Thurs 31 July   Randum to Mulbek via Kargil
We awake to the sound of booming sound of cow bells and the lighter notes of horse bells. The sun is creeping along the valley and the animals are walking to where the sun has reached. Rangdum gompa is a short drive across wetlands and the clear waters of the river. It’s built on the only rock outcrop on the plain. Through the doorway is a passage with monk’s quarters, beyond that is the courtyard with a large stupa. Rangdum comes across immediately as a more medieval, or maybe just less refined, gompa. The floors are more uneven, the doorways more crooked, the prayer wheels are few and more basic than usual. Indian red walls are faded, the white washed walls are dirty. The wood is old and bleached. The monks are older. There is nothing new and it’s totally wonderful. 
Monks and old women are coming to the end of a puja; there is much full length prostrating. The women wear fringed shawls made from rough multicoloured tie dyed wool, the same fabric we’ve seen in Tibet. People are arriving on foot and by bus for the festival. A very dark passageway runs around the prayer room. Behind the prayer room is another room containing two large gilt statues, of Sakyamuni and Tsongkapa, the founder of the Gelupga order, to which this monastery belongs. Graham’s friends from yesterday’s bus trip are cooking in one of the kitchens; they’re delighted to see us. We’re surrounded by great cauldrons and metal ladles. Shafts of light illuminate the smoky blackness. Everybody gathers for a photo.
Outside, people are arriving on foot and by bus for the festival. As at Karsha we’re here too soon and will miss it. 

We drive north up the flood plain valley past the second half of Rangdum village. Water runs down from glaciers, snow  capped mountains are reflected in the standing water. Horses are running across the wet plain, cows are swimming across the river. Two hours after we leave the plain we’re entering Muslim areas, the first mosque stands above the surrounding trees, bright new corrugated iron roof and dome glistening bright. We see the first of many views of Nun and Kun, famous mountains of Kashmir, one black, the other white with thick snow. But the faces in the villages are, well, unfriendly. Young men stand around doing nothing. The contrast with the Buddhist villages of the last two weeks is alarming. We soon find that our friendly demeanor fades in response to these lifeless faces. We see only men. The Sunni Moslem population is increasing and spreading out and it seems that the stability between these very different communities is bound to be tested. 

Above Kargil a new road slowly descends toards the town. The road is smooth, we’re driving too fast, the landscape is cultivated and somehow very un-Indian. I’m suddenly disorientated, like I’m not in India at all. It feels like somewhere unfamiliar in Europe. The feeling stays with me until we stop for lunch in a dry field on the hillside. We give a lift to an old man with one leg and a boy who gives us delicious apricots. Some time later we drive into Kargil and straight into two hours worth of trouble with the Kargil Taxi Union. Briefly, we have to show our passports and taxi log book. Everything is in order but the local taxi mafia have a vendetta against non-Muslim drivers passing through ‘their’ area. Numerous arguments ensue, our driver’s log book is confiscated, a local driver tries to drive off with our car, and us. There’s about 20 men, bored and with nothing to do, and it would be potentially rather intimidating - if it wasn’t so ridiculous. All humour has been dispensed with. We keep thinking we’re clear then they start up again. Eventually, someone with more authority and intelligence appears and we’re free to go. Kargil has a bad reputation, no surprise there. The young man with the apricots stays around while this is happeneing. He seems sorry that our kindness in giving him a lift has not been reciprocated.
The delay has spoilt our chances of getting to camp in daylight. We camp a kilometer before Mulbekh in an apricot orchard by the Mul Bakh guest house, clearly a Muslim spelling. The altitude is lower and it’s a warm night.


Zanskar - Rangdum to Mulbekh via Kargil