For the first time in my life I was woken this morning by the sound of whistling marmots! It was a glorious morning, made even better by buckets of hot water brought round before breakfast.
We set off at 8.30 as today will be another longish drive. Hotam wanted to stop for tea after about 45 mins, though I think he mainly wanted to meet a friend in the shack beside the road. It was an experience anyway – a proper truckers stop, lined with deep divans, where drivers can obviously stay overnight too. There were plenty of drivers there – apparently the road is still shut at Sarchu – so I guess they have nowhere much to go. That’s what I’m hoping anyway, as they were unrolling and re-rolling cigarettes after adding weed and passing these around. I was very glad Hotam wasn’t participating!
We headed on and up and over Baralacha La pass on a very bumpy road.
Baralacha La, 4650m
There were pockets of beautiful flowers at the top – more Edelwiess, Waldheimia and a pretty yellow saxifrage, amongst others.
Saxifraga stenophylla (left) and Waldheimia stoliczkai (right)
I was less than thrilled to discover that the descent from Baralacha La involved yet more loops not shown on my map! The compensation was some beautiful scenery – a turquoise post-glacial tarn (named Vishal Taal after a pilot whose helicopter crashed here) and hillsides covered in pink bistort.
Bistorta affinis, carpeting hillsides
There was a lot of water on the road in places. We met a huge group of motorcyclists paused at a particularly flooded part because they were having to push their heavy bikes through, one at a time.
As we dropped down to Keylong (3350 m), the hillsides became more and more green. By the confluence with the Barul Nala at Darcha, cypress trees were starting to line the slopes and the landscape started to look like what we’d last seen in Kashmir, nearly a fortnight ago.
As we descended the Bhaga river further, towards Keylong, a wider variety of trees appeared along with fertile looking terraced fields where water and minerals have been brought down by glacier meltwater.
View from my hotel window in Keylong
We discovered that we had landed in Keylong on the final day of the ‘Lahaul Spiti Tribal Festival’ and the narrow streets were packed. Nearly all the women and girls were in traditional dresses, mostly maroon with lovely embroidered borders.
Whilst the men were less traditionally dressed, the older ones still sported pill-box type hats, with bright woven panels. We lunched in a tiny café on thukpa again but this time it had rather gristly mutton floating in it – must remember to specify the veggie option next time! We spent some of the afternoon ambling around enjoying the ambience – a fairground and street cricket, as well as the market – and some thinking about the geology and writing my blog back at the hotel. Fortunately, this was very close to the arena where music and dancing happened later in the day so we could pop in and out easily.
Sunset from the end of the village
A group of dancers came to perform immediately outside the hotel, before going up to the arena, so we had a ringside view for a while.
Dinner in the hotel was amongst the most basic we’ve had – standard dal, rice and a paneer-based curry – but fine. After dinner we wandered up to the arena to watch more dancing, along with a large crowd.
Three little girls at the front completely stole the show with their own performance!