A Himalayan Trade Route and a Glacier

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A Himalayan Trade Route and a Glacier

Michael Kleinwort, kora founder

We are flanked by towers of rock and set upon by a raging sun. The team scrambles over boulders - better to avoid the crevasses that lurk beneath, and the shale that otherwise torments every step. From below comes the sound of a rushing torrent. It offers strange comfort as the sweat pours off us, soaking our clothes and the packs we shoulder. We suck in more hot air and lean in.

This monolith - the Basigiri Glacier - has dragged and gouged its way through 28 kilometres of these heights: this valley and these mountains belong to it. We are reminded of this with each groan and shudder that erupts from below; each crack and rumble of the hillsides around us. For their part, the mountains have paid in kind - entire flanks of rock lie atop the glacier's back, the moraine so thick that its silvery scales are seldom visible.

The Basagiri glacier in Chandra Valley. At 28kms long, it is the second longest glacier in the Eastern Himalayas.

Our journey begins here. It is no place for humans nor animals; today it is a cauldron made of stone and ice, a world of gigantic proportions and unfathomable forces. One wonders why any person would choose to venture over such treacherous terrain, but, incredibly, this was once a trade route. It was one corridor on the way to the markets of Spiti Valley, on the edge of Tibet's remote Western plateau, the Changtang. At appointed times of the year, the Changpas, the nomads of that remote region, were known to appear over the passes. They came to barter their wool and butter for wheat and barley and other essentials. The wool of the pashmina goat in particular was - and still is - highly prized by traders. 

Peaks and smaller glaciers rise above on all sides. 

Now it is only mountaineers that tread warily on the moraine in search of summits. We pass a group of young, Indian mountaineers. All are elated and happy. Later we meet a breathless Italian. His eyes tell the story, and his pace. He is withered - from altitude, exhaustion, and heat. Everything is “terrible, just terrible”. Suresh and the team laugh. We must push on.

Exploring the glacier on Day 3.

I am here to accompany Jeff - explorer, friend and lately kora ambassador on his latest exploration of the ancient himalayan trade routes: his life’s passion and his obsession.

The salt marks on Jeff's kora base layer show  the effort in the heat. We will be wearing and hammering them for the duration of the expedition.

The core team that will undertake this month-long journey is together. There is Kharma, our genius cook; Kaku our do-it-all man and apprentice guide, and for this section , Suresh is our mountaineer guide. More on them in due course.

For this leg of the journey, we are supported by a team of  Nepali porters endowed with unnatural strength and generous smiles. They climbed and descended the glacier with phenomenal speed and grit.

Nepali porters ascend the glacier. They were indomitable.  

Ultimately, my aim is to assess the possibility of purchasing yak wool from the nomadic communities found here. However, I am personally excited to explore this region and learn about their culture and way of life. In particular, I wish to see how they are adapting to the changing world and environment around them. Are there lessons that the nomads of the East can learn?