trekking to mukhtinath (part 1)

Trekking to Mukhtinath

ok time finally to at least start writing about the trek
mug hot swelter here in Bangkok, cannae believe i was ever cold
The Khao San road is just dreary with tourists, fun in it’s own way, but I can’t believe I went a week without seeing any other tourists!
Contrary contrasts. all doolally

quick bit of background, I did the Jomsom trek, which broadly speaking is hiking up the course of the Kali Khandaki river valley, then back down again to get out!
Coming back I yomped doing 2 guidebook days in a day! Loneliness is an incredible spur even to one as lazy as me, 10 days walking in total
The Kali Khandaki is the deepest valley in the world, as most of the time your trekking at about 2000m high, on one side you’ve got Dhaulghiri, and on the other side Nhilghiri, both of which are about 8000m, the cosequence of this being that whichever way you look half the sky is full of these immense white caps. Huge, awesome f***k off mountains
The trek is part of the Anapurna circuit, which is about a 20 day walk.
As It was January nobody could do the whole Anapurna circuit at that time of year, as the Thorung la, the high pass, was shut with snow
Not totally shut as i did meet one couple.. and a family! who had managed to get through, thanks to one of the locals on the other side helping, guiding them over.

My trek ended at Mukhtinath, up at about 4000m, which is higher than any mountain in Europe! Mukhtinath is both a Hindu and Buddhist spiritual place,
on account of there being a combination of a natural gas flame and a stream, like in the six pointed star, the sacred combination of the upward pointing fire triangle (male) and the downward pointing water triangle (female), or is that me hippy babbling?

The trek is justly famous for it’s variety of terrain and vegetation, from lush semi tropical banana and orange trees around Tatopani, through to the wind sculpted, bone dry desert of the Mustang region, furthermore theres a wide range of nepalli tribal types, a real patchwork of cultures too!
The reason the trek was so gawdamm deserted was partly that it was off season, partly that the pass was shut, but also that the plane which flies to Jomsom, to take tourists up there didn’t fly for ten days, on account of the bad weather.
Broadly the only way to get there was to walk in. proper hard slog stylee.

… and to end this preamble, I have a personal history of this trek, when i was 20 on my first ever trip to India, callow youth that i was I came up here with a Canadian called Alan,
I’d met him at heathrow, i guess, i was mostly tagging along with him, on account of being utterly bewildered by india and never having travelled on my own!
the trek was 2 days longer back then as they hadn’t built any of the road yet.
That time I’d fallen ill at Naudanda, Alan had gone on without me, and I remember staying the night in this local hovel, retching and puking and mewling and just completely convincing myself that I had mountain sickness. I remember trying to get out of bed so that I could stagger down the mountain, but luckily was too ill to move, as when I did finally go down the mountain, the route was perilous treacherous, in the dark I’d have been scuppered, a plummet tumble off a mountain in the gloom!
Oh I also remember being sick in a bag and throwing it out the window, only for the next day to find the hens pecking up my puke… yeuchh
….in the nature of endless shaggy dog stories, that puts me in the mind of one new years eve, mixing far too many rainbow hued cocktails, the following day Kathy and I went to Richmond, we were sitting on a bench, down by the riverside, grumbling cheerfully to each other, then the Thames tide began to come in… and in. cars were swamped by the tide
somehow we were stranded on the bench. maroooned! Robinson Barley Water Crusoe.
An audience had gathered to watch. About now, ever the stage fright drama queen i decided to be violently sick. bleagggh.
The worst bit being that the Ducks came over and pecked it up.
memory may well decieve me, but I like to believe that we were rescued by a Rastafarian in a rowboat…. Adventures do so often end that way
errr back in Nepal when I was 20, I eventually staggered on to Poon hill, which is a fantastic Mountain view top and there met a fabbo ozzie, called Gail.

also, when I was 22 I did most of the Jomsom trek, this time I got as far as Kag Beni, the little Buddhist Monastery town
One days climb beneath Mukhtinath.
I had a truly brilliant time.
On the way I met up with Mic (Thug), Rebecca, Ralph the punk, Dawn and Hugh, we must have been the slowest most stoned bunch of trekkers ever.
this ones for you guys, wherever you may well be, hope it’s a good feeling. thanks!
Oh and from this trek, to both my gentleman Korean pal…. and the Chinese femme fatale…. and the cheeky boy

the rest of this, well, just dithering ramble from my diary, mostly so i don’t forget

