Back on the trek again after the rest day in Muktinath, it was clear that the good weather was not going to desert us for the moment with a clear and frosty start to the day. Some of those who walk the Annapurna Circuit seem to think that this stretch of the journey can be done by jeep, as there is a dirt road to bring the pilgrims up to Muktinath. For me, it turned out to be one of the best sections of the trek with great views, at least in the first half of the day.
Also, you don't need to walk down the road all of the way. We started by heading down to the nearby village of Jharkot. Behind us there was an impressive view of the mountains surrounding the Thorung La pass.
The entrance to the village is distinctive, and we went to visit the monastery. Jharkot is a possible alternative to Muktinath as a place to stay, the village looks more traditional and has a handful of places to stay. The monastery is several hundred years old and houses a school as well as a pharmacy for natural medicine.
Leaving Jharkot behind we rejoined the road and descended the valley down to the village of Kagbeni. This was the most spectacular part of the day's walk. One side of the valley was completely bare, whilst down below we could see Kagbeni and the cultivated fields surrounding the village.
Kagbeni is the gateway to the Upper Mustang Valley, although we were heading in the other direction - down towards the Nilgiri Himal that lies just to one side of the Annapurnas.
Kagbeni is a fascinating, medieval village. Once you get past the "Yakdonalds" restaurant at the entrance you go into an area of narrow streets around the monastery. It was in this monastery that I managed to test the strength of the structure, without really wanting to. Stepping aside to let someone else come down a narrow staircase, I hit my head on a wooden beam with enough force to knock me off my feet and cause alarm to everyone who saw it. It wasn't that serious in the end, but I couldn't help wondering why I had to contribute to the restoration of a building that didn't seem to be in bad condition.
From Kagbeni the route follows the broad river bed heading downstream. We had started early that morning and there is a good reason for this. The river valley becomes windier as the day progresses, an effect produced by the 8000 metre peaks that lie on either side of it. There was water too in the river, but most of the stony bed was dry and walkable. The steep part of the descent was over, and the next part of the walk was easy.
The next major settlement is the unlovely town of Jomsom, where we stopped for lunch. It's a dusty, sprawling place which has some importance in the region. Partly this is because it has an airport which can be used by pilgrims and trekkers alike. Not a place we felt like spending much time in and a bit of a culture shock after several days of hardly seeing any traffic at all.
After Jomsom the valley narrowed and became greener. We headed further down to the much prettier village of Marpha, which claims to be the "apple capital of Nepal". It wasn't apple picking time, but you could easily get apple juice, bags of dried apple, slices of apple pie, or even a local apple brandy. The village has plenty of facilities for walkers, and was a good place to end the day wandering through the narrow streets amongst the whitewashed houses.
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