Sun 20 July Hanupatta to Photoksar over the Sirsir La
The horses have strayed far up the valley during the night; we make a late start. When we break camp they’re still missing. A tidy stone farm adorned with prayer flags stands by a left turn at the head of the valley. A bulldozer is pushing rocks around for the new road on a higher countour line. I hope the villagers don’t regret the coming of the new road and the probable arrival of more aggressive traders and the decline of trekking. Of course, the villagers don’t make much from trekkers, they sell a few 5 rupee cups of chai, a few biscuits and earn some money from grazing rights. Occasionally they might let a room. Perhaps other types of tourist might come, maybe for day walks, maybe staying in the village houses.

It’s a gentle walk alongside quiet irrigation channels with water milky with mica. We pass other trekkers and at 4250 metres stop to talk to Ray and Odette resting by a pile of tall stones. The ponymen have found our horses, we pass them heading back to camp. The hillside is strewn with boulders, deep iron red with bright orange lichen. The path crosses a bridge to the true right bank of the river and begins a long diagonal climb across biscuit coloured scree below rugged sandstone cliffs. On the opposite side, stretching into the distance, we see astonishing steeple like hills protruding sharply through soft scree leading to a 6000 metre snow capped summit that Stanzin recently climbed. Our path continues steadily uphill, several crests lead to a cairn where I’d hoped for the pass. From the cairn the path leads across to a parachute tent below the final ascent. Strong gusts of wind are blowing the tent around and we help to secure the roof before settling down to chai and several packets of chocolate biscuits. The French group arrive; Odette and Ray continue straight past for the summit. The final ascent looks steep but a series of easier zig zags appear; in front of us Odette sails up, hanging on to a pony’s tail.

The summit of the pass is wide, rounded and smooth with a short string of prayer flags between two cairns. Horses have arrived from both directions and stand around in groups. Although there are many horses there are only a handful of people. We feel exhilarated; Bev and Stanzin light incense and Odette and Ray join us to chant the Tara mantra by a collection of khatas and prayer flags. A smiling Dawa arrives with our two horses, one white, the other dark brown, clearly good friends and inseparable. 

We descend steeply to a lunch spot among yellow anemonies. We watch the French group take a hazardous, slow and very steep descent on a different path. We pass them, and grazing dzos, on the gradual path down to the camp above Photoksar. A fine red and white walk-through-stupa stands above the village by a strange little shrine with a short string of flags, flat stones and flowers, approached by two parallel rows of stones. I call in to see Odette and Ray who’s decided I’m his English brother. They got married in Tibet three years ago on a trip to Kailash. Our tents are pitched on the opposite bank further down the valley on a lovely grassy site. Sitting in our tents we look across to Photoksar village perched on the last flat terraces before the valley plunges down into a deep chasm that leads back to Wanla. The village is dwarfed by the vast landscape. Huge rock faces on the far side change colour dramatically as the sunlight illuminates different faces over the next two hours. We’ve brought a fluorescent frisbee which keeps getting misthrown into the river. Dawa hurtles across the rocks and unerringly fishes it out.
He then prepares a strange noodle dinner. I’m delighted that my knee’s been OK though I’ve mysteriously acquired a long scratch on my nose.

Zanskar - Hanupatta to Photoksar over the Sirsir La