On to Nurla, Saturday August 6

Today’s journey to Nurla was much more relaxed but we made an earlyish start again as we wanted time for lots of stops – our first stop at Shergol was just an hour or so from Kargil. It was a nice cool day to be travelling, with quite a breeze and plenty of cloud – we seem to be catching just the tail end of the monsoon.

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Shergol monastery

Unfortunately the monastery was locked up, but people appreciated the spectacular views over the valley.

Looking down from the monastery

I asked people to look out for plants on the way up and down – I think most were surprised how many we found in such barren looking scree.  The most surprising, perhaps, was a forget-me-not.  People also spotted Polygonum paronychioides,  which I so struggled to identify last year – it really doesn’t look like a member of the Polygonaceae!

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Polygonum paronychioides

From Shergol we carried on to Mulbek to see the ancient, rock-carved Buddha.

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The young monk inside, collecting the small entrance fee, was happy to have his photo taken – most do seem relaxed about photos, as long as you ask permission.

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We stopped at the top of Namika La pass for a tea break and people disappeared off higher up very quickly – we had to call them back as we’re not really acclimatised to altitude yet.

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Tea break at the top of Namika La pass

Nikhi found some interesting plants, including Halogeton (see Serendipity) – some of us were more interested in finding somewhere secluded for a loo stop!  We enjoyed the lovely scenery along  the fertile Wakka Chu valley towards Fotu La pass – this year it was not the bright yellow rape we saw last year (see Kargil to Nurla), maybe because this is now in seed, but very pretty nonetheless, maybe more so for the sky looking a little ominous in places.

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We had a quick stop for photos at the top of Fotu La, the highest pass on the Srinagar-Leh road at 4094 m, but some people were starting to feel the effects of altitude so we had to drag the group away from a group of motorcyclists they’d found to talk to and get down lower fairly quickly – there’s a bit of a theme emerging here!

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Fotu La pass, heavily adorned with prayer flags

We stopped again, briefly, at the viewpoint above Lamayuru for John to talk about the geology of the lake sediments left behind when the lake disappeared about 1000 years ago (see Kargil to Nurla) then dropped down to the village for lunch in the restaurant by the monastery.  Even those in the group not so bothered about the geology are overwhelmed by the fantastic scenery we are driving through.

There was lots of Tibetan-style food on the menu in the restaurant, and many of us opted for this.  I had momo (dumplings) stuffed with spinach and cheese, which were very good.  Everything was freshly prepared and I don’t think they were expecting a group of 15 so we had to wait a while, but it was worth it.

We then had an hour or so wandering around Lamayuru monastery, before heading on to Nurla.  More friendly monks were busy packing up embroideries after celebrations for the visit of the Rinpoche – the celebrations still seemed to be going on at his residence below the monastery, judging by the music.  Villagers and monks come from all around, apparently, for teaching and prayer.

Nikhi and the friendly monks packing up embroidered cloths, which they said were made in Nepal

It had rained a bit on the way to the monastery and rained more afterwards – our driver, Tashi, demonstrated his Buddhist credentials by picking up a soggy looking butterfly and driving with it on the dashboard until it was warm enough to open it’s wings – rather beautiful.

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We had a brief stop at Khaltse for Shahid to buy something and some of the rest of us jumped out too to buy the fresh and dried apricots for sale by the roadside – these were delicious.

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Khaltse

With all the stops, we didn’t arrive at the Apricot Tree hotel in Nurla till nearly 6pm – Tashi, our cultural guide from Leh, was getting anxious by this time as he hadn’t been able to contact Shahid and for some reason had been told to expect us early afternoon. Everyone loved the hotel and the views over the Indus – there was lots of chatting between balconies.

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We all met up in the lovely courtyard before dinner to summarise some of the ecology seen over the last couple of days and to share a beer or two.

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The courtyard with the apricot trees which give the hotel its name

Dinner was delicious – there was more Chinese/Tibetan style food on offer, which was a welcome relief to some of the group.

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