Well I think we can say today was a great success. We breakfasted at 7.30 and had a good laugh at the various issues with our rooms. We decided to leave at 8.30 to make the most of the morning cool and hopefully avoid the crowds and this seemed to work well on both counts. We were expecting the initial walk up from the hotel to be a bit of a slog but it was actually very interesting, crossing a series of bands of moraine and John was able to talk a bit about glaciers. No-one seemed to be struggling with the effects of altitude, except for getting a little more puffed out on uphill sections.
We stopped at the first decent sized boulder and used my home made quadrats and B&Q colour charts to assess the predominant colour of the lichens present at this altitude ( around 2800 m). I regarded someone saying, ‘I could never have imagined myself getting excited about lichens’, as a real result.
Surveying lichens on glacial erratics
The whole valley looks very different to last September – much more snow and more meltwater in the river, many more encampments of nomads and people touting horse rides and, most bizarrely of all, people sledging and skiing on the snow pockets and even one family building a snowman. We had very little hassle from the pony men but rather a lot from the children, who followed us persistently begging for anything and everything from rupees to pens and toffee. One other, sad, change was that the group of Himalayan white birch part way up the valley (see my blog, ‘Himalayan birch‘) look sicker than they did last year. People are not allowed to cut down live trees for firewood so they light a fire at the base to kill the trees so they can then legally be cut down. Some of the birches bore evidence of this.
Himalayan birch trees
We picnicked in the shade of more or less the last group of trees above the path – paratha made a very nice change to the houseboat sandwiches! There was a steep pull up to our picnic site but this gave us the opportunity to see some of diversity of tiny plants growing on the thin soil – violets, Potentilla, Arabidopsis and sandwort, amongst others.
After lunch some people had had enough, so ambled slowly back. The rest of us carried on up the valley, at a variety of different paces. When we reached the main snow pocket, John and I had a go on a sledge we found abandoned – my steering skills seem to have deserted me and I had to jump off before ending up in the river!
The flowers above this first big snow pocket were much more diverse, much as we remembered from last year but with many more to see. Glorious blue gentians no more than a couple of centimeters tall studded the ground and I was thrilled to find Podophyllum hexandrum (see ‘A case study in evolution – Podophyllum hexandrum‘). Although much of the literature states that the main pressure on this endangered species is illegal harvesting of the rhizome for traditional medicine, at Thajiwas it seems to be overgrazing that is doing much of the damage.
Podophyllum hexandrum, in flower and heavily grazed
We ambled back to the hotel for about 5 pm, taking a different route down the final section which led us past the long-abandoned remains of many nomadic dewellings. In the past, the walls were built of stone and simply covered by a tent each year when the family returned. The drivers from Leh arrived shortly after we did and all seem very friendly and helpful.