Day 1

acch they say that every journey begins with a single step, but this one with a local bus, then taxi to naya pul, a real dirt track of a road, so the bus leaped and bounded, and pounded my backside as we went
at one point there was a big old bang and we came to a halt, the tyre had burst. everyone hopped off and stood around. much gesticulation, hubbub huddle and pointing, in these situations every man instantly becomes a mechanic, off with the wheel, then they bundled a new one on in no time and away we went.
After this it was a taxi ride, 5 nepallis bundled in the back, me with all the leg room, sprawl relaxed up front, still i was paying 3 times as much as everybody else so didn’t feel so bad about it.
a pig pen grey cloud of dust around us
the driver had a tape loop droning on the stereo. Hindii melodramatic! much fun. I think thats probably why i love world music so much, reminds me of journeys like this
you can sit strangled bored in an office and a few notes of trundled accordion from Santa Cachon and i’m away in the bejungled foothills of columbia!

hopped out at naya pul, a real arm pit of a place, dirt and the sadness of poverty, this is what the road will bring. From here I crossed the bridge and passed the ACAP (Annapurna conservation area) checkpoint to Bierthanthi

Bierthanthi, ha the first encounter with my 20 year old self, i remember so well sitting around here watching the river swirl and fast flow around the rocks. gush, babble and turmoil
them huge big boulders
I wonder how much these rocks have erroded in the last 20 years?
At the time i was somewhat prone to pseudo mystical revelations, not much changes, back then it was something along the lines of the ‘river flows through me, but i am not of the river’, how we are not the flow of thoughts, our bodies or even the passage of time.
bless! i was a naive young chappie, rather lost, but i kinda like teh young me!

This first few hours, up to Tikhedunga is a beautiful stretch, the trail ambles along by the riverside, gently uphill, a flowerful stretch, past small farms.
There was one point with a landslide and a small shiva shine next to it
The shrines are always marked out by the shiva trident and a rope strung about with simple dried flowers
I later learned that the landslip had wiped out 2 houses and killed a whole family of 8, incredibly sad.
A harsh land
A new path clambers onwards

I got myself a stick. hurrah!
last time i did the trek, when i was 23, i caught a ride on a chinese truck all the way to the end of the road, the truck driver was helping build the road. As I hopped out he grunted and handed me a big Bamboo cane staff. Perfect. I carried it all the way to Kag Beni
You just can’t beat a proper stick!
This time i saw a similiar staff, lying by the side of the river, i dragged it out. hmmm rather long
but luckily. Thanks Finn! I had Finns penknife, so out with the mini saw part of it and a few mins of frenzied hacking it became the shoulder high pilgrims staff i required. A crowd of kids gathered around to chortle and stand bemused by my antics.
One of the gurkhas with their huge f***k off kukuri nights would have gone through it with one blow! made me think of trying to open a coconut in parque tyrona, colombia. with my little pen knife took pretty much all day.
Yet one of the machette wielding locals could hack through it in 2 shakes, which they often did to impress the girls
curiously the cocnut was a bit looked down upon in such parts. just too ubiquitous!
the trudge up the hill was heavy going, i quickly came to curse every single miligram of excess baggage in my backpack, first day so every single step was hard work. light weight.

I met a tibetan looking young woman (Thakali tribe?). She was very sweet and friendly, she’d was on her way back from Pokhara, where she’d gone to get some medicine for a crook stomach. She worked in a lodge in Tikhedunga and was naturally, business being business quite keen i stay there.
I knew of nowhere better and liked her, so readily agreed
At one point she had to hop off the road into one of the terraced fields, clutching a bog roll, poor thing, whilst i kept watch, sentry guard, back on the main trail
thinking about it maybe not that wise to stay in a lodge where the cooks got dysentry, but still, if a stomach lurgy is going to get you, it sure will.
When we got to the village she waved me on. The reason, probably 2 fold, in that with so many lodges on the trail all in cooperation and competition, hanging around on the path and poncing for customers is probably greatly frowned upon
Furthermore i think an attractive young woman, unmarried, hanging out with westerners would be a disgrace, quite a restrictive culture. Very Jane Austen
When I got there the guest house was pretty good, i grabbed a coffee, i love the way with the milk, the skin quickly forms and gets stuck to your moustache, all a bit plate techtonics, the drift of continents aross the surface
The manager was a burmese looking fellow, he was very soft, effeminate, much in the way of these people, he was married and had 2 children away at school, Finn and Sherbaileys age, back in his home village, somewhere in the Terrai, near Chitwan
His job was pretty much, standing on the doorstep, saying Nahmaste to all the trekkers going up… and all the trekkers coming down. Trying to coax them in, naturally he was a smidgin bored.
The other guests were a lebanese and a united arab emirate guy (all dark hair, tache a bristle) and their guide
the guide was of maoist sympathies, talk turned to politics and he was seething at the way the king had stolen billions upon billions of rupees from the country 6 billion he said), he was pleased with the changes thus far, as 2 years ago he wouldn’t have been able to voice such an opinion, but now he could. far to go
Everybody was expecting near civil war after the elections (10th April, if they went ahead)
If the maoists won there would be trouble, likewise if they lost.
Everyday there were power cuts, there was an indefinite banda (strike) down in the teraii and the bolshie partys there were preventing fuel trucks getting through. Nepal is teetering.

