JoLt 2006 Expedition Diary
Saturday 5th August – Day 29
Our last day in India was spent using up the last of our rupees. We started in Connaught Circus was like a Sunday market and where there were lots of bargains to be had. We had fun haggling. Our next stop was a modern shopping mall for lunch and more shopping!
Back to our hotel for a quick swim to burn off a bit of energy and to cool off, then it was a quick change (and didn’t we all look fantastic!) and on to “India Gate”the memorial to all the servicemen who died in the wars. It was a beautiful Saturday evening and we posed for our final group photos.
Our farewell dinner was at the Taj Palace Hotel, a 5-star hotel where we enjoyed each other’s company in the sheer luxury of the hotel. The food was tasty but the service was slow, so, as a result of this we got back to our hotel rather later than expected. We had hired the ‘banqueting suite’ for our end of expedition concert. This was huge fun and we shared lots of laughs and memories through songs and mimes! The jolters gave Pawan, our guide, a gift of thanks for being with us throughout India and for being such a great guide.
As part of the concert the leaders gave out awards to each individual amid many cheers and laughter. The awards were:
Camel Award for Extreme Sand Dune Ascent – Matthew Anderson
The Limb ball Bounce-Back Ability Award for Determination – Robert Atkinson
Land Rover Martini Award for Anytime/Anyplace/Anywhere – Tom Bartley
Tenzing Sherpa Award for Excellence in Trekking – Ami Bhakta
Humorous Limb Award for Scaring the Most Airport Staff with her False Leg – Philippa Cole
Duracell Award for Trekking On and On and On – Gary Cullen
Jamie Oliver Award for Most Adventurous Food Tasting – Cat Eagle
VSO Award for Always Volunteering to Help Others – Jenny Fenemer
Varanasi Pilgrimage Award for Calmness Under Pressure – Emma-Kay Garside
Surf and Turf Award for Trekking and Swimming – Pamela Greenwood
Howzat Award for Bowling Excellence – Josh Hardman
Thiery Henri Award for Bhutanese Football – Joe Harker
Wet Wallet Award for White Water Rafting and Enthusiasm – Christopher Jeeves
Ranulph Fiennes Award for Breaking New ground and Overcoming Fears – Joanne Jones
Pied Piper Award for Working with Local Children – Nicholas Keys
Robin Hood Award for Archery – Charlotte Kuegler
Bullseye Award for Dart Excellence – Brennan Magee
David Seaman Award for Goalkeeping Excellence – Michael Mitchell
Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff Cricket Award for Building Bridges Through Sport – Sean Carter
X-Factor Award for Building Bridges Through Dance and Music – Angelina Hanlon
Iron Bru Award for Bridge Jumping – Lisa Parry
Nubra Valley Humour Award for Most Arid Comments – Chad Perkins
The Tigger Award for Boundless Energy and Bouncy Hair – Solomon Scott
007 Award for British High Commission Sartorial Elegance – James Shaw
A very late ending to the evening and doubting much jolters are going to sleep tonight as tears have started to fall. and we have a 4am start in the morning to get to Delhi airport for our final flight – destination – home!
Friday 4th August – Day 28
Morning brought another challenge, the need to ascend almost eighty steps, with two of our number in wheelchairs, to attend a Puja ceremony in a prayer Up at crack of dawn today – 4am to make our way to Paro for the flight back to Delhi. The flight was longer this time because we made a landing at Nepal’s Kathmandu Airport to drop off and pick up more passengers, so we can now say that we have been to Nepal! This is where Mount Everest and other peaks are but unfortunately although we were flying over the scenic and famous parts, we could see very little with lots of clouds and mist. We may have seen some mountain peaks peeping through the clouds but we could not identify them.
We discovered today that when sharing a room with Solomon, Chad, not being familiar with the black American / Afro culture decided on tasting Coco butter formula (body cream), not realising that is wasn’t food! He didn’t realise his error until Solomon after finding out about this explained to him. Chad quite strangely insisted that it was nice! (Perhaps everybody should try it!)
When we eventually arrived at Ashok Country Resort which is situated on the outskirts of Delhi, we made for the swimming pool to cool down in the heat and humidity of Delhi after the very warm dry air of Bhutan.
It was a quick change and back into the coach within half an hour for the visit to the British High Commission. Everybody was so beautifully and smartly dressed, the boys with their new suits, jackets and shirts made by the tailor delivered this afternoon along with the girls and their new saris and churidar. The people there was so friendly and the group sang “Am a Believer: and “Journey of a Lifetime” (the song that was composed earlier on in the trip by Angelina, Charlotte, Phil and Olivia)
Thursday 3rd August – Day 27
This morning we went to find out what it is like to be a Bhutanese farmer. We walked a couple of miles to a farm and then went straight to work! We were split into four groups: thinning the maize field; collecting and stacking firewood; butter making and weeding the maize field. The maize plants had to be about a foot apart from each other and any that were closer had to be removed. The maize that was removed was collected and fed to the cows.
