Indian Himalayan Grand Traverse - Day 8 - Riyul

This is one of the first group treks where I can remember everyone's names.  This might be because of the size of the group (just 11 people) or something to do with how friendly everyone is - either way it's definitely an easy group of people to be with.

The group consists of "Dr Nick" - who we met last year on the Annapurna who is the same age as me (58) and a strong walker; Ralph the German who lives in Paris, early forties and another strong walker; Pete again my age, from Lincolnshire (my home county), a strong walker and a veteran of numerous similar trips; Pauline a solicitor from Dublin who I guess is in her late forties; Amanda and Andrew (besides us the only other couple), who crack jokes all day and are the life and soul of the group; Sven from Sweden who at 34 is the baby of the group; Malcolm from Nottingham somewhere in his early 50s, a strong walker who I think models himself on Wainwright; and Helen Marie from Canada who looks much younger than she is (mid sixties I think).

Anyway last night was our first camp at over 5,000 metres and the altitude is having its effect on sleep patterns.  The biggest point of conversation this morning was how often everyone had to get up to have a piss.  Only once for me but others more than made up for my frugality. Dr Nick was out there 5 times and I'm surprised he didn't meet Andrew who was on a similar schedule.

The night time temperatures, by the way, are not that low.  I think it dipped below freezing last night but it's nothing like as cold as a high altitude trek in Nepal in the autumn.
Galloping wild asses

The excitement this morning was the wildlife.  A group last year saw a snow leopard in these parts so we are on high alert.  Andrew spotted a brown thing up amongst the rocks and for a minute or two we all held our breath.  It then started to move and was joined by a friend. Actually move was an understatement - the two animals just shot around the bowl of mountains as if their lives depended on it.  They were, Dilip explained, wild asses (although he might have said horses) - pony like animals but with big heads, light brown but with a dark brown strip running down their backs.  They were interested in our pack ponies - who looked pedestrian by comparison - and I got the impression from Dilip that their interest was not necessarily innocent.

Climbing the Shibuk La 
The wild asses entertained us for 15 minutes or so but we had a pass to climb (Shibuk La (5,293)) if we were going to get out of the bowl.  After another gentle but seemingly endless climb, a break on the top, we were heading down a dry and increasingly hot valley.  There was wildlife everywhere (the small local nomadic population are all Buddists and don't hunt): more wild asses; blue sheep (not sheep at all) and some Ibex.
A long hot valley

The Tso Kar salt lake

At the bottom of the valley, with views across the huge Tso Kar salt lake to the snow topped Karkoram mountains beyond, we stop for lunch.  It's very hot.  Approaching the lake the heat and dryness really become apparent - it feels and looks like a desert.
Stunning scenery, but hot

In the parachute yurt with suspended refreshments

About a mile before the lake there is a permanent campsite and a yurt - constructed using a huge parachute - which offers shade and refreshments.  It feels as hot however inside as it does out and the glasses of sweet tea are not necessarily thirsting quenching. Certainly the locals, who look like they have been drinking beer all day - choose an alternative beverage.

Outside and back in the sun we follow a dusty track, carved out by four-wheel drives which takes us down and around the lake.  In the heat it seems to take forever but the campsite - when we get there - is another pleasant surprise.  It's set in a small expanse of green with another tiny stream just big enough to wash in.
Hot Hot

Facing us is a sort of delta with water draining into the salt lake.  On the delta there is more wildlife - the ever present wild asses and large wading birds which Dilip describes as a Himalayan Ostrich.  Easier to identify were the large number of marmots surrounding the campsite.

Another stunning campsite

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