Annapurna Circuit Days 11-15
Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
48Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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So we headed out nice and early (as per usual – no lying in on this trip, well plus the fact that you went to bed at 7.30pm at the latest the night before so are wide awake at 5am anyway). We headed back out through Muktinath and up the very famous temple (no I'd never heard of it either). The name Muktinath is a Sanskrit word and it combines two words Mukti & Nath. Mukti meaning Salvation and Nath meaning god and Nirvana (as in free from suffering not the band).
So onto the temple which is a very important pilgrimage site (the most important in the Nepal Himalayas) for both Hindus and Buddhists and most of South indian People compulsory to visit this place in their life.The holy shrine at Muktinath is in a grove of trees and includes a Buddhist Gompa and the pagoda style temple of Vishnu Mandir (Hindu)
Inside there is the Hindu area and a Buddhist area. We first visited the Hindu part of the site. We weren't allowed into the Vishnu temple itself but in front of the temple there are two Kunda (Water ponds), one for males and one for female. It is believed that a dip in the holy water can wash away negative karma, the results of one's past negative actions. Behind the ponds there there are 108 (108 is a very significant number for Hindus and Buddhists– not only is it an abundant number and a semiperfect number. It is a also Tetranacci number and a refactorable number - not a Scooby either – I would just class it as a big number. Also – and this is completely irrelevant - the number 108 is one of many numeric motifs in the American television program Lost, which includes quite a few references to Buddhism. For example, the sum of "the numbers" (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42) is 108, and "the numbers" must be entered into a computer every 108 minutes. One hundred eight is also the number of days "the Oceanic 6" have spent on the island. And Jacob tells Hurley to rotate the mirror in the lighthouse to a heading of 108°. Anyway the reason why 108 is so important is that the distance of the Sun from Earth divided by the diameter of the Sun and distance of Moon from Earth divided by diameter of Moon is approximately equal to 108 – and yes it is – just did a quick calculation in my head to check – and who says we young people can’t do mental arithmetic) waterspouts (Dhara) in the name of "Muktidhara"
Beyond this is the continuously burning flame at the Jwala Mai Temple (Goddess of Fire). There are three eternal flames, (close your eyes, give me your hand) "the Holy flame from soil", "the Holy flame from rock" and the "the Holy flame from water" (no I don’t get that one either) fed by natural gas. Currently two flames are continuously burning (would that be the water one that has gone out then?). Hindu believe that this miracle of fire lighting was offering made by Brahma (Hindu God of creation and one of the Trimurti - basically one of the three top Gods). The auspicious combination of Earth, Water and Fire (Dance…. Boogie Wonderland - Oops sorry that was Earth, Wind and Fire – similar though) make this the only place on earth where you can find all five elements from which everything is made and hence it has a very important religious significance.
There is also the Buddhist temple 'Marme Lhakhang’, whose central image is of the Tibetan Buddhist sage Guru Rinpoche
Looking out from the temple, and over Muktinath is a stunning view of Dhaulagiri is the seventh highest mountain in the world at 8,167 metres (26,795 ft) and is one of the fourteen peaks in the world over eight thousand metres. The mountain's name comes from Sanskrit where dhawala means dazzling, white, beautiful and giri means mountain. It is often called Dhaulagiri I, denoting the highest summit in its massif called the Dhaulagiri Range. So obviously those incredibly inspired people at the Institute for Mountain Naming called the others Dhaulagiri II, III, IV and IV and V. I know I’ve already had my rant on this but p-l-e-a-s-e. Could you imagine if when parents came to name their children they bothered to come up with a name for the first – say Colin, and then for the following offspring just called them Colin II, Colin III etc. Can you imagine if you come from a large Catholic family you might be Colin IX. The only benefit would be for teachers, as we all have a terrible habit when we teach siblings of calling them by the name of the child you taught originally. It doesn’t go down well (understandably).
To the west of Muktinath are the Nilgiri peaks, Nilgiri North (7061m), Nilgiri Central (6940m) and Nilgiri South (6839m) (I won’t even go there on their names)
After our temple tour we headed over to the villages and monasteries on the north bank of the Jhong Khola (river). We saw the heart-breaking sight of women and children breaking up pieces of rock for building material. It was once again a reminder of the level of development in Nepal and how many of it’s population are living in levels of poverty that are incomprehensible. These people have to spend all day in a quarry areas full of dust breaking up bits of rock just to earn a few rupees a day.
