We are now very happily ensconced in the Apricot Tree hotel at Nurla, after another long drive. The hotel is lovely and we all have rooms with verandas overlooking the Indus. The walk along the shore we’d thought of for tomorrow isn’t going to happen though – the river is considerably higher than it was in September and the path is completely under water!
We spent an hour or so this morning in the Museum of Central Asia in Kargil which had interesting artefacts linked to Kargil’s place at a the hub of a number of different trading routes, but little in the way of labelling or interpretation, unfortunately. From there we drove the short distance to Shergol to look at the monastery, at the drivers’ suggestion. This is an amazing feat of engineering, built right into the side of the conglomerate which makes up the hill.
It also gave us a chance to see some of the lovely pink roses up close and enjoy their fragrance, as well as an assortment of drought adapted thistles and legumes.
There seemed some confusion over whether the monastery is 200 or 2000 years old, but the people there were very friendly and let us wander around and up to the roof. Here a couple of lads were leaning over the edge in an alarming manner and whitewashing the front. One sported a T-shirt from the Ladakh marathon, which impressed me, for one.
By the time we got down the steps from the monastery the drivers had sorted out a very welcome juice and biscuits break. From Shergol we travelled onto to Mulbek to look at the enormous, 2000 year old Buddha carved into a limestone ‘exotic’. The limestone pillars along this stretch of the road look very much like meerkats to me! The drivers found us a place a little further along the road to stop for lunch in the shade of some trees. It was interesting to look close up at the barley crop growing in the adjacent field, which looked like it was basically growing through stones.
Barley growing at Wakka Mulbek
There were lots of pretty geraniums and a yellow vetch of some sort growing on the margins too. The roadsides for this stretch of the journey were covered in a yellow Corydalis, but one much too common to interest Brian, I’m sure.
As well as the fresh green fields of barley, we spotted bright yellow fields in the valley bottoms which looked very familiar. Mukhter confirmed that they were, indeed, oilseed and said, I think, that people process the seeds in their own homes to extract the oil.
After lunch we climbed up Namika La and then Fotu La passes, the latter the highest on the road between Srinagar and Leh at 4108 m. Helen and I both felt a little light headed here, but nothing more serious – it might partly have been the fact that it was quite windy at the top. The views were every bit as breathtaking as we remembered, but quite different approaching from the other direction.
Group photo at Namika La
Fatu La Pass
We noticed for the first time that you can see down to the pale coloured sediments of Lamayuru from the top of Fotu La, which gave us a great opportunity to introduce the idea of the disappearing lake. This formed around 40 000 years ago as a result of tectonic activity damming the valley, and then disappearing just as rapidly around 1000 years ago, also as a result of tectonic activity.
Lamayuru with pale paleolake sediments behind
The drivers suggested another tea break at a shady viewpoint overlooking Lamayuru before we dropped down to visit the monastery. We spent quite a lot of time there as there were a number of friendly monks busy about the place, happy to be photographed and answer questiions. Some of them, including some young boys, were busy grinding up calcite on a stone to add to the pigments which they will use to colour a mandala in the next few days.
Ceremonial trumpets and young monks grinding calcite for a mandala at Lamayuru
We had a very brief stop at ‘Moonland’ below the monastery to look at the fantastically-formed sediments up close before heading down towards Kaltse. The checkpoint where we entered Leh area turned out to be something of a trial. First of all it transpired that we needed to pay a 300 rupee environmental tax each. Then it turned out that the official’s ledger, into which all our details had to be transcribed, had a space for visa number and this wasn’t on all the forms we’d copied yesterday. I ended up having to go through everyone’s passports again to record this in the ledger, which took some time… Once we’d done that, though, it didn’t take long to reach Nurla and the hotel was well worth the wait. They made us tea and coffee in the central courtyard, shaded by the apricot trees. I made the mistake of washing my face on the lovely white flannel which no longer looks quite so pristine!
We ate together at 8pm to give everyone time to shower. Some of us very much enjoyed our first beer for some days and the food was delicious too – a real salad with a tasty sesame dressing was a big improvement on what we’ve had elsewhere and everyone seemed happy.