Sonamarg is at an altitude of around 9000 ft, which we hardly notice now. I slept well again and caught up a bit on the blog before breakfast. It feels nice not to be moving on today and to have a full day in the field. We need to think about this for next year’s trip too, making sure we don’t spend too much time driving.
After breakfast Tashi drIves us, with Tahir, the few km to the start of the walk up to Thajiwas glacier over several obvious bands of terminal morraine. The walk up to the ‘glacier’ is lovely but what we find is really a permanent snow pocket rather than a proper glacier. That would be much higher up the valley than we walk.
Walking up to Thajiwas glacier
It takes us a good couple of hours to get this far, partly because there are lots of rocks, lichens and flowers to look at. It’s obviously not going to be practical to measure lichens in an attempt to map the rate of glacier retreat here but at least we can look at the obvious changes in distribution – we see very few lichens up near the snow pocket.
Lichen assemblage on rock near terminal moraine
Rhizocarpon geographicum lichen
We find our first rock with fossils near the snow too – it contains lots of crinoid fragments. Unfortunately, because it’s at the base of a glacier it could have come from miles away, so doesn’t tell us much.
Rock with circular crinoid fragment
There are lots of tiny alpine plants up near the snow, too, many familiar to us – geraniums, buttercups, stitch wort, eye bright, alchemilla, forget-me-nots and quite a range of ferns.
Flowers near the snow pocket
Lower down the valley the slopes are being well grazed by sheep gathered for the Eid festival next week, so there is not much sign of the meadows for which Sonamarg is named.
We are not back at the hotel for lunch till after 3pm and John, Helen and I just have soup and bread. Tahir and Tashi manage to tuck away substantial amounts of rice and curry though! Late afternoon, John and I sit down and draft an itinerary for next year’s trip – it is starting to take shape. Plant adaptations to their environment will be one of my main themes for the ecology part of the trip, linked by things like the effect of rock type, effects of altitude and salinity to the underlying geology. We’ll also be looking a little at how humans manage to live in such an environment and their effects on it, in turn.
I have a welcome cup of tea with John and Helen when the power comes on and shower before dinner. We have to drag Tashi and Tahir away from the cricket for this – both are very keen and were out playing with the hotel staff earlier. Everywhere we go we see boys of all ages playing cricket, often in the street.