Travelling with India’s best adventure tour operator

I know I am spoiled beyond belief – 2 trips to the mountains in almost as many months, but you know how it is, when the mountains beckon…

In late January/early February I went on a high altitude trek in Ladakh with my all-round favourite adventure travel people – White Magic Adventure Travel.  I wrote about the Chadar Trek in a blog post – here it is again for reference.

Then, come mid April, off I set again on a super exciting, super challenging 2 week trip to the mountains of Himachal, yet again with the one & only White Magic Adventure Travel.  Just got back late last night, tired as anything but smiling happily as only a mountain addict can 🙂

The first week, we were taught the basics of climbing.  The second week we attempted Friendship Peak.

And, yet again, the amazing folk at White Magic delivered a fantastic experience, for the 12 of us on the course and then the 8 of us who attempted Friendship Peak.  The weather for our climb was crazy – huge amounts of snow, as in HUGE amounts of snow – knee-high levels, that kind of thing, so we got to within 200 metres of the summit but then turned back.  The snow was simply too deep and too risky to continue.  Avilash felt it was avalanche-prone and indeed on the l-o-n-g descent from 5000m+ to our Base Camp, there were numerous small avalanches happening all around us.

Oh yes, before I go on – one night, as we were all sitting in the mess tent at Base Camp, Avilash very quietly & diffidently told us that WM had just won the Outlook Traveller Award for excellence – recognising WM as the ‘Best Adventure Tour Operator’.  Cheers all round, as we were living this excellence – plans being rearranged to deal with the weather, sick travellers being looked after, oxygen saturation levels being checked twice a day – that kind of attention to detail which bagged them their much-deserved award.

Here, these are photos of the award ceremony:

So, yes, back to our trip.

Difficult logistics, with all that snow at high altitude and rapidly melting snow at the lower levels.  Indeed, when we descended on the last day to Dhundi, where we were based for the training course, the slopes were virtually unrecognizable, most of the snow having melted.

The training course consisted of practical sessions on the slopes in the morning – terrifyingly exciting skills like arresting your own fall with your ice axe, an adrenalin-pumper if ever there was one.  Kami Sherpa would rock up half way through the morning sessions, with tea and juice and biscuits and we were allowed a quick 10 minute tea-break, and then back to work.  (See what I mean about the WM service and attention to detail, by the way?)

After a late lunch, there would be a classroom session – how to wear your boots and crampons, how to pitch a tent, how to tie knots, many of them conducted by the wonderful Tashi, with whom I trekked on the Chadar.

There was not one single thing to criticise on this trip.

Not one.

Fabulous professional service & attention to detail.

Top class equipment.

Great food, including a high altitude sponge caked baked by the brilliant kitchen staff.

I was so knackered after the summit climb, that I slept right through lunch & emerged about 5pm, absolutely starving.  Staggered through the thick snow to the mess tent, where I was fed bowls of Maggi noodles.  That famous WM great service again.

Every single member of the WM staff was a rockstar – special thanks have to go to our 3 trainers, Avilash, Kirti & Tashi.  Kami Sherpa was beyond wonderful on summit night – I think shovelling snow to make me a space to pee, when we were all on a fixed rope, at 4500m, in the dark, goes way beyond the call of duty…

Fab trip with a fab company.

Would I recommend White Magic Adventure travel?

Unreservedly.

Disclaimer: the guys at WM know by now, after 4 trips with them, that I blog, but they have never, ever once asked me to write a favourable review.  This is all 100% genuine feedback.

I paid for my trip.

Looking for a good, reliable Indian trekking and climbing company? Look no further…

Having just returned from a (personally) very successful climbing trip to Ladakh, I want to share with you my impressions of the company with which I travelled – the Delhi based White Magic Adventure Travel.

I have trekked and hiked in the subcontinent before, and despite the continual joy and beauty of the scenery, I have usually had reservations about the outfitters, ranging from minor niggles to downright dangerous and unprofessional behaviour. There are companies (well, one) here in Delhi that I would not touch with a barge pole.

No such reservations this time round.

The level of competence and professionalism I experienced at every stage of my dealings with White Magic inspired confidence, and (once my wretched shoulder gets better) will also inspire further trips with them.

I went to meet the owners of White Magic before I signed up for the trek and climb of the 6155m Mentok Kangri. Their office is in Delhi’s Gulmohar Enclave, and there was an air of calm competence that I found reassuring. Regular emails followed with kit lists, training advice, and individual queries were efficiently and speedily answered.

We all met up in Leh towards the end of July, and since Avilash Bisht (one of the owners of the company) was completing a successful climb on Mount Kun, the pre-departure logistics and the first half of the trip were handled by the charming, serious and uber-competent Tsewang Namgyal. When we met in Leh, Namgyal asked to see all of my equipment, examining everything in detail, including the quality of my glasses for summit day. He checked all my equipment, from my gaiters to boots, even asking how many pairs of socks I had and then checking them for suitablility – great thoroughness which I have never yet had with any other Indian outfitter.

