Pilgrimage To Muktinath and Attempt on Thorong La Pass

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.

View up the pass

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.


Nepal Pt 2. Pokhara & Poon Hill Trek


A place by the lake surrounded by lush green foothills and backlit by the mighty Annapurna range. Its called Pokhara. A city in truth, its nestled on the flat land around a few hills and the touristy section is stuck front and centre by the lakeshore. A 2 or three main streets full oh guest houses, restaurants, trekking companies, outfitters, eateries and shops by dusty roads filled with scooters, animals and foot traffic. the place is divine. The lake is long and has a muddy foreshore, not what your typical definition is, but its beautiful all the same. Run down in that backwater type of way, where the god wasn’t out to make perfection in this place – just a gritty reality that calls to soul. We spend the first day wandering and getting our bearings. We take a canoe out on to the lake for a while and just watch the world turn over. We try food and browse the shops for silks and tapestries as be both try and recover from the aches and sickness that the 3 days rafting trip left us with.

In the afternoon as the hazy mountain air settles with the oncoming cool of night, we find a bottle of Khuri rum and cut I cut some cups out of an old coke bottle. We take them to the roof of the hotel and settle in for the glory that is the sunset on the Annapurna.

The world below is long in shadow as the suns rays glint of the mountains 20km away. Gigantic beings, they float above the world and are displayed with a crystal clear clarity to the minuscule humans watching in awe from the rooftops. From orange to deep hues of pink, we watch the colours turn and the clouds cling to they mighty cliff faces. We are so happy at having witnessed the sun kiss them goodbye and goodnight.

The next day we hire a scooter and explore the surrounding hills. Theres a temple located on a small peak overlooking the lake on the south side we head for. After getting pulled over and inspected by a lady cop and a few burn outs on the windy gravel track, we make it and are left awed by the vista. The full Annapurna range is on display, floating amongst the high clouds. We can see the many rows of mountains stepping down from the high peaks. The city below us is bathed in a soft haze while the lake resounds a deep aqua blue. Peace flags flutter off the surrounding temple gardens creating a scene of utter peace. Sarangot – an opposing high hill on the opposite side beckons us and we head off back down, around the lake and up there for lunch.

Poon Hill Trek. 3 days 2 nights.

Poon hill is an odd name for a hill but its a great welcoming track for the himalya. Catherine is a touch unproven and we are reluctant to bite off more in case it can’t be chewed. We start by meeting our guide, a tall fellow named Rami and our porter, Okil. We didn’t need either but got talked into them by the owner of the guest house in Kathmandu. A mistake we wouldn’t make again. We barely had enough gear for two small backpacks as we have guesthouses the whole way. I suppose this is why you do introductions like this. We all jump in the back of a small car and head an hour or so off up the valley to a town where we get our permits and start the trek. We wander slowly up a valley following a creek. Its humid and green and hard work as there are many many steps.

We pass a village and get hit by a heavy downpour – the steps cascade into a temporary waterfall. as we seek refuge on a rock to the side. 10 mins and its over and we keep marching up. We call the end of the day in a little village named Ulleri – a small farming village on a ridiculously steep hill that echo’s with the calls of cows and chickens. A mighty icy peak glares down from a steep valley high up beyond as we settle in on the roof of our guesthouse with some Khuri Rum for the night.

The next day winds up through more jungle and another village or two, before we find ourselves settling just shy of Poon hill peak in to Ghorepani. 4am wake up and we march the final few hundred metres up to the peak for sunrise. Its freshly cold in the early morning and the world is bathed in shadow, but before long the sun starts to light up the view in piercing fingers of light. Rising from over the Annapurna range and onto the opposing gargantuan Dhalgaluri. Its glorious. Utterly glorious. Peace flags flutter in the soft breeze and and vivid splashes of colour to the majestic view.

Nepal Pt. 1 – Kathmandu and 3 days Rafting the Gandaki River

Theres a place in this world where the heavens meet the earth. Where all the symphonies of colours float upon the breeze and the air is so pure and crisp, yet your forever left breathless. Its a place where the mystics of the world come to discover the great answers and even the grandest of souls is humbled like a beggar.

Welcome to Nepal, Welcome to the mighty Himalaya.

