Chhusang to Syanboche...8 1/2 hours, 16 miles, 5000 feet verticle climbing
"Since leaving Jomsom, we have heard no motor, nor anything except the cry of birds, the click of hooves and quiet blowing of the horses, the bells, the yells and whistles of the hostlers, the silent echo in the wake of an ancient boulder that loses its hold on its sandstone niche of fifty million years and tumbles down the wind-worn walls with distant thunder"....Peter Mattiessen, "East of Monthang", 1995
Whew! Today was a really tough one. It was a 16 mile hike (or thereabouts, measurements don't mean that much here) of over 8 1/2 hours. We did a total of 5000 feet of climbing which, at altitudes of 11,000 and 12,500 feet, is exhausting. But it was well worth the pain and fatigue everyone went through. We did an especially difficult hike with a lot of ups and downs, because we wanted to see the Ranchung Gompa, a Buddhist cave where a solitary lama has been living for decades.
We started out in Chhusang, the little town we had dinner in last night. From here we hiked 1/2 hour to a huge rock wall, which is the end of the wide part of the Kali Gandaki River Valley. Then the trail started up a very steep hill. In a few minutes we were walking through the little town of Chele, with nice people, all greeting us with "Namaste".
The hill continued up, up, up and up some more...a total of 2,000 vertical feet. But what a great trail. There were parts that were quite scary, as the trail was very narrow at times and if you took a misstep you would fall about 1500 feet down. Part of the trail was carved right through the hillside, with a giant overhang. But the best part was the views. From several viewpoints you could see the entire Annapurna mountain range. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. A huge, long mountain range, with peaks over 25,000 feet high, covered in eternal snow, and below them the stark desert of Mustang with the occasional white village hanging precariously on the edge of a 1000 foot cliff, prayer flags fluttering in the wind.
This was the point in the trek where we went from the low river valley up to the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. From here, the Plateau stretches all the way to Mongolia, thousands of miles distant.
Finally, after 3 1/2 hours we reached our lunch destination, Samar. I had my new favorite dish, Thenduk, a hearty noodle soup with vegetables. It's a perfect meal for a long day of trekking.
So we decided we wanted to see this Buddhist cave, called Ranchung Gompa (the 'Royal We', as it was really me who wanted to see it). To get there, unfortunately, you have to get off the main trail, go down a few hundred feet, then you go right back up a steep, windy, rocky trail. After that, you cross a wide valley with very old junipers and then go up another steep path. There were some amazing old, twisted trees, looking 1,000 years old or more. At one point we saw a couple sitting under one, he a Buddhist monk, she a woman maybe his mother, sister, who knows? From the top, after a 1,000 foot climb, you get an absolutely amazing view of the entire Annapurna range, including the Kali Gandaki valley, way back where we had come from yesterday. It seemed very far away. Then you go down, down, down a very steep, windy path another 1200 feet in another canyon, with incredible rock formations everywhere, then climb another 300 feet to his cave. The walk was spectacular, with views of all the mountains.
At the top,of the big pass...
Along the way we saw lots of old knarly trees, which was surprising in this desert. There were a lot of goats and goat herders and the occasional mule train (consisting of mules, donkeys and horses). We finally got to the cave and wouldn't you know it, the lama was out.
But we were able to go in the cave anyway to meditate and reflect on our journey and loved ones left at home. It was beautiful inside, with lots of prayer flags and thankas. It was here, according to local legend, that Guru Rimpche received enlightenment.
After another steep 1200 foot climb up a narrow, rocky valley we made it to our destination, Syanboche, a tiny town consisting of about 5 houses. We had an early dinner and have gone to bed, as KB has said tomorrow is almost as difficult. Oy veh!