Riyul–Rajun Karu

Diary

As usual Suraj says we should be off by 8, and as usual it's nearly 9 by the time breakfast is over and everyone is packed. The Swiss cyclists are off just before us, so we see nobody as we take the dirt road out of the Tso Kar basin towards Nuruchan. At the entrance to the valley a couple of homesteads stand empty, waiting for the winter. Beyond is a gently undulating and gradually rising plain dotted with scrub, which leads up to an obvious pass, the Horlam Kongka. It's difficult to judge distances, the pass looks no distance away, but it will take several hours to approach it.

To our right we see a small herd of about six kyang in the distance, just on the foot of the mountain. Later, a braver kyang stops to regard us, allowing us to approach within a few hundred metres before strolling off to the safety of the stream. I don't have my zoom lens today, unfortunately, but the ladies get good photos.

The road zigzags slightly to run between two barbed wire fences: another attempt at marking off an area for agriculture, like at Pongunagu, and equally abandoned looking. At the end of the fence a few low buildings mark the 'village' of Nuruchan, but we carry on past, following the stream. A jeep track is visible on the hillside on the left: this is the vehicle road to Rajun Karu. Suraj says all the nomads have vehicles these days, thanks indirectly to government subsidies. This road is actually marked as Horlam Kongka on my map; it's pretty much exactly the same height as our pass, but slightly more direct. The horses don't use it, though, perhaps because they would be spooked by the vehicles, or perhaps because our way spends less time away from water sources: the jeep road looks entirely barren.

Continuing up the stream round a rocky shoulder we come to Nuruchan campground. This grassy area is where we would have stayed last night if we had stuck to the original itinerary. We now need to do the whole of 'day 5', but it's still well before lunchtime and everyone is reasonably energetic (Anna still has a headache, which will not go away for the entire trip)

The ladies take off their shoes to cross the stream; I just let my feet get wet. The shoes will be basically dry in half an hour of walking, and the wetness is cool and refreshing in this weather, though it's not actually that hot.

Climbing out of the stream bed we see the pass ahead of us. It's a long, gradual slope up to the pass, the path heading straight up the side of the valley at a constant gradient. Every so often there is a slight break in slope marked by a cairn or two, where we rest, but the valley is mostly featureless. The rhythm of the climb is meditative: I match my steps to a selection of morris tunes, which seem to go at a suitably slow speed for the job.

We reach the top of the pass at the same time as the horses catch us up, and have lunch facing our last view of the Tso Kar basin and our last two days' walking. In the other direction the pass drops down to a sideways-running valley, the view being blocked by mountains on the other side. Lunch today includes salami chapati. Anna and Katka had brought a large salami with them all the way from Slovakia: Raj had fun inventing a salami chilli masala dish last night which was very tasty.

The descent to the valley is relatively short, and soon we are dipping our toes in the clear water of the stream. According to the map, this stream is actually the same one that we crossed at the campsite at Nuruchan, but presumably it flows through a gorge preventing passage along it, otherwise there would be no point going over the pass.

We find a place to cross the stream and follow the path as it ascends to a gravel terrace on the left bank. Soon we can see the nomad tents at Rajun Karu ahead of us, and the next pass - the Kyamayuri La - behind them. The clear air and straight valley are deceptive, however, and it takes a good two hours to walk up to where our tents are pitched.

I wash my shoes and socks in the stream, which turns out to be a bad idea, as there is an excursion planned to visit a nomad family which I have to pass on, having no other footwear.