Mon 28 July Hanumar to Pishu via Zangla
Today is our last day trekking. The horses are lined up ouside the tent as if they know they’re parting company. They’ll take our gear to the next camp and then return home. We say goodbye to the ponyman Guddu. He’s an older Hindu from Manali, from a different culture and never really seemed part of the team.

We walk past green fields of wheat marked off with tall piles of rocks joined by bleached branches. Very beautiful, functionally useless but no doubt symbolically effective. In quick succession we pass scattered whitewashed houses; a llato of horns perched on an eroded rock outcrop above the path; a series of winding stone walls; an elevated bridge marked with prayer flags on willow poles; a long forest of eroded ‘cathedral’ spires by the riverside, many topped with precariously balance rocks like the ones by the Spiti river; and close up views of rock strata with layers of smooth round stones of different sizes. The valley opens out; smooth stretches of sand by the river are covered in the footprints of birds. Zanskar beech. Dzos graze in pastures on the opposite bank.
Scattered trees, chortens, a whinnying pony and cultivated fields of wheat and peas lead up to the village of Pidmu and tsampa tea on wooden benches outside the village shop. We meet Kisang’s sister, a handsome woman wearing earings and necklace of small white beads interspersed with coral and turquoise. The village women play with the cameras, a young boy is absorbed in his bubble gum and a girl smiles as she stands on a rock to make herself taller for her photo with Graham. A woman with fingers stained the dull yellow of her clothes is finishing the fringes on a fine white shawl, twisting, pleating and knotting the warp threads in a way that creates weight at the end of the tassles. I try to catch the movements of her fingers but her dexterity is beyond me. I should have turned the camera to video.

A long mani wall, a chorten and a tall llato mark the end of the village. We’re soon looking down on the irregular oval fields typical of Zanskar before crossing the blue painted footbridge over the Zanskar river. Children are swimming in the waters. A vast undulating plain noisy with crickets; occasional roadworkers huts and a hot path stretches ahead. A long two hours, taking turns on the horses, of a flat track brings us to Zangla. In this heat the horses smell strongly of, well, horse. 
The first sign of Zangla is of an apparent ruin on the hilltop to our left. In the distance, beyond the village, we can see the old palace of the king of Zangla, high on a rock outcrop. As we veer away from the river the ruin turns into the nunnery of Zangla. Robes are drying in the sun, yellow hats are visible through windows. We’re invited to eat our lunch in the ochre walled dining room with 9 yellow hat nuns. Two look very old. Vajrapani is the featured deity for July on the calendar on the wall. Graham is outrageously flirty with two of the nuns. Somehow he gets away with it and has his photo taken wearing maroon robes and a nun’s yellow hat. The nuns go into a chanted prayer for several minutes. An Australian girl is staying here for the summer bringing contact with the outer world. The nunnery has three prayer rooms; the oldest has been restored by the Gaden Trust, dates back about 500 years and has a very special atmosphere. There are good paintings and stautes of a thousand armed Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani and one I don’t recognise with a horse’s head. The walls inside the entrance have very detailed and unusual images of protector deities drawn with fine white outlines on a black wall.

The afternoon is getting hotter as we walk above the village along to the King of Zangla’s one-time palace fort. Mani walls and stupas mark the route leading up to the magnificent location on a rock outcrop looking out over the river. The caretaker unlocks a large wooden door and leads us up through ruined rooms and collapsing low ceilinged staircases. The king’s prayer room has, to some extent, been preserved. Perished thankas hang from the ceiling; dusty old stupas and Buddhas stand guard around the room. It was in a bare room here that the 19th century Hungarian Tibetologist Alexander de Khoros lived for several years producing the first English-Tibetan dictionary. Several plaques fixed to the carved wooden beams commemorate his achievement. Views from the roof look back over today’s route but show no sign of the bridge we need to cross to get to tonight’s camp. It’s too late to detour to Dawa’s house in the village as planned, the walk upriver to find the bridge takes an eternity. We arrive at the bridge at the same time as two cyclists, they’re Italian and in their seventies and plan to find a camping place over the bridge and on the track to Karsha. When I saw them in the distance I’d hoped they were on motobikes and could give us a lift. I don’t know whether I’m inspired or exhausted by their achievement. Once over the bridge, the walk to our flat grassy camp is shorter than expected. Feeling tired and ratty, I admire the patience of a French woman with an excitable horde of local children, she soon has them playing happily among themselves. 


Zanskar - Hanamur to Pishu via Zangla