An Earthy Trail

In 2017, three of us had done a trek from Rumtse village till Tso Kar (Ladakh). This route took us through passes that were as high as 5000 metres above sea level. We traversed this route with Kaizang, who was not only our guide but also the horseman for the 4 horses that accompanied us.

Kaizang, our guide and horseman.

Sometimes, certain personalities remain with you forever. For example, take the time I shared about our companion’s contagious laugh during the Yuksom-Dzongri trek (Sikkim) or the Nepali Horse Whisperer from the Bhaba Pass trek (Himachal).

The same way, Kaizang too, left an unforgettable impression on me. He was unlike others we had met until now in Ladakh. He had a very quiet personality, a man of few words, as they say. It was difficult to gauge what he may be thinking. But never did I feel left out. For example, sometimes he would stand at a location looking at snow clad mountains, thinking of the route. After about a minute, if I asked him, he would (in few words) run his ideas by us about the route.

One of the rare occasions where Kaizang would speak to us to discuss potential routes.

Each time we reached a campsite, he would set up his open-tent and begin daily chores.

Kaizang feeding the horses. He used to put horse-feed in a bag and then hang the bag around the neck of the horse.

He would not ask for our help nor did he resist if we offered to help. We used to prepare dinner together. We would cut vegetables while he prepared a rice-daal mixture. He carried a small pouch which comprised of Yak cheese. He would add those in precious quantities in the cooker along with the other spices.

Whenever we reached a new campsite, he would pamper us with traditional Ladhaki Butter Tea!

If we asked him some information (say about a structure, or someone we encountered), he would briefly shed light on it. But for the most part, we did not interact with him on the route as he had to maintain the pace of the horses. So he was always much ahead of us.

The arrow shows where he is with respect to our location. Just to give you a perspective, it took us an hour to reach the arrow spot!

Kaizang seemed to figure out what kind of trekkers we were…. we were the ones who cared more about nuances of the journey rather than the destination. So while we did not mind reaching the destination late, we needed our time with birds and other wildlife enroute.

Though we interacted minimally, communication was never a problem. In fact, one thing I admired was his ingenious ways of communicating with us from a distance. He never hollered from far or called out to us, to give away his location.

Sometimes, he would settle on top of a high hillock (off the main route) from where we could see him from below. That would tell us which path to use to reach the other side. His keen eye spotted an almost invisible nest of a Horned Lark which he made sure we did not miss.

He made sure to let us know about the nest which was right on our path, for he knew this would interest us. Inset: Horned Lark (Rest assured, the nest was observed just for a couple of seconds for we did not want to distress the adult birds)

At other times, Kaizang would leave arrows inscribed in the soft mud. Something like this….

These arrows turned out to be very useful and prevented us from losing our way.

These arrows were particularly useful in places where the routes split multiple ways and each route could take you anywhere in the vast expanses of Ladakh. Kaizang knew the exact locations where we were likely to get confused and left arrows only there. And at other times, he would not mark the route letting us find the way on our own, thus taking a reasonable gamble with our sense of directions!

Many times there were vast expanses like this with multiple trails on the soft mud.

In fact, we almost thought we had lost our way towards the end of the trek. We were roaming around an area for about an hour before we made our way to the nearest settlement. And there, Kaizang was calmly sitting with the horses not questioning us about why we were so delayed for he seemed confident that we would eventually find our way using his earthy trails!

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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