Kyelang–Tandi

Diary

Leave after switching hotels. the new room is bigger and has a better view, and a working cistern, and is Rs200 cheaper, result!

Down the Kardang path to the hospital, then follow the track across. Carry on straight when the main track switchbacks up to the road. This handy bit of nose following leads me past the new police HQ (under construction; visible from everywhere) and a small hydro plant on the Billing Nala to (presumably) the old road bridge, wooden planks and no handrail, but wide enough for a truck. After this the road peters out but a desire path leads up to the main road.

The traffic here is much heavier than on the other side (as expected) but it's still not too bad as the road is 2 vehicles wide and mostly paved. The widening seems to be an ongoing project, perhaps in readiness for the traffic through the new tunnel, should that ever come to fruition (currently on hiatus after a fatal collapse)

The BRO workers are a common sight on all these roads. I guess the short season makes it imperative to do as much as possible. Waslking, I pass small groups of them every few km, or a truck goes by with a cargo of workers. They are recognizable by their bandanas, which give them a swashbuckling air. The BRO do market themselves as somehow romantic---the depot at Manali said something along the lines of going to extremes---and this hasn't entirely disintegrated when confronted with the dusty reality.

The guy driving a steam roller has easily the best job. I pass him at the turn off to Udaipur and Triloknath.

On the way down to Tandi I stop off at Yurdzong gonpa. A stiff climb up a concreted path leads to a pleasant grove of trees running along a ledge, then up again past an old set of chortens with weather-beaten wooden spires, to the cave itself. There is activity here: the monks are washing in the spring. One finishes his ablutions and invites me in for a cup of tea. Though Nyingma himself, he is staying in this Drukpa establishment and they seem to have given him the best room. I didn't like to ask if he was a ranking lama but we had a chat about his career. He already spent 2 years meditating here, and 7 years somewhere else. He was born in Tibet and originally was at Samye monastery.

However, he didn't invite me to the shrine room, if there even is one---the building in the cave looks like it just contains 4 mini-aparements distributed around a staircase. On my way down I see an older mok watching me from one of the upper apartments.

Back to the dusty road. Below Yurdzong the cultivated terrace finishes, and the roads on both sides cling grimly to the slopes down to the river. The slopes are conglomerate (talus?), large smooth boulders held together by flaky, dry soil. With only occasional dry shrubs to hold it together, the landscape feels unstable, provisional, under construction, or perhaps being demolidhed. The road is the only deliberate part of this landscape, a sign of the will of the BRO and its piratical employees, to keep it here despite nature's designs.

Reach Tandi bridge and eat momos, then discover the momo vendor wants more for them than I have. She settles for all that, representing a Rs20 deficit on her stated price, though I suspect it ended up roughly at the normal price, as she didn't seem at all bothered.

Trucks stop at Tandi to cross the bridge, which, though it's been upgraded since I last crossed it in 1997, is still a one vehicle at a time kind of affair. Here the BRO workers mix with the truckers bringing petrol and goods (mostly petrol, it seems) between India and the far provinces. It's not a place that sees foreigners wandering through very often, I suspect. Being at the confluence, it's actually in three parts: the truck stop, Tandi proper up on the terrace to the northwest, and another village on the flatter terrace to the southwest. This latter is accessed by another bridge, perhaps even the one that previously did duty as Tandi main bridge, rebuilt a few hundred yards over to cross the Chandra rather than the Bhaga.

Walk down to the confluence, where there is an old chorten. This is apparently a cremation ground too, but there is no obvious evidence, and I wouldn't be sure what to look for. There is a single engraved stone leant against the chorten: 'pad'.

Further along is the beginning of the Kardang road, which eventually goes to Peokar. Follow this up to Drilbu retreat centre, which is probably Guru Ghantal, with a large gonpa and a number of self-contained bamboo huts. All looks very organized and I don't feel like I could get away with poking around the temple, so I head on up.

