Today was a fairly long one with two passes to climb up to and descend from but none of the ascents or descents were as challenging as yesterday. The scenery continues to astound. It is stark. Except for in the immediate vicinity of the few villages we pass, there is virtually no vegetation. Goats roam the hills seeking meagre sustenance. Cows and horses are hand fed with grain gown in stone walled fields near the villages. Presumably the stone walls exist to keep the goats out. There are trees such as willow, poplar, and apple planted near and throughout the villages as well. At the moment they are changing colour and the bright yellow of the poplar mingled with the still vivid green of the willow and the red bedecked apple trees stand out against the red, grey and brown of the surrounding barren hills.
We’ve dropped back below the snow line today so the contrast of white against reddish brown is no longer a relief as the eye wanders across the vast expanses of rolling hills interspersed with deep canyons and eroded cliffs. Now those cliffs and canyons are quite amazing to behold! They offer contrast of colour from bright reds to light greys!
I feel I’m doing an inadequate job of describing this remarkable countryside but let me see if I can describe where we are staying this evening. It is by far the most peculiar place I’ve ever spent a night. It is a sort of guesthouse but not really. Whatever that is supposed to mean escapes me. We are all up stairs on the second floor of a two story building. There is a courtyard in the centre and a railing on the second surrounds this open area. Rooms extend off into the outer walls of the place. I was shown one enormous room with about six beds and masses of benches and a huge stack of mats and lord knows what else. Obviously this space was more a store room then bed room. Tendi read my dumbfounded silence correctly and asked if there was a smaller room. Yes there was – so we were shown across the balcony to another with only four beds and a pile of filthy blankets. I said I’d take it. Now let me explain this room a little. The floor is lined with cardboard on top of which is filthy thin torn Lino. The beds are rough cut wood frames with metal slats and a thin pad covered with a filthy piece of cloth. The pillow – I’ve never encountered anything so weird – it’s heavy, hard, covered in plastic that makes a loud crackling noise under a disgusting nylon cover. Needless to say I’m going pillow-less tonight. There is a tiny dirty window but light also comes into the room through a one foot square hole in the ceiling. This not only lets in light but air as well as it is an open hole. The hole is cut through the rough sticks, shrub branches and mud that make up the ceiling. Wattle and daub is alive and well in the Upper Mustang. There of course no heat or light in this, or any other, room in this establishment.
Once settled in, as much as one does in a place like this, Tendi brought me my tea and word that there was no cook. He would make me dinner. What would I like? We went through several computations before discovering something he could put together with the meagre supplies in the kitchen. Remember he is searching a strange kitchen that is poorly supplied with anything without the benefit of light other than his head lamp. So for dinner I’ve had boiled potatoes, with a very small amount of some sort of green leafed veggie on top covered with very dried out shredded cheese. No sauce or butter – there isn’t any. He’s currently trying to figure out what he can put together for breakfast.
There is also a very pleasant Italian couple, father and son staying here. They are taking the whole thing in stride. They arrived after me so are staying in the store room. Then there are five obnoxious French people. They seem completely incapable of understanding no power, lack of a cook, lack of supplies……the Italians and I are enjoying a bit of a chuckle at their expense. But it is now time for me to sign off and make my way to my room, remove sandals and pants and climb into my sleeping bag otherwise fully clothed..Which includes four top layers, or maybe it’s five, plus my down jacket…Good night from Tsarang (3560m).