Thursday 2nd August. Dat Village

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Dat is a winter village and, it being summer, is deserted, the villagers living high up on the hills with their flocks of sheep and goats. Evidence of the flocks takes the form of vast piles of dung in the walled compounds. Winter fuel. BBC’s Radio 4 had a program based around this area and that life here was is hard the people are now slowly leaving to go and look for work in Leh, permanently. The low stone buildings have flat rooves of poplar, willow and flat rooves that must be strong enough for the winter snow. The gompa is behind the village, tucked away behind a wall close to the valley side. Some of the houses have crude wooden doors, some are without, others are painted. Even here, where most people will be illiterate, one door has a sign promoting the value of education. The key to a better life? A dog is sleeping under the shadow of a line of prayer flags. The stone enclosures will be packed with sheep during the winter nights, they are feet deep in dung which will be cut up into blocks, like peat, for fuel.

We rest up at the beautiful campsite where a beautiful meandering watercourse of many channels runs through vivid green grass. Marmots abound. Tired! In the late afternoon we return to the village with Thinless who finds a young monk at the gompa. Nawang is here on a punishment posting from Hemis while the main lama is away for a year. Hemis monastery owns most of the land that we’ve been trekking through. Nawang has been here three months, we don’t discover his misdemeanor but he wears a red and white headscarf with a cannabis leaf pattern. It’s a small simple gompa with a pleasant courtyard and five tall poplar prayer flags. The prayer room has some good thankas, a 1000 armed Avalolkiteshvara and representations of Padmasmbhava and Varjapani. The wall paintings are fairly old and in reasonable condition, in spite of it’s remote location and the sense that people are slowly drifting away, this looks like a well used gompa that remains a vital part of the culture landscape. There are newer paintings in the room above where the prayer books are kept. The thought passes that isolated gompas like this are very vulnerable to antiquity theft. A unwelcome thought and I dismiss it, but it must happen.

Later in the afternoon when we’re back at camp two horsemen ride into the village, it seems the monk wants to buy barley from them. They return to camp with two bottles of Godfather beer, for us! In the early afternoon a ponyman from Himachal rides down from a group camped further up the valley, the party includes a 22 stone man who’s riding all the way from Tso Kar to Stok via the Zarlung Karpo. It seems impossible for the horse and highly dangerous for the man and I admit to regarding him with some antipathy.

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