The gonpa was on its own little irrigated terrace with wild flowers and small fields. Beyond, the unstable talus slopes resume. I pass the steam roller again. He seems to have broken down.

Looking back I realize I have missed the path up to the higher gonpa, and after some internal debate decide to go up. The path is clear enough though sketchy in places and quite steep. I wonder whether I'm going to be able to return if there isn't an easier track from the top. After a particularly nasty scramble I reach a bush adorned with a red-bronze scarf of the type used on Hindu temples. At least I haven't gone the wrong way. Looking down, the steam roller is back on the move, crawling towards Kardang. The river, further still.

More of this and suddenly, improbably, the path becomes concrete. The rest of the way is easier, though in places bushes have grown over the path. I guess the slope here is fractionally less, and the soil that much thicker, allowing them to take root where they could not lower down.

Finally reach the gonpa, which is shut and locked, the main door closed by a one-piece corrugated steel shutter of the type you see in shops. There is no other way up here, I prefer not to think about how they managed to carry it alond that path. The roof too, for that matter, a pitched yellow-painted construction of similar material. Perhaps some sections of the path have seen landslips or been otherwise reconfigured since the gonpa was built.

In any case, there is nothing to detain me up here. A chorten further up the slope probably marks the way onward, or rather, the way in from above, since this place is on the Drilburi kora which I have temporarily been doing in the wrong direction. I later learn from the pilgrimage guide that it's on the 'alternative kora' only:

The walk up to the Gandhola holy ground is steep but can be amazingly transforming. Each step makes us feel that we rise above the ordinary world towards a purer state of mind. The visit used to be performed as an alternative descent from the Drilbu Ri Kora, but that difficult trail can be followed today only with an experimented guide to help us avoid precipices.

And also

Nowadays, we cannot go even close to the peak as the dangerously steep path has collapsed.

Set to the descent. At the end of the concreted section I spot the bush with the scarf far below. Yet it's not as difficult as I'd feared: the soil is firm and the steep parts all have generous endings where I can stop and turn around; and I am past that bush within ten minutes. At the bottom I refill my water bottle from a waterfall at the end of a dramatic cleft in the rocks which leads directly up the flank of Drilburi. It is entirely unnecessary to sterilize it but I have brought the magic pen so I do it anyway.

The road climbs up the south side of the valley, cutting away at cliffs and terracing slopes. It is significantly higher up than the main road on the north side. Buses and trucks pass slowly by in silence. Occasionally the curlew cry of unoiled brakes rises up from the road, but the sound belongs to the landscape.

Eventually a set of fields appears below the road, with no obvious means of access. Tarpaulin-roofed tents provide temporary shelter to the villagers harvesting the crop. Around another bend, and suddenly the fields reach up to and above the road. There are flowers and wild roses, and the place becomes a garden. For a stretch the road is roofed on either side by greenery, like a Mediterranean lane, and all is idyllic. These are the fields of . The village tumbles down the slope of a ridge, no more than fifteen houses huddled together and a chorten hard up beside one house and almost invisible from close quarters, though plain enough from the approach to the village.

Beyond Gozzang the road parches again. The green fields are all irrigated by one stream carefully divided, to fertilize the entire terrace. Here the slope is a tiny bit steeper and the stream a little further, just enough not to make it worthwhile until the next village of Kardang.

Kardang village feels very different from Gozzang. The buildings along the road are in Indian style, self contained with space between them. I wonder if these houses, some of which are pretty large, are even occupied in the winter. The lama at Yurdzong had told me about his journeys to Keylong in the winter, walking on top of five feet of compacted snow, occasionally seeing buried cars awaiting the thaw. I think the Lahuli part of the village is below the road, along a projecting spur, but i haven't explored in that direction and sunset is approaching.

Find a book in the internet cafe, 'Garsha: Heart Land of the Dakinis', which has all the information about local power places. Excellent bed time reading.