30 Years in the Himalaya

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30 Years in the Himalaya

As Exodus hits the big 40 this year, Exodus’ trekking guru Valerie Parkinson has an anniversary of her own to celebrate…

Valerie in Nepal

Valerie in Nepal

It’s a love affair which has lasted 30 years – and more than 50% of my life. 2014 will be the 30th year I have been leading treks in the Himalaya, the highest mountain range on Earth.

I still remember the summer of 1984. There were six of us, including my father, setting off on what would be a life-changing adventure trekking through remote parts of Kashmir. We trekked over glaciers and high passes, through icy streams and down the most amazing gorges until we finally emerged in Ladakh, a barren, mountainous desert unlike anything I had ever seen before – or since, for that matter.

The Stok Valley, Ladakh

The Stok Valley, Ladakh

The scenery, the people and the culture had me hooked. Today the Indian Himalaya remains more remote and less visited than its Nepalese neighbour – birds of prey are more still commonly spotted than other trekkers – but the modern world has reached its tentacles here. Leh, the ‘capital’ of Ladakh comes complete with WiFi and restaurants serving fresh apricot crumble with a decent cup of coffee – a far cry from the late 1980s when I caused a stir by bringing the first fax machine to Leh from Delhi. That short plane journey still has me buzzing with excitement today, even after making it countless times.

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Spectacular Delhi-Leh flight

To me, trekking amongst the biggest mountains in the world cannot be beaten. It’s an antidote for anyone who wants to get away from it all. Sure, you can use your mobile at Everest Base Camp now, but the tallest mountain in the world never really changes. The path you trek to base camp is still the same trails trodden by Hillary and Tenzing, surrounded by the same huge snowy peaks. That sense of awe at the simple scale of the mountains is still the same; it’s just that now you can share it on facebook!

Thikse monastery

Thikse monastery, Ladakh

Ladakh, comparatively, is where trekking is still in its infancy. The Indian Himalaya only opened to foreigners in 1974, and is so underrated. A haven for Buddhist culture, so much so it is known as Little Tibet, the Indian Himalaya is completely distinct from the Nepalese. If you want to spend your summer in the Himalaya, Ladakh is the answer – whilst the rain pours down in Nepal, the sun comes out for Ladakh. In June, the snow melts off the many high passes and the lowlands become fertile agricultural lands for the brief summer season. This is when the trekking begins, and the mild nights make this the perfect spot for wild camping – luckily, since there are no teahouses here.

A personal favourite is the Grand Traverse of the Indian Himalaya. This is a proper adventure – 23 days off the radar, trekking from north to south through seldom visited mountains and vibrant, spectacularly bright saltwater lakes. Tso Moriri Lake is a real joy, with turquoise blue waters flanked by the jagged spears of distant summits. This is arid, high altitude trekking across the Changtang Plateau, snaking through many high passes with amazing views of the pastel coloured peaks. Trekking does not get much better.

Valerie at Moriri lake

Valerie at Moriri lake

Guaranteed summer departures! If you book, you’re going…

Grand Traverse of the Indian Himalaya - perfect for getting off the beaten track!
JULY | AUGUST

Stok Kangri – a 6,000m summit with spectacular views.
JULY | AUGUST

Markha Valley – a classic Ladakh trek following the Indus River.
JULY | AUGUST

Little Tibet & the Himalaya – take your family to experience the unique culture of the Indian Himalaya
AUGUST

Find out more about Ladakh in our Ladakh Trekking Guide

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