Friday 18 July
Wangchuk goes early to the airport to see off a French trekking group. He waves us off just before 8 and we drive west towards Lamayuru, giving lifts to various people including a young pharmacist. Over breakfast at Nimmo, where the road has been recently tarmacced, we talk to a lone female motorcyclist heading west. The tarmac has transformed the shops and tea stalls - sitting here last year we were covered in dust, now it’s almost upmarket. Round the back is a magnificent new drop toilet reached by a high rickety ladder.

Just before Lamayuru we turn down a new road to Wanla. We walked through here four years ago on the Lamayuru to Chilling trek; Wanla has a splendid gompa perched high on the hilltop ridge above the village. I can’t help but think that the new roads will kill the appeal of some of trekking routes and I’m glad we came a few years ago. The road now extends to Phanjila and further on to Sumdo where we find Dawa and Kisang, his friend and assistant, waiting with our supplies by the bridge. But no horses, one of the ponymen is late.
Location N 34 10 720, E 76 53 862, alt 3347m. 1.15pm
The path rises steadily through a narrow canyon all the way to Hanupatta. Several times we cross the river on fragile log bridges. Incredibly, a road is being built to replace the path which is narrow and occasionally dangerous. Bulldozers and the black tents of the road crew are scattered along the way. Stanzin points out the dfificult sections where the horses used to be unloaded and their packs carried by porters. Boulders and rocks make the going tough, at times we seem to be walking on paths the colours and consistency of dry powdery cement. Rose trees are past flowering and at the rosehip stage, tamarisk bushes are coming into pale pink flower, orange breasted finches scatter ahead of us.

Chortens and cultivated riverside terraces indicate the approach to Hanupatta, a small village of jumbled houses. Three women are sitting by a large, new prayer wheel; with greeting calls of Jullee we walk past them, up a few wooden steps, past a drop toilet and through a low doorway into a family room where we sit cross legged on Tibetan rugs to drink chai and eat biscuits. There are two women and two babies in the room. Tsering has to be the prettiest girl in Ladakh and her small baby takes after her. Her sister in law’s baby is an exhuberant 4 year old called Jolee and seems destined to be the new character in the village. We look out of the first floor window at a log jam of donkeys in the narrow lane outside. This is the first of many friendly villages and we could easily sit here for hours.
Our camp is further up the valley and down by the stream; we walk past a huge tree covered in prayer flags, more chortens and tall prayer flags that mark the end of the village. The camp is spread out up the side of the stream. Tsering has come up from the village carrying one of our rucksacs and is flitting around the camp and moving stones to create access to another camping area; two French girls and a Czech man pitch their tent next to ours, further upstream is a large French group. Chicken curry and rice. Tinned pineapple rings.
Just over the horizon a full moon illuminates the clouds and silhouettes the jagged mountains downstream. Upstream the hills are a ghostly white in the moonlight. The ground is hard and it’s a long night of broken sleep.


Zanskar - Leh to Phanjila. Trek to Hanupatta