Note about photos – Kathmandu is far from glamorous, its dirty, dusty, chaotic and much of it is steeped in poverty, though its also a place filled with vibrant life. I chose a selection of photos to accompany this piece that I feel capture the realty of the place.

…Im daydreaming staring out the window. Anxious to land and see what its like – its a real unknown. I don’t like to overly research a destination before I go as then

theres some of the mystery taken away. Surely we will be descending soon, we can’t be too far away from Kathmandu and I can see the hills starting to build up bigger and bigger, far beneath the aircraft.

A cloud breaks on the horizon…surely I’m dreaming….it can’t be, I could swear I’m seeing the peak of a mountain level with the plane, far off in the distance. Like Zeus on Olympus – a mystical behemoth floating above the world far below. Its real, the clouds break further and leave me mouth agape in utter fucking awe. Shivers down my spine. My eyes have glimpsed the mighty Himalayas and I can’t wait to see more.

Green covered mountains almost scrape the belly of the plane as we drop suddenly and touch down in Kathmandu. Its dusty, and theres typical 3rd world development everywhere. The 3rd world has a habit of building houses  like mini apartment blocks of the west. Square or rectangle and 2 stories with the rebar sticking out of the roof ready to add an extra layer as the family grows. Ive seen the same in Central America & South America. Funny how they all come to the same conclusion. Either way, Im a fan as building up leaves more room fields and animals in the paddocks beside the dwellings.

Ive seen some pretty hectic cities in my time – La Paz in Bolivia is one, Guatemala City another, but Kathmandu takes the cake. Its probably the dustiness combined with the sheer volume of cows wandering the roads free. 4 lane (dust track) highway either side and cows are just chilling, doing whatever the hell they want and no one cares. Strange way to arrest progress of a city. Its dirty too, but thats nothing new in a third world city and before we know it shops filled with carpets, scarves, silks, knives, art and other tourist items line the road and I know we are in Thamel – the cities tourist district and our base for the next two days.

We check into the Khangsar Guest House and take a minute to savour the city from the rooftop terrace. One thing about Kathmandu is that you can’t really see any of the big mountains from the city. Its dusty, and they are still aways off. We’re only in the foothills here. Pot plants line the roof’s near us and create tranquil escapes from the chaotic happenings 4 stories below. Hunger hits and we find a restaurant and try our first, and only meal of Nepal – Dahl Baht.

Roof top gardens in Kathmandu
Roof top gardens in Kathmandu

Its all they eat, for every meal. Breakfast – Dahl Baht, Lunch – have some more Dahl Baht. Dinner? Well you get the idea. Either way, its a fanatically varied meal – Some curry, lentil soup, yoghurt curd desert, made some fruit and some times cucumber and carrot bits to go with it and of course rice.  Not bad Nepal and the best part is if your hungry, they will ALWAYS serve you more rice and curry.

The next day or two we explore the city – we visit temples, monasteries, stupas, shops, cafes, and speak with guides, shop vendors, holy men, local painters and more. We make plans and scrap them, and make them all over again. We dream big like the mountains surrounding us and indulge in the inspiration of potential the busy city fills us with.

Before we know its time to leave on our first adventure – 3 days rafting the Gandaki river, before heading onto Pokhara. Ive done rafting quite a few times over the years though I’m still quite excited by the prospect of doing it through the Himalayas, though all that excitement vanishes as our van weaves its way along the river – a dirty brown river with very very few rapids.

In a brief summary – the rafting was a total disappointment. One of those expectations vs reality things where our hopes were so high, but the actual experience was only ok. The problem here was that these rivers are the outflow of rubbish and effluent of 10,000 villages further up the catchment stream – so the water is dirty. We both get sick – me with a throat virus and Cat in the stomach, and unfortunately it lasts several days into our time into Pokhara, forcing us to delay our trekking plans.

On the plus side, the rafting did give us some wonderful viewpoints into the day to day life of the Nepalese people in the terai zone (the lower more humid mountains areas). From watching village girls washing clothes in the river, or seeing the farmer lead his buffalo to the waters edge, or watching local children cross the river by wire to get to family on the other side. Real Nepal life at its most authentic.