The arab guys were hilarious, they were exhausted from the 2 hour walk, and had pretended to get down on hands and knees, then crawl into the village!
that night we ate together, they were great friends, they relished telling me the plot of the latest Mr Bean movie, which sounded a hoot, in one scene the queen was asked to sign a document for the terrorists, she refused. they picked up a corgi and threatened to shoot, the arabs mimicked her voice ‘yes, yes right away’.
Normally I wouldn’t go for mr bean, but when recounted by a lebanese fellow, half way up a mountain in Nepal, it does sound funny
suddenly the world is a long way away and a strange place. I love travelling.

slept well, incredible full flush of stars above, the gentle gabble of the stream below.
In the visitors book ‘the love we take is equal to the love we make’
indeed. what song is that from

day 2
she’ll be coming around the mountains when she comes,
she’ll be coming around the mountains when she comes,
she’ll be wearing pink pyjamas when she comes

mules! They be on the trail everywhere, obviously they’re sterile, and a mix of a horse and a donkey, but whose the daddy? had i ever thought about it i would have assumed that the father was the horse and the mother a donkey. but apparently not, the babe then would be too large for the mother donkeys womb.
Rather ’tis vice versa and they have to build a pit for the horse to stand in and for the donkey to be in position. what next? step ladders step mothers and giraffes
for some reason i am put in mind of peter sellers and his affair with sophia loren, or pablo picasso and anyone
back to the mules tho’ they heavy laden have to lug everything up the hills, it’s horrible to see the deep rubbed raw sores on their backs, the toil, the near drunken gait as they stagger onwards and upwards.
what do they carry? mineral water, beer, huge sacks of rice, the kitchen sink. Often they are lumbered with twin gas cannisters, an incredible weight.
puts me in mind of a nepalli suicide bomber, just strike a match babe, start anew, it’s all over now baby blue.
osama bin down laden?

the mules have colourful embroidered head bands and each with a bell around it’s neck, the bells are of apparently random size, some with a tinkle, others with a deep throated dong, do the bells get selected on the basis of their personality? or does character follow as a result of the bell?
a bit like which chicken from the flock is selected for slaughter each night, definitely and literally pot luck
Regardless the continual crankle tong would swiftly drive me insane, how do the muleteers cope?
ah now i know, one of them passed me wearing an ipod, the modern world creeps even into the heart of the mountains, wonder what he’s listening to? music for mule traders?
they have a distinctive ulullating shout for the mules and are deadly shots with a hard hoiked stone.

anyway todays route was up, up, up, climbed over 1000 metres during the day, the first section was the stone staircase to Ulleri
crossing the first of many suspension bridges i held my cane out before me, like a quarter staff, feeling very much like Little John and Robin Hood, Finn would have loved to be here
At other times with my floppy sun hat and head high staff, i felt like Gandalf the Grey… I guess that he’d have to be grey, coz such be the dirt, even persil wouldn’t wash whiter than white.
I was thinking well, i’ve done this trek when i was 20, 40… maybe i’ll come back when i’m 60, with Finn and Sherbailey, i’d need a porter by then… and what if, god willing, i came back when i’m 80, ha i’d need a stannah stair lift to Mukhtinath by then.

finally after much plodding reached Ullerri, a very stoney village, the landscape becoming harsh, a real eagles eyrie of a place

….. to be cont’d (eventually)

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