June 29, 2009:

Day 24 of Trek:
Rijyul (Tso Kar) by Jeep back to Leh over the Taglung  La (5,350 m)
After a good night's rest, got up and packed my stuff. The guys packed up everything and
stowed it on the truck. We said good-bye to them. Our horsemen were going to walk back
to Leh where in about 10 days Kim's next trek started. Our cook, his helper, Kirin and Lakpa
took the truck back to Leh.
Kim, Graham, Marc and I took the jeep. At first we went alongside Tso Kar, then made a left
turn and after a while reached the Leh - Manali Highway. We turned right towards Leh.
The Leh - Manali Highway is only open for a couple of months in the summer and we soon
experienced why. From afar we could already see the Taglung La and the winding road
leading up to it. Soon we started to climb up the road. I took lots of pictures. We passed a
few trucks. The road is a dirt road going up the pass, many potholes and sheer drops. We
finally reached the top of the pass at 5,350 m or 17,650 feet. This pass is claimed to be the
second highest motorable mountain pass on earth.
The descend took a lot longer as we started from a much higher altitude on the other side
of the pass. It was a very steep down with many sharp hairpin bends. Also, we had to stop
a couple of times. One time, a guy in a tractor cleared the road of snow and we waited
probably about 15 minutes for him to finish his task.
Another time we had to stop as there was road construction in front of us. We got out of the
vehicle and watched them "work". What they actually did, I have no clue but they finally let
us pass. A monk was sitting there at the construction site spinning his prayer wheel and
reciting mantras.
We finally made it down to the valley bottom. Soon thereafter we stopped at Rumtse for
lunch. There were a couple of roadside teahouses and we picked one and ate our lunch
there.
Soon after Rumtse, the valley narrowed. The road now followed the river and there were
huge cliffs to both sides of it. The colors of the cliffs ranged from purple to ochre. It was
spectacular. On the side of the road were signs put up by the army with interesting slogans
such as:

jjjjjjjj
kkkkk
llllll
mmmm
nnnnn

We got a kick out of them.
At Upshi we reached the wide Indus valley. We crossed the Indus and the road from here to
Leh was in good shape. Prior to reaching Leh, we visited Thikse Gompa. The gompa is
located on a pyramid shaped hill. The main temples are on the top and the monks quarters
are on its lower slopes.
We drove around the hill and reached the car park. Thikse was founded in 1480 by one of
the disciples of Tsonkhapa, the founder of Buddhism's Gelugpa order. We first visited the
Durkhang or Assembly Hall.
Next we went into the Gonkhang with its protector statues. It was dark and spooky in here.
Our last stop was the Chamkhang. In here, a 12 m (40 feet) high Matreya statue is Thikse's
main attraction. A monk said that we were not allowed to take pictures together with the
buddha statue, of course, Kim has a picture of her sitting in front of this buddha statue on
the first page of her website!!
After Thikse, we made another stop at Shey Gompa. Graham and Kim had been there
before, so they stayed in the car too tired to walk..... Shey consists of a ruined castle and a
gompa.
Marc and I walked up the steep hill and entered the gompa. There is a 8 m high statue of
Sakyamuni in there. We were on the second level of the gompa and at the same height as
the statue's shoulder. Quite impressive.
Afterwards we went up into the ruins of the old palace. On top, we had some great views of
the surrounding countryside and the many chortens surrounding Shey. We went back
down to the car and then drove the last few miles back to Leh.
Checked back into the Hotel Shaynam and took a long shower. Then off to an internet cafe
checking e-mails and the latest news from the outside world. We had dinner at the Ibex
Restaurant with lots of beer!