Got up early to take the 0630 bus to Jispa. The lower valley ends abruptly at Stingri, where there is a BRO camp and apparently a helipad for winter supplies. Peokar village faces it on the other side, with its gompa. Beyond these two the valley closes in to a deep gorge with the highway winding around halfway up one side. Only a few patches of flattish land have been cultivated, each with its single house.
Beyond the gorge is a stretch of conifer forest, which I thought was juniper but now am not so sure. Below Kawaring a side road drops down in a series of hairpins to a bridge and village beyond. Above this village, set into the cliff, is a small hermitage, not however mentioned in the pilgrimage guide.
The road passes a neat row of tents with a Tibetan flag flying. This is 'Himalaya Midway Camp', whether for tourists or refugees is unclear; it's a desolate spot.
The road then drops down closer to the river, though Gemur, which I shall be walking through later, and eventually reaches the banks as the valley opens out. Here the Bhaga is much wider, braided in places. It's hard to believe that this whole river, augmented by various side nullahs, fits under the tiny bridges at Labchang and Kardang.
At Jispa I walk on to a bend where I can see as far as the confluence at Darcha. The mountains of the Paralatse La are covered with cloud. All looks very cold. The sun has not yet risen above the cloud bank and I am thankful for the fleece. But as soon as the sun appears the temperature jumps.
There is a small temple here dedicated by the Dalai Lama when he gave the Kalachakra initiation at Jispa in 1994. Lower down is the initiation site by the river. It's about the size of a soccer pitch (actually there are two goals set up there). This year, Kalachakra in Leh attracted 150,000 people. I guess it won't be returning to Jispa.
Breakfast at the Jispa Cafe. Mooli parantha is promised by the menu, but not available. A group of 14 female cyclists in matching gear, plus support vehicle, stop by. They started in Keylong early this morning and are going to carry on to Patseo, or possibly Zingzingbar, before the pass. Patseo would be warmer, but would also mean more climbing the following day.
Walk along the main road down to Gemur, about 5 km. For 2-3 km there is a series of largish resort-type buildings: Padma, Ibex. These are stopping places for tours, I think Edmond and company stayed at the Ibex in fact. At the Padma a large group of middle-aged Westerners is gearing up for a motorbike ride. The road is pretty empty, paved, and wide, and is perfectly good for walking and soaking up the scenery of the upper valley. At Jispa the valley floor is fairly flat, but bordered by steep cliffs on the south/east side with peaks looming close. On the other side, as further down, the valley is a V-shape, with most of the villages running along a shelf alpine style.
At Gemur I leave the road to head up to the gonpa. The caretaker is sitting on the roof repeating 'Mmmmmmm', which is possibly an extremely degenerate form of the mantra. He continues to do this throughout my visit. Not having looked at the pilgrimage guide, I fail to ask him to open up the rear or upper shrine rooms, so miss the good stuff. The caretaker didn't give any impression that I'd missed anything, instead helpfully directing me to a path to the upper level. Not to worry: there will be many more gompas. I did see the Rinpoche's effigy in the first prayer hall, however: the one with the miraculous hat. Actually one of two in the valley, according to the guide. Both hats are said to be flung to the floor on occasions of lax discipline. I took a photo in the shrine room, but the hat stayed affixed, which I take as permission.
There turns out to be a jeepable track all the way up to this level, although from Gemur it has not recently been jeeped; but moving towards Khangsar the road improves, becoming paved. Follow this road for 8 km or so through Khangsar, with its 'castle', Kolong with a walk-through chorten placed at the point of the bend which reveals the upper valley, and Kawaring. See no sign of Kolong's buddha image nor of the Chosku gompa, which is apparently up here somewhere, but none of the people I pass by seem to have heard of it, and the pilgrimage guide gives no detail. The road is excellent walking however with views all around and practically no traffic. Much more pleasant than the parallel section of highway, which has a number of nasty unpaved hairpins.
At Kawaring a younger guy warns me that the road ends here and points out a path which drops down to the highway. Sure enough there is a large side nullah soon after, and the highway starts zigzagging down to the stretch through the gorge.
The next 12 km or so are a little dull and dusty, though the surrounding scenery makes up for it. There is definitely more traffic now, though it's still not busy by normal standards, and no buses going in my direction. Pass a standing prayer flag on a bend which turns out to be a memorial to someone who presumably lost control of a vehicle. 18 years old. Also spot the suspension bridge below Peokar. The deck dips alarmingly in the middle. I thought only the cables were supposed to do that.
Back at the Drupchen mid-afternoon for a draught of apple juice. Deepak had showed me the single shop in Keylong that sells it; it's made by the Lahaul Potato Growers' Cooperative, but shipped over the Rohtang to be bottled in Kullu (in bottles marked 'For Beer Only'), then back over to the shop.