Mandalchan–Shingbuk

Diary

We leave the Mandalchan campsite by following the side valley opposite the one we'd entered by. The path climbs steadily up the mountainside. This valley has little in the way of landmarks.

After the pass, and the obligatory group photo, the path descends into the wide grassy bowl of Tisaling. Dead centre in this natural amphitheatre is a tiny white spot, which resolves itself into a parachute tent as we descend, slaloming down the unstable sandy slopes. The parachute is a camp shop and tea place, but it is unoccupied: apparently the proprietor came over the Mandalchan La early this morning to meet us at our campsite (and collect his camping fee) and has not yet returned. It makes some sense, as normally groups don't arrive here until later in the afternoon. Suraj reassures us that he knows the man well and lights the stove for some instant coffee. Soon our horses join us.

As we are drinking and eating our packed lunch the weather closes in and hail begins to fall. Worrying slightly that this will make the next pass difficult, everyone hurriedly packs up and makes a move towards the Shingbuk La, clearly visible on the other side of the bowl. We let the horses go first; in the event, after only a few hundred yards the hail has stopped, or more correctly, moved elsewhere, and the sun has come out.

We meet with traffic on the way over the Shingbuk La: one group of horses returning from Tso Moriri; a solitary trekker who shouts at us, 'FRANZOESISCH? ITALIANO? I AM FROM THE ALPS!', and is then gone without giving us much chance to respond; after the pass, four Swiss mountain bikers and their (rather larger than our) entourage.

The Shingbuk La is the most classic saddle-form pass we have crossed: the others were minor dips in ridge lines, but here the mountains on either side rise several hundred metres above our level. And it's a true pass also in the sense that it provides a view into a new country: from here we see into the Tso Kar basin for the first time. The unsettled weather is clearly behind us: the next few days' walking will take us through the desert of Rupshu.

We descend down a wide valley covered sparsely with grasses. The stream runs hard against one side of the valley, the rest of the valley floor lying at an even slope of about five degrees. 'Mountain rats' and occasional marmots to be seen; one kyang, again in lonely profile. Before long the valley narrows and we see our tents pitched by the stream, a few hundred metres below the cyclists' camp.