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Steve Berry Returns from Kashmir

By Steve Berry in Walking and Trekking, The Himalaya - 10th September 2014

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In the footsteps of my father

When I was a young boy I used to hear all my father's stories of his expedition to try and make the first ascent of Mount Nun in Kashmir. How as young army officers of the Raj, he and two friends had travelled from Delhi to Srinagar where local dignitaries had loaned them a lorry to get to the road-head, which in 1946 was at Sonamarg. Of how three Sherpas had been employed to join them from Darjeeling, and how they had trekked all the way in over the Zoji La and the Barmi La to the Suru valley. The story was that they followed the route the Bullock-Workmans had used, and they had set about trying to climb the east ridge of Mount Nun. They climbed the subsidiary peak, White Needle Peak, but the main summit had eluded them. Their high altitude cookers all packed up and they ran out of time. 

The story went on of how they practically ran out of food and so my father had gone hunting a bear that had been seen near their base camp to supplement their dwindling rations. In doing so he came across a remote monastery, Ringdom Gompa, where the people in the village and the monks had never seen a white man before. The Head Lama had given him three presents; a prayer wheel, a mani stone, and a large crystal. They had many adventures and our loft at home held many bits of his old expedition gear. 

As children, my brother and I had often played with these things and pretended to be great explorers. In fact in 1981 he, I and five friends went and finished the job of climbing Nun by the east ridge. It was the third ascent of Nun as the French had made the first ascent in 1953, followed by the Japanese in 1980. Dad often told us how at the end of the expedition they had exited the region on a new route over two passes; the Lonvilad La Pass and the Guli Gully Pass. So, for many years I harboured deep inside me the desire to follow his trekking route from the Srinagar side. In 1981 my expedition had approached the mountain from Leh and had driven to the Suru valley.

Sadly, the original route he and his friends took is now a road!! And therefore I hatched the plan of reversing the route he had taken out. And so it came to pass. I, my friend Dr. Stuart Martin, and my old friend Akshay Kumar, trekked from Phalgam to Panikar firstly following the Yatra route that leads to the famous Amanarth cave, but then diverging from the pilgrim route over the Guli Gully Pass and on over the Lonvilad Pass. I can only tell you we had a few old sketchy maps, and relied on these and local knowledge picked up along the way. Luckily our head horse man had been that way before, but he could not remember the names of the passes. So it was a real adventure every day not knowing quite whether we were going to find the route of not. I can also tell you that the route is incredibly beautiful. Far more impressive than I ever imagined it would be, and added to that we met very many semi-nomadic people along the way. 

Of course the hardest pass came at the end of the trek and was a real challenge, taking us nearly twelve hours camp to camp (having become lost on the glacier for two hours before we found our way again). I was amazed at the scale of my Dad's journey because his trek in and trek out, including his side trip to Ringdom Gompa, was a huge distance. It was simply wonderful to have repeated his journey and to have seen where he had been in his hob nailed boots.

If you would like to trek in this stunningly remote part of the world, then our Wild Zanskar Trek takes you close to Mount Nun and Ringdom Gompa in wild and mystical Zanskar - in the heart of the Indian Himalaya.

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