We started our trek from a trailhead called Zingchen just across the valley from Leh. Many travelers still start from Spituk on the Indus river, but that is now unnecessary as there is a new dirt road up the valley, avoiding one day of dusty walking.
We did make our taxi stop at Spituk monastery along the way. Like other Ladakhi monasteries, Spituk has a separate room devoted to protectors, and numerous pilgrims were imploring their aid. Built on a hill, Spituk also overlooks Leh's civilian-military airport. Its 10,000 foot runway is longer than that of many major airports in the US.
The trail from Zingchen climbed gradually up a canyon with many layers of colorful rock. After a few hours, the valley widened at a settlement called Rumbak, where we had tea in a “parachute tent.” The Indian military used cloth parachutes for cargo drops only once, and locals could then convert them into large teepees.
We continued to climb until we reached the base of our first pass. Although gradual, our first day's climb had been almost 1000 meters and we were glad to rest for the night.
Paying extra for a well-established expedition operator bought us five-star camp treatment. The Nepali-trained cook made great food, the best of all our treks. Our tent was roomy enough for four, so we could easily store all our bags inside. I kept reminding Marcia not to get spoiled, because it won't be this way in Kyrgyzstan.