Kyamar–Mandalchan

Diary

Today Katka is a lot better: it is Anna's turn to feel the effects of the altitude. We don't get going until relatively late and Suraj is concerned that we will not be able to get over both planned passes today. By the time we set off the Italians have been gone some time, so the valley is empty as we make our way up the track to the pass. We climb over a shoulder on our left and enter a section with smoothly sloping red shale ground, whilst the stream flows on the other side of a low hill to rejoin us later. The track is wide and theoretically passable by jeeps, though it does not look well used: it is little more than an excavated terrace, with occasional plants growing on it as they do on the rest of the hillside. It was apparently built by the army when they constructed bunkers up on the ridge, and perhaps could be used to get to Thugje, though Suraj may be making this up. The track zigzags up the valley whilst the pony route takes a steeper, more direct path, with the result that we meet the track several times on the way up. The last time this happens we take a break and our goods overtake us on the horses. We have a short discussion and decide that considering Anna's worsening headache and the lateness of the hour we should camp after the next pass rather than pushing on over the Mandalchan La to Tisaling. Ironically, Anna is the main dissenter to this opinion.

The valley bends to the right and our path climbs straight up to the pass, steepening only slightly. Anna decides not to stop at the top so she can descend as soon as possible: unfortunately the path on the other side does not go down the valley but contours round to a second pass, which is the one my map at least marks as the Kyamar La. There is a view of impressive snow-covered mountains from here, and closer to us snow is visibly falling on the range beyond this valley. Below us we see our first wild ass, or kyang: standing motionless, with an oversize head and thin neck, looking somehow like a cave painting. On the opposite slope is a small herd of yak, or maybe dzo.

After the second pass the surface changes, becoming sandier with small spiny bushes. The path begins to descend down the slope towards a junction of three valleys where we can see our tents already pitched: because this isn't the standard stopping place we have the site to ourselves. We meet with Anna halfway down, and enter camp together. In the evening the herdsmen bring their animals down from the pastures, straight past my tent.