Saturday 4th August. Yar La to Lingmoche

Back: Dat to Yar La base camp

Next: Sangtha and Leh

Today is our last pass. After a tiring day yesterday I’m feeling good and sail up the (admittedly easy) Yar La in less than an hour. I pay for it later when I’m slow on the way down. It’s a pleasant rounded summit with a couple of stupas, prayer flags and a fine collection of mani stones. I relish this last pass; although I fancy a day’s rest from walking, I’m sorry it’s the end. A French couple arrive from the south heading for Dat tonight, travelling light, their guide and ponies following.

I walk slowly down the dusty path towards the plain where Graham and Stenzin are waiting, we drop a little further before stopping for lunch and a doze on welcome grass. Maybe the doze was a mistake, I don’t want to get up but we have a side stream to cross before camp. Graham is ahead of us, an eagle circles over him, ominously. Our tents are pitched by abandoned stone shelters, Dawa and Stenzin manage to get the old water pump working though I think the river water is cleaner. A French couple arrive and pitch higher up the valley. They’ve come straight from Dat, moving faster than us, travelling light and 30 years younger. They’re going from Spituk to Kibber in 24 days, a nice trip, just the two of them, one pony and one guide. These French! They make us feel old, lazy and soft.

We have a lazy day, Graham watches a sparrowhawk trying to catch a mouse, there’s a heavy rain shower but the ground looks bone dry afterwards. We decide not to trek to Sangtha but let the jeeps pick us up from here. How Stenzin relays this message to the driver is beyond me. The ponymen collect dung for a fire - it catches light immediately and burns quickly, we sit around, Sonam and Tuchi have wonderful voices and sing Ladakhi songs; we attempt Good King Wenceslas and the ever popular Okey Cokey but the spirit of our songs just doesn’t compare. Tuchi has been a quiet, shy and reserved companion this last ten days but when he sings his voice is delightful. Sonam plays plastic jerry can percussion. We’re very moved and join in with the slow Ladakhi dancing round the fire, trying to woop at the right time on the ‘chorus’.

Click on Tushi to here him singing:

I hear a noise in the blackness behind me and suddenly the horses are startled and bolt across the camp and up the valley. Sonam and Tuchi chase  after, but they’re gone. We stand around startled and not knowing what to do. There’s nothing we can do. The horses have bolted, Sonam and Tuchi have raced off after them, they’re out of sight and earshot, the intimacy of the singing and the camp fire is shattered. It’s been a wonderful evening, the Milky Way is bright and clear, all we can do is go to our tents. Four hours later we hear noises, the ponymen have returned with the horses who’d all raced clear out of the valley. We’ll never know what it was that startled them.

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