A Day to Loaf Around in Cha

Was pretty bummed meeting the tourists while returning from Phuktal the day before. A party of 10 or so european kids. And I was also pretty bummed to see all those tourist vehicles parked as close as they could be to Phuktal. These folks all drove clear from Leh via Kargil, then through Padum, up the Lugnak, and now they’re doing a 2 hour walk to Phuktal. There’s so much between there and here that they’ll miss. Especially the upper valley that can’t quite be reached by road. In my book they’re right on the edge of awesome but will miss it.

Is clear to me now that I’m right on the edge of civilization and not really so keen to dive back in. I request to stay another night and my hosts agree, so I’ve got one more day. I’m really sorry now that I zoomed down from Sking. I should have spent days in lovely Tanse and Maling.

Anyhoo I started this trip with a load of 30 or so 8×12 prints that I’d brought from the USA. I’ve been handing them out as I pass the sites and people in the photos. So when I first arrived I delivered to my host my Cha photos from years past. One was a portrait I took of the lady of the house (spouse of the host) and when she returned she was really pleased with it. The photo made her look like the complete badass that she is. She showed it to her sister who squealed with excitement. Next night she requested that I take her picture too. She wanted to do it right then, in the dark, I explained I needed good light for a proper portrait.

Sister is on her way up to the doksar on the other side of the river today, so I’m to meet her early, I suggest it would be good to take her picture out in the fields.

I wake early before everyone and roam around the empty fields. Amazing air that smells of the crops and flowers and the burbling water. Just wonderfully clean up here. I was to meet her at 6am but she’s nowhere to be seen but way up across the valley I can see the yaks heading slowly up the hill. Oh jeese, that’d be a shame. I sure did wake early but not early enough.

Sister shows up at 7:15am and we do our “photo shoot.” Right after the shoot she’s off for several weeks to care for the portable yak farm that is the Doksar. They’re going across the river and straight up the other side to some high meadows full of grass. That’d be something to see. Definitely going to do that if I ever come back.

Perfect timing for the photos, we catch the fields just as the sun crests the ridge.

Personally I think she’d look better wielding a pair of Yak, but not to be, they’re already climbing the slopes across the river.

Anyway, I’ve got their address, I owe many people the finest prints I can muster. At least for the next few years, until there’s better mail delivery and a photo lab… a high quality print will have some value?

Today is rest day, enjoy the silence and the clean air. I might go to Mone Gompa tomorrow, maybe all the way to Padum… This guest house is so wonderful, I’ll leave and only memories, like Rivendell, I suspect the best part of my trip ends here.

After another amazing breakfast I organize my gear and have a short nap, then at 11am I leave the house in search of some petroglyphs that are across the river. Instead I am captured by my host’s kids who are painting a house with white mud and getting covered with it.

Which leads to “Where you go?” which in turn leads to entire village telling me to just go up the hill to that Stupa right there, there’s petroglyphs all around up there. A local vacationing college kid is assigned to guide me. We hike straight up to the Stupa but find nothing except good views and a sand pit at the top of the ridge.

While tramping around in the steep scree we’re having a long discussion about the nature of Indian educational system, the kid has a lot to get off his chest. He’s a postmodern kid from a rural village and the indian orthodoxy is not kind to him. He’s certainly able to perceive the nature of modern life, but the environment of india offers him to way to sustain himself. Once he leaves college his future is bleak since he won’t have the test scores to land a choice job. I try to encourage him with advice from my own working experience: he should seek out the best people and work with them doing something excellent. Excellent people always need excellent people, they’ll find a way to succeed, and you won’t be surrounded by lazy boring people that are living for their eventual retirement. Reality though, in India, people really do starve.

We climb all over that damn hill, clear to the top of the left hand ridge, then descend down some fairly exposed cliffs. He shows me some sort of interesting black stone inclusions that he says are valuable for tibetan medicine, but we see no petroglyphs.

Back to town exhausted and sweating and the villagers all look at me with pity when I tell them I couldn’t find the petroglyphs.

My guide wishes to ride my bike, and then so does a gaggle of laughing young monks. Hilarity ensues as the kids all try and ride the huge bicycle.

I head back home to the kids watching vintage bollywood on the satellite tv. I know this scene: Its kids relaxing after returning home from school. Totally awsome. A universal. But after a few more minutes of lounging they suddenly they spring into action and create a superb lunch: white rice, fresh veges, some curry with onions, and TSAMIK! (Salsa: tomato, cardamon, onion, red pepper.) Seriously fresh and delicious. My kids could do this, maybe, but it would take shock collars to get them to spring into action like that.

Fork is sticking, needs oil. Should have brought some…

Anyway, at lunch I was recounting story of futile petroglyph search, the daughter pipes up: “there’s some good ones up at the lake…” What? “Would you like me to show you?” Sure! We head out and up, off trail of course, trails are for outsiders. We head straight up the hill for 1k vertical feet or so and eventually intersect the main trail out of town where we find a big gorgeous ibex on a rock right next to the trail.

She points across the slope. “You see the stupa? Before it are shiney cliffs? Those cliffs are covered in more carvings.” Wow. I thank her, she heads back to watch her bollywood and I stomp across the 500m or to the cliffs. And as expected: El Dorado! A dense cluster of carvings.

Lots of ibex. Maybe men on horseback hunting with bows? I take a bunch of pics, hoping they are more clear with post processing.

Another delicious dinner. I am feeling so thankful to this family for their incredible food. And Lo! My friend Stanzin arrives just after dinner. He’s the brother of my host, he guided my wife and I in 1999 while in high school and we supported him in college. He’s grown into a school teacher and a father.

We talk until 10:30pm, lot of water under the bridge in 20 years! I can’t believe that little kid is now a solid man. I sure don’t feel 20 years older.

We plan for early breakfast the next because my planned destination of Mone Gompa is “So far.”

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