Fri 1 August   Mulbekh to Leh via Lamayuru and Alchi
In the morning we see that the orchard is below a sheer rock face. More surprising are the houses on top of the rock face. Next door to the guest ghouse is a mosque, we’re in a mixed Muslim/Buddhist area. At Mulbekh an image of the Buddha has been carved onto a large boulder. There’s a small attached gompa but the best views of the Buddha have been obstructed by the buildings that have been constructed to develop it as a tourist attraction. Several other tourists arrive and the site is suddenly congested. The carving is impressive but the overall effect is somewhat underwhelming.
We drive east, against the flow of the Indus, through soft brown arid hills. I sense an air of religious competition, long lines of tall white prayer flags follow hilltop ridges above the gold pagoda roofs of new gompas; gated Islamic colleges seem far too large for the local population. Further east we arrive at Lamayuru. A Lamayuru that has changed since our last visit four years ago when we started here for our trek to Chilling. It’s now a tourist destination with restaurants, hotels and information. But still a magnificent gompa in a spectacular setting. We have a very pleasant egg chow mein.

After lunch we drive on to Alchi. Alchi contains the most impressive Buddhist art in Ladakh. It is extensively documented and utterly beautiful. There is nothing like it. The three tiered Sumstek temple contains three very large standing statues of Manjushri, Avolokiteshvara and Maitreya identified by the hundreds of miniature paintings that surround them.
The Vairocana temple is a lower building approached through a garden of tall yellow flowers. A woman sitting in the garden is sorting apricots. A woman was doing exactly the same thing in the same place on our last visit. The main Vairocana statue is behind glass at the back of an inner room approached through an outer hall bedecked with banks of hanging pennants. Photography inside the temples is not permitted, a relief because the interiors are so beautiful, so rich and complex that they’re unphotographable anyway. It’s better not to try. We saw a monk being very unspiritual in the way he stopped a pesistent German taking sly photographs. 
Several large white stupas outside the temples have beautiful paintings on their walls and ceilings. The treasures of Alchi are in the temples but the courtayrds, lanes and gardens are a peaceful haven of red and white walls, white painted mani stones, prayer wheels and changing patterns of shadows. Apricot lassi too. Like Lamayuru, the developed tourist presence threatens to turn Alchi into a model village but staying overnight would allow you to see it in the quiet of the morning.

On the wonderful landscape - so difficult to photograph - and road back to Leh we turn off at Nimmo onto a newly tarmacced shortcut that involves a steep winding climb up a boulder strewn hill. On the highway, 12km from Leh, we have our only puncture of the trip. Back at the guest house there are bucket showers and the chance take our washing to Dzomsa, the eco washing shop run by young women of Leh - a popular place that refills water bottles with boiled water and acts an ethical meeting place. 
I’m pleased that we’ve reverted to Lachumir Guest House owned by a quiet couple who only have three rooms, just across the road from the Muryel. Their daughter is a teacher who’s been relocated to Leh after her first posting far to the east on the shores of Pangong Tso. Earlier this year she was involved in a car crash in Chandigarh in when her friend was killed and she was badly injured. It’s good to see her and her parents again.
In the two weeks we’ve been away Leh has filled up with tourists. It’s Friday and a dry day - no beer - at the Ibex so we make do with the Leh View rooftop restaurant, a place I’m alone in disliking. Beer is served from teapots.


Zanskar - Mulbekh to Leh via Lamayuru and Alchi