The Jolters were interested in the butter and cheese making – fresh milk collected this morning was placed in a large tall cylindrical wooden container, the butter churn, and a large plunger had to be moved up and down to separate the butter from the whey. When the butter was ready, boiling water was added to the whey to make cheese.
One group weeded out marijuana plants from the maize field – but these were not the type of plants that can be made into cannabis! This kind of marijuana is used to make hemp.
After our break of butter tea and butter rice we went round the farmhouse and listened to how the farming family lived in this beautiful, traditional Bhutanese four-storey farmhouse. The ground floor was reserved for the animals. The family lived on the first floor. The rooms were plain and dark but there was one beautifully coloured, painted room which is used as a prayer room, with its shrine along one wall – this family are Buddhists.
In the afternoon we went to visit Rimpong School, situated next to the main Dzong (fort-monastery). It is a primary school, for children aged between 6 and 12 and there are 545 pupils in the school. We split into four groups to join the last lesson of the day. All lessons are taught in English. The children were delightful and we were made to feel very much at home. Before long we were busy singing with the children who were also eager to get our autographs and addresses. Afterwards in the school’s playing field we made a presentation of gifts and sports equipment to the Headmistress. This was followed by various activities: football, volleyball and singing ‘Hokey Cokey’! The football ended 3-3 mainly through the heroic efforts of our goalkeeper, Michael.
Whilst playing football Nick told some children that his name was Ronaldinho (the famous Brazilian and world’s best footballer – because he probably looks like him) and when we made to leave the school they started shouting ‘Bye Ronaldinho’!
The visit to the school was a huge success and great fun. It was difficult to get away! There were a lot of goodbyes from the children which continued as we drove through Paro.
To round off the day we all played Bhutanese darts with huge darts. For many this continued for some time afterwards!
Wednesday 2nd August – Day 26
A drive up to a point high above the Takin (a Bhutanese animal) Reserve where we had an excellent view of Thimpu was followed by a visit to a Cultural Arts School where everybody was due to have had an hands-on experience of Bhutanese traditional skills of painting, sculpture, slate carving and woodwork, but unfortunately very little if anything was organised and we finished up watching a few disorganised classes. A great disappointment only made slightly better by a visit to the School’s shop of arts and crafts.
On our way back to Paro, we had a picnic lunch of pizzas, which was gobbled up with gusto!
Upon arrival at Kichu Resort we walked for half an hour to where archers were waiting to give us a display of their skills and to give us lessons on archery. Despite the threat of thundering rain stopping play, we all enjoyed archery as we strived to aim for the bullseye! Jenny, with all her might, shot the arrow so far that the arrow could not be retrieved, she should have joined the professionals!
Tuesday 1st August – Day 25
An early morning trek took the group high up a steep track to get views of Taksang Monastery – this was to be our most challenging trek as we would be climbing constantly. Horses aided the most disabled but on our way down, we would be on our own as the path was too steep for horses to bring people down safely. Eventually after 2 hours we reached our destination – a café with magnificent views especially of the monastery perched high up on the cliff’s edge and where puffing jolters took a rest and had refreshments before tackling the descent. The main challenge was to make sure that we did not lose control of Matt and Tom’s wheelchairs on the way down! The sun was searingly hot by now and many jolters stopped to dunk their heads in a cold mountain stream to cool down.
When we finally reached the tarmaced road at the base of our descent, Tom (Coulthard) sped past us all in his speedy wheelchair but finished with ‘friction-burns’ on his hands – the thrill was worth it! Phil celebrated the end of her last trek and walked valiantly to the end – she hates trekking! Cat excelled herself in the trekking and also resisted the temptation to collect up all the stray dogs in Bhutan to take home!
In the afternoon we had a 3 hour drive to Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. The road to Thimpu was very windy as the jolters in two mini-coaches continuously swayed from side to side as one bend was followed by another bend! En-route we stopped at Paro for a quick shop and many of the girls bought Bhutanese women’s colourful traditional costumes.
Before supper we had a performance of local dancing and singing. At the end we all joined in the farewell dance with Jolters dancing along with their usual enthusiasm, especially when the beat got faster and faster!
For the first time on the trip we had roast beef, fried pork and copious amount of chips were cooked for us – the jolters went up for so many helpings that we lost count!
Sunday 30th July – Day 23
We had a wonderful lie in today, getting up at 8am, much to the delight of Jolters!