On the trek we were 5 putative climbers + 1 super experienced climber + 2 trekkers who would not be attempting the climb, and we had a staff of 5 (and loads of horses and a darling noisy little donkey).

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At the point when the trekkers would leave us, which was the only place with road access during the trek, Avilash and another young but experienced guide joined us, so for the summit attempt we had a crew of 7.  Since our numbers also depleted with 3 of our group deciding not to try for the summit after all, the ratio became very favourable towards we remaining 3 climbers.

The service and kindness of the staff cannot be too highly praised. Already very caring and always willing to help, they all became super heroes in my eyes.

I slipped on the way down from the summit, damaging my right arm (I thought I had sprained a muscle. Turned out I had an avulsion fracture) and from that moment onward, not only did Namgyal and Mohan virtually spirit me down to high camp then intermediate camp, the rest of the crew were amazing. My arm hurt too much even to tie my shoe laces, so with great kindness every day, some one would lace my boots for me, would pack my things, deflate my mattress, roll up my sleeping bag.  And all with a cheerful smile and a brushing off of my embarrassed thanks.

As soon as I fell, Namgyal tested my arm to see if it was broken (it was, but none of us knew for 4 days until I went for an X-ray in Delhi) as did Mohan later, and then Avilash, who put me on painkillers and into a sling.

So, on that score, full marks to White Magic. I had no qualms re their first aid knowledge. Even I didn’t know I had broken my arm, since it just looked bruised and wasn’t swollen. (Still isn’t)

Tents and equipment were all in good condition, and for the first time ever in over a decade of serious trekking, I could have dispensed with my own mattress.

Avilash told me they supply good thick mattresses, and they do.

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My (superfluous) mattress being packed for the horses.

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When Mohan thought he spotted a leak in my mattress, him & Namgyal calmly set about repairing it, without even telling me till it was finished.

Talk about service.

Food was essentially veg (as am I) so no complaints there. Very generous servings, lots of little extras like a constant supply of biscuits with tea, popcorn in the evening – so there was very little need for the energy bars I took along. I never left the mess tent feeling hungry or short changed. The cook, Ramesh, soldiered away day and night producing endless cups of soup and nutritious Indian meals, with a few stellar performances such as momos one night.

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Even at 5000+metres, there was an attempt at style on this trek.

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Most days, a hot cooked lunch, complete with crockery and cutlery (above) was carried up the slopes for us. Seriously good service.

On summit day, when I collapsed back into my tent at high camp, tired and with an aching right arm, I did not feel hungry (a rare thing for me) and this so worried the delightful first-timer in the crew, 17 year old Zakir Hussain, that he tried to spoon feed me, telling me in a surprisingly maternal way to open my mouth since I had to eat and that it was good for me.

Too sweet.

There was always a wide array of jams and honeys and spices and pickles and (always) hand sanitizer on the dining table. Black tea was always on offer, and served in one’s tent at wake up time – what a treat.

We started out with 2 loo tents, but ended up with just one, which wasn’t such a big deal overall despite my misgivings. The logistics of loo tents at altitude, especially when it is difficult to build suitable pits are difficult, and except for one camp site where it was very marshy, the crew managed to make the best out of a difficult job.

Summiting is always a special moment, and when I finally stumbled up onto the rocky summit of Mentok Kangri, it was to the cheers and applause of Namgyal, Mohan, Lapsong, Zakir Hussein (who may be the youngest person to have summited ??) and dear Gangu.  Avilash was behind me with one of our team. Kuntal Joisher, a terrifyingly fit young man, had even managed to change into an Everest themed T shirt, bless him, and so my summit time was a happy mix of tears and prayers and hanging up prayer flags and photos and the ceremonial offering of one of my energy bars.

The Leh office, headed by Tashi Angchuk, was just as efficient, collecting me from my non-team hotel in Leh, then going back to collect my GPS that I had forgotten.  The rental of snow boots and crampons, and airport drop off were all handled seamlessly by Tashi.

I could not have wished for a nicer group of people with whom to share such an emotional (& literal) high.

P1040041Lapsong, Zakir & Gangu hanging out.  As one does at altitude.

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Namygal and Mohan (above) getting ready to set up the fixed lines.

Avilash (below) in a rare quiet moment, at Tso Moriri.  Usually he was in the thick of things :

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Would I recommend White Magic Adventure Travel ?
100% yes.

Will I travel with them again?
Inshallah, yes, just as soon as my arm heals.

The company has a great website, and though it is Delhi based, our initial team of 8 comprised 3 of us from Delhi, 4 from Bombay and 1 from the UK.

Here’s the link to their website :

http://www.whitemagicadventure.com/

Personally 100% recommended.

I paid my own way (obviously) and didn’t tell the White Magic people that I blogged until the trip was nearly over.