Tuesday 31 July. The Sorra Gorge

Back: Zarlung Karpo La

Next: To Lhatoo and Dat

Large sandstone peaks on our right, gentler slopes on our left as we descend this pleasant valley, at first the passing the horses’ camp and, later, occasional shepherd’s stone buildings. We’re heading towards a small triangular mountain crowned with a ruined lookout post which indicates where we turn right into the Sorra gorge. The horses pass before we reach the mountain, we have lunch by a grassy stream. We’re taking our time - it’s too delightful to rush - and we revise our itinerary over lunch to stay only one night at the village of Dat. The path skirts a larger settlement with raised crop beds and walls, a few dried crops, a stone coral and and prayer flags, a few hundred metres later the path turns right and drops down into the huge Sorra gorge. Stanzin has gone head to ask the ponymen to make camp shortly after the gorge, he’s dwarfed by the huge rock face inside the cavern.

It’s a huge space, great cracks split the sandstone coloured rock face, birds swoop and call across the emptiness and willows line the river bed as it twists and turns along the descending cavern bottom before opening out into a small delta and joining a river that flows to the right, to Zanskar. We climb onto a hillside and rest by deserted buildings then drop down to a willowed riverbed. The undulating path runs close to the river while rising slightly. The path is longer than expected and we climb a dusty rise before dropping down to camp on the right of the river (the true left bank). Dead willow branches make good fuel and previous camp fire remains litter the big open space, scree slopes rise to cliffs behind the camp and steep cliffs face us from across the river. There are many thin willows and the occasional tamarisk tree. Upstream, in the direction we’ll be heading tomorrow, the valley splits into three - narrow canyons ahead and to the left and a dry river valley to the right. Graham goes paddling off upstream, Bev and I rest in the tent.

Later I meet Graham returning and we all set off to explore the side valleys. Streams and a wet path lead through willow groves, there are marmots and by the dried valley I spot a lone kyang - a wild Ladakhi horse (actually an ass). But we head to the narrow canyon to the left and make our way through dense thickets of willows, there’s evidence that some have been harvested and taken to Leh for firewood. Our path is arrested by a stone wall that snakes down both hillsides - it’s amazing the things people build, for us it’s hard to see the purpose. A large cave up on the hillside looks inhabited, my energy’s returned and it’s tempting to climb a hill to skirt across and take a look. I’m pleased to be persuaded it’s took late in the day. Handsome yellow and black birds fly among the willows ahead of us, we remove boots to cross a stream and while I’m lagging behind Bev and Graham hear the rattle of falling rocks and spot wild deer on the vertical rockface above. The skitter round the corner, we follow discretely and find several dozen grazing on the stony hillside. Falling stones reveal more deer high up up above, we stand in fasciantion at their agility as they move quickly and easily on the narrow ledges of the almost vertical hillside, it seems an improbable living environment but it’s what they do!

The food has improved. There’s a tendency for trek cooks to think Westeners need variety and Western dishes, but the dishes they cook best are their local ones. Of course, it could be that the crew like the opportunity to have the variety of Western food. Whatever, tonight we have dhal, rice, mixed veg and potatoes with onion and cumin. Excellent! No pasta, ever better! We make a willow camp fire and attempt folk songs. It’s the usual result - wonderful performed, plaintive Ladakhi songs from the crew, a poor showing by the Sheffield contingent. Tushi, the quieter ponyman, has a delightful voice and makes great music with Sonam. We have Ladakhi dancing in the style we saw at Leh palace, slowly rhythymic and perefectly suited to the altitude. The Hokey Cokey is always popular with the crew but there’s not enough oxygen and I have to give up, coughing and gasping for breath, falling down and rolling on my back. I try Bob Dylan’s Forever Young which they appear to like but my brain is gone and I can’t remember beyond the first verse.

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