We started the morning with swimming at Claridges Hotel. A real treat. It was a gloriously sunny day. We swam and jumped in the outdoor pool which is naturally heated by the sun.
Matt, Pamela, Joanne and Angelina took enormous strides in improving their swimming ability and we can now say all the Jolt 2006 team can now swim!
In the afternoon we went to Delli Haat market where we haggled and bought lots of Indian goods to take back home, such as colourful bags, cloth and jewellery. Some Jolters had henna painting done on their hands, arms and feet. We had an exhilarating ride back to YMCA in Tuk-tuks (Motor-cycle cabs).
An easy day today.
Saturday 29th July – Day 22
Today was Jenny’s birthday – 17 years old as the train arrived at Delhi.
After breakfast at the YMCA and a quick clean up, we went to visit Amar Jyoti school, a charity set up to provide equal opportunities to people with disabilities for their full participation in life so that they can be as equal as the person next to them. The children’s ages ranged from nursery to class 8 (whatever the age is!!) Sports, cultural and vocational activities are part of their curriculum and day-to-day counselling is provided by the social work department. The school also provides medical and therapeutic facilities. The school is next to a hospital which is also part of Amar Jyoti where there are an extensive range of medical services and training. There is also a Child Guidance Centre. It is a big place and it is all funded by donations and grants and it is also very impressive. We were given a fantastic display of acrobatics and dance by the disabled children as a welcome and we then visited the various classrooms where there were children with different disabilities such as deaf, blind, etc. We interacted with the children for a while, asking questions about their school work or even names and with the deaf children, they were signed most excitedly especially with the notion that they could communicate with foreigners! It was interesting to note that their finger-spelling of the alphabet is the same as the British – this may be because of India’s link with Britain in the past. Jolt presented gifts of solar powered calculators.
As a treat we all had a MacDonalds for lunch and occupied nearly the whole of the upstairs section of the restaurant. The staff was friendly and when they knew it was Jenny’s birthday they provided lots of balloons!
We then walked a short distance to the local tailors based on two floors of a shopping mall. There was the initial disappointment with the choice of material for girls’ outfits, so a group went to a big ‘department store’ to buy more colourful material and the choice was overwhelming in various types of silk, cotton, embroidered material, and of course saris! After purchasing material of their choice the jolters then proceeded to the tailors to get their garments made to measure with the excitement of getting things tailor-made. The tailors had less than a week to fulfil their orders. It has been a very hot and humid day and the tailor mall had no air conditioning but the jolters did not grumble and tiredly walked back to the YMCA
As it was Jenny’s birthday the girls decided to dress up with their new outfits of saris having purchased them previously. They were absolutely stunning!
Friday 28th July – Day 21
Our last yoga session had an element of fun – we had to do the ‘policeman’s laugh’ as part of yoga, so here was a class of girls giggling and laughing for no apparent reason! There was a display of body ‘contortions’ and some of us were thinking ‘Hope I don’t have to do this!’
Ashish, the owner of Sonapani plants trees every year and as there is a high mortality rate for trees, he replenishes them annually. The Jolt group helped him to plant several trees at various points around the grounds. Our next task was to renew the mud floors in our cottages, using the traditional method of flooring used for centuries, using cow dung, hands and a cloth. Charlotte proved a dream at mud flooring despite the initial scepticism of cow dung as a skin softening agent!
After lunch showers with a bucket and jug were greatly appreciated. A huge water tank sited outside heated up water using firewood and hot water was transported by bucket to individual cottages where there was a ‘wet room’ and the jug was used to pour water over ourselves. No one minded this unusual method of showering as the water was splendidly hot.
Finally, we trekked back to the road, where jeeps were waiting to drive us the 2 ½ hours back to Kathgodam for the overnight train back to Delhi.
Thursday 27th July – Day 20
A yoga session before breakfast to wake us all up was followed by a trek to visit a school in the village. The village is very spread out with several hundreds of metres in between houses and school. The school gave Jolt a warm welcome with children aged ranging between 3 years and 12. Songs were exchanged along with a presentation of sports equipment to the school. A new game was introduced and that was the use of Frisbees! All the children were given time out from lessons to play on the field with Jolters with balls as well as Frisbees. It was a joy to see the wonderful integration between all parties, regardless of age.
After lunch we were introduced to the skill of basket weaving and after a demonstration everybody worked together as a team to make up a few baskets made from twigs.
There was a need to burn up some more energy, so we all played ‘Limb-ball’. Rob took a good few knocks and tackles but always picked himself up and played well.
