Monday, May 23, 2011

High enough for ya?

Wachan is a small village perched over a canyon way up on the Nubra Valley side of the Ladakh range. How small is it? My host informed me that three people lived there year round. Looking around his kitchen I spied him, his brother, and his elderly mother. Yup, that’s it. Did I want to see how they brewed chaang? Of course…

Wachan was just one stop on my recent week-long wander through the Nubra Valley. Located northeast of Leh, Nubra is a majestic river valley carved by the confluence of the Shyog and Nubra rivers. To get there, you have to take a share taxi over Kardung La, the dubiously self-proclaimed highest motorable pass in the world at 18,630 ft. I didn’t throw up, and that was an accomplishment.

That little house is Wachan, The Hundar Druk

By traveling this route, I was unwittingly reenacting a centuries old migration, whereby traders from the southwest –carrying wool, barley flour, marijuana, etc.- would make their way slowly up and over the endless glaciated peaks and passes of the Karakoram spur down into Xianchiang, China, to sell their wears in towns along the silk route. The mountains that rise majestically up from this alluvial plain support the Siachen glacier (largest outside the arctic?), the battle field between India and Pakistan which stretches all the way to K2.

Me and my Favorite Travel companion...Kamb

For five days (one day of travel on each end) I scrambled up scree slopes and threaded my way through endless seabuckthorn -nature’s own razor wire- to find myself peering down the prehistoric valley, the towns like tiny green jewels strung along the azure thread of the Shyog river. When thoroughly coated with butter, Tagi Kambhir - a Ladakhi bread which resembles a thickish pita pocket- is a perfect meal for hiking. Take two steps, now two breaths, now two bites, two breaths, two steps, rinse and repeat…

A Spunky Amale shows me how she brews Chaang

Wachan Chaang, A recipe:

1. Take a sack of barley and boil it for three hours

2. Let sit until cool

3. Add four yeast balls purchased from Leh Market

4. Let the Chaang “sleep” for four days

5. Drain off water and bingo, barley wine that is good for up to three weeks. Drink liberally with tsampa (extra barley flour).

Barley Storage beneath the floor


  1. Hey Max, the food sounds kinda gross, but after all that exercise you'd probably eat your shoes. Stunning territory. Miss you lots!
    Are you on to Thailand now?

  2. Hi Max - so great to check out your site and find text and photos of your amazing travels. Grateful for your visual words so you can bring us along for adventures that are hard to imagine until you introduce us to the people and geography AND refreshments. Sending all best as you travel to some of the best food ever! Safe travels, Jean