Sunday 22 July. Leh valley, Tisuru Stupa, Gonpa, Shey Palace.

After breakfast at the GH we follow the paths that wind through the fields of the Leh valley towards the dirt track that heads north past the Shanti Stupa towards Gyamtsa. The track passes close to the ruin of the huge Tisuru stupa. Some commentators say this stupa predates Tibetan Buddhism’s arrival in Ladakh - more likely it’s 12th century - but information is sketchy. Unfortunate because it’s an impressive ruin – I scrambled up inner staircases and jumped across the roof structures looking down into narrow cavities running around inner squares. The construction puzzled me at the time but now I think the cavities are probably the remains of the narrow passages that often surround shrine rooms.

The track passes a large new building with a strong perimeter wall and no indication of it’s purpose. Increasing numbers of stupas line the track, a thin string of prayer flags crosses the track between rocky outcrops near some men repairing the walls by the fields. I’m pleasantly surprised when I try speeding up to see how my lungs are coping with the altitude. Nonetheless, before long I find myself tiring and unwilling to take the longer trail that G likes to take round the back of the big hill up ahead.

At the head of the valley, at the start of a side valley called Gyamsta we stop to rest by a small new stupa, the Kalon stupa. Later in the day we’ll learn that this is a stupa for one of Wangchuk’s brothers. Intending to cut across the head of the valley and return to Leh on the other side, we cross fields and are greeted by a man standing near his house. It turns out to be another of Wanchuk’s brothers and his house serves as a very pleasant retreat. Retreat tents are pitched among trees in the shady gardens. Altogether idyllic and one time we hope to stay here. The walk back to Leh is delightful, passing through meadows then across stony hillsides to the village of Gonpa. Narrow lanes and gateway stupas guide you through Gonpa where several walls are topped with red painted upright stones that resemble Shiva lingams; the path then descends slowly to Leh, running alongside streams and stone walls. After Sankar, just before the guest house, we come to a collection of gateway stupas and shrine buildings containing three white stupas in front of paintings of Shakyamuni, Avalokiteshvara, Manjsuri and Vajrapani – similar to the ones in Changspa.

TO VIEW THE PHOTOS: Double click on the first photo to enlarge and scroll through using the arrows.