We then passed by the Chhyonkhar Gompa which is an atmospheric 200-year old Tantric (Just to clarify as I know what you are thinking – and it involves Sting - Tantric spiritual practices and rituals are ones which aim to bring about an inner realisation of the truth that "Nothing exists that is not Divine" bringing freedom from ignorance and from the cycle of suffering in the process. Though the vast majority of scriptural Tantric teachings are not concerned with sexuality, in the popular imagination the term tantra and the notion of superlative sex are indelibly, but erroneously, linked.This error probably arose from the fact that some of the more radical nondual schools taught a form of sexual ritual as a way of entering into intensified and expanded states of awareness and dissolving mind-created boundaries) monastery of 25 monks
We then headed into the village of Jhong and climbed (really not necessary considering what we’d done the day before) the hilltop to the ruined 14th century Rabgyel Tse fort and the 16th century Sakyapa-school Chode Shedrup Choephel Ling Monastery, where had lunch (back on the Dal Bhat). After lunch we headed down the Jhong Khola along a road (well I say road, a dirt track), being buffeted by the very strong winds towards Kagbeni. Before we descended into the village we had to get through a canon bit (a tad scary).
The green oasis of Kagbeni (2840m) is at the junction of the Jhong Khola and Kali Gandaki. The Kali Gandaki is the traditional home of the Baragaunle – the people of the ’12 villages’. They are of Tibetan ancestry and practice a kind of Tibetan Buddhism that has been influenced by ancient animistic and pre-Buddhist Bonpo rituals. Kagbeni (or Kag for short) feels like a medieval village, with it’s closely packed mud houses, dark tunnels and alleys. It is also the gateway to the Mustang Valley (all you wanna do is ride Sally, ride). We got very excited as we found a version of McDonalds – called YakDonalds and a shop that sold Hardy’s wine. Obviously didn’t buy any as I was still on my no-alcohol regime but it was a sign we were back in an area with vehicle access
So Day 12 and we were walking down the Kali Gadaki valley to Marpha (2670m). Once again it was an early start, but not because we were going to be walking a long way, it was because of the winds. The flow of air between the peaks of Annapurna I and Dhaulagiri I creates strong winds that howl up the valley. In the morning there is a gentle breeze from the north (helpful little tailwind), but in the afternoon the wind direction shifts to being from the south and there are powerful gusts (no so helpful strong headwind).
And (yes I know you shouldn’t start a paragraph with the word And) for some more geographical insight to the area – The Kali Gadaki valley is supposed to the deepest gorge in the world. Yes – I know it doesn’t look that way, surely the Grand Canyon is deeper, I think even Cheddar could stake a claim from what I saw, but because the gorge separates the major peaks of Dhaulagiri (8167 m) on the west and Annapurna I (8091m) on the east and if one (as one would obviously do) measures the depth of a canyon by the difference between the river height and the heights of the highest peaks on either side, the gorge is the world's deepest
Anyway we headed off down the river valley and met some goats – terribly exciting (see the photos). The other terribly exciting thing I need to mention and it is my favourite topic (no not 80’s cheesy tunes), is about how to dry you pants in Nepal. So I mentioned in the bit about Day 11 that I had managed to wash some pants in our very swanky ensuite bathroom. The problem was that the very swanky ensuite didn’t have a radiator, or heated towel rail or a tumble dryer (what hotel room does?), so in the morning my pants weren’t dry. So my usual practice was to put the still slightly damp pants in a dry bag and then dry them in the next lodge. However, an even better idea and one I need to thank Ruth for is to take with you one of them bag things for putting your bra in when you stick it in the tumble dryer so it doesn’t attach itself to the rest of your clothes. You can then put your damp pants in there, attach it to your daypack (with the safety pins you have cunningly also thought to bring along) and then be able to dry them without causing offence to the local population.
