Rumtse–Kyamar

Diary

After breakfast of omelette and peanut butter chapatis we survey the situation. The horseman is apparently 20 km away so will not be able to join us here. After an hour or so of confusion it is decided somehow that a local vehicle will take our stuff to Kyamar, the first night's camp, to which there is apparently a jeep track. This vehicle takes some time to arrive, during which time we strike camp and generally loiter around. The weather is better than last night and I take quarter of an hour to wander up the hill a little to where there are three striking rows of (108) ruined chortens.

The grassy campsite lies at the very edge of the cultivated ground, beside the irrigation stream. In fact you have to cross this stream to access the site, something which yesterday's driver was slightly reticent about doing. The site is bounded by fences and provided with a toilet 'block' built over a pit with no obvious outlet. But it's more in the way of facilities than we will see for the next 6 nights. There is another campsite further up the valley which is run by the tourism department, but it's empty and inquiries last night failed to produce anyone with a key to the compound.

The irrigation stream in turn runs just below the main road to Manali. Occasionally buses or trucks pass by: buses mostly carrying soldiers; trucks mostly carrying fuel. Above the main road and the irrigation is the stony desert, the realm of lizards and chortens.

Return to the campsite. A local woman wanders up to collect some kind of camping fee. Eventually the vehicle arrives to take our stuff and we all set off: at first we follow the highway, where we are overtaken, but once the fields run out we veer off to the left to follow the river valley upstream. Soon after a fork in the stream we cross a bridge and return to the confluence to follow the other branch. This new valley is stony and barren, mostly occupied by the stream bed.

I talk to Suraj, our guide. He is a Nepali speaker from Darjeeling, though all his family have moved elsewhere. One cousin lives in Sheffield having met her husband in India.

Soon we have to cross the stream, but it's very shallow and the large stones afford stepping stones in several places. The clear path mounts the other side of the valley to cut off a corner, and after half an hour or so we cross back to the other side. Here we leave the main valley and start following a side stream. The floor of this valley is greener, with large areas of grassy tussocks and in some places what looks like crusts of salt. The valley narrows and we walk between cliffs of varied colours, red, yellow, cyan. A side valley passes, which the map marks as Chorten Sumdo, though there is no chorten here, but a lhatho crowned with the skull of a blue sheep. We see no wildlife aside from the slightly comical short lizards which scurry across our path when disturbed. Katka remarks that they look halfway between lizard and frog.

We see behind us another group going somewhat faster, and when we stop for a rest we are overtaken. It's an Italian couple with their guide. After having some difficulty finding anyone going on this trek, it seems that the route is pretty well used: I guess the agencies don't cooperate as much as I'd thought, despite myself being shunted across three different places to find this group. Perhaps the most profitable group size for them is actually less than they admit.

At one point Katka and Anna disappear behind us, so Suraj and I stop by the stream for lunch. It turns out they had found a particularly interesting flower. Any flower at all would be pretty interesting in this valley: although not monotonous, the scenery is minimal, composed of only a few components artfully disposed, stream, grass, and shaly cliff.

At length we reach a small mani wall overlooked by three old chortens, and breasting the next rise see the tents pitched before a large open space covered in tussocks. Horses are grazing, and meeting up with the others we gather that our horseman has arrived. He is out there still, so we will not meet him until later. Next to our tents (which have been significantly better pitched than our efforts last night) is a low one-person tent which is apparently occupied by a French solo trekker; in the distance ahead, on the other side of the expanse of tussocks, we can just see the tents and horses of the Italian couple we met earlier.

It's a lovely spot to chill for an afternoon. Raj, the cook, busts out his collection of rock music. He has Nepali metal and Opeth. Suraj says he prefers soft pop. Katka does not appear for dinner: she has a bad headache and has to be fed plain rice in bed. We are at 4500 m here.