National Geographic : 1949 May
National Geographic Photographer Volkmar Wentzel Hotel and Stable for Man and Beast Is the Caravansary in Leh, Ladakh At this caravan crossroads, traders from India, Tibet, and Sinkiang exchange spices, wool, and manufac tures (page 663). The inn caters to Yarkandis, who, having crossed the Karakoram Range with felt rugs, now blanket their ponies for the long trip home. Two men load American-made tires, which were stock-piled in Leh while the Burma Road was closed. Soldiers stand on the balcony. by the Skushok's seal of approval that he gave permission to travel north into the Kara koram Range and its tremendous glaciers. Either the Pamirs or Sinkiang, whence come caravans to Leh, was my goal. To guide me, the governor assigned one of his men and hung on his chest a copper plate, the symbol of authority to commandeer pack animals. My new porters I outfitted with snow glasses, felt-lined boots, and heavy blankets. For myself I bought a sleeping bag, for I faced nights in altitudes up to 15,000 feet. To enjoy fresh meat, I purchased crates of live chickens. By Yak-back Toward the Karakoram My ponies I sold and in their place ac quired six yaks, Tibet's domesticated wild ox and beast of burden in the high places. Yaks, I learned, bore domestication lightly. Moody and unpredictable, they loved to mill around in tight corners, spilling baggage. Single file they rejected, preferring to walk abreast, even in narrow places, doubtless so as to scrape my knees against rocks. Yaks I never understood; never knew what they would do next. I preferred to walk wherever I could; but when I grew tired I would mount my wooden saddle, sit cross legged, grab the ropes to the yak's nose ring, and try to guide him. It was to no avail; the wilful beast paid little heed. I learned to give way to his whims. Toiling Up Walls of Snow in July On our first evening out of Leh we camped at the foot of Khardung Pass. It was bitterly cold, and the stars were shining brightly when my boy awakened me at 2 o'clock on a July morning. Our yaks grumbled as the men packed them. As my mount toiled up walls of crusted snow, I grasped his shaggy hair to keep from falling backward. To relieve him on the steeper slopes, I dismounted and continued on foot, at times on all fours. At 7 a.m. I was the first to attain the summit of the pass (page 686). Turning, I saw other yaks' black heads rising above the snow, eyes bloodshot, muzzles drooling. Un loaded, they stretched out on the snow.