10 Feb Off The Beaten Track in Nepal
The most extraordinary trek for me, was a journey accompanied by guide Duti and Gopi the porter in the lower Mustang region of Nepal. My brother had captured my interest in Mustang many years ago when he spoke about Nepal and its various regions.
Flight to Jomson
Many years later in the wee hours of the morning Duti and I hopped onto a small propeller plane at the Pokhara airport. It was flown by Yeti Airways leather jacketed pilots who resembled top gun film characters. As the plane launched into the sky for the twenty minute flight we hung on for dear life. The plane coasted over mountain ridges, zoomed thru a rocky gorge buffeted by the wind following the Kali Gandaki river. Landing on the short runway of the frontier town of Jomson,we disembarked with our luggage. The plane immediately reloaded, roared down the short runway soon a mere speck against the mountains. The window period for flying is very short between Jomson and Pokhara due to the instability of flying conditions.
Descending from the plane I gazed in awe at the bleak beauty of the wispy cloud enshrouded snow capped mountains. To wander the cobbled streets of the frontier village observing the start of a new day was incredible. It was hard to believe that I finally had set foot in Mustang.
The Trek begins
The Trek route followed the Kali Gandaki river ( Black River) which is famous for spotting golden eagles. We encountered herds of goats and sheep brought down from the Tibetan border by their shepherd heading to market in the lower villages. Strings of Ponies laden down by goods, crossed our paths on many occasions, The only means of transporting goods to remote villages. We ascended the mountains,which on some days left me physically depleted and tested my endurance. On one particular day, my shoelace had came undone. I was stationary staring at it, thinking do I have the energy to bend down to retie the lace. When Gopi laden down with bags strides up , bends down with his load ties up my shoelace. Stands up gracefully as if no load on his back, gives a big grin strides off into the distance. It was a truly humbling moment for me.
At Night heating was limited in the tea houses, under the tables tin buckets of glowing embers would be placed to ward away the cold. It was surprisingly effective way of keeping warm. Before snuggling into the sleeping bag I would layer more clothes on. I was ever hopeful that my feet would thaw and warm for sleep to follow. By the coming of dawn the water would be frozen in the taps and frost inches thick lay outside.
This region is the last stronghold of Bon Buddhism, particularly in the village of Lubra. Bon arose in the 11th century established it’s scriptures from the termas and visions of teachings from Loden Nypingpo. Its learnings are the same overall as Tibetan Buddhism. In the ancient Lubra Bon Monastery named Yungdung Phuntsok Ling a five day masked dancing festival is held . The festival occurs in September/ October dependent on the lunar calendar. It is high on my bucket list.
I was deeply affected by the spiritualism of the region and on my return to civilization it felt as if a small part of myself had been left behind. The Horse culture, love of dogs, simplicity of life , the aura of those snow clad mountainous peaks captivates the soul. Kagbeni and Jharkot these villages ancient and rich with history.
Love of Dogs
In the ancient village of Jharkot tea house I sat watching the sunset over the bleak rocky snow peaked mountains. This gorgeous Tibetan Terrier sat with his master soaking up the last rays of warmth of the day before the cold descended.
Tibetan Terriers (Tsang Apso) were originally known as the Holy dog of Tibet. Approximately 2000 years ago this ancient breed was kept by the Tibetan Monks in the lost Valley of Tibet . The monks considered them as good luck charms and prized companions not to be sold. The monks often gifted them for good deeds. The dogs are not a member of the Terrier family but named due to their resemblance to the terriers by an English traveler.
Discovering fabulous weavers working on simple backstrap looms creating gorgeous woollen textiles from goat and sheep wool. I purchased for my own collection two woollen blankets , one shades of red and the other blue. I cant bear to part with them, the workmanship is superb. In Kagbeni, observed leaning against sun warmed stone walls, ladies spinning the wool onto spindles.
Apricot and Apple Brandy
We sat relaxing on the roof top of the Tukche village tea house on the last afternoon sipping on homemade Apricot brandy. The last rays of the sun warmed our bones and gazing at the mountain view reminded me of my travels thru the vale of Kashmir. Duti had explained that Marpha and Tukche villages were famous for the production of Apple and Apricot brandy. I remembered the incredible orchards and the distilleries closed for the season we had walked past. The village of Tukche’s particular claim to fame Duti revealed is the production of an orange brandy from fermented orange juice.
Mustang Horses have played important traditional historical role in the lives of the people. These tough hardy creatures are much loved and revered in Mustang. Why ? Transportation of goods and people.
Travel the Paths least traversed
I felt for myself a sense of achievement that I completed the distance. Back issues 9 years ago had left me incapacitated , I could barely walk along a flat let alone a hill . In the planning stages is a return trip utilizing ponies for access to high Mustang region .
Love Nepal, its generous people and rich diverse culture.
A journey to remember is that death defying road from Mustang on a 11 hour road trip in a decrepit local jeep to Pokhara. This experience was not for the faint of heart. This is a story for another telling.