Luri to Tsarang

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21 August

I’ve seen images of some cave paintings near here and but Kancha doesn’t know of them. I had assumed they were at Luri but it seems not. He sends a messenger to the village at Ghara and he returns with a local man who seems to know what we’re looking for, they’re called the Tashi Kabum caves and they’re not far away. In fact there are hundreds of caves with Buddhist paintings and relics in Mustang. They’re around 800 years old and the location of many is kept secret to keep them safe from theft and destruction.

Our breakfast is shared with the monks and then they join us in saluting the shrine before we head back down the valley, following the river bed until we see the guide’s horse waiting below some cliffs. It’s a steep scramble to a wooden door that opens to reveal a small cave with a vandalised stupa surrounded by exquisite murals. The stupa has been broken and the paper prayers scattered on the floor but the murals are breathtakingly beautiful, in particular the one of Avalokiteshvara, even though a crack in the cave roof has destroyed part of the crown. The prayers have been gathered into a corner along with several tso tso, small reliquary terracotta offerings that may contain the ashes of a lama or monks.

A tight scramble back down the cliff reveals remnants of a whole network of caves, in some we can see traces of red paint. How you explore them without causing damage is a mystery, with great care I guess; some I imagine have been sealed up. Back on the river bed we keep changing sides as the river winds back and forth across the rocks. We leave the river and climb back up towards Yara, past a small empty lake that yesterday was full, past a large stupa and fields, all the while accompanied by a dog that apparently yesterday walked from Lo Montang. Tomorrow is a big horse festival at Yara but we’re a day too early. Nonetheless we’re in time for lunch. The route takes us on back down the valley to Dhi, where we have a second lunch: soup, spring rolls, peaches and plums! Feeling rather tired today and fail to find the energy to look through Tenzin’s collection of ‘old Tibetan things’. I think he was hoping to sell me something.

There’s a debate about the next stage of the day’s walk. The direct route follows the Kali Gandaki then turns up a side valley to Tsarang. The path was washed away and may not be passable, the only way is to set off and see. Plan B is an unattractive and very steep hike back up the hill reversing the path of two days ago then looping round over the top. We set off by the river, the issue is that it keeps changing its route and cutting up against the cliffs, covering the path. It turns into a great adventure, we walk across white crystalline sands, across grey crusted mud, among huge white boulders, on narrow cliff paths, we roll upmour shorts and wade through the swirling rapids and get piggy backed by the unbelievably strong porters. Kancha is anxious as to whether we’ll get through. His anxiety becomes real when the lead porter gets too cavalier and slips on a narrow path. The others just manage to remove his pack and hold him from falling in the river but Kancha is furious.

The dog is still with us, sometimes reluctantly swimming in the river. We reach the point where we leave the river and turn right up a side valley strewn with beautiful large round white boulders. The path climbs steeply then follows the contours before crossing a 150m long suspension bridge that leads to the steepest and hardest climb of the trip through an almost pathless ravine of rocks that’s a perfect challenge at the end of a long day. The top opens out and I’m greeted by a farmer who directs me through lanes to Tsarang. The lane is cluttered with litter! Tsarang is a collection of scattered houses set among fields separated by white stone walls. There’s a pool table outside a popular inn which turns out to be our guest house, called Maya’s Inn. It’s overrun with school kids, they seem to be everywhere but mostly hanging out on the roof outside our rooms which are sparated by a single sheet of plywood. Downstairs there’s the usual courtyard and balcony which leads off to the kitchen and a dining room full of school kids and then another quieter room with the usual low tables and carpeted benches. Only this time there are rugs on the floor. It’s a pretty cool place with some status and connections with the Royal family. Quite lively too, one of the kitchen girls slaps my bum as we pass in the corridor.


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