Choglamsar–Spituk

Diary

Originally intended to stay in Leh today, so got up late and had a leisurely breakfast of dosa at Nehu Snacks, which is now on its own, both neighbouring buildings having been recently demolished. But returning to the guest house I have a surge of energy and decide to go on a nice riverside stroll down the valley.

It's easy to reach Choglamsar Zampa, there is a continuous stream of shared taxis for Rs20. I walk across the bridge and try and find a way along the river, but the tracks are not laid out to connect with each other and I end up following the road which separates cultivation from desert. Two groups of women are arguing at the top of their voices---or perhaps they're just having a normal conversation at the top of their voices, as they are 200 yards apart.

The houses on this road are large and detached, but all sitting in scruffy patches of desert: gardens would use up cultivable land. Many have lhathos in front of them. There is a chorten dedicated to an academy award winner (I wonder which academy?)

The advantage of the desert road is that as it's at the top of the cultivated area, it has wide views over the Indus and Choglamsar. There is also practically no traffic. Nevertheless I try to head towards the river wherever possible. The first place is just beyond a 'fodder research facility', where a track heads towards the river: it meets the river, in fact, but goes no further. A path follows an irrigation channel from here for a few hundred metres, but where this channel crosses another track the path is blocked and I'm forced back up onto the road.

The next path rightwards is marked by a sign declaring the construction of the path to a place called Chorten Sumpa, by MGNREGA (a ubiquitous source of signs round here). However the path, which is admittedly well made, stops after 200 m where it meets a branch of the river.

I return to the road, and find more luck with the next right turn, which leads to the same branch of the river and the resumption of (presumably) the same path. A very pleasant few hundred metres leads to a crossroads, where a bridge leads across to a grassy open space with free-standing mani wheel. The path across the bridge proves to lead to the wooden suspension bridge at Akling, entirely covered in prayer flags. It creaks alarmingly.

Having crossed the river, I head towards Spituk on this side, but like the other side, there are no paths along the river, and the road here is dustier adn busier: especially when it enters Spituk village and runs past a bunch of air force compounds. But eventually I make it to the steps leading up to the monastery---which turn out, as is traditional, to be the back way. Above the monastery the gonkhang smells of paint, and indeed the figures look bright and shiny. The wall paintings in the same room, on the other hand, are fading into the grime: they look much older (and better done). The prayer hall of the monastery below---at least the one that is open---is also modern looking, but unlike the gonkhang which prohibited photography, this one only prohibits flash photography, so we all snap away.

After a cup of chai at the outdoor 'canteen' (which has extensive views of the airport and lots of military crap) I return down the steep side of the crag to find the way to the next bridge. This proves to be easy to do: the path leads down an irrigation canal past another mani wheel, a long line of chortens and mani walls, to meet the road at yet another mani wheel. Heading down a slight slope, and passing signs to 'Shiv Mandir' (which I don't investigate on account of the time) I am soon heading back upstream on the left bank. Here the fields end abruptly at a line of unstable-looking cliffs made of conglomerate: the road climbs up at a point between two sets of cliffs. Here my map marks a meditation cave, and sure enough I find a (quite modern) building built against the rock, which is probably the place but of course it is locked.

More disappointments await as I repeatedly try to find unblocked paths through the fields, but end up walking all the way back along the road as far as the point I'd previously left it. Still, the extensive views of the valley from the cliff top make up for it to some extent. But it's not going to be in anyone's 10 best walks to do around here.

Crossing the suspension bridge again, this time I turn right towards Choglamsar. A group of three young men walk down to the riverbank armed with a box of Godfather wherewith to toast the sunset. It's 4 km to the Manali-Leh highway: although little more than a dirt track a steady stream of oil tanker trucks runs along here, as it's an unofficial Leh bypass. Not too pleasant, and I'm relieved to reach the highway and climb into a shared taxi back up the hill to home.