Wednesday 25 July. Gya to Sumdo

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It normally takes me a few days get organised in the mornings but, unusually, I appear to be sorted. We run through a little puja with Stenzin, burning incense by a stupa at the start of the trail. Namo Buddhiya. We speak the same words as Stenzin, a delight for us all. A slow walk up through fields and streams, mostly cloudy and pleasantly cool. I’m keeping eyes open for some friends from England coming the other way on the last day of their trek down the Markha valley and an attempt on Dzo Jonga, a 6000m peak just west of here. Unwilling to cross the river in bare feet I skirt the hillside on a thin path. Some horses come the other way and their ponyman tells me they’re with a Dzo Jonga group. On the crest of the thin hillside path I get the first glimpse of Richard and friends and rush ahead to greet their group. Rather a strange feeling, Richard lives 5 minutes walk away from our house in Sheffield; here we are on a little used trail in Ladakh. Some of their group made the summit others stopped at 5600 metres. Stenzin believes we are at a much lower altitude than Richard’s GPS and continues to downplay the altitude for the whole trip. We’re a little short of breath and prefer to believe the GPS and the contour lines on the map. After a quick exchange of stories we go our separate ways; our path continues to rise on an ochre hillside, opposite dark red cliffs. 

Lunch - of marmalade and processed cheese white bread triangles, boiled egg, banana, boiled sweets and a Milky Bar - is taken on blistered rocks of multicoloured round pebbles embedded in a hard composite. Later we fork right at a sumdo - a junction of two streams - and the path alternates between flat and a moderate incline until suddenly we’re at another Sumdo and our boulderstrewn campsite. Little room for tents, it’s cosy but hard on the tent pegs. Our horses are already grazing, bells tinkling. A short shower of rain. To the occasional shouts of ponymen chasing wandering ponies I walk up a side valley, half intending to climb the hill overlooking our camp. The surface is too loose, I abandon my plans and descend to a few dzos and a group of circular shepherds’ shelters full of goat and dzo poo. A niche in the stone wall is packed with coloured ropes. 

A tired evening with touches of altitude headaches. G repairs’ Bev’s sunglassses with fluorescent tubes taken from the tent’s guy ropes. At least we can see her moving in the dark. Cauliflower cheese and pasta makes for an odd meal. A mouse rabbit scurries between rocks below the camp. By 9pm the sky is clear.

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