Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mustang Trek, Day 3...Guru Rimpoche's Demon

"Before me spread a yellow and ochre desert, the most horrifying I could have imagined, a succession of barren, wind-eroded crags overlooking deep gorges and canyons which cut across an inferno of parched soil, like deep scars in a vast sand pile...A terrible wind whistled in my ears, in my eyes, spitting sand as it whipped across this parched landscape, howling in the canyons and buffeting the hills. I found myself exclaiming: 'This is Mustang! I must be mad! I will find nothing here but desolation.' "...Michel Peissel, "Mustang, The Forbidden Kingdom", 1967

Day 3, Syanboche to Tsarang. 7 1/2 hours trekking, 16 miles, 2600 feet climbing. Max altitude, 12,600 feet 

Well, we made it on what must be one of the most brutal days yet, maybe one of the most brutal physical days I have ever experienced. We didn't do as much climbing as yesterday, only around 2600 feet, but after yesterday's really hard day, this one was for the record books. In addition to just the hard trail, each one of the five of us has either a slight stomach bug or a really bad one. Ron, the orthopedic surgeon, came down with something really nasty last night. He's hardly eaten all day, but has been an amazing trouper, climbing steadily up all the hills, keeping up with the rest of us. 

We starred off in Syanboche, a tiny place with four houses.  Our tea house's owner's son was walking around when I got up early and I got some great pictures of him. 

We started trekking at 7:30 and went right up. After a few hundred feet we turned the corner and went across a wide valley. There was a lovely little village with prayer wheels and a big chorten. Whenever I see prayer wheels on this trip, and there are many, I spin them (always clockwise), sending healing prayers out to Amy. Of course, I am constantly thinking about her on this trip, trying to soak everything in for the both of us. I know she would love it here and would love this trek. 

After an hour or so climb, we came to a pass, the Nyi La (pass). Of course, as always, there is a huge pile of rocks at the top. So you pick up a rock from the trail, walk to the left of the rock pile, and toss your rock on it. Some of these rock piles are very big and I just wonder how many travelers have come by here over the centuries. 

From the pass the view was extraordinary. On one side was the entire Annapurna range, on the other, beautiful rock formations of red, grey and brown.  

We descended to the town of Ghemi for lunch.  This place looked like a metropolis after the last few towns. All the buildings are white, many two stories and all have stacked firewood around the perimeter of their roofs. This town had a nice chorton and some walls with several prayer wheels in them. From what I could see, it's mostly the old women who spin them. 

After lunch, we had to descend a couple of hundred feet to the river, cross a bridge and then hike right back up. There is a lot of that here. Now we started our ascent of a huge pass but first we walked by the biggest mani wall on the Tibetan plateau, maybe in the world. A mani wall is a wall, maybe 8 feet high, that consists of prayer stones, all inscribed with various Buddhist sayings. This wall is over 300 yards long, so you can just imagine how many stones there are. It is said that this mani wall was built on the intestines of a great demon, which Guru Rimpoche defeated in battle. 

"It's great length and varied colors gave this gigantic prayer wall the aspect of a cold snake making its way through the valley. When I asked what the wall was called, I was told that it represented the intestines of a demon that had been killed many years ago by the saint, Guru Rimpoche. This holy Bohdisatfa had come long, long ago to the land of Lo, which was then full of demons. Seizing one of these demons, he had dismembered it and thrown its heart deep into the ravines of Mustang; later a monastery by the name of Gekat was built at this spot. Then, taking the demon's lungs, the saint threw them away and they formed the red and pink cliffs that now hemmed us in on both sides. As for the intestines, they were flung onto the ground where the great prayer wall now stands."...Michel Peissel, 'Mustang, The Forbidden Kingdom', 1967

From a New York Times article...

"The tale begins with a demon. Centuries ago, it destroyed the foundations of a Buddhist monastery under construction in central Tibet. Then Guru Rinpoche, who had brought Buddhism to the kingdom, pursued the demon west, deep into Mustang. The two fought among Mustang’s snow peaks, desert canyons and grasslands. Guru Rinpoche prevailed, and he scattered the demon’s body parts across Mustang: its blood formed towering red cliffs, and its intestines tumbled to the wind-scoured earth east of the cliffs. Later, people would build a wall of prayer stones, the longest in Nepal, atop the intestines."

The landscape here was unbelievable. You could almost think you were on Mars, except for the occasional chorten that dots the landscape. The cliffs were a beautiful red and scoured by the wind to make amazing carvings. By now the wind was up, luckily at our backs, as we started the steep climb. The road made some big switchbacks, but not us. We went up the trail at a bit of an angle, but very steep. This was really hard...a very steep cliff, 12,000 feet up, and all of us in various degrees of sickness. After 90 minutes of this we made it to the top. Of course there was the ever present pile of stones with prayer flags at the top, this one a big one. It feels so good to throw your own little stone on the pile, a real sense of accomplishment. 

From here it was a 90 minute descent to the town of Tsarang. This is an important town, where the king has a palace and there is a big monastery. The palace is huge, all white and many stories high. But I think the king (well, former king, he was de-kinged  by Nepal several years ago) is rarely here. In fact, he is now in Kathmandu as he is quite old and sick. There is also a beautiful monastery, all painted dark red.  The view was beautiful as we headed down the trail and here was a big beautiful chorten to welcome us...

"I hardly dared believe my eyes when I gazed down upon Tsarang, looking like a delicate miniature painted in reds and greens and white spots by an over-conscientious illustrator of children's books. A great castle, five stories high, stood upon a crest dominating a steep gorge. It seemed to be in good condition. Its windows looked down upon the neat little white houses that nestles in its shade. The castle reminded me of a European midiaeval building. Rectangular in shape, it stood near the romantic ruins of a still older building. The small houses were set in a very green carpet that ran up the sloping bed of an ancient glacier. 

"Never in all my travels in the Himalayas had I seen a building as large and imposing as the fort of Tsarang. It reminded me that I was now in the land of a king who was a ruler in the ancient tradition. Like a small ship pulling into harbour, we marched in a neat file through the 'door chorten' to the edge of the green fields, then into the fairy tapestry of Tsarang. The beauty of the town, contrasting with its surroundings of great cliffs and mountains outlined by snowy summits on all sides, moved me very much and made me feel that all the energy I had spent in coming here had been worthwhile." ...Michel Peisel, 'Mustang, The Forbidden Kingdom', 1967

We checked into our tea house, all absolutely fried from the day. After a one hour nap, a lady from our tea house took us up to the monastery to meet the lama. But he wasn't there, nor were any monks. Maybe tomorrow we will try again. 

We had a nice dinner in the kitchen, the cook and owner laughing and talking with our guides, KB and Nirajan, and our two porters. Even though we couldn't understand a lot of what was going on, it was nice being in such a warm, friendly environment after this long, difficult day. 

The tea houses have been surprisingly nice. They all have good bedrooms, many have hot showers and most have lousy toilets. But the nicest thing is sitting in the kitchen with the family as they make you dinner. You get a small idea of what life is like here by watching the people cook and do other chores. 

Tomorrow we reach our destination, the capital of Lo Monthang. KB has promised it will only take 4 hours and not be so difficult. 


  1. Thank you for hiking and allowing us to be with you as you capture much of this culture. It is better than having all of us foreigners who are reading your blog traipsing through their private homelands.... even if we were physically able.

  2. I appreciate your efforts and wonderful accounting for all that you see. My other comments may not have published, but they were mostly "WOW!"