Tonight’s dinner had a theme of hats and there was to be a competition. Everybody had put in a lot of effort during this afternoon making their hats with whatever resources they could find, without touching the well tended gardens for flowers/plants. Everybody’s work was recognised but special recognition was given to:
Pamela, Gary and Emma-Kay for the simple but most effective hats;
Angelina for the tallest hat;
Tom for the biggest hat;
James for the most original hat;
Ami for her hat walk;
Chris and Jenny for their whole outfits along with their hats and
The “booby prize” was given to Joe for the simple but ineffective hat – he stuck a water jug on his head which might have won a prize had it not kept falling off his head!
The Sonapani staff had laid on a BBQ and a bonfire for our last night and after we had eaten our meal various groups of Jolters sang and chatted around the bonfire till their curfew time.
Wednesday 26th July – Day 19
A yoga session before breakfast got some of us limbered up, ready for a day working on a nearby farm.
We were split into three groups and each group allocated a task: pear picking, cutting grass with scythes and ploughing land with bullocks, each task a new experience for almost all Jolters. Pear picking was fun and we had some jolters up some trees, even Livvy, one of our doctors relished the challenge! Many pears were picked, selected and packed, ready for dispatch to the market/shops. Care had to be taken when cutting the long grass with the scythes and some fingers were cut! The boys thought it was fun looking like warriors! Everybody was keen to try the ploughing with bullocks with a simple wooden attachment and ploughing hook. Sometimes the plough became stuck in the mud which made it harder to work. The ploughed earth then had to be weeded by hand with the help of pick axes. In four hours, we had done two days’ work for the farmers.
Whilst some leaders and jolters were waiting for others to return from the activities, they were treated to a tasty, spicy yet very salty home made spice served with sliced cucumbers!
In small groups we had lunch in some of the villagers’ homes. They had prepared a lovely vegetarian lunch of rice and hot and spicy dahl and we had to eat with our hands! Their culture is to eat with the right hand because the left hand is used for toileting! This was a challenge for many as it was hard trying to pick up sauce covered rice with fingers! Some jolters in separate houses were taught to scoop the rice with their fingers and use the thumb to move the food into the mouth.
On our return to Sonapani we played cricket, the most important game in India. Jolt, some of the Sonapani staff and villagers got together for a game. Sean was the cricketer supreme despite feeling under the weather and Josh not only bowled a maiden over but also bowled out his opposition spectacularly! Chris’s bat flew out of his hand and narrowly missed Lisa! It was an enjoyable game and ended when everybody had a turn to bat and bowl.
Tuesday 25th July – Day 18
We arrived at Kathgodam after an 8 hour over-night train journey and after having breakfast at a restaurant on the side of a busy road, we set off for the three-hour drive up into the foothills of Himalyas to Sonapani, our final destination, where we were to stay for four days.
The convoy of jeeps wound its way up and down the mountains, travelling through lush countryside. Eventually we reached the point where the jeeps could take us no further and we had to complete our journey by foot. We were met by three horses that were there to help carry some of the group. Donkeys and ponies were drafted in to help carry the vas amount of Jolt luggage.
We had the whole of Sonapani village to ourselves, occupying all the ‘cottages’ and getting together for meals and activities up at the central hall. The tracks to each individual cottage were steep at times and slippery – there were no formal steps but rocks strategically placed.
There was a demonstration on making traditional kites and we all made one, using tissue paper, thin pieces of wood and glue. Jolters enjoyed a period of crafting and for some a challenging dextrous half an hour.
There was time for meditation, a taste of yoga and of what was to come. It had been a very long day so we all had an early night.
Monday 24th July – Day 17
A very early start today, getting up at 4.00 am, ready to leave the hotel at 4.30 am to make our way to the sacred Ganges River. This time we were to see the sunrise on the Ganges. After last night where men bathed in the Ganges, the women joined other men bathing in the river in the morning as part of their religious rituals.
We eventually got onto two long country rowing boats after a delay in obtaining life-jackets and set off down the calm and peaceful river which was in stark contrast to the river bank. There were temples along the Ghats of river and the boats covered a good few kilometres. We also passed the burning Ghats which is where dead bodies are burned. Along the way we set free candles and rose petals in floating leaf ‘bowls’. It was a very serene start to the morning.
An hour in our hotel’s swimming pool revived the weary Jolters prior to our flight to Delhi followed by an overnight train for Kathgodam.
As soon as we arrived in Delhi we went straight to Claridges’ for our four course evening meal and it was absolutely scrumptious – right down to the small puddings! Some of us had four helpings of pudding!
So, today we have travelled on boat, plane, coach and train – all modes of travel – sea, land and air!
Sunday 23rd July – Day 16
Lisa’s 18th birthday but not the space to give her the traditional JoLt Birthday breakfast – this would have to wait until we were safely in our hotel.
Although the train was due at Varanasi at 9.30am, we only arrived at about 1.00pm! Fortunately Varanasi was at the end of the line, so we had a little more time to get everyone and our bags off the train.
