2 days later we are back by the lake in Pokhara. We have a 7 days left in the country before we move on to Turkey. In that time I want to get as far into those mountains as possible. Ive seen the mighty ranges from the foothills, now I must get amongst them. We get the map out and find how far we can fly. Its the only way – fly then hike from the furthest airport.
Jomsom. A little town by the side of the Kali Gandhi river with an airstrip that sits in the lower Mustang area. At 2750m up, it is a world apart from the rhododendron forests of the slightly higher Ghorepani area. Its barren here – desolate even. All rock and dust as we now sit deep in the big mountains. Dhalgaluri to the west and the Annapurna to the east. Theres guides prospecting us as we leave the airship and find breakfast, we chat with one over eggs on toast and then tip him well and part ways. We walk up the river. Its an easy to find route in a way – follow the river to the next village but somehow we get stuck on the far bank that ends in a cliff against the running water. Its shallow, but cold and moving fast. We take our shoes off and carefully fjord the waters before rejoining the correct path on the other side.
Up the valley we go. We pass a nameless village – little more than a collection of huts several hours in before another few hours pass and we arrive at Kagbeni. Kagbeni is a reasonable size village with a Yakdonalds. Yes thats right Yakdonalds. They sell Yak cheeseburgers and fries. We try some before retiring to the guest house above. We pass the time flicking through all travellers books and drawing in my diary. There are rice terraces here and the sound of bovines calling out gives the village a picturesque splash of green and welcoming sounds against the barren mountain backdrop.
The next day we start the march up to Muktinath. Its about 1200m to go up today and its a steep start. Once again we’ve managed to go off the path but soon we find our way. The valley opens up before us. We’ve left the Gandhi river valley behind and headed off a side valley that leads up to the worlds highest pass – Throng la pass. We march up and up as the world opens up around us. Barren rocky cliffs surround. Theres the odd goat herder with his flock we come across. Its a good 5 hours until we reach Jharkot – a town just below the high refuge of Muktinath.
Its like Shangri-la come to life. Theres an abundance of green takes over the barren brown landscape. Life has been sown among the harsh landscape and thrived. Terraced farms and pastures with lush produce and fat sheep and yaks decorate the view with is capped by some high temples commanding the valleys around them. Its wonderfully beautiful. We wind further up to the high temples of Muktinath. Its a holy place for both Buddhism and Hindu’s with man people making pilgrimage to the temple here each year. There are stacks of yogi’s in the place, all come to find their gods amongst the mountains. I can understand their cause.
We explore a while after dropping our bags at a teahouse and then retire for some tibetan beer on the rooftop as we watch the sun set on the Dhalgaluri range to the west.
We wake with purpose and start to get ready. We are off to do something stupid. We’ve come up 1400m in the last two days and now sit at 3400m. Today we are going to attempt to get to the top of Thorong La Pass at 5400m. Thats a lot of altitude in a short time. Typically the trail leads the other way around though the pass – steadily building up a few hundred per day before coming steeply down the high pass. Not us though. We head up. Its a glorious path – high alpine meadows filled with wildflowers as the valley starts to close. Theres a bridge crossing a ravine with wild water beneath thats decorated with thousands of prayer flags. We take a few for a souvenir. We shouldn’t but can’t help it. We march, up and up. On and on.
We stop for lunch exhausted at a grassy knoll by the bones of long dead yak. We munch nuts and chocolate for energy as we stare back down the long valley we have just ascended. Its satisfying to see. We pick ourselves up and wander on. Energy fading and the altitude taking its toll. We get to the point where its two breaths two a step. I judge we are only 200m short of the pass. I want to go on, but Cat is done. She can push no more. Truth be told is Im pretty much there myself. The will to go on is there, but I don’t think I could actually make it much further. We turn around. The path is easy descending. We spent 6 hours coming up and only 2 down. We finish the afternoon with beer and apple pie from the teahouse once again watching the sunset as we crash into an exhausted sleep.
The next day sees us make the descent from Muktinath back to Jomsom. Its along way down and by the end we are practically dragging our feet. Its been 10days straight including the attempt at the pass. We are done. Flight back to Pokhara for a few days rest before we leave this wonderful land behind. Namaste.