We crossed flat country now, then began the arduous climb to the Nyi La, our highest pass at 4000m and the gateway to the Kingdom of Lo. As they reached the top, first Netra, then Jit called out “Lha gyal lo!”, meaning: Victory to the gods!
From the top of the pass we looked down on the green and yellow fields of Ghami. Across the gorge was a large modern building surrounded by a wall. Boards covered the entrance and most of the ground floor and there was no sign of life. This is a hospital, built by a Japanese man in the early ’90s. It has apparently been in and out of service over the years.
Next to the hospital was the longest mane wall (or prayer wall) in Mustang. Across the gorge to the west, red-stained hills were visible at the end of the next valley. The story goes that a powerful demoness was defeated by a Guru Rinpoche and her blood stains the cliffs, while the mane wall was erected on the place where her intestines were thrown. Her heart was cut into 108 pieces and buried beneath the chortens that surround the monastery of Lo Gekar.
We descended and entered Ghami, where we had lunch at the Royal Hotel. We entered the cool, plant-filled courtyard where a boy was sitting on the ground next to a mound of apples, cutting them up. Our hostess thanked us when we agreed to try both her freshly squeezed apple juice and her apple pie, saying she had so many apples she didn’t know what to do with them.
From Ghami, we crossed a wooden bridge strung with prayer flags under which rushed a milky-blue stream and by early afternoon reached Tragmar at the foot of the red-stained cliffs. It was like something out of a fairy-tale. A small stream ran through it, bordered by stone walls and poplar trees, and criss-crossed by rough wooden bridges. Sheaves of pink buckwheat stood in bundles in the fields, and great stacks of hay lay in walled yards. Over in one field a group of young people sat chatting in a circle, and next to a white-washed house two small children played with a sheet of zinc and a long stick.
Above all this towered the great red cliffs, dotted with caves, ominous and forbidding.
We stayed at the Tenzin Hotel and Guest House, the only one open in Tragmar.
Next morning I woke early and sat in my warm bed and watched out the window. Next to the stream people squatted in turns by a hose, cleaning their teeth, washing dishes, one in a “Free Tibet” beanie. A man came along with several horses which stopped to drink from the water that pooled there. I heard the jingle of horse bells and two men and a woman with a baby strapped to her back galloped past.
After breakfast, Jit called to us to come outside and pointed to where, just below the cliffs, rare blue sheep, or gharals, were grazing on the slopes. They were almost invisible until they moved. They are prey for snow leopards that stalk these valleys. Just a couple of weeks before we passed through 120 sheep were killed in the nearby village of Marong.
We now set out for Lo Manthang.