3 million people live in Varanasi but the population is even higher this month because of a religious festival as pilgrims walk many hundreds of miles from their villages to come to bathe in the Ganges and return by foot carrying Ganges’ water back to their villages.
After a late lunch or was it brunch, we went on to visit a silk factory where elderly men did the most intricate silk brocade. On average they complete 3 cm each day with two men working full time on each loom! The opportunity to go shopping to buy a wide range of silk articles at various prices followed. Many bought beautiful saris for as little as £12 and ordered blouses and skirts to be made.
Our visit to the Mother India Temple preceded another typical Indian experience of pushing our way through crowds to the Ganges to see the daily annual evening prayers called Aarti. We set out first in a convoy of rickshaws but soon the roads became impassable and we had to continue on foot. We pushed our way through the milling, singing masses, trying not to lose each other. We eventually arrived at the banks of the Holy River Ganges where we found an amazingly good spot to watch the beautiful ceremony at sunset.
Saturday 22nd July – Day 15
We rose very early and went by tonga – a type of horse and cart to see the Taj Mahal at dawn. At different times of the day the Taj Mahal gives off a different glow – e.g. at dawn it was to give off a pink hue.
The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan in the 16th Century to commemorate his great love for his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal. They were married for 19 years and she died giving birth to their 17th child! It took 22 years to build and Shah Jahan had planned to build another memorial to himself across the river; however, this mighty Mogul warrior was put under house arrest by one of his sons and he was never able to visit the Taj Mahal again but could see it from his window across the river. Finally, when he died he was entombed next to his wife.
Swimming, more shopping and showers preceded our first experience of an Indian over-night train journey. Our challenge was to get everyone on board the train amongst all the chaos on the train and the platform with our 40 pieces of luggage in 8 minutes as that was all the time the sleeper train would spend at Agra station. The group was fantastic and we did it – just! However we found a group of Scandinavians in one of our compartments and it took sometime to persuade them that they, not us, were in the wrong place! Two Indian gentlemen refused to leave the tiny compartment allocated to Dorothy and Livvy until they had finished their leisurely Indian meal. Even then they refused to move and it took some time and much persuasion before they eventually vacated the compartment. Unused to people moving through the carriage throughout the night and the Indian culture of staring into compartments, a couple of girls felt too scared to sleep for long even though they were in no danger. Others slept soundly.
Friday 21st July – Day 14
Another day of travelling! A six hour drive with an hour-long break for lunch would take us to Agra. As we entered Agra we hit the rush hour – what chaos and noise! Cars, buses, rickshaws, pedestrians, cows, stray dogs, mules and camels competed noisily for space on the road, criss-crossing and hooting incessantly. Yet the traffic seemed to flow and amazingly there were no accidents – perhaps it was because everyone had to travel slowly in the mayhem.
The shoe factory where we hoped to have shoes made for us was a bit of a disappointment. They only did a few old-fashioned styles for the home market. Apart from a little machine stitching, all shoes were hand made. Things looked up when we drove to a shoe shop with a much greater range of shoes at amazingly low prices. Those uninterested in shoes swarmed into the sweet and snack shop next door and replenished the stocks that everyone seemed to have brought from the UK.
Much to our surprise, the hotel laid on a magic show just for us. The most amazing trick was when he poured two differently coloured dry sand into a bucket of water, stirred it, and then managed to remove the sand from the water – it was bone dry and separated into the two colours!
Thursday 20th July – Day 13
We had yet another early start today so that we could catch up on all the missed activities from the day before!
We travelled out of Jaipur to the Amber Fort where elephants would carry us up to the highest ramparts. Everybody loved the elephant rides, rocking back and forth all the way up the steep path – “strengthening our stomach muscles”!
In two groups, we explored the Fort including visiting the Harem. Each year, the King would spend just two months at the fort with his many wives and even more concubines.
Jeeps took us back down the steep track to the foot of the Fort and we headed for the Monkey Temple. It was there we saw a large number of pink bottomed monkeys with their offsprings who looked almost human. Some monkeys tried to grab cameras but generally they left us alone as we were carrying no food. There were also a small number of snake charmers – with drugged cobras in their baskets. Nicholas was the only member of the group willing to hold the cobra!
Lessons in turban tying followed lunch and we all had a go at making our own turbans with yards and yards of material! This was fun as we attempted to create a decent turban.
We struggled through the torrential monsoon rains to visit a textile factory. It was sited in the open with large vats of dye and yards of material drying on the sand. Lessons in, and attempts at, block printing and pottery painting followed before we headed to the factory shop. With prices so low, much was bought – will the new purchases fit in our kitbags?