So we had a couple of hours walk along the river valley, with lots of desert scenery and some mountains on either side
So Jomsom – or more correctly Dzongsam (New Fort) is the regions administrative headquarters, home to bureaucrats, military personnel, merchants and jeep owners. We were really excited to be going there as it was meant to be where it was all at but it was scruffy and pretty charmless with a scary airport. On the way into Jomsom we were very surprised to see small aircraft taking off and landing in the gorge. It turns out it does have a very small airport and it is known (along with Lukla – that story is to come) as one of the world’s most dangerous airports). It just seemed like an accident waiting to happen. Sadly I’m afraid we were right as a few weeks later there was a deadly crash. On 14 May 2012, an Agni Air Dornier 228 crashed while attempting to land at Jomsom airport, killing 15 of 21 people on board. The plane crashed into the hillside whilst trying to land but it was caught in strong winds.
So after lunch in Jomsom we headed up the hillside to Thini, which is the oldest village in the valley. After the village we visited Dhumba lake, which is an important Buddhist religious site. Apparently if you offer prayers at the lake then your wishes will come true (and I though you were meant to wish upon a star). Anyway, I did do some praying and it seems it works, although it is very sad for the children of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis
Then it started to rain, as we headed down into Marpha. In fact it absolutely threw it down. So we headed into our lodge which looked like it was the set for Bad Girls. Brilliant, it was raining, freezing cold, the power had gone off and we were staying in a prison!!!
So Day 13 – We awoke to a bit of sunshine so spent the first ½ hour doing a bit of sight seeing around Marpha. The name Marpha means 'Hard Working People’ (Mar meaning hard working and pha meaning People). It is huddled behind a ridge for protection from the wind and dust making it a good location for agriculture.. This large Thakali village exhibits the typical Thak Khola architecture of flat roofs and narrow paved alleys and passageways. The low rainfall in this region makes these flat roofs practical; they also serve as a drying place for grains and vegetables and storage for wood. Marpha is the 'Apple Capital of Nepal’ and is famed for it’s apple brandy – Ruth did sample some the night before and judging by the look on her face it seems like it was pretty strong stuff. We were lucky to see the apple blossom on all of the trees (all explains the obsession with Apple Pie on the Annpaurna Circuit).
We also visited Marpha's large, impressive gompa (monastery) which was renovated and enlarged in 1996. This is a Nyingmapa (the oldest of the four schools of Buddhism) Buddhist gompa; as in Tengboche (wil be visiting on the Everest Base Camp Trek), The gompa, as are all the buildings in Marpha, is painted with a whitewash that is produced from a special local stone
After leaving Marpha we headed over another suspension bridge. We were a tad shocked after we had crossed to see a guy on a motorbike take a short cut and head over it. The thing was full of holes. After the bridge we visited the Tibetan Refugee camp called the Chairok Camp. There are over 100 000 refugees in Nepal most of them from Tibet. Many of them fled in 1959. China took control of Tibet in 1951 but most people fled in 1959 with the Lhasa uprising and the exile of the Dalai Lama. When we were in Marpha we visited many shops selling goods. produced by Tibetans.
Once again the afternoon the weather deteriorated (it’s that dodgy southerly wind). As we came into Larjung (2560m) we had to cross the river on a very scary bridge that as usual in Nepal isn’t finished. It was about 2 ½m high and only about 20cm wide. That night we stayed in the Larjung lodge and I sampled my first Apple Pie, it needed to be amazing too as it was freezing (hence the photo of me in a down jacket, and having my legs in my down sleeping bag – what am I 88?).
So the following morning we woke up with much trepidation as today (Day 14) we were supposed to have stunning views of Dhaulagiri and our first sighting of Annapurna I. Then that was shattered as the weather wasn’t good. It was cloudy and rainy. So we headed off back across the river and then we took a short cut – well a short cut in so much as it cut off a spur in the river but it also involved a 200m climb. Normally this wouldn’t be too much of a problem but I wasn’t feeling too great
So we headed back down the hill to the village of Titi Goan for lunch. There are no lodges or restaurants in the village so we ended up in some woman’s front room instead. It turns out she can’t cook so R.B. and Nabin took control of the situation and cooked the best lunch of vegetable noodle soup we’d had all trek. We then headed off down the valley towards Ghasa. Then amazingly the sky started to clear. First of all we got views of Tukuche and Niligri’s. Were we actually going to see Annapurna I?
