Hinju–Manechan

Diary

Breakfast on omelette and chapatis provided by the homestay family. Though they ask for 800 they don't have change for 1000, luckily they have 500 and I have 300. Angmo ends up explaining to her mother why this works. Mother still looks slightly dubious.

Today's walk is very easy on the map: a near-straight line up the valley, over the Konzke La and down the other side to however far I can manage. The only difficulty is that the Konzke La is over 1000 m above me.

The main track runs below the gonpa and a couple of hundred yards further on into some fields, where it is partially blocked by a large log, which I don't realize is supposed to mean that it's not the path further up the valley; luckily, there is a local guy going up the valley too and he shows me the real path which runs along an irrigation channel. We have to duck under a barbed wire fence, but soon we are beyond the village and heading up the valley. The sun briefly illuminates the village and I lose my new companion while taking a photo.

Not far above the village a large side stream comes in from my left. There is a small house above, and after filling my water bottle and performing certain ablutions I discover that this is Angshang. There is even a sign pointing out the designated camping ground. Unfortunately there are more fences blocking the way up the valley so I improvise a detour which involves walking through a field, though either a fallow one or an already-harvested one so I feel slightly justified.

Another ten minutes up the valley and I come to the final fence, this one spanning the whole valley to keep animals from wandering too far up. There is a gate tied shut with scraps of cord. I pass through and re-tie it in a completely different manner, as while untying the cord quite a bit of it perished. Soon after the fence I pass a chorten on a hummock, the last sign of the village.

The valley floor continues to rise steadily, with the path following the stream's right bank up where the slope becomes manageable. I round a shoulder and see the path up to the pass, improbably high up, zigzagging up a steep slope. The high mountains on the left side of the valley are shrouded in cloud, I hope there won't be too much snow up there.

The stream here runs along a bed made out of alternate stones of white-speckled and black granite; occasionally there is a bush, now turning from green to fiery orange-red. It's a colourful composition, to make up for the sky, which is unremittingly grey today.

I come to a small campground by a lhatho with skulls of two different types of sheep. Beyond here the path no longer follows the valley side but picks its way directly up the stream bed. Going is slow, particularly as the stream bed is getting incrementally steeper. There is a fork in the valley with a herdsmen's shelter and some mani stones: the path takes the left side and continues for another few hundred yards to a prominent cairn placed in the middle of the valley, which points out the place where the path begins to climb.

Once out of the immediate vicinity of the stream the path strikes off upwards and back towards the village. This zig leads up to a shoulder with an excellent view of the village, the valley and the mountains behind. I can make out the jagged skyline beside the Fotu La where I started. From the shoulder, the path zags back up the valley towards the pass. A large contingent of unladen pack horses passes by, in the charge of two horsemen. I help to point the horses down the zig towards the stream, though I'm sure they would have figured it out by themselves.

The climb up to the pass is steady and tiring, cutting across massive slopes of friable shale with the occasional peculiar red-leaved plant growing; but at long last the slope slackens and the path gives up zigzagging to head directly up to the pass. The Sumda valley comes into view, as straight as the Hinju valley: from here I can see beyond the village of Sumda Chenmo to the Dungdungchen La, and beyond the snow-capped Stok Kangri group. I can't see the village itself, tucked in a side valley. There are only a couple of patches of snow, but it's rather windy so I carry on around a short traverse to a point with a lhatho to take my lunch and the traditional selfie.

There are breaks in the clouds over the Sumda valley, the ground mottled with patches of sunlight which slowly move across the landscape. The south side of the valley rises sheer to an impressive (and impassable) frost-shattered ridge covered with snow; on the north side, broken up by side valleys, a more gentle series of slopes leads up to the peaks around the Stakspi and Sminopi Las. On this side the rock colouring is very prominent, wine-maroon scree slopes giving way to crags of steel blue and valleys of ochre.

After spending the best part of half an hour waiting for the sun to strike the slopes in just the right way for a photo, I head on down. The path heads directly down a shoulder before tacking and dropping down into a V-shaped valley with a dry stream bed at the bottom. Following this, the valley soon joins a larger valley, and a yet larger, where there are dzos grazing on the slopes. There is water in this stream so I make my first proper crossing of the trek, just past a confluence with a goat pen and some semi-ruined herdsmen's shelters.

I carry on down the valley, switching sides a couple more times, until a solitary house on the left bank. Here the path climbs over a shoulder and drops into a side valley where horses are grazing. Crossing this valley at a high level, the path then contours round back into the main valley to reach a wide terrace, the stream flowing through a narrow section away to my right. None of this had been in the trekking guide (which I am following in reverse), which said to follow the stream up all the way from the campground.

The path I'm on crosses a side valley and mounts up to a similar terrace, though this one has been improved with walls, a rudimentary dry toilet and a lonely sign saying 'Gogma Campground'. Nobody is in evidence. I consider stopping here for the night, but it's only 3 pm and the guide says Manechan is the warmest part of the valley.

The path descends from the terrace and cross the stream once more, then rises up the other side, contouring round until eventually it reaches a similar terrace on the right side of the stream. To my surprise, a sign here announces that this is the Manechan campground: I had expected a good hour's walk before I got here. This campground has water from a spring running through carefully laid channels; on the negative side, there is a lot more litter here than the other campground. There is nobody about. A family of blue sheep watch me carefully from a few hundred yards below me.

I don't think there is another campground until the village, and I don't feel like a homestay tonight, so despite the early hour I unpack all my stuff and try to find a comfortable spot somewhat out of the wind. I make a fireplace beneath a large rock and collect dry dung to burn experimentally. Together with some discarded cardboard cartons and the like, the fire takes fairly easily, but it's pretty smoky to start with (I guess until the dung dries out properly) and the flame is small and doesn't last very long. I crouch beside the fire to try and take in some heat, but the wind carries most of it away. Still, I can say I have tended a proper nomad style fire; and gathering the dry dung for each new batch passes the time agreeably.

Once the light starts to fail I give up on the fire and set out my sleeping stuff. The clouds have mostly gone and I sleep intermittently by the light of a bright three quarter moon.