Wednesday 19th July – Day 12
No grumbling was heard when we all got up at 3.30am – to travel to the airport for our flight to Delhi: what an amazingly good-natured group.
As soon as we had landed at Delhi we were faced with a 5 hour drive which turned to 7 hours drive to Jaipur – the Pink City! Lunch and a tiny bit of shopping in the restaurant shop and the excitement of experiencing a tropical downpour (our first real taste of Monsoons), helped the hours to pass.
Our hotel was a beautiful and unusual traditional building. Some even had four-poster beds! We were treated to a traditional puppet show which involved several members of the group in Indian dancing. However we never quite worked out what a Michael Jackson puppet was doing in a traditional Indian puppet show! Another delicious Indian meal with homemade ice cream and we were ready for bed.
Tuesday 18th July – Day 11
After a good night’s sleep in slightly more comfortable beds (as opposed to the floor!) we set off for the final leg of the trek which we divided into 9 sections with short rests in between.
When we arrived at Wanla we had a special farewell lunch as we would be saying goodbye to our support team of cooks and sherpas. The cooks baked a special ‘end of trek’ cake for us which was delicious. Songs were sung as part of our way of saying ‘thank you’ to the staff who had been with us over the 5 days camping also Jolt’s t-shirts and tips were given out to them to show our gratitude.
Then it was the long drive back to Leh. We were making really good time until we got stuck as the mountain road was closed for one and a half hours for road repairs. The mountain roadside was being resurfaced and until the tarmac went down there were no passing traffic either way! Had we been in Britain there would have been road rage and frustrations of all sorts, but instead Jolters got out of the jeep and danced and sung on the roadside with other tourists joining in! A couple of Jolters disappeared to the back of the queue to converse and play with the children on a school bus. Before we knew it we were moving again.
Our third stay at the Mogol Hotel was a bit like going home as we had got to know the hotel and staff so well.
Monday 17th July – Day 10
Apprehension mixed with excitement as we left the campsite early in the morning after a hearty breakfast to go rafting 3 hours down the Indus River.
After an hour’s drive, and the usual health and safety talks we all boarded onto 4 rafts – 6 Jolters with 2 leaders in each.
The water was freezing cold and soon splashes were directed at each other to ‘acclimatise’ ourselves to getting wet!
The rapids along the Indus River were classified as Grade 2 or 3 so nothing too scary but still great fun as we came out of the rapids soaking wet. We had relaxing intervals in between paddling to admire the towering and serene views of the mountainsides on both sides of the river. The sun was searing down upon us and despite lashes of sun lotion, we could barely protect ourselves when the water kept washing it off us – there were no shade along the way which made it difficult to cover up / cool off a while.
When we came to a ‘clearing’ (peaceful part of the river) some Jolters decided to try out the health & safety aspects of rafting by ‘falling’ into the river from the raft! They sure got a shock as to how freezing it was (11 degrees)! One Jolter unthinkingly decided to join the others and went in the water – with his money belt on! Afterwards when he had realised what had happened – all his money – soggy US Dollars had stuck together!! Lucky for him we managed to dry out his dollars in minutes on a hot flat rock (like an iron)!
After having a refreshment break on a sandy bank we set off rafting again and soon after we came across an old iron bridge where the rafters who knew the Indus River well planted the idea of jumping off the bridge into the Indus River – at something like 5 metres or so! Some of the brave but crazy Jolters (both male and female) decided to give this a go! There were whoops and cheers and encouragements from others down below as those prepared to jump stood tentatively on the bridge’s iron framework who then had to swim against the currents back to the rafts.
An hour later, we spotted our trekking support team – they had prepared a delicious curry lunch for us and had even put up toilet tents and a tent for changing.
After clearing up and drying ourselves we then travelled in our jeeps for several hours arriving at a ‘fixed’ campsite. This was quite luxurious with the bottom half of our ‘tents’ bricked up and the top half canvas – like a fixed trailer tent – and for the first time on the trek, there were hot showers and flushing toilets instead of a hole in the ground.
A surprise for Dorothy was organised – a huge cake to celebrate her 35th Wedding Anniversary. which was shared out amongst the group.
Sunday 16th July – Day 9
We woke up to another five star camp treatment – mugs of tea and bowls of washing water! After breakfast and clearing up we then had a meeting to discuss and agree on how we could improve all aspects of today’s forthcoming trek – walking to Hemis Shukpachen. We decided to break the trek into 7 more manageable chunks with changes of teams at each stage – this way everyone helped everyone and the trek seemed less daunting.
It was a very bright morning which indicated that it was going to be a very hot day with the sun beating down and very little shelter could be offered by the mountains.
