Likir was a slog. Even after the previous day’s walk to Hemis gompa, my body had not fully adjusted to the low oxygen levels in Ladakh. I saw the long flight of stair leading to the Likir Gompa and told The Family that I would not go inside with her. Instead I tried to find my way down to the little mountain stream below. Gompas are named after villages, but streams and rivers have different names. A close look at the map later never gave me a name for the stream. So I’ll call it Likir, after the village. Nasir Khan saw me negotiating slopes slowly so he decided to drive me to the river, promising to pick me up on his way down again.
The river was a wonderful sight in the parched land. I shakily crossed a few boulders to touch its cold water and feel the spray it threw up as it gushed over rocks. The pleasant sound of the river seemed alien in this high desert where I’d only heard the wind carrying tiny human voices earlier. I usually like to photograph streams like this at different exposures to either freeze the motion (as I’ve done in the featured photo) or to use a long exposure to convert it into a smoky fluid gliding over rocks. Unfortunately I could not try out a long exposure that day. I hadn’t brought a tripod or monopod with me, and my hands were too shaky from the lack of oxygen in the thin air.
A movement on the opposite bank caught my eye. A lizard had moved up a rock, into a sunnier spot. Was it really the Montane toad-headed Agama (Phrynocephalus theobaldi)? It’s eyes certainly did bulge. Was it’s head big enough? I was at an altitude of 3.7 Kms, which should be high enough for this species. But I’m not good at identifying lizards, so I’m open to correction. The thin air at these heights let in much larger amounts of UV than my eyes (and camera) is used to, causing a lot of glare. I’m not really sure that the colour has come out properly. Is it really that sooty? Or did it have a bit of brown in it? Look at the close up and decide whether it could be one of the more common Himalayan Agama (Paralaudakia himalayana), but without its colourful throat patch.
Although it was only mid-morning, I felt much better with my glares on. In this light it was easy to imagine that I saw the Kluukhyil, water spirits, swimming along the river. But it was only a Cabbage white (Pieris canida). It is a strong enough flyer, but it floated lazily right now, perking up only when it lit on a flower. I’m sure this was a thistle, but I can’t figure out which. Butterflies are very active at mid-morning, and my hands were still a little shaky in this thin air, so I was glad that the light was bright enough to get in a couple of sharp photos.
What I didn’t get a single shot of were the birds. There were two flitting about. One was a mountain chiffchaff, but I’d already seen that the previous evening. The other seemed to be a crow. There are no house crows or jungle crows here. The only crow you can see in this sliver of Ladakh is a carrion crow (Corvus corone), which would have been a lifer, if I’d seen it properly. At this time, unfortunately, its quick movements and its tendency to keep in the shade made it impossible for me to put it on my list of birds seen. Soon, Nasir Khan was back, and The Family was seemed to have liked what she saw in the gompa. We were ready to push on to Alchi.