Day 15 - Muktinath - Jomsom
Somethings up with the lads and there is an atmosphere, a large amount of them not looking at each other and a general air of grumpiness. I’m not sure whether they’ve had a disagreement or they’re annoyed with us. We’re all tired and none of us need this.
So we do the very British thing when there is an awkward atmosphere and make ourselves scarce by visiting the temple with Dilli. The temple, sacred to both Hindu and Buddhists, is built around a holy shrine, several pools (khunda) and and a semi circular wall of taps, all fed by the water of the Annapurna’s, said to have restorative powers offering salvation from disease and illness. Families bring their elders and sick loved ones for bathing, in the faith that they’ll be somehow cured. The place is bustling with people, bells, incense and colour. I am also reminded strangely of the foot baths of every lido I visited as a kid and it makes me shudder with the thought of verrucas and athletes foot crustiness until I realise this place is much more sanitary than any of the places we’ve attempted to get clean for the past couple of weeks. I like this place, despite the ills of those that seek help here, it has a happiness and lightness about it. I guess thats the Buddhist philosophy of acceptance, afterlife and rebirth as opposed to the western fearfulness of ageing and eventual death.
We wander back through town to pick up our belongings and get going again. Yak after yak after horse after horse pass us laden with sick and elderly pilgrims making their way to the temple, others following in small buses. I think I might miss this place.
We start to descend through the outer reaches of the forbidden kingdom of Mustang, through rickety built small villages and onto the road, now surfaced with actual tarmac, the first we’ve seen in weeks. It’s novelty wears off after around 10 minutes or so. Dodging buses and rocks strewn across the edges of the newly laid road we wind down towards the valley below, risking life and limb by sharing the same path as the traffic around huge boulders that have fallen onto the road, too large to move. The varied desert plains down towards Kagbeni look like one of those layered sand test tubes I made as a kid on the Isle of White. Strands of rose gold and pink stripe through the brown desert in contrast to the vast white peaks and the blue sky above. Who needs synaesthesia when nature offers all this?
We stop off for lunch in a dusty teahouse in what appears to be a quarry on the very edge of the Kali Gandaki riverbed. The river is missing, the waters reduced to little more than a stream. The riverbed seems vast, carved between the rising mountains on both sides. We bask in the sunshine, warming a couple of weeks of chills before heading off down the controversial new ‘road’ being built alongside the Kali Gandaki. Controversial as it is carving its way through such natural beauty, spoiling the most incredible trekkers paradise in the world (if I do say so myself), however, it also brings access for residents to health care, provisions, tourist income, the benefits to their day to day life can’t be denied for the sake of a few traditionalists and tourists hell bent on keeping things ‘the same’ by taking to Facebook for a moan.
However, trekking down this new ‘road’ for hours and hours and hours is not pleasant. Its hard on the feet, rocky and loose. We cross a bridge half built which, it would appear, will not survive another monsoon season that will see this dry, rocky, vacant riverbed so full that you ‘no cross even with boat’. I can only imagine.
Its hours before we near Jomsom, the outskirts surrounded by quarries where men cut rock from the hill side and women, many who look like they should be enjoying a nice cup of tea whilst the grandchildren run about their knees, smash the large rocks into pebbles to build the new road. They don’t look happy. I feel somewhat embarrassed by my western decadence of paying to walk all this way whilst their day is filled with enormous toil for what I imagine is a minute wage.
Eventually we stop for a coffee in a hotel next to Jomsom airport, a small airstrip squeezed between the spliced hillside offering one of the most difficult landings in the world. Thankfully, Gyalzen explains, the pilots that land here normally only fly this route and are very experienced. No air crashes here tonight then. By this point we are totally wiped, its been a long and hard day after yesterday, which was also long and hard, so we decide to stay put rather than push on to Marpha as previously planned. Good call, we have an en-suite shower!!! A friggin’ shower with hot water, a door that shuts, a light and its just for us. We luxuriate. Then we feast whilst watching a group of trekkers, at the end of their trek, celebrate with a lot of beer and a lot of Jagermeister. It’s all too much for me and my enforced two weeks of sobriety, I order a beer. It is the most refreshing, wonderous of beers I have ever tasted. Well its not, but it feels it right now. I totally recommend weeks of sobriety and physical endurance, it would make even a pint of Fosters taste good. I am drunk after quarter of the 500ml bottle. Cheap date. Hopefully the alcohol will help me sleep tonight despite the partying going on.
Day 16 - Jomsom - Kalopani
After the two past longest days ever comes… you guessed it, THE longest day. Ever.
We were woken by last nights partying trekkers leaving at 5am. The only thing that made me happy in my awoken but slumberous state was the fact that they would all be immensely hungover and have a long drive ahead of them, crammed into jeeps and smelling of second hand alcohol and regret.
Breakfast is a cinnamon roll. This break from the porridge norm is monumental to me. It’s good that the day has got off to a fairly decent start as the rest of it is about to go downhill fairly rapidly. Literally. We walk just half an hour down the road to the beautiful old town of Marpha, where we should have stayed last night had tiredness and coffee not got in the way. We stop into a lovely coffee shop with a gorgeous garden of fruit trees and flowers, in complete contrast to the ice, rock and desert we have experienced so far.
We leave to walk through what can only be described as a quarry. It’s vast and dusty with diggers and heavy machinery everywhere. This is the real scar the new road is making. It’s sad but thats progress. I hope in the next few years it will supposedly take to finish the road this will all be fixed back to river bed and trees, but I’m not sure. This is why, I assume, that Dilli and co wanted us to take a jeep to Tatopani, which we refused as a trek to us means walking all of the route. This is all a bit grim to be honest.
To break up the monotony, and to cut a few of the winding corners of the road we try to cut across the river bed of the Kali Gandaki. Its an incredible sight to behold, and to think that in just a couple of months time this will be a torrent of snow melt and monsoon waters is almost unbelievable. We hop streams and create blister on blister. By the time Dalaugiri starts to make a clouded appearance in front of us we are all hobbling, serious hobbling, almost teary in pain. We hobble into Kalopani looking forward to putting our feet up and stuffing our faces, but just keep walking, passing perfectly good teahouses and lodges, some with other trekkers sitting outside with mugs of tea, laughing and enjoying actually ***king stopping walking for a bit. And we keep walking, straight out of town. We reach ‘Paradise’, a lodge that stretches even the furthest reaches of the meaning of the word. ‘Paradise’ offers the delights of woodworm, strangely and suspiciously sticky blankets and a field of cabbages out back that has Susan cowering in her sleeping bag. As daft fears go I think that outweighs my phobia of butter. Sorry Susan.
I go in search of a shower and am pointed in the direction of a tap in the corner of the courtyard. With any idea of getting clean quashed I am, however, surprised that the wifi works and am able to at least message hubby a picture of said ‘shower’. It must also be mentioned that despite our insalubrious surroundings of paradise, the owners are the loveliest people. It must also be mentioned that they cook one of the best dhal bat I have had the pleasure of consuming here, and I have consumed a lot, trust me. After the third side splitting top up I feel I have to quit before it kills me, and then the apple pie turns up. I literally pass out. Susan and Tom help me. I swear I am not going to eat as much as this ever again. We retire to our bedroom in the shadow of Dalaugiri and that cabbage patch. Sweet dreams Susan.