Tues 15 July
Breakfast at the Penguin cafe then a look round the Tibetan covered market to replace the fleece Bev lost at Manchester airport. We don’t find anything. Enjoyable experience at the post office where I post a card. English gap year students confused by the process and the prices; amused and patient Tibetan woman behind the counter.
We go back to Lala’s cafe. This is in the oldest part of Leh; a place of ancient stupas, narrow lanes and small shops that for hundreds of years were at the cross roads of trading routes. Graham talks to a very old central Asian looking man with a sewing machine repair shop. Graham knows about sewing machines. We spend some time on the cafe roof then we walk past the polo ground, the long mani wall and new prayer wheel to a large, very old ochre stupa, the Mani Sarmo, which we’d seen from the cafe roof. Good views across the old town to Leh Palace and south to the snow capped mountains of the Stok range.

On Market Street we find a shortcut into the Leh Jokhang, the Buddhist temple, crowded with old Tibetans and Ladakhis sitting on the courtyard steps, here for teachings on Non Attachment. The courtyard is decorated with Buddhist prayer flags. Painted thangkas hanging from the ceiling feature the fierce, blue bodied Vajrapani, a popular protector deity of the Buddhist dharma, a powerful figure carrying in one hand the vajra or thunderbolt of enlightenment. He is surrounded by flames and reminds you of the power of the truth of the Buddhist teachings, or dharma. A senior monk shows us a metre square mandala made from coloured sand that symbolically depicts the abode of Vajrapani. Mandalas like this are used as aides to meditation. The mandala will be dispersed later this week, symbolising the impermanence of all things. The monks here are from Matho and Spituk monasteries, just south of Leh.
Broscetta on the rooftop cafe above Leh bookshop.

Dawa and Stanzin, our cook and guide from last year, are signed up for the trek. We bring the start of the trek forward by a day - we’ll drive out on Friday. Wangchuk regails us with tales of Karsha and Matho when he was a young man in charge of filming projects.
I but a cheap SIM card for my old mobile - a good idea but later I find I can’t use the card in Delhi on account of terrorist security issues.
Again, superb Indian food at the Ibex.

Wed 16 July
Poor breakfast at the Guest House - never again. We drive to Matho and Stok with the driver who last year took us to Gya/Llato for the start of our Karnak trek. We drive south from Leh on the Leh Manali highway. At Choglamsar, the Tibetan settlement, there’s a bridge across the Indus and a minor road to Stok and Matho. We’re puzzled by extensive, well built irrigation channels - for what? Tree plantng? A smaller track branches off to Matho, a picturesque village with willows, poplars and streams running by green fields. The long hillsides are smooth slopes of biscuit coloured scree - we’ve seen these hillsides before, from the monasteries of Thiske and Shey which are visible far away on the opposite side of the valley. Snow capped mountains head the valley to the south.
Matho is on a rock outcrop. A large extension is being built from mudbricks. A lean, friendly monk shows us around. Matho is famous for the oracle described in Andrew Harvey’s book but we’re not able to see the most intruiging rooms. For us, on this occasion, the most interesting feature is the location and the surrounding landscape. Walking back through the village we get invited into a water powered barley mill thick with dust motes. It’s a rustic mill but has sophisticated controls for grading different grains. The owner and his three donkeys stand outside. Two girls play and wash in the stream.

Further down the road several large white chortens stand out against a dramatic blue sky streaked with high clouds. Yellow mustard fields and distant mountains, a smell of honeysuckle. The car is getting warm and we’re feeling sleepy as we drive towards Stok. Below Stok Palace we have tea in a parachute tent, eat our lunch and share our apple strudel with the tea ladies. On the track below, a man drives ponies by a row of red topped chortens.
Two minutes drive up the valley is the tea tent Graham remembers from the end of his Stok Kangri trek. We walk up the valley and cross the stream on a broken low bridge to approach a shrine built at a turn in the valley. Three stupas, yellow, blue and white, are housed in a rectangular building with wire mesh windows. We walk further upstream, on the wrong side without a proper path. Bev and I cross the stream by a camp of Austrians. The walk from here is lovely and we’d like to go further but Graham has turned back and we return to join him at the parachute tent. Too sleepy to check out the palace or gompa we drive back to Leh, giving a lift to 3 women who we drop by the market.
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Zanskar - Leh, Matho, Stok