Sumda Chungun–Nyemo

Diary

Wake up to another cloudy morning. In this weather I'm not convinced going over the Stakspi La would be safe without sturdier shoes. Also my homestay host says when she crossed the Stakspi La earlier this year, they'd started at 4 am and not got to Alchi until 3 pm. So this means I will almost certainly miss the bus if I go that way; I would have to spend the night somewhere halfway down. The alternative option, simply walking to Nyemo down the road, looks more inviting as it will get me to Leh this evening.

The decision made, and packed lunch delivered, I set off back down the valley the way I came, back to the asphalt turning circle. From here the paved road descends steadily to the Zangskar River, though it's not in a state for cars to use: although the paving looks rather new, huge boulders have already fallen onto the road from the crags above.

The road crosses to the right side of the valley over a simple concrete bridge. Soon after, trees appear in a side ravine to the left, followed by a single house. Its occupant is in the garden and yodels 'JULLAY' across the valley at me. I respond, but perhaps not at the required volume. A path climbs up the ravine from the house, until far above it tacks across to round a shoulder, where a lhatho or chorten is barely visible. This must be thw way up to Achirik, another village marked on the map. I'd asked if there was a direct path from Sumda Chungun over the pastures, but my hosts didn't think so.

Beyond the house the valley is fairly barren up to the next curve. The original horse track can be seen running along the opposite side of the valley, but it's already suffered from landslides and in a couple of places is probably impassable. These paths require constant maintenance, the landscape is always changing, erasing human works. But there is no longer any incentive for the villagers of Sumda to maintain this path, now that there is a parallel road. Similarly, in Rupshu the paths are mainly used by tourists as the nomads have vehicles. So it would be logical for the tourist agencies to take on the maintenance of the paths. I don't know how likely that is, however.

At a bend in the valley there is a lovely terrace covered with tall poplars, shading a neat little house. Soon after, the irrigation channel begins, heralding the village of Sumda Do and the main Chadar road. I stop at a tea stall at the confluence of the Sumda Chu and the Zanskar.

For the rest of the day I walk along the main road down the Zanskar valley to Nyemo, a distance of 18 km which I cover rather faster on the paved surface than on the trekking paths. There is little traffic: three or four tourist vehicles, two with rafting dinghies strapped to the top; a couple of teams of road construction workers; a JCB operator hurling loads of gravel and boulders down the slope to splosh into the river. The weather has cleared up and it's sunny for most of the way. The valley is mostly barren rocks carved by the Zanskar, with occasional sandy beaches where the river turns a corner sufficiently slowly; after Sumda Do there is only one green island, at Choksti, where a side valley forms a terrace large enough for a single house worth of fields. It's possible to get into the Markha area up this valley, via the Skyangs La, but I don't know if I'll be able to do that on this trip.

I reach the mouth of the Zanskar at the same time as the rafters come by. It's a dull couple of km into Nyemo but I am soon on a bus back to town, where there is a mutton biryani with my name on it.