Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom of Mustang

My mom and Jill arrived Sunday, and it's been quite a mix of stuff I have already done, with stuff that's pretty new. We left for Pokhara on Tuesday, watching the sunrise at Sarangkot - the famous overlook to the Annapurnas. Unfortunately the monsoon was too heavy this time to get a view of them.

Sunrise from Sarangkot

Limestone cave in Pokhara

Buddhist monastery in Pokhara. Lots of Tibetan refugees.

Thursday morning we flew to Jomsom, which is on the other side of the Himalayan belt, the Tibetan side. That afternoon Mom and I and our guide hiked to Kagbeni, then the next day, Wednesday, we continued on to Muktinath - an elevation gain of over 3,000 ft in one day. Intense. Muktinath is a little over 11,000 ft in elevation. One impressive aspect of Muktinath is that even at 11,000 ft (which is a very good-sized Rocky Mountain summit) we were still only in the "hills." The "mountains" here are not even considered "mountains" until they pass 17,000 ft (which is higher than the Grand Teton in Wyoming).

Muktinath also has one of the most sacred Hindu / Buddhist temples in Asia, apparently. Many Indians were there on a pilgrimage for somehow we visited on the same day as some very sacred holiday. Indians say: "Bambuleyy," Nepalis say: "Namaste," Tibetans say "Thasitire," and I say: "Heeyyyy." Again, quite the ethnic mix.

Sacred yak-butter candles.

Tibetan yaks

So, while we were in Jomsom and above we were in Mustang (pronounced Moose-taaang, not like the horse mustang), which is technically the "Forbidden Kingdom of Mustang" - a portion of Tibet absorbed by Nepal but that still has its own Tibetan King. As Mustang is on the other side of the Himalayas, it looks a lot like Tibet, and is populated by Tibetan people with Tibetan cultures, etc. Very different than the Nepali Kathmandu / Pokara or the Indian - like Biratnagar.

But, since we were on the other side of the Himalayas we were in the "raincloud." The moutains block all moisture coming north from India, thus as much as lower Nepal is a tropical jungle, Mustang is a veritable desert, convenient for Himalayan travel at this time of year.

Mom's shoes fell apart about an hour outside of Jomsom, so I gave her my boots and I went the whole way in Chacos (sandals). It was fine because we did not get up into snow, but I tore up my foot pretty badly as we were approaching Jomsom again on the last day. We had to cross this raging torrent of a river that was completely black water from the shaley soil. I mean, the water was black from the soil, not pollution as is the case here in KTM. Anyways, the water was frigid and I think my muscles cramped and when forced to stretch, they just tore.

Entrance to Muktinath, in which a natural gas flame burns constantly "straight from the earth." I was skeptical at first, but geologically it makes sense that there is till outgassing in this geologically young area. We saw the flame, which was neat, but I was much more impressed by the plethora of natural springs.

Not to be heady, but crazy sick geological folding revealed in Mustang from the great Himalayan deformation. This cliff is about 500 ft tall, half the size of the Cumberland Plateau in one sheer cliff. Seriously sick.

View of Jharkot, the town in the foreground, from Muktinath above. I was worn out by the time we reached Jharkot. Seriously. I did not realize then that we still had more than 600 ft to climb to get to Muktinath, the town, and then another 100 or so to get up to the temple!

Arid Moose-tang.

After a shower in Kagbeni playing with a Tibetan kitten. And, you would just never guess that they even act the same here as they do at home... (constantly reminded here that people are just people no matter where they are from, just as cats are cats no matter where they are from)

Intimate Buddhist monastery in Kagbeni, you can see their prayer Thangka in the background.

Buddhist prayers carved into rocks. Very large in scale.

Dhauligiri earlier in the day

Nilgiri at sunset from Muktinath

At our highest, around 11,100 we were coming out of the rainshadow and beginning to see more vegetation.

On the way from Muktinath back to Jomsom. Whole descent in one day. Pre-messed up foot, but check out my chacos.

Tibetan weaver

We ended up getting stuck in Jomsom for another few days because the monsoon was making travel through the mountain pass impossible. After possibly facing a forced extended stay in Jomsom from no flights, I was brutally bored and thoroughly sad. We finally chartered a helicopter, which came through the weather on Tuesday, after 2 days delay that seemed like weeks. Jomsom, with probably no more than 200 permanent residents, most of which are Tibetan is not exactly a hip destination. It was breathtaking and wonderful, I was just ready to get home. There are no western tourists at this time of year because of the heavy monsoon so the town was like one of those old western movies in which the dust rolling through is the only thing that happens from day to day. We sat for like 8 hours each day on the steps of our hotel - waiting for something to happen with the weather - and watched processions of yaks and donkeys.

Our hostess drying apricots in Jomsom.

Literally, documented in the "Eco-Museum" in Jomsom.

Traffic in Jomsom

View of KTM and Bagmati River from the helicopter.

I am not working that much right now, almost done with my project so I have some time to spend with friends here and mom before I leave. She was supposed to leave tomorrow, but extended the stay until Sunday to finish some things she wanted to do, shopping for a museum, etc. It has been fun for her to meet some of my Nepali buddies, and obviously they were very excited also.

I graciously volunteered to guide her to the Cathay Pacific airline office yesterday to change her ticket... obviously my hidden agenda was on the way home, shopping!! I have finally found the "Park Avenue" of KTM, which has lots of western-looking clothes, "Durbar Marg." I got a huge gold purse, and gold-beaded shoes. I think I have become somewhat gaudy in my old age... or maybe it's just the asian influence (one too many bowls of noodles and women in saris).

One really cool thing about my mom and Jill being here is that in showing them around, I realize that I know this area much better than I thought. They have provided - among lots of things - a mirror in which I can see a reflection of myself as I am in this place. I don't really know how to say this in a way that makes sense, I mean I am the same person pretty much, but it's like looking at myself as I am after 2 months here from the eyes of how I was before I traveled here and had these experiences.

1 comment:

Jacquelyn said...

Once again...great pictures!! Sounds like yall had a good time together. I hear you about feeling like other people can be mirrors. It's amazing how something big can change you, and then one day you are reminded of how you were before the change, and you wonder how you could have ever been the way you were. I guess that's life and growth...when you open yourself to it.

Hope your foot is mom was kicking shoes from 1980 or what? maybe it's time for new ones, hey, why don't we get her some wheelies?

Hope your last few weeks are incredible...can't wait to talk in person!