Day 4: Kagbeni to Muktinath
Morning we wake up as the HK Chinese are finishing their breakfast and are about to leave, after having been out to the gompa. We eat upstairs with a fantastic view of Nilgiri.
I order tsampa porridge with apple. I’ve never tried tsampa before – it’s roasted and ground barley, which Tibetans use in a variety of ways – mixed with tea, or like I’m having now, a hot milky sludge roughly akin to baby food! Thank goodness for the apple!
We also share a bit pot of milk tea, and get a big pot. The large thermos flask brought up must have a litre and a half of tea. Needless to say we’re sick of the stuff long before it’s empty.
Downstairs, we pay the bill and say goodbye. Some chap wants to take photos with us, then asks for money afterwards. He smells drunk already, not yet mid-morning.
Outside, we head back round the corner and take the steep path out of the village, passing some miniature donkeys.
The trail is dry mud and stones, and if it were any steeper would be difficult for me to climb in my grip-less Crocs (the boots are strapped to the back of my pack).
We climb slowly, taking time to admire the view, in particular looking back at the Golden Hill, Sher Dhak with a ridiculous path zigzagging up.
We’ve branched off from the Kali Gandaki which heads up the Mustang Valley. We’ve turned right and are following the Jhong Khola up towards the Thorung La, the high pass on the Annapurna Circuit.
We pass several Nepali pilgrims slowly making their way up. Most take jeeps or motorbikes. We meet the occasional sadhu too, Indian holy men who are on some kind of spiritual quest. We settle in to a routine following a porter who is too quick for us to enjoy the view.
On the other side of the valley are lots of caves set in the cliffs.
Apparently people used to live in them. It’s strange though, as some of them are way too high for anyone to get to them. I can only assume that the earth has slipped away, leaving the earlier caves too high, so they build new ones further down. German anthropologists have studied the area and people, finding coins and pottery.
The valley is dry but beautiful, and as we lose the view of Nilgiri, the mountains around the Thorung La come into view.
The difficulty is getting a shot without the damned electricity poles in the shot – they follow the road mostly on the view side.
We pass through the next village of Khingar (3400m), though I do get to see a solar oven for the first time – one sees them all over the Muktinath area – they comprise a large metal parabola, like a satellite dish.
In the centre is a frame which holds either a big kettle with water or other dishes, holding stews, curries, or even pizzas!
Suresh and I chat all the way up. I’ve noticed in general our talking naturally dries up whenever it’s steep, then commences again when the path levels off or drops. We have an interesting debate caste system.
At the beautiful village of Jarkhot (3500m), where we considered staying, we pass a few women making and selling scarves at the edge of the paved path, and stop for lunch.
The village is Tibetan in feel, with whitewashed walls, and colourful flags. The deciduous trees are yellowing as we go through autumn.
We follow a girl dressed in pink into a restaurant and sit upstairs, and I pull out all my clothes and hang them about the place to dry in the strong sun and breeze.
I order a salad and a ham pizza.
The pizza comes on a wooden tray with the pizza dish attached to it, which presumably mounts in the solar ovens.
It doesn’t take too long either, and is tasty.
The view here is wonderful, across to Dzong, the old capital of the area, Muktinath, and the mountains above.
Next door’s drying meat on their washing line
Lunch over, we potter up the last way to our destination.
The first part of the town is Ranipauwa (3710m), where most of the guesthouses are, including our choice, the North Pole.
The woman who runs it is a short lady with a lovely smile.
We drop our bags, then walk through town up to the Muktinath Temple (3800m), the reason all the pilgrims come here.
The main street
We miss the ACAP checkpoint, but register at the police post, which involves copying all of the details on my permit into a book.
How rich Indians come here
Up to the temple, we pass through the gate.
On the left is Eunjeong’s temple, the Samba gompa .
The Indians come here for the Hindu temple, Vishnu Mandir, a small pagoda with an image of Vishnu.
There are 108 brass cow heads with water flowing out of their mouths around the outside.
Apparently Hindus coming here secure a place in the afterlife.
Across the site to the Buddhist temple, Jwala Mai, also small, there are a dozen or so nuns, sitting, reading scriptures and eating.
Inside the temple are small jets of natural gas that are lit, producing an eternal flame, next to a spring of water.
Some prayer wheels are looking a bit worn
We time coming out just behind another group of people so that the souvenir woman outside hassles them rather than us.
Down at our hotel, we sit on the roof terrace and enjoy the view as the sun goes down.
Detail from the temple next to us
As it starts to get nippy, jumpers and fleeces are donned.
The whole range
Downstairs, we order chang, the Tibetan beer which is like a milky rice wine, and apparently produced using local river water according to LP. I’m not sure how strong it is, but I’d guess somewhere between a strong beer and wine. Suresh orders Chips Chilli as a snack before our main dishes turn up. Good call!
A New-Zealander, Dion, joins us as we switch to Everest. He orders Chang as medicine for his sore tooth.
My enchilada is tasty, and after we’ve all finished eating, we decide it’s too early to retire, so after asking the owners not to lock the front door, we wander along the road to the Bob Marley hotel, which is busy and has a nice bar/restaurant. Their business card in rasta colours declares that it’s a “Happy Cross the Pass Enjoy Place”. Here we try local brandy from Tukuche Distillery.
We order 3, and get three bottles, opened already so no sending them back! Their apple crumble turns out to the the perfect end to the evening, with a muesli-like topping which works very well. Content, we amble back in the pitch darkness to our beds.