Our car was ready and waiting at 8.30 this morning for the start of our journey down through the Spiti valley and eventually to Shimla to meet Martyn and Helen. Hotam, our driver, is no Tashi and unfortunately has little more English than we have Hindi but otherwise seems fine. Today we reversed Friday’s route till the point where we joined the Manali road, bidding goodbye to the Ladakh batholith as we crossed the Indus at Upshi. We travelled again through the spectacularly folded and coloured rocks of the Indus formation towards Taglang La.
I’d foolishly thought the highest pass on our route would be scariest but actually Taglang La has a much better road surface than the passes we went over later today, and less precarious drops, despite its height. It was a beautiful day, so we had much better views from the top of the pass than on Friday.
Looking North from near the top of Taglang La
Stupa at the top of Taglang La, 5370 m
We were disciplined and stopped on briefly at the top, though we both felt fine. We then stopped a little further down the road to look at the cushion plants and delphiniums we’d spotted going up the pass on Friday – a real assemblage of interesting plants.
I’ll have more of a go at identifying these when I have time.
We passed the turning to Tso Kar lake before crossing the rather uninteresting Moray plains. It looks like the whole area was once a gigantic lake and part of it, at least, is still wetland today. Only a single wild horse and nomad encampments with a vast herd of yak enlivened the scene.
Yak on the Moray plains
We dropped down to Pang on the bank of a highly braided river. We are used to seeing large numbers of motor bikes on the roads by now – mostly Indian Royal Enfields – but are slightly taken aback to be passed by a large number of pink and gold coloured Vespas on their way up towards the plains!
Here we lunched on tasty thukpa (Tibetan soup with noodles) in a roadside café recommended by Hotam.
From Pang, the road slowly climbs with the river to the top of Lachalung La, at 5065 m. The riverside sediments are sculpted into dramatic pillars and arches.
The road surface is much poorer here, presumably because of the eroded sediments constantly falling onto the surface, so it’s a bumpy ride.
We drop down again before climbing one more time over the Nakli La pass – the top of this pass is adorned with hundreds of tiny stupas, for some reason.
Atop Nakli La pass, 4950 m
The road descends from here alongside what can only be described as a huge canyon, with dramatically folded sediments to our left. One thing that strikes you in the Himalayas is how few sediments remain in the orientation in which they were originally laid down – hardly surprising, I suppose, given our proximity to such tectonic activity!
My map shows a gentle descent from here into Sarchu, where we are staying for the night but John’s larger scale map shows something called the Gata Loops. Sadly, John’s map is right, and we descend to the Tsarap River via a terrifying series of 21 hairpin bends across the slope of the mountain.
Once we reach the river it should be a flat 20 km or so to Sarchu but, just to make sure the recce has as many surprises as Rocks, Routes and Shoots, we come across a lorry stuck on the Bailey bridge we need to cross to get to our accommodation at Goldrop Camp!
Hotam got us to walk across and he took the car across at a ford, so we weren’t delayed much, but there was a huge queue of lorries going in the opposite direction.
We finally arrived about 4pm and were welcomed, as is often the case, with tea and biscuits. The tents seem very nice and a bit more substantial and warmer than those at Tso Moriri, so fingers crossed. The location is beautiful, though right beside the road – I’m assuming it will be quiet overnight. We ambled out onto the hill above the camp, which turned out to be swarming with Himalayan marmots. They are not tame like the ones on the way to Pangong Tso (see Pangong to Uletokpo) so it was the first time I’d seen them standing sentinel and heard them whistling to warn their colleagues.
We also found lots of wild flowers, though many are past their best now – more Edelweiss than I’ve ever seen in one place.
Edelweiss (Leontopodium jacotianum) growing at Sarchu
There were plenty of lichens too, so it would certainly be a good place to spend the night and to fit in some ecology activities next year. Several of the lichens seem to be less crustose than dome shaped – I’m not sure whether or not that is some kind of adaptation to altitude.
Dinner was tasty but the evening very cold so we soon ended up in my tent with our feet wrapped in duvets to play Yahtzee again. The staff are very friendly and the service great and the hot water bottles we were brought later in the evening were very welcome!