Today’s trek was easier – the ground was more levelled out with some gentle inclines and we walked on the road – where there were far less rocks/boulders to manoeuvre, compared to yesterday! We continued to use horses and mules for back up support and we also had the additional support of two jeeps – in which our heavy rucksacks were transported and where a few Jolters could recover a while from the blazing sun. There were absolutely fantastic and colourful views from the top of the mountain and we could see where we were headed down to, which gave us an incentive to keep going. There continued to be superb teamwork all round.
Our teamwork was even better today and everybody despite being tired seemed in high spirits.
After some ‘chilling out’ time, six Jolters volunteered to help the chefs prepare the vegetables for dinner whilst others went for a walk to visit some of the local houses – a once in a lifetime opportunity!
Saturday 15th July – Day 8
We have had an easy few days and now it’s back to Jolt’s mode of early rising! – Wake up 6 am, breakfast 7 am and leave 8 am.
We set off in a different direction from Leh for a very dusty three hour drive, mostly along the bottom of various valleys at different levels and divided by mountains that we had to get over through a series of hairpin bends. The Jolters cheered and waved at the friendly valley people. The views as always were stunning with different coloured, barren mountain faces and lush green patches in the valleys.
Soon we were off the beaten track and out of the jeeps to start our 4 day trek. Once we had organised ourselves we had to cross over a small river that had lost its bridge. This was replaced by a single log with a few boulders on each side. Volunteers went knee-high into the cold water to support the rest of the group over the river.
After a patch of soggy grassland we were then faced with a very long and arduous trek, mostly uphill on a narrow track with boulders and rocks, to our campsite at Yangtang. stopping several times along the way to quench our thirst and packed lunch. The day became brighter and the sun baked us. We had horses and mules for back up support as the trekking route was inaccessible to wheels, including jeeps. After several miles, Tom and Matt got onto the horses and their wheelchairs were tied onto another. There were other horses / mules for those who needed it.
It was a very hard trek to start with – not only we had to cope with the physical aspects of the trek but also the altitude changes – even a short brisk walk could leave a fit person breathless at this altitude! The whole team supported each other throughout the trek in one way or another – by carrying someone else’s rucksack, by holding onto each other etc.
Relief enveloped us all when we arrived at the campsite. It was difficult to be immediately elated at the achievement as everybody was so very tired but it had been an amazing achievement. There was time to chill out and clean up and the sing song before supper lifted our tired but happy spirits. A new song about Jolt was composed and sung beautifully by a small group of girls.
It became very dark and cold after supper so we all retired early to our tents under a beautiful black and starry night.
Friday 14th July – Day 7
After a night of varying amounts of sleep due to snoring and heavy breathing, everyone was up early before seven, thirty minutes before they had to – eager as ever!
After breakfast was finished, we had just enough time for a quick photograph of the school children and jolters before we had to return in our jeeps on our 5 hour journey over the Kardung La pass back to Leh. The reason we had to rush was that traffic goes one way over the pass at a certain time and if we missed our slot we would become stuck on the wrong side of the mountain range! Along the narrow road up and down the pass there were lots of amusing safety signs / adverts helping to keep the driver alert. These included “Love thy neighbour, but not while driving” and “Don’t gossip, let him drive”.
The weather over the pass was so bad, we could not see more than the jeep in front and it was freezing cold at the top. There had clearly been a heavy fall of snow since last we journeyed over these mountains. The drive down the pass, in the snow, was eventful. One of the cars in front got stuck and the passengers had to push the wheel spinning car to get it moving. Thankfully it was not one of the JoLt’s jeeps.
On our return to the Mogol Hotel, our priority was to get the sand out of our hair, ears, noses, clothes – it was every where! The showers went non-stop. A couple of hours of relaxation meant that we had the opportunity of doing some local shopping especially in the Tibetan market, e-mailing and telephoning before dinner and bed.
Thursday 13th July – Day 6
It was mostly a peaceful night apart from the donkeys, dogs and cows making lots of noises throughout the night as they roam freely throughout the valley.
We were woken up in our tents at 7am with mugs of tea also a bowl of warm water each to wash in – an excellent five star service!
A ride in our jeeps through the villages in the surrounding area where we saw how the local people lived was followed by a mad and chaotic dash up some of the sand dunes. Everyone including Matt got to the top in spite of a sandstorm that had suddenly whipped up. Matt crawled his way up, pushing the sand away as he went along. The sandstorm was awfully fierce yet he would not give up, though he had to wear a scarf to cover the whole of his face! When he got to the top there was a roar of applause – worth getting sand in your ears for! Coming down was much easier and Jolters chose various different methods of doing so – tumbling, somersaulting.
The famous, or should we say infamous, Jolt game of ‘Limball’ (where participants use both hands and feet – running with or kicking the ball to score a goal) followed. It was a frenzied but hugely enjoyable introduction to this unusual game.
