Monday, July 26, 2010

Nepal, Annapurna Circuit....Muktinath

What an amazing transformation. After five days of clouds, occasional rain and then a blizzard to finish it off we woke up in Muktinath to find that the scenery had changed overnight. Our room was at the top of the hotel, so we were on part of the roof as we walked out the door; and what a vantage point it was to catch the first light of the day reflecting off the snow covered mountains which were all around us.

The idea we had the previous day of Muktinath being a bit of a gloomy place vanished instantly, as we went a bit camera crazy after those days of being starved of views. This was a rest day for us, and there was no need to do acclimatisation as we had done on our extra day in Manang. Now we were down again below 4000 metres having done the descent from Thorung La. Even so, we were on a trekking holiday and with such a nice day the obvious thing to do was to go for a walk and enjoy the landscape.

We headed down from the village and across a narrow river to walk up an almost completely barren hillside from where we could get views on all sides. Behind us were the mountains where we had crossed the previous day without having much idea of what was there. The contrast a day later could not be starker.

Far away in the direction we were heading there was another range of mountains, with only the lightest of cloud cover. The dryness of the surrounding countryside suggested that these mountains get significantly less rainfall than other areas we had passed through. Eventually we would reach a viewpoint overlooking the Upper Mustang valley, a restricted area only accessible to those foreigners who purchase an expensive permit and which leads in the space of a few days walking to the border with Tibet.

The walk we did wasn't long or difficult, although I still couldn't move at a fast pace. My adaptation to the altitude was sufficient, but not enough for me to act as if it had no effect at all. In the afternoon we visited Muktinath's temple complex which houses both Buddhist and Hindu temples. The village is accessible by jeep, which makes it easier for many of the visiting pilgrims to get there.

Now that weather had changed, cooking for the locals was going to be a whole lot easier.

Back in the village we noticed how few new arrivals there seemed to be coming down from the Thorung La pass. Nor had we seen any of the people who we had got used to seeing every day in the earlier days of the trek. With the weather clearing I imagined that the crossing could be in some ways more difficult than when we had done it, especially if the already treacherous path coming down had frozen overnight. Although I think the real reason why so few seemed to be crossing is explained in this account of the Annapurna Circuit from the New York Times. I calculate that the author was probably about two days behind us, and it seems that the (untrue) rumours our guide had ignored about Thorung La being impossible to cross had their effect. Many trekkers waited an extra day or two in Manang before attempting the crossing.

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