Cloudy. Breakfast at 0800 at the only dhaba yet open. Asked for directions to Kardang---down, then up. A few false starts and a trip across the fields before I find the way down.
Iron bridge across gorge of foaming Bhaga. Newish chorten with flagpole instead of cone. Up through meadows of flowers and pollard willows; concrete mani wall with only a few (hundred) stones. Reach track along this side of the valley---once the main route to Leh---now just a track, although there is a bus service along it, to Barbog, Labchang and Peuker.
Large chalet-style house being built. Upscale---though built of reinforced concrete slabs, infill is local stone.
Men bending rebar at the entrance to the village. More construction. Further along a sign advertises the road building project (from Tandi), date 2007-9, cost 163 lac rupees plus 5 years maintenance.
The trekking guide has an odd aversion to road building which I think may be general to trekkers. If a road exists, then one is advised to take the bus which invariably manifests (an excellent feature of the state government's bus concession, rather than a miracle or an inherent property of a made road). These buses are rarely more than once a day, and there is not really much other traffic. Between Kardang and Gotsang I probably encountered 2 or 3 'goods carriers' and about 5 other vehicles in a walk of about half an hour each way. That's not the kind of traffic that puts me off hiking. Maybe in Ladakh it is heavier, but I doubt it.
In fact a made road has many demonstrable advantages over a path
- it definitely goes somewhere, there will be a village at each end for sure.
- it was definitely not made by animals (see above)
- it is wide enough to be completely safe in practically all weathers
But from the trekking guide you would get the impression that the road entirely ruins an entire district.
Some day they will make a motor road to Sonamarg and Baltal which lies beyond, and so ruin them
'Ganpat', 1926, already connects road building with spoliation, and doesn't feel he needs to explain himself to the reader.
Yet other signs of human activity (field, village, gonpa) are celebrated. I feel like there is a weird kind of anti-modern thing going on, villages are allowed to be picturesque and villagers are suffered to exist provided they bear their share of suffering. For a place to be 'wild' and therefore trek-worthy, the people must also be wild and therefore subsistence farmers (farming, you see, counts as wild because it was invented ages ago) Yet the trekker depends on the villager to blaze the very trail he extols as 'challenging' or 'remote'. There exist truly non-human landscapes, plenty in these parts, in fact. These are not penetrated by the trekking guide for the simple reason that even the best equipped trekker is incapable of doing so. A mountaineer is, but their mind is set on the peaks; a hunter may be, but far better to stalk their prey down to a more amenable location (or shoot from a distance, and leave it to the local shikari and his men to figure out how to reach the trophy's resting place)
Realistically there is little chance Kardang will be overrun with tourist dollars and turned into Bavaria. And even if it is, so what? I like Bavaria. The paths are well signed and there is always a gmutlich Hutte.
A mile further along is a track to the left. Seeing buildings above I take it on a whim. Pass BRO workers' tents; dry stone wall; new chorten in remembrance of a local lama. At the top of the road is a turning circle/car park, empty, from which a path leads the last 20 m to the village, which consists of 10 or so houses built against a cliff. On a small open area (roof?) 4 or so red-robed men and women are working. One is polishing butter lamps. Didn't figure out what the others were doing.
Directed to 'gonpa' I find an overhanging rock with a building, but the door is closed. Ascend further to a standing stone. A path climbs straight up from here across a slope of grass and tiny flowering plants, with occasional Rosa webbiana as landmark, before bending at a right angle to contour westward, meeting another path further on. Proves to lead to the local spring, beside another cave, though there is no evidence here of any occupation. Take a couple of sneaky gulps: I have not brought any water. Or sunglasses.
Decide not to take the other path down (it probably leads back to the road) but return to the standing stone and drop down the other side of the hill---carefully---to a chorten I'd seen on the way up to the spring. Also fairly new looking though the corners of the concrete steps have all worn away. Though in this climate that could happen in a couple of winters.
From here 3 paths lead eastward. The middle one looks best used. Possibly goes to Kardang gonpa. Return instead along a path tucked under the cliff beside sweet-smelling shrubs (vaguely lavendery, vaguely soapy). There is a wood burning furnace here, probably for the use of the gonpa.
Back at the gonpa I discover that the closed door has been latched from the outside, signifying that it's unlocked and nobody is inside. Nobody being about, I open it. It's a tiny room built around the cave, which is really just a hollow under the overhang---perhaps this is why Gotsangpa found it too sunny, though it faces north and there must have been bracing crosswinds without the sheltering building.
There are two shrines, the further one (not in photo) being a modern photo of a 30ish year old lama, presumably the local Rinpoche.
On the way down a villager bids me namaste and a conversation ensues:
--Chalo (pointing down; I take this to mean 'this is the way' not 'get lost') --OK. --Lama yes? --er, no. --(says nothing) --(leaves)
Travel writrs all seem to have the knack of meeting locals at just the right time who can speak English and who give the narrator the insider story. There's probably a fancy name for that even (look this up) Any road, this always leads to excellent adventures. I was lucky, this being the very thing I am trying to avoid.
Later I meet an American(Canadian?) nun who lives at Tayul gonpa which turns out to be on the Keylong side of the river. She explains that the Rinpoche lives in a house there and he speaks English; sometimes a French nun disciple of his is also there. So the guy probably assumed I was there to see him. I may even have seen him at the square/roof earlier, though the French disciple was not there: probably she is still in Ladakh, having attended Kalachakra.
The American(Canadian?) is a disciple of one of the earlist (Tibetan) Buddhist nuns, who was originally English but has been in India for 50 years and now runs a nunnery by Tashijong in Dharamsala. She can also name the gonpas of the valley. There are 4 on each side like this
- (Right bank) [Yurdzong] - [Shashur] - [Stingri] - [Tayul] (hers)
- (Left bank) [Gozzang] - [Kardang] - [Labchang] - [Peuker]
She is less good at naming the villages without gonpas.
Return the way I came (except for short cuts...on the way up i'd gone straight up from the chorten to the village. this way I didn't fancy going down that way, and there were people with heavy loads on it, and I didn't fancy negotiating past them, so I went down the made road)
I have an aversion to going back the way I came which I am trying to overcome. The experience of steadily moving towards a place is entirely different from the one you get occasionally glancing back. So it's not as if I have experienced the route in one direction, having done it in the other. Even this assumption, that I must not walk the same path in the same direction, is flawed given that the surroundings are subject to change. And even this assumption, that I would not find interest in doing the exact same walk again, were such a thing possible, is flawed, considering I expend effort in taking photos and writing, all so that I may come closer to achieving it in spite of its impossibility.
Back at I use the same trick (noticing that a door is closed in such a way as to invite entry) to visit Jabjez (Zhabs rjes) gonpa. It's a building within a building. The outer circuit is a ring of mani wheels, apart from one spot where half a rock protrudes from the wall. Inside, through another door, is the main hall with a single drum, glassed-in images of Buddha and friends, murals of various Buddhas, saints and protectors (whom I am not going to learn to distinguish), a throne heaped with katags (currently not in use and stored to one side), and the other half of the rock, a chorten beside it, with the two cup-ahaped hollows displayed which give the gompa its reason for being here. These are Gotsangpa/Gotsawa's knee prints (Tibetan saints having a bad habit of defacing rocks through extreme bodily pressure) although as such they are in an odd configuration, one being almost directly above the other on the slope of the rock face. I don't think this is unusual: normal sized or normally placed prints might look like they were placed there through plain clumsiness.