After lunch we all journeyed back on camels and horses along the river. By the end of the day every jolter had a sore bum and bendy legs from both animals!
Then it was on to Lamdon School where we were to spend the night sleeping on their dining room floor – dormitory style! We had toilet tents set up for our use, whereas the children washed in the river behind the building. After eating our evening meal in their veranda we joined the school children in an exchange of songs and dances. The JoLt singing troupe improve with each performance!
Wednesday 12th July – Day 5
Another early start and we were soon loading the jeeps and setting off on our 5 hour journey to Deskit in the Nubra Valley. Leaving the heat of Leh, we headed up and over the mountains where to our amazement it was snowing. Not surprising really as we reached the dizzy heights of 5602m / 18780ft, using what is claimed to be the highest motorable road in the world. The mountains were barren with beautifully green fertile valleys. We drove on narrow winding roads with steep inclines and drops. It was difficult to fall asleep as the roads were so bumpy.
Deskit, our destination was warm and sunny. We continued our journey walking, or riding horses or camels. Every member of the group would, during the two days try all three. The horses were small and were saddled using rugs and blankets. Some of the jolters had ridden before but for some it was a new experience and some had to overcome their fear of horses.
The camels were an exciting experience – especially in the way they get up, rocking back and forth. It was a big beast for most jolters and several camels were grumpy! One jolter said afterwards “I smell all camelly!”
Our campsite was set in a beautiful valley surrounded by stunning mountains. We slept two to a tent. The sun setting behind the mountains gave a glorious glow to the different folds in the layers of the rock on the mountainside. We had the luxury of a huge dining tent and 4 toilet tents that had holes dug in the ground.
After a three course meal we sat round a bonfire and were entertained by the villagers – they danced and played their beautiful and sometimes haunting traditional music. Before long they had us all joining in – we went to bed exhausted.
Tuesday 11th July – Day 4
Yippee! A lie in this morning – getting up at 6.30am!
A relaxing start to the day as we were still acclimatising and we then left the hotel for our visit to Thiskey Monastery.
Eight jeeps followed each other for the half an hour ride to the monastery, driving through a beautiful unspoilt valley. All green in the middle and barren rock on the outside.
When we arrived at the Monastery which is located on the top of a mountain, here we had our first real challenge – getting everybody to the prayer room which was situated at top of the building. To get up there we had to climb nearly 80 steps along with Matt and Tom in their wheelchairs! Everyone was absolutely fantastic working well together to achieve what many would say “Phew! No way!”.
After lunch we were invited to perform in front of Chuscot school. We sang three songs gustily, the first song we signed along to ‘the animal fair’. They then sang three traditional songs in return. After the performances we gave out some gifts and sports equipment, then we went to see how they lived in a boarding house across the road. Although they had little in the way of material possessions, they were very happy and welcomed us with open arms. Everyone one enjoyed playing the games and we did not want to leave.
Monday 10th July – Day 3
Getting into the swing of being a Jolter – getting up before the crack of dawn at 2.30 am to leave the YMCA for the airport with our flight to Leh as it was due to leave at 5.50 am. It was a short flight with glorious views of the Himalayas. It was fascinating to see how the plane maneuvered in between the valley before landing on a bumpy and uneven runway.
Uh oh! We had arrived at Leh without our baggage – it had to go on a different plane – so we had to wait for it to come in on the plane after us, we had our fingers and toes crossed that all 46 baggage’s and three wheelchairs would arrive safely.
The other reason for us sitting at the airport a while longer was because there was an important dignitary arriving and there was a guard of honor welcoming him and the police / army would not let the taxi drivers near the airport. It nearly started a RIOT as the taxi drivers starting throwing stones at the police! Eventually we got out of the airport and headed to our hotel.
It was Rob’s 19th birthday and we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ so many times! At lunch time we had the balloons and banner up and had the birthday cards and gifts on the table to surprise Rob. The hotel management were wonderful and heartily allowed us to bring in a birthday cake which everyone had a slice.
The main purpose of the day was to acclimatise ourselves to the altitude difference, so most of the day was spent resting as much as we could and exercising gently. There were a few incidents of mild altitude sickness both with the Jolters and the leaders, which was expected but with our expert doctor on hand the youngsters recovered quite quickly.
Curfew was at 10pm – and we all had sleep to catch up on.
Now we come to the end of our first full day in India and we could not believe how much we had done!
Sunday 9th July – We’re here!
Hi all, we arrived safely in Delhi this morning about 5.30 am our time (about 1am your time). we are all very tired and glad to be at the hotel. Today should be a fairly easy day, mostly relaxing and a little sight seeing. We will write more when we can.