Moonlands of India expedition 2016

We were pleased to be able to sponsor Luke's walking boots which helped him on his expedition across India.

Here's all about Luke's adventures in his own words.

"I would like to share with you my thought about what your organisation enabled me to experience. It was out of this world and beyond my imagination.

My expedition to Ladakh Zanskar of the Tibetan Plateau, India was the most ambitious venture of my life so far. It was also the best adventurous experience I have ever participated in. It has allowed me to develop my leadership skills, people skills, and round myself as a better human being.

Our expedition was split into five key stages and consisted of 25 explorers strong. With the first stage being the arrival to the area of operation. Our group took a flight to Leh via Delhi. Having spent a day in this ever-expanding city; I was able to see the harsh reality of Indian life and the shear contrast of the rich to the poor population. Just to see that the poverty line was at $1 a day, and only 40% of Indians have access to a flushing toilet was staggering. I will never forget the intense heat that hit me like a sauna the moment I walked out of the air-conditioned airport. It was a disgustingly clammy and tacky atmosphere; that had a vile stench of dirt.

We were soon on a flight out of the capital and on our way north to the Tibetan military controlled town of Leh. This town was situated slap bang in the middle of the Himalayas at 3’500M above sea level, with a huge Indian Army presence due to Leh being a military base. We soon realized why this area of the world was called the Moonlands. It was due to the landscape depicting near to the same characteristics of the moon’s landscape.

This made a very harsh environment to live in, and because Leh is the driest and highest inhabited place on earth. This made the air extremely dusty and the ground dirty. The shear influx in altitude to what we were used to in the U.K. gave shear complications to performance, due to living practically at 0m back at home. This required an extended period of acclimatization in the town before we tried to venture out into more challenging activities. This allowed the group and myself to explore the town and soak up its Buddhist culture.

I found that although this town was predominately Buddhist, there was also a huge Muslim presence in the town. The town’s mosque made this evident, as it kept us awake, due to the call to pyre being blasted out at exactly 2am every morning after suffering from the constant dog packs barking and howling through the night. It was amazing to see that these people lived together in peace considering the war just over the border with Afghanistan over Kashmir. This really helped to set in the quote by Mahatma Gandhi. “We can only become more free when we learn to except every diversity and minority and except them with open arms”.

Most of our activities were conducted up to 6000m, which as you can appreciate can be a huge strain on the human body. We were also at point’s just two miles away from the Chinese boarder when in our cycling phase and when trekking right next to Afghanistan and Kashmir. We soon realized the reality of the situation at hand that put us right next to a war zone.

After our arrival and acclimatization in Leh, we started our White Water Rafting stage of the expedition. Now myself and the rest of the group were negotiating force four rapids on the Indus River. Over the next four days we covered over 100miles of river and with some miracle, still in one piece.  The program was to raft for eight hours a day, while taking in some picturesque scenery.  Then at a designated checkpoint on the riverbank we stopped and made camp.

This meant that we lived with our guides and porters, whom were the most spiritually amazing people. I think that It was the local population, in particular the porters that made the expedition so successful. This was due to the two groups of people gelling together so well. We worked extremely effectively as a team and this is evident due to what we accomplished. The fact that nothing was too much to ask for and they treated us like royalty was humbling. We as a community can learn a lot from these truly selfless people.

The most memorable moment of the rafting stage for me was on the last day into the last phase of the river, where our guides told us to jump into the water. Next we found ourselves drifting with the current down the Indus, in particularly cold water, which was a nice cool off from the hot mid day-sun. Here we saw the caverns whizz past us and we felt unstoppable.  

After a day of respite from our endeavors we were soon into our third section of our expedition. This entailed the group being split into two sections. One would go off to complete a high pass trek for five days and my half of the group, which undertook their Gold Duke of Edinburgh award. Due to the nature of the gold award being the most demanding and hard, we found ourselves in the group of ten on our own in the middle of the Himalayas.

We weren’t just on our own either, we had to plan this area of the venture ourselves, source our own food on the ground, carry all our own equipment to be self sufficient for five days and then inevitably execute the expedition ourselves in some of the hottest conditions reaching nearly 40 degrease in a desert, in elevation of 5000m. This forced us to work as a team and be decisive under pressure. We were all given a chance within the group to take the helm and lead the group through one of the harshest and most hostile environments in the world. In the space of five days we covered over 80miles of desert and passed our assessed DofE expedition.

The most memorable part of the trip was when a fellow explorer Noah and I went for a walk to the local Buddhist monastery to our camp. Here we observed the breath taking views of Ladakh and the exquisite interiors of a Buddhist monastery. While we were looking around the landmark, a very friendly monk greeted us and offered us a meal. I will never forget the shear hospitality that these people gave to us when they didn’t know us from Adam.

I also remember a small ten-year-old boy called Rabkhas Gyatso. His house was adjacent to one of my camps. We all joined in and played football with Rabkhas and his friends. He noticed my camera and he asked to look at it. After showing him how to operate the camera I literally ‘Blew his mind’, as he had never seen a camera in his life before. Something that we take for granted as it is on a plate for us every day. It was humbling to say the least watching his eyes light up with sheer amazement.

We then entered our last phase of our expedition. This consisted of cycling the chain of the Himalayas up to 50000M. This was extremely challenging as the absence of oxygen that increased the higher we went, made it extremely difficult on our bodies, and thus not being able to exercise efficiently at extreme altitudes. Although this posed the group a problem, we still strived on as a group and we would not let the geographical conditions get in our way. The cycling phase was near parallel to the rafting stage, whereby we cycled for eight hours a day for four days, and then camped at checkpoints on our route expanding over 100 miles through mountains. I remember on the last day of the biking, we peddled 20 miles up hill in elevation of 5.682m, This was called ‘Khardung La’. The highest motorable pass in the world NE of Leh, our base town.

Due to the severe altitude, some fellow explorers developed altitude sickness, As a result of this we had to evacuate them as soon as possible down the mountain. But in order to do so they would have to go a further 30miles down hill from the mountains pass. Baring in mind the rest of the standing bikers would have to make the same journey. Thankfully we had extremely experienced leaders and well-trained team which resulted in the ill making a full recovery. When this happened we all realized what altitude could do to you, and if left too late, the results could be devastating to life. This allowed the whole group to open their eyes to the environment we were all operating in.

I found the cycling to be the best part of the expedition activities. I really enjoyed this section of the expedition and I have the scars to prove it. Just to be able to cycle through world-class biking routes and travel in a convoy of 30 people is just remarkable, and it makes one feel like they are an unstoppable force. Which can only be created with a strong group. As an expedition is not made by what you do or where you go. The people you live with for a month in fact make it, the people that guide you through their home and make you feel so welcome. That’s what makes a trip of a lifetime.

I can’t express how grateful I am in words for the opportunity that you have given me. It has allowed me to develop so many skills for future life, the list is endless. But I know for sure that it will be an extremely valuable tool in constructing my future as an Officer in the Royal Navy by most certainly achieving with your help the incredible. I hope you can go on to accommodate many more youngsters like myself in there intrepid adventures and help to carve their futures, like that of mine."

Yours faithfully.