A little further on down the valley we could see a major peak and we were told this was the famed Annapurna I. The summit was in cloud but I had a funny feeling things were going to change. I did a bit of cloud whispering (one of my hidden talents) and amazingly managed to coax the clouds away from the summit and we got an amazing view of the world’s 10th highest mountain.
Annapurna may have the most innocent, musical and softest name of all the great peaks, but that merely conceals its unchallenged standing as the most dangerous of them all
So what makes Annapurna I so deadly. Apparently Annapurna I is all about objective danger, it's all about the glacial architecture. There are big ice cliffs and seracs and also some very dangerous avalanches.
The peak was as I said before, first climbed in 1950 and it was the first peak over 8000m to be climbed. In 1950 a French team set out the Nepal in an attempt to climb the first 8000m peak. They first attempted to find a route up Dhaulagiri but found no easy (like any climb up an 8000m peak is easy), so turned their attentions to the peak on the other side of the valley – Annapurna IEdmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. So despite poor maps, no supplemental oxygen and bad weather, the team’s leader Maurice Herzog and his partner Louis Lachenal reached the peak on June 3, 1950.
Herzog and Lachenal nearly died on their way back down the mountain. On their two week retreat back down the mountain, they lost several pieces of essential equipment, suffered frostbite and snow blindness and survived an avalanche. They were only wearing light boots as they were rushing to the summit so on the way down suffered with severe frostbite on their toes. Herzog lost a glove as well.
Maurice Herzog (who is still alive today at the ripe old age of 93), lost most of his fingers on the way down the mountain. He wrote a book of the ascent but had to dictate the book to his assistant. Maurice Herzog's book 'Annapurna’ is the most popular mountaineering book of all time and has sold over 15 million copies worldwide since it was first published in 1952 and it has been translated into over 50 different languages
Such is the difficulty in climbing the mountain, Annapurna was not climbed again until 1970, when the French north face route was climbed by a British Army expedition, simultaneous with an ascent of the south face by an expedition led by British climber Chris Bonington. The mountain's fourth ascent was not until 1977.
So after seeing the stunning sight of Annapurna I we headed down to the village of Ghasa. Ghasa is at 2000m and marks a cultural and ecological milestone. It is the last Thakali village in the trek and the southernmost limit of Tibbetan Buddhism. In terms of ecology here the mountain pine and birch becomes subtropical trees and shrubs. We were also staying in a very nice lodge with ensuite facilities (very useful under the circumstances – sorry Sue) and excellent food – might have been feeling a bit jaded but somehow I made room for some apple pie.
Day 15 and we were now heading down to Tatopani. We followed a mule track down the valley, crossing first of all a scary bridge. Behind us was a stunning view of Dhaulagiri. We were now in a more of subtropical landscape and there was stunning waterfalls, flowers, amazing spider webs encasing the shrubs
So after a lovely lunch of Dal Bhat with stunning views of the mountains (now once again we told it was Niligri South but this was starting to get a tad ridiculous as every mountain we saw was apparently Niligri South. Amanda and I both looked at the map and started to question our guides on whether it could possibly be Niligri South every time, but they reckoned so – we geographers thought not). There was also a bit of excitement across the valley when the two buses meet. This was the main road up to Jomsom with quite a few buses heading up and down
So we arrived in Tatopani and it’s ‘Hot Springs’. Everyone else had been discussing at length (I was still going on the Eurovision Song Contest) about whether they were going in the hot springs. I think they all had this lovely vision of some kind of fancy spa or something like the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. I reminded them that we were in Nepal and maybe to set their expectations slightly lower and that there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of me going in. So we arrived and the others went to have a look at the springs and came back looking disappointed as it was just some grotty pool full of lecherous German men (this apparently wasn’t doing it for them). So we had some more Apple Pie and settled into our not so lovely rooms. The others had their usual panics about creepy crawlies and I couldn’t bring myself to have a cold shower in the not so pleasant bathroom.