This morning we were provided with a breakfast of egg and bread, and a packed lunch of Tibetan bread and jam to take on our walk to Demul, the next village. Right. Our first real walk on this trek. We were advised to take the “cow road” until we got to what passes as a real road in this part of the world, then there was meant to be some manner of short cut. Off we went. Turns out that Ron is a fucking powerhouse. I mean, I know I’m slow at any altitude, but Jess is usually pretty good at this hiking thing and even she was left in his dust as he strode off. I do like Ron, though. He’s one of those eternally optimistic blokes who’s always got a smile on his face. He wants to move to Canada and become a welder on an oil rig. He’s got no experience but he reckons he could probably do it anyway if he speaks to the right people, and to be honest, I actually believe that once we part company, the next time I see him he’ll be a welder on a Canadian oil rig.
Anyway, he’s fast, and the only reason we knew we were on his trail were the smiley faces he drew in the dirt as he went. I didn’t think we’d have any chance of catching him unless he sat down for a little nap, altitude can be a bit of a bitch ay, all that walking with non of the air necessary to take more than three steps without feeling about as fit as a chain smoking sloth, I had no idea how we couldn’t even see him in the distance. The views more than made up for it though, but guys, I didn’t think this walk was ever going to end. We realised we’d probably missed the short cut turn off and we were walking the super long way around. We had no real idea as to how long we had left to go which basically meant we felt like we’d been walking half our lives and I was starting to think that Demul was a myth and I’d actually died and gone to hell and this was my eternity now.
We slumped down by some rocks to eat some more of our Tibetan bread and jam that we’d been trying to ration. There was literally no way out of this apart from to just keep going, eventually we’d have to end up somewhere, right? It didn’t even have to be Demul, just somewhere with a bed. We got up and shuffled on our way, saw a stupa up a big fucking hill and decided to climb up to that because at the very least it’d afford views. It took me about half a bastard hour to wheeze my way up to that stupa, Jess was up there in half the time where she’d met a couple of blokes and asked them they way to Demul. Halfway down this mountain, I looked up at Jess and the men, and heard her exclaim something which I thought was negative. I kinda wanted to slump down there and cry a little bit. But I clawed my up like the brave little soldier I was and when I got there it turned out I’d totally misheard her, it was an exclamation of joy, and the men were going to lead us to Demul which was just around the corner. At this stage you just trust that they’re not going to take you away and murder you for sport, but to be honest even if they had I don’t think I’d have minded too much, I just needed this walk to end. But they were true to their word and we entered Demul at 4357 masl, past the mani wall which we walked to the left of of course, and then we had the task of locating Ron. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? How many huge, blonde, white guys could have rolled through here recently?
We found him pretty quickly, he’d already been approached by the guy responsible for arranging the homestays, they’re rotated to make sure everyone gets a fair shot at the extra income and people were looking out for us. Demul is a much bigger village than Komic, according to the information we were given there are 332 humans in 53 households, and they’re part of the Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. That’s a lot of people per household, but I guess families live together until marriage occurs. I could probably get lost here but to be fair I could get lost on a straight road with full directions and a satnav. And it turned out that Ron had taken the short cut and it involved some pretty brutal ups and downs so I figured my calf muscles would thank me for it in the long run, even if right then they wished I’d just sit the fuck down and not move for a few days.
Right. Demul. Once we’d met our host and settled in we did the wandering around the village thing, harassed a small child for his photo (which would get you arrested and put on a register in Britain), considered breaking out a load of donkeys which were packed nose to arsehole in a tiny enclosure, then headed back for feeding and chatting to our host whose English was pretty good, much better than my Spiti (I don’t know if that’s what it’s called, I just know it’s similar to Tibetan) despite the laminated translation sheet in our room. We knew julley as that was universal, that’s how we were greeted everywhere we went and we, rightly or wrongly, returned the phrase. The food here was pretty good too, rice and sabzi, vegetables, the latter which were from his fields. “All organic,” he told us. It was fucking delicious actually, as long as you tried not to think about the fact that it was fertilised with the shit of all of the tourists that had gone before you.
Turned out he also made his own arak, a local barley wine, so we bought some of that from him and chatted a while, and he told us about his family and how his second son had gone off to be a lama, a Buddhist monk. Apparently they don’t get a choice in this, all second sons in Spiti Valley are sent off to be lamas, it’s just the way things are done. His first son would get the farm, and his third son was studying at uni in Shimla. I asked him if the second son minded being packed off to a gompa and he said not at all, it was a great honour. They’re educated, housed, fed and very respected. What’s not to like? Why wouldn’t he want to be a lama? It’s so strange, we have this complete freedom of choice that we take for granted to the point that we can’t understand why anyone would be happy to have their choice taken from them, then you explore a different culture where they can’t understand why you wouldn’t want your path chosen for you, as long as it was a good path.
Something else that’s a bit of an issue here is trying to stay as non-stinky as possible on a trek with no showers. They’ll happily heat a bucket of water up for you, it’s just getting the privacy to apply said hot water to your rancid body. Right in the middle of the hallway of the house we were staying at was a raised concrete trough type thing, big and square, with a drainage hole. There was flimsy curtain you could pull across but it only came down to about your thighs and at the end of the day it was still slap bang in the middle of a main walkway. I decided to attempt it before dinner and I’ve never had such a dangerous wash before, I climbed onto the concrete platform and crouched there so I wouldn’t get any water on the mud floors, washing as much as I could as quickly as I could whilst trying to remain in a semi-dignified state of dress and doing that thing where you try to be loud enough so people know you’re behind the curtain. God I hate being so fucking British sometimes. Anyway, after our big day, a decent feed, and probably a little bit too much arak we got a respectably early night.
Demul, Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India
Altitude: 4357 metres.
Stayed at: Homestay