Mankorma campsite is that you’re closing in on the Stok Kangri. The summit peaks from behind the multiple cliffs & one get a sneak peak of the summit. That surely kept us going.

I asked Sandeep, “Where are we going for the acclimatization walk?” He pointed at a steep rocky slide next to our campsite & said “You see that! We’re going on top of it.” I responded in awe, “Terrific!”. We left for the walk soon after we had lunch & this time, Sandeep carried some equipment to acquaint us with some safety procedure to be followed while trekking on greater heights.

We headed out for the acclimatization walk, so far, the toughest evening walk on the trek. The cliff stood tall in front of us & we started right at the bottom of the rock. The task looked gigantic but so was the endeavor we signed up for. The trail uphill was rocky with some loose grits accompanied with some mild barren flora. It was not a convenient track to acclimatize, but more to test your mettle with the mountain. We somehow made it to the roof of the cliff & it took us close to 45 minutes to brave the unfriendly stretches. Some of us summited the wrong end of the cliff & had to trek sideways, parallel to the ground to reach us. Sandeep kept a close eye on them & talked them through the trail.

Once we were there, we took a couple of minutes to catch our breath while Sandeep prepared the equipment for his presentation. We learned about roping up with fellow trekkers, different kinds of knots to secure the harness & how to negotiate tough turns & heights when trekking in groups. It was an astute session; given that we were in one of the most unfitting environments, some safety guidelines could save a life. We spent an hour on top before we descended down carefully through the steep terrain. Some of us had minor bruises on wrist & palm coz of the rough trail we’d ascend on earlier.

The day started out smooth with some deepening thoughts & easy ascent throughout, but the acclimatization walks really left everyone at bay. The energy levels were shallow, so without further delay, we hopped on to some delicious dinner & turned in for the night.

Next day, we were to leave for the epitome of our journey, the base camp. Things were going to get serious now & we couldn’t wait to be there. Howsoever seamless the journey had been so far; the game took unexpected turns as the day of light woke us up.

See you on the next page,

Rahul Arora


Super User
Beautiful write-up. Feels like I am there with you on this journey :)

Those sharp looking rocky formations looks amazing..