When you are trekking the Annapurna trail, lower Mustang is entered before you even know it. At the foot of the Thorong La Pass upon entering Muktinath you’re in Mustang province. You will notice though when you’re in upper Mustang without a valid permit of 500$ for a 10-day entry! Find the full blog post here
The Thorong La Pass is the highest point along the Annapurna trail at an altitude of 5416m (17770ft). Find the full journey here
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(click here to read from the start)
I have to tell you this: the vast amount of chang the day before yesterday seems to still affect my legs and the (greasy) samosas from this morning are having a weird party in my belly. So the relatively gentle ascent is challenging me more than a bit. Let’s say I am somehow suffering in these gorgeous surroundings…
We arrive in Tilicho base camp after a day of stunning views along a very nice hike, even though an unusually challenging one for me. We have a dip in the icecold riverwater just because we can, kind of supported by the last rays of the sun before we head into the restaurant to wait for another dhal bhat !
Click here for the full post on Tilicho Lake
‘Tilicho Lake’, available in Stino Select
The next morning the weather turns out te be grey and rainy and we pity the people having to go up to the lake now and feeling thankful we had all the blueskies… On the way back to Manang I see several boys carrying huge logs of wood along the small trail, it looks pretty impressive and puts the idea of having a porter to carry your stuff in a different perspective altogether…
There is a shortcut to Yak Kharka on the way to the Thorang la pass but I decide to go back to Manang as I bet the shortcut is a bit overrated. The descent to Manang takes longer than I thought though, and when I finally arrive I check in in my cosy room there for another night and have more samosas but no chang this time!
Next morning I proceed to Yak Kharka, after I had 4 samosas (and four more packed for later). The scenery is still not getting dull nor boring in any way visible, there’s a herd of mountain goats next to me and I take all the time to photograph them in their natural splendour. I see an Israeli couple and their porter stopping at every possible resting point and wonder when and if they will ever reach their destination.
I arrive in Letdar and I walk till the last option to stay and it seems like the nice people are assembled here. I immediately befriend a Korean guy named Dong who has a genuine smile on his face.
I have not much options in choosing a room, actually no choice, I stay in one of the attached wooden rooms. Next to me is an American couple, turns out they have exactly the same music taste as me so I DJ for a good part of the evening (from my phone) through the wall. It helps to stay warm as well. In the night I get bothered by symptoms of altitude sickness even though I am way lower again than Tilicho lake, how silly is that? The room at the other side is the toilet and I have to bear with all the sounds that come out of it (my earplugs are not doing what they’re supposed to). Awkward this is.
Next morning I set out with Dong and his wife Sil ; actually everybody starts at the same time at a VERY slow pace and it resembles queuing for the bathroom or something. Which is ok, as, strangely enough, after 2 weeks of hiking my heel suddenly is an open wound and will challenge me more than a bit the next few days.
This stretch of the trail is actually where a few weeks later the blizzards would kill dozens of hikers, it is still very hard to imagine what exactly happened here as this is the main hiking season when the weather is very stable.
Thorung Pedi is considered base camp before the Thorung La pass. (at 4450m – 14600ft) We’re having lunch here, I stay a little longer to acclimatise a little more. These are the times when I eat a piece of raw garlic every three hours and it really does magic. I go up to high camp and I realise I’m choosing the wrong time to be on my own, my body behaves a little strange and I have hardly any water left. Fortunately I meet a lovely Spanish couple who is hiking the trail in the opposite direction and they supply me with water. We exchange some useful do’s and dont’s and then continue our ways. The climb is very steep. I have no idea how long it’s gonna take. But pretty soon I see buildings appear and I arrive in high camp at 4850m – 15912 ft
‘It’s pretty chilly up here’ I say to myself before realising it’s really bloody cold as the sun goes down. As if I hadn’t had enough yet, I climb the hill nearby to acclimatise even more in preparation for the high pass tomorrow. I feel pretty dizzy and hardly get up there, where three Russian ladies are acclimatising and chitchatting the time away in their flashy blue, green and red jackets as if constituting a brand new flag…
I go in the cosy restaurant to socialise with my friends and have a garlic soup (yes) but I notice it’s too cold and I’m really high on the altitude now and retreat to my room where I bury myself under sheets and promise myself not to go to the toilet under any circumstance in this freezing night.
Tucked in for 14 hours I have been waiting for the morning to come… My friends are already gone so it’s gonna be on my own again. I pay my bill and say something for the first time of my life: ‘keep the change and gimme some more garlic’. And even though ‘it is said’ 4 to 5 am is the best time to go up, there’s plenty of people going up around 7. the sky is blue and I’m sure it’s a little warmer than a few hours earlier! And the views splendid!
The path is winding up higher and higher and I spread my two last chops of garlic over the estimated remaining time… it is fascinating again to feel how my teeth-grinded garlic does its fabulous work in my system. My augmenting dizziness settles down and the body adapts to the ever increasing altitude.
The pass is a very long stretch of land to cross but finally the goal is reached. THORONG LA! People jump around in front of the camera’s and I enjoy photographing them. I don’t jump. I’m allright.
And I keep my promise to Jacky -the Chinese guy whom I met at the beginning of the trail- and honour his request to put the picture of his girlfriend in a significant place. I wrap her in the colorful Tibetan prayer flags so she can overlook the pass and bless the fresh arrivals every single day! The first one is a British guy who walked all the way up with his bike next to him. As he must have been ‘bike’walking’ for more than a week now he was so eager to jump on the saddle again. I see him almost go flat on his face missing the first curve seemingly overexcited to be ON his bike again!
After having photographed enough jumping people (it’s mainly the Chinese -again) I commence the descent. A group of mules is coming towards me and the valley extending beyond is simply gorgeous and makes me think of Ladakh in India.
I stumble upon 3 young Frenchies, they seem superexcited not only about the hike but about anything in life, a refreshing encounter, they walk as fast as they talk though, we almost fly down, and still the descent seems endless…
I had to let go of the speedy French in order to keep enjoying the views at my own pace. Finally Muktinath is in sight. It is a pilgrimage centre for both Hindus and Buddhists. Find the blogpost here. The town itself deeply disappoints but the temple grounds are the main appeal here.
‘Muktinath Horse’, present in Stino’s New Current gallery
The morning after I see Pong again and we decide to take the long road to Kagbeni together, crossing small villages in the former Kingdom of Mustang. The Korean couple takes the straight road and the Frenchies… They probably are already miles ahead!
After having waited for half an hour for Pong to descend the gompa-monastery we were visiting in a small village, I decide to slowly walk on, I wait a bit in the next town and then again I continue. Little did I know I would be walking for hours in a remote dry desert…
Usually I get water anywhere along the trail which I purify with chlorine tablets but the coming hours there is absolutely no water apart from a shallow muddy pool and the fierce wind feels like it is blowing every single drop of moist out of my body. I drink tiny sips of what is left in my bottle. The wind becomes so strong that I have to lean into it in order to progress a bit. Of course this is the time that my knee starts hurting as well as if going into a spasm and I try to remain calm, which is another challenge…
After a few hours a green oasis appears and I don’t know if this is Kagbeni but there is definitely water and people there. The descent still takes much longer than the view and my wishful thinking are suggesting.
Once in Kagbeni I check in in the ‘Yac Donald’s hotel and one of these days I would have their yakburger which tastes incredibly delicious. Turns out the Koreans are here as well (of all places) and that’s good for another blast of laughter. I also meet a fun Polish couple with whom I would spend the last few days of my hike. They were hesitant about the wind and they took in my recommendation coming from fresh experience so they stayed.
I meet a new Zealand journalist who needs a photographer the next day. I have a very comfy room so I stay a few days in Kagbeni which is on the verge of lower and upper Mustang. I need a permit if I’d want to go to upper Mustang which would cost me 500 $ for 10 days. So I can get a fine if i wander too much in the wrong direction here. But the winds are so crazy that this is not appealing to me too much…
I gotta say that from now on I am less excited about what I see around me landscape-wise. Or the pain in my knee prevents me from enjoying them that is also possible. I arrive in Marpha where I ketchup with Piotr and Paulina and we celebrate that with apple brandy, the local delicacy. the rest of the day we enjoy singing songs, playing guitar and sipping brandy. Even though it’s way heavier than chang it won’t sink into my legs the next day.
Because of the above mentioned activities we’re engrossed in, I have a very quick look around Marpha the next morning. We -me and the Polish- all agree that it is a little too polished here and resembles more a place in Switzerland than a genuine town in Nepal.
The epilogue… last stretch to Tatopani, the promising place with the hot springs I figured would be the end of my three week hike. We take a wrong detour along the riverbed, have to go back, take a break at a Dutch bakery where a Dutch man serves us Douwe Egberts koffie (coffee) and somehow move on bit by bit…
At a certain point we loose a lot of time by thinking to have a smart shortcut by crossing the riverbed and a few tiny streams ; they turn out to be pretty fast running waters and I almost loose my balance and belongings in the water, but we make it and the thrill feels good on this silly day.
As I expected the last days to be the easy-going ones it turns out to be quite the opposite ; we walk for almost 10 hours, It seems though my knee is at the end of its capacity. I have an ongoing intense pain but I want to reach Tatopani by my own forces. Fortunately we have our Monthy Python imitations as an ongoing relief and the first thing upon arrival is of course a good cold beer. One at a time!
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Manang is the place where many people take a resting day while trekking the Annapurna trail. Many trekkers have guides and porters and some go pretty slow and I thought Manang might be overrated in that respect. But jenever can tell! I had been hearing so many opposing things along the trail about the trail and one really always has to see and feel it with his/her own pairs of senses to know what’s true or not, something very healthy to apply in many an are of life, if not all for that matter…
Soit, (anyway), I am in Manang now and I like it, I stumble upon Julia and Alan whom I met having a beer in Pokhara during happy hour time in between shopping for my trekking necessities. We would have more happy hours here with Chang. Chang is not a Chinese citizen (Jacky Chang) but a local brew, they call it beer but it is not, even though they do say so, just to be clear here…
Anyway, before having lots of chang in a cosy wooden place we hike up a nearby hill at 3800m to kind of acclimatise to the altitude from now onwards. After my experience with altitude sickness in the past I tend to be overly careful now. (even though you might rightfully wonder if it is good to have more than a few chang at the same stretch of time)
After our cosy drinking we head towards one of the movie theaters here to watch Life of Phi. Below is not Phi but Alan performing his English self in front of the cinema projector.
Next day I decide to stay yet another day. A Thai guy called Pong arrives and tells me he’s headed for Tilicho Lake (which is another sidetrek from the main trail) the following day with a bunch of people and says the road is a bit tricky (is it true?) so might be good to go in group. I decide to join them and the rest of the day I would spend being mellow in Manang, enjoying the rest and views in my gorgeous room and take more photos.