Annapurna Circuit Day 11 Kagbeni

After crossing the Thorang La yesterday we walked down to the bustling little town of Muktinath and shared a tea house with a couple of German parties we had met before. Recovering from such a tough day conversation at dinner was subdued.

The weather in the morning was perfect and walking back up through the town to the monastery the sights we had missed before gradually came into view.  Dhaulagiri to the south west, at over 8100 metres and the 7th highest mountain in the world, looked  amazing, startlingly white with a stream of cloud condensing from the top, while closer still was Niligiri North, a 7000 metre plus peak. As we climbed through the village we could see a completely different landscape to the north, brown almost desert like, the colours like the drier landscapes of Tibet.

Muktinath feels like a frontier town, almost a cowboy town. A crazy mix of old and new, finished and unfinished, where people are looking to make quick money.  In fact it's one of the most sacred sites for Hindus and Buddhists alike and the monastery at the top of the town is shared by both religions.  We spent a nice hour there, wandering around the buildings and watching semi naked sacred men run a long gauntlet of what must have been freezing cold showers. The apparent act of masochism clearly had a religious significance which was completely lost on me.
Cold shower

Muktinath is also a good place to shop. Four types of item predominate: yak blankets and scarves;  jewellery, involving a whole series of semi-precious stones; various ornaments with humming bowls a speciality; and fossils, often ammonites locked away inside black mudstones. The jewellery seems impossibly cheap and authenticity is perhaps dodgy, but at these prices who cares. For me the real stars of the show are the Yak blankets and scarves which are definitely made locally and come in the most wonderful combinations of colours.  I bought my scarf, all mellow yellows and greens which, after the usual haggling session cost 250 rupees, just over £2.

Village of Jhong
The walk along the valley was an easy one - perfect weather, breathtaking scenery, the perfect antidote to the rigours of yesterday's walk.  The sang froid hanging over the group gradually melted away and conversation resumed with the postmortem of yesterday's events a recurring and perhaps therapeutic theme.  

After an easy walk along a dusty road, the route descends down towards the village of Jhong. It's a great view, the village with its ancient fort on a promontory, juts out into a huge valley.  The scale and drama of the scenery, made up of massive mountains and gorges defined by varying shades of brown, was gobsmacking. Apart from the scale of the scenery, and its decrepit nature,  the village could have been in the mountains of Italy or Spain.  Either way the view grabs the attention of a large party of Russians who decide to use it as the setting for a particularly exuberant group photo.

Long dusty road
The rest of the walk, which includes a mid-morning tea stop, is wonderful but uneventful. It's a gently descending trail, high up along side of the valley, with views across towards Upper Mustang. Slightly annoying are the occasional motorbikes and four wheel drives, throwing up clouds of dust, which insist on sounding their horns to let you know they are coming. 

Kagbeni, which we get to in time for a late lunch (and more importantly a hot shower) is situated on the border between lower and upper Mustang. Upper Mustang is a semi-autonomous state with Nepal and, amongst other things, charges higher trekking fees.  The little town is an  odd place, seriously old and poor with a mix of quirky facilities for visitors.  I particularly liked Yak-Donalds whose branding has clearly been imitated by a more successful American rival.
Views into Upper Mustang

Kagbeni is located on the turn of a very distinctive valley.  A river meanders in a haphazard way across a wide flat bottom which stretches into the distance away from Kagbeni to the north-west and south. It's a huge feature which at times must be a mile across.

Dinner was enjoyable, drank some disgusting apple brandy, first alcohol since leaving Kathmandu.  Others participated as well, including, I think Himilti, whose card tricks gather a big crowd.

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