Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mustang Trek, Day 8...Old Customs Die Hard

"I would never think of smoking in a house or in a monastery, which is 'very sinful'. As for whistling in a house, this is also very shocking - as ghosts will come"...Michel Peissel, "Mustang, The Forbidden Kingdom", 1967

Mustang trek, Day 8...Samar to Kagbeni. 6 1/2 hours, 14 miles, 1000 feet climbing. 11,800 feet to 9,500. 

Today ranks as one of the two windiest days I have ever experienced. The other was two days ago. But today didn't start out that way. 

The morning broke with not a cloud in the sky and perfectly calm. From my room, the mountain climbed thousands of feet straