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.

White Magic Adventure Travel – THE adventure specialists in India

Yesterday, with great reluctance, I left snowy, wintery, beautiful Leh, and headed back to Delhi, after another stunning trip with White Magic Adventure Travel.

As I unpack and download my photos and generally ease back into city life, I thought I’d put pen to paper (as it were) and give you an update on the travel company that organised this latest adventure.

I have travelled with White Magic Adventure Travel twice before and have written about them in an earlier blog post, but since every trip is different, I felt an update in order.

No surprise, White Magic did it again.

In the face of extreme weather, beyond unpredictable conditions, sickness (that would be me…) we had a fabulous trek on the frozen River Zanskar high up in the Himalayas.

The River Zanskar freezes over in the winter and what has always been the traditional access route between Leh and Zanskar for the locals, has become an increasingly popular trekking destination.

The very nature of this trek means it is extreme in every sense – you are camping on a frozen river bed, and the logistics are nothing short of astounding. Tents, food, supplies – everything has to be ferried by hand, with a team of 20 fabulous porters dragging the food and luggage and baggage on wooden sleds, and then hoisting both sledge and baggage onto their backs whenever the ice was broken and we had to clamber up hills. (More anon).

The trip started in Leh, and it was great to catch up with old friends from previous treks, like dear Tashi Angchuk, Nitesh Sati and Mohan Singh, who has always been a tower of strength.

On day 2 in Leh, I felt unwell – drowsy, no appetite, vomiting – and so after a morning of worried nagging by Sanjeev Ganju and Tashi, I was marched off to Leh hospital and put on oxygen.  I wound up spending the night in hospital on oxygen.

Since my oxygen saturation level had risen overnight, I was cleared for travel the next morning, though Sanjeev made it quite clear to me that at the slightest hint of further sickness on my part I would have to turn back.  And no discussion.

This is one of the reasons I travel with White Magic –  they are safety-conscious in the extreme, and expect you to follow their advice.

Another member of our group came down with a bad stomach so he too was whisked off to hospital, injected and also cleared for travel.

Full marks to White Magic for prompt reactions – and for visiting me in hospital late at night and first thing in the morning.

So, off we all set to drive to our departure point.  Nitesh had done a recce run the previous day so it came as a total surprise to him when we rounded a bend in the road and – whoa! – landslide. The road totally blocked.  No way vehicles could get through.  And so we scrambled over the landslide and walked, while the porters had to offload and reorganise and walk for miles in the sleety cold snowy weather.  Indeed, some of the porters wouldn’t even make to our first campsite until the next day, poor fellows.

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I shot this video as we left the valley after our trek – and to be honest, the landslide looked even worse than I’d remembered…Goodness knows when it will be cleared.

The Chadar – the ice cover on the river – was so broken in places that after 5 days, the decision was made that we should turn back, having already accepted that our 3 day planned homestay in Zangla was out of the question, since the region was under 5 feet of snow & inaccessible.

Throughout all his process of decision-making and re-working arrangements, plus 2 people turning back earlier, Sanjeev, Tashi Zangla and Nitesh handled things with smooth but firm efficiency.  Cups of tea, warm fires, hot meals – everything went like clockwork, despite all the behind the scenes headaches.

The weather was so extreme that the DC – the local authority – actually closed down the Chadar trek for a few days, banning anyone from setting out, and in addition Leh airport was closed by snow for 2 days.

There was no mobile connectivity, satellite phones are not allowed in India, so the fact that the trek leaders rearranged, planned, re-jigged our trip is nothing short of a miracle.

We were fed copious amounts of food, served gallons of tea and hot mango juice (my latest fav drink, by the way, below)

and slept every night, come snow or high winds, in super-warm double sleeping bags and I, for one, was honestly never cold.  OK, let me rephrase that – it was cold, but I was honestly never uncomfortably cold.  OK, admittedly, one night I did sleep in 2 layers of fleece, I never took my thermal beanie off once – but other than that…

After we turned back from the Chadar, the White Magic team quickly re-organised the rest of our stay.  A welcome night back in the toasty-warm hotel in Leh, and then off we went for a 3 night homestay in Stok village –  all quickly arranged on the go – and never forget the lack of connectivity.

From then on, people started peeling off, heading back to Leh earlier, and with the threat of more snow, some of the group even brought their flights forward.

I didn’t, deciding to gamble on the weather gods and indeed the predicted snow never came, and so I squeezed every last moment out of this amazing trip.

Tashi and Mohan even took the final remaining 4 of us rock climbing, which was super-fun & has now inspired me to tackle new ventures…

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our kitchen crew baked a birthday cake for Anu, we watched the cricket with our homestay family, our kitchen crew and – I think – a few neighbours, all of us happily ensconced around the heater or “bukhari” – oh, the whole adventure was so much fun, and it was a credit to Sanjeev and his team who took a lot of strain.

Trekking in -15C/-18C is already tricky enough, but when you add landslides, dangerous ice conditions, a lack of connectivity, then even more praise is due to the competent, devoted folk at White Magic Adventure Travel.

I fully and whole-heartedly recommend this company – and the proof of the pudding…I have already signed up for my next trip with them in April.