Wednesday 1 August. To Lhatoo and Dat

Back: Sorra Gorge

Next: Dat village

Not a long day ahead so we’ll take our time. The trail runs by the stream through willow groves before entering the narrow gorge where we saw last night’s goats. The gorge soon widens out into a wider green valley, the goats are high on the opposite cliffs; we pass edelweis and sweet pea-like plants covered with thousands of large black and white caterpillers.  On the ground by a deserted settlement a white bleached yak skull is carefully positioned to face the head of the valley. We stop for lunch by a stream with the ponymen. Dawa has made some joke hands for lunch. Walking through long grass flanked by a smooth hillside of grey scree we pass a large rock painted with the coloured letters of om mani padme hum. The other side of the valley is lined with a raised levee just above the stream.

The valley narrows again and we rise slightly onto higher ground just before two stupas herald a huge square of mani stones and stupas. We’ve arrived at Lhatoo, a spectacular collection of mani stones, some beautifully carved with figures from the Buddhist pantheon, where local people and nomads come to pay respect to the mountain deities. Lhatoo has an ancient presence, although the images are familarly Buddhist the sense is of something more connected to the spirits of the mountains and passes, perhaps it’s an old Bon site. I learn later that the local shepherds meet here once a year to pay respects to the old spirits. Only men can come. Worn and faded prayer flags, tall lahtos of willows and juniper tied with white scarves, piles of bleached blue sheep and yak horns, some carved with On Mani Padme Hum. Stenzin reads some Buddhist texts from the carved stones. I climb a hill for an overview, in the wind the strings of prayer flags arc horizontal in long elegant curves.

We walk on. The valley develops into a hot wide plain and the walk is longer than we expected. This morning’s greenery is left behind. I walk alonside Stenzin and we discuss the effect Buddhism has on his view of life. We also talk about Islam and politics. Stenzin is from the Suru valley in Zanskar not far from the Muslim culture of Kargil and Kashmir. Uncomfortable neighbours. Enough said. We pass long mani walls and approach a side valley where we expect to see the village of Dat. It’s not there and we walk on. Turning the corner at the next side stream we see the village and a few hundred yards ahead, still on the main valley, we see our tents pitched on a vivid green flat divided by narrow twisting fast flowing streams - a delightful place to spend the late afternoon. Graham and Bev are some way behind, I’d been getting hot, tired and grumpy but the sight of the village lifts my spirits and I can’t resist the urge to look around this deserted village. After tea together back at the camp we all return for a longer look around the village and gompa.

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