Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Day 12 (Muktinath to Kagbeni)
I got up at 06:25, got ready, had breakfast (fried eggs, fried potatoes and tomatoes, fried beans, bread stuffed with yak cheese, and a coffee), paid my bill (the beer is expensive out here in the mountains and really adds up), and then left the hotel, off to Kagbeni (at 07:35). I took the high route on the north side of the valley to Kagbeni; first passing through the village of Chongur, which had many buildings painted in colorful stripes of red, yellow, black, and white (the colors of the Sakia order – the Gompa in town was founded by a Sakia monk). After walking around Chongur, I continued on the trail to Jhong (or “Dzong”), which joined the dirt road after crossing a bridge. The entire trek today offered great views of the desert valley, as well as Thorung La Pass (providing that I remembered to turn around and view the pass as I headed west). I then reached Jhong and walked up the hill in town, past the ruins of an old fort, to the Dzong Chode Shedup Choephel Ling Monastery (i.e., the local Gompa); I entered inside the Gompa, paid the entrance fee, and a young acolyte showed me the main prayer hall (similar to the other ones here) and then gave me a glass of Tibetan tea to drink. I then left the Gompa, walked through the town, and then rejoined the trail to Kagbeni. Not far from Jhong, I passed by the town of Putak and its terraced farms. The dirt road trail then continued through the desert landscape, full of eroded hillsides and a gorge I passed by; there was also a couple areas that looked white with salt, but were on the hills and thus not “salt flats” – I guess I don’t really know what that mineral was. I then passed by herd of goats before finally reaching a stupa perched above the town of Kagbeni; I took the trail on the right, down to the town and walked to the Red House Lodge, where I got a room for the night (finishing my hike at 11:40). I then had lunch (Thukpa with dried yak meat and a Sprite) and met the Englishman from Ice Lake (he is staying in the same hotel) before setting out to explore the town and the surrounding area.
I walked through the medieval looking village of Kagbeni, passing through a number of tunnels under the old mud houses, to the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Monastery, which was established by the lama Tenpai Gyaltsen of Tibet in 1429; I viewed the main prayer hall and then a young acolyte showed me around the rest of the monastery, taking me to a giant prayer wheel that rings a bell every time it completes one revolution, to a set of three structures (small Chortens?) with each painted a different color (red, black, white), and to a very long prayer wheel wall. After visiting the Gompa, I walked to the suspension bridge over the adjacent Kali Gandaki River, crossed it, and headed north to the small village of Tiri. After forty minutes of walking in strong valley winds, I reached Tiri and took the trail up to the Gompa (built around 860 years ago on a rock shaped like a human heart); unfortunately the gate was closed and I did not see anyone around to let me in (there was no lock, but I did not want to trespass); so I went back down the trail and entered in to the town, which did not have much and looked rather uninviting with so many mud walls, closed doors, and disinterested citizens. After a short tour of the town, I walked back to Kagbeni; once back at Kagbeni, I walked around some more, climbing up to some of the terraced farmscape, wandering around through alleyways, ignoring the beggar children wanting treats and money (yeah, it may be Halloween, but I still will not support that lifestyle – conditioning kids to be free loaders; the parents should be ashamed), being sure not to step in all the shit littered all over town (mostly cow manure), and seeing so many cool looking structures. I then returned to my hotel and relaxed inside my room for some time before coming out, talking with the Englishman some more, and then ordering dinner. For dinner, I had yak meat dal bhat, yak meat lasagna (the ingredients were all there, but instead of being layered like lasagna, it was scrambled in a pan; it was quite tasty though), beer, and the local wine (made from apples – it was a clear liquid that tasted like it was composed of 80% water, 10% apple juice, and 10% alcohol; it was very light tasting, but the apple aroma and flavor was noticeable). During dinner, I sat and conversed with the Englishman and a Frenchman (who had hiked with the other Frenchman the Englishman and I met on the Ice Lake trail); we discussed Nepalese business models (or lack thereof), India, and the Annapurna Circuit. For dessert I had an apple crumble pie and coffee; after talking some more and putting in our breakfast orders for tomorrow, we all then went to our rooms for a good night’s rest.