"Most of these people live simply and unsentimentally, they live with few needs, few prides, few vanities. They are tolerant to their old people, to their children, to each other. You know what they are told by their priests? They are taught that every living being has been their mother in a previous incarnation, and so they must respect it as their mother."
Another morning without a headache and more than 8 hours of sleep.
Disappearance of one ailment doesn't mean that you're free of discomfort though; the last couple of day's I'd woken up with dried up traces of a bloody nose. What's more, even though I had been heavily using lip balm, the fierce sunshine and dry air had still cracked my lips and a virus infection had developed, making my upper lip feel like a balloon. Time to take out the Zovirax. Waking up at the faithful crew brought our daily tea and warm water half an hour later. Breakfast at featured another surprise: puris, funny blown up pieces of fried dough that tasted like a cross between white bread and Dutch 'oliebollen'.
At we left for our fourth trekking day.
Our destination of today: Themisgam. Past the holy cedar trees of Hemis-Shukpachu we slowly climbed the first pass, Rongti-La (3710 meters), arriving after 45 minutes. Compared to some of the other passes we'd conquered this one was relatively easy. What lay beyond had us more worried. A deep barren valley stretched out in front of us, and the next pass, Meptek-La, could barely be made out on an even higher mountain at the other end.
We started a steep descent into the valley and marvellously coloured mountains came into view. Some yellow, some brown and some wonderful purple ones. After half an hour we reached a fork in the path where one could either descent further into the valley or go up to the second pass. We took the latter. Climbing the Meptek-La (3750 m) was still hard work after that, the path was steep and the weather was less cloudy and hot today. At we finally reached the top of the pass via a steep and narrow path.
Young cow herder.
After twenty minutes of rest we continued our way downhill over a path that was as steeply descending as the ascending path on the other side of the mountain. As exhausting as climbing was, going downhill was an attack on the feet and calf muscles.
As we've come to expect in Ladakh, any barren mountain landscape will make way for a green valley, if you walk long enough. In this case we reached the green valley of the town of Ang (3400 m) at . We had our packed lunches and some drinks in a tea tent next to one of the green barley fields of the town, continuing towards Themisgam at .
Themisgam (3200 m) is the most prosperous town in the area and while we descended another 200 meters from Ang to this village it became clear why. Whereas most of the other towns we had visited during our trek had fields of barley as main source of income Themisgam was bursting with various kinds of fruit trees. Apricots, apples, walnuts and of course barley fields as far as the eye could see. Dadul explained that the conditions in Themisgam were perfect: supply of mountain water throughout the year, lots of sun and warmth because of it's location in a valley and an altitude of 3200 meter that made it possible for fruit trees to grow lushly.
While walking across the road towards our camp site an old nun who was gathering apricots called out for us and offered some of her fruit to us. We decided to reward her kindness by helping her with her work. While Dadul climbed in a tree, shaking the branches until the ripe apricots came off, I started gathering the small apricots from the ground, frequently being bombarded by more fruit when Dadul attacked the branches with a long stick that had a nail at the end.
The multi-coloured mountains beyond the Rongti-La.
Others helped gather the fruit that had fallen down near the road. The nun was obviously please and thankful and promised to pray for our good health at that afternoon’s puja.
At we finally arrived at today's camp site. We were hot, exhausted and tired and the tea and cookies were a welcome treat. After a couple of hours of rest some of the group members went to a little excursion to a couple of sights in Themisgam. A steep climb uphill on the mountain overlooking the fertile valley first brought us to the local nunnery. Unlike the one in Yangtang this one housed mostly very young nuns. There was a school with two small rooms, each with a blackboard and educational posters on the walls. One room was meant for the youngest nuns and one for the (slightly) elder (teenage) ones.
The multi-coloured mountains beyond the Rongti-La.
Judith immediately made good contact with a couple of them, asking them about their favourite study books. The nuns seemed to like her and before long she was surrounded by a small group of them. Although communication proved troublesome this looked promising for her voluntary work at Dharamsala.
One of the old(er) nuns invited us for tea and after having had a look in the kitchen, which was dominated by a blackened stove, we moved to the library. There we had tea while admiring the collection of Tibetan, English and Dutch (!) books on Buddhism. The later might well have been brought by Joke, who we also met at the nunnery. She had done a comparable vacation to Ladakh one or two years ago and had decided to do voluntary work at the nunnery, teaching drawing and handiwork. Just before leaving the nunnery there was another slight incident on this 'Sawadee Tour of Destruction'. After Anita's incident with the wall at Yangtang, Joline now knocked over a flowerpot that fell straight in my mountain shoes.
Fortunately, damage to both was limited.
We continued our way uphill until after a long climb we finally reached the two monasteries of Themisgam, one belonging to the yellow cap order and the other to the red cap order of Tibetan Buddhism. One of these had actually been a palace of the kings of Ladakh, before they moved to Leh. While a small drizzle started we quickly went inside, visiting one of the two monasteries, which contained a prayer hall especially dedicated to Chenrezig/Avalokiteshvara, with a couple of beautiful statues. The middle statue was actually hidden from view, with only the face being visible through a small cabinet. The full statue with 4 instead of 1000 arms could however be seen in a picture placed in front of the altar.
A second prayer hall contained more statues of Chenrezig, as well as a big, beautiful statue of Guru Rinpoche, flanked by other important Buddha's and people from the Tibetan pantheon.
Of course Dadul was more than happy to answer any question we had. We took another 'steepcut' down the other side of the mountain, arriving back at the camp site at , just in time for the dinner that was being served. The crew had once again done their utmost and after some more brainstorming about tomorrow night everybody went to bed again. After all, darkness falls early over Ladakh and those trekking days are still exhausting.