Tabo to Sangla, Sunday August 21

It worked! We both feel better this morning, having managed hot showers – I’ve no idea how John persuaded his water heater to work without electrocuting himself!  We managed to get breakfast for 7am, having suggested that porridge and tea would be quite enough – it seemed best to keep things simple!

Today was a long drive punctuated (excuse the pun) by a number of stops to sort out tyres damaged by the terrible roads.  We passed lots of people dressed in their ‘Sunday best’ and several cars and buses passed us, with ‘Ladakh Dharma Yatra’ flags and banners, so it looks like they are on their way to yet another festival – Hotam’s English isn’t good enough to find out more. We were on the road before 8am and at Sumdo, where we needed to show the Inner Line permits, by 9am.  Just east of Tabo we did spot some places where we could do some vegetation sampling – one of the few flat areas in Spiti which isn’t cultivated.  The ‘no road’ on the sign at Sumdo goes straight across the border into Tibet (the dotted blue line on the map), just a few km north of Sumdo.

leh-shimla-map

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Border Roads Organisation sign at Sumdo

From Sumdo the road climbed up to nearly 4000 m again, by Malling, on a very dramatic and exciting mountain road – the good surface made it much less terrrifying than I’d expected though, though there were rough patches where the surface had been washed away on damaged by rockfalls.  We had our second puncture of the trip just after this, so plenty of opportunity to admire the view of the Spiti river way below.  Photographs don’t really do it justice.

The puncture and the view down to the Spiti river

Whilst I was looking at the view and plants, John was looking at the beautiful metamorphic schists.  It turned out that the  rock chocking the wheel when Hotam was jacking the car was full of garnets!  We stopped at Nako for Hotam to have breakfast and, after the mandatory chai, John and I wandered off to look at rocks and plants.

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Donkeys seeking the shade at Nako

I got a close up look at the Ephedra with its berries which look startlingly bright against the brown landscape as we drive past.

Ephedra gerardiana in fruit

This part of Spiti looks much more like Ladakh, except for the plantations of apple trees in every spot which can be reached by irrigation channels – they make very good use of the glacier melt water.

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Apple orchards, eastern Spiti

It took another hour or so to to reach the point where the Spiti river joins the Sutlej, flowing south.  We thought the cars crowded around the bridge at the confluence signalled trouble on the road but Hotam said it was a wedding party.  By this time, the road had lost any semblance of a tarred surface and this was true for most of the rest of the day – exhausting for us, and much worse for Hotam.

We stopped at Puh to get the punctured tyre repaired but Hotam wasn’t happy with the spare so we stopped several more times to try and buy a replacement.  By this time, more green stuff was starting to appear again on the hills – first the cypress trees we’d seen around Keylong, but soon much more of a mixture of pines and cedars too.

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We were very pleased to get a text around lunchtime to say that Martyn and Helen had landed in Delhi but less so to hear that Helen’s bag had not arrived with them…  With my phone working for the first time in three weeks, I was very excited to have short text conversations with Rosie, Gill and Harry too.  I think I must have the wrong number for Ed.

It was around 4 pm by the time we left Sutlej and started climbing up the steep Baspa valley, passing the enormous tunnels and reservoirs of the hydroelectric plant at the bottom of the valley.  I was feeling a bit cross about the need for an hour’s journey which wasn’t taking us any closer to Shimla, but changed my tune when I realised what the scenery was like.  It helped that, in this case, the road obviously had been resurfaced since my guidebook was written.

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Looking back at the road (top right) en route to Sangla

We drove up past Sangla to the ‘Igloo nature camp’ where we are staying –  a really lovely setting but with only the most basic facilities and food and not very clean. I have an outflow pipe flowing onto my bathroom floor!  We seem to be the only two people staying tonight.

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The tents of Igloo Nature Camp , perhaps best seen from a distance – they certainly blend into the landscape!

We set out further along the road and have a lovely walk – there are amazing folded metamorphic rocks exposed and a wide variety of rock plants.

We’d planned to head up a little stream we could see from the tents but arrived there at the same time as a group of men obviously going to use it for their ablutions, so this didn’t seem like such a good plan and there was plenty to see along the road, anyway.

My guidebook mentioned a pink-flowered plant grown for grain, known locally as ogla,– this turned out to be buckwheat when we got a close look.

Buckwheat – Fagopyrum esculentum

The whole valley looks very fertile and quite affluent.

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Apple trees growing amidst fields of barley and buckwheat

We headed back just as the sun started to go down and enjoyed the view from the tents before dinner.

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Dinner fully lived up to expectations – they shouted that the vegetable chowmein we’d asked for as a main course was on the table (which it was, getting cold) then brought us the soup once we’d sat down!  The location makes up for a lot, but its not somewhere I’d be happy to bring a group.  At 2680 m it was, at least, much warmer than other tented camps we’ve stayed in and I hope the same will be true of the Valley of Flowers.

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