Yesterday extremely difficult, long climb to the pass at Singge La, 5010m, last section very steep, altitude leaves me gasping. Trail from pass into Photaksar extremely long, hot, bright and dusty. My eyes ache, head pounding which increases with distance. Around each further bend in the trail, hoping that the town will emerge, but no: goes on and on and on.
Two great side streams to cross, swollen into torrents, rushing muddy water, dangerous, climbing on boulders and long tricky leaps above the current. Finally, Photaksar, beautiful down a long decline into the valley, the next day’s pass like a high wall at its far end.
Very tired, dehydrated, hungry, having given away the last of my food and water to a suffering donkeyman two hours outside the village. Crossing the swollen river, wind in the barley fields like a poem, I find a hand-pump and greedily gulp down cool water until I am sated; nectar of the gods.
Find an ancient woman in a greasy felt skirt sitting in the town high above the riverbank. Shouting for her husband, she leads me down stone steps into a black maze, then up a crude wooden ladder to the roof. Still constantly shouting, she serves me salt tea, rich with rancid butter. I stir in tsampa and swallow three ibuprofen; headache begins to go away; right eye still blurry and tearing after I remove my contacts; I will walk in glasses tomorrow.
At barely past six o’clock I eat dinner in the low, dirt-floored, smoky kitchen, three big plates of rice and vegetable and fiery achaar; two small children sleep on blankets beside the low metal stove, fueled by dried cow dung. Back in my room, at twilight, a Frenchman and his guide interrupt my solitude, stopping in for tea as I sit reading in the dimness. I am like a rattlesnake, territorial and irritable, and I am glad when thirty minutes later they are gone.
By eight o’clock, in darkness, I am yawning; by eight-thirty, I am asleep. I sleep alone in the family’s sleeping-room; they are assembled in the smoky kitchen below me, or out on the roof with mattress and blankets, about which I am uncomfortable, but far too tired to care.
In an instant, I close my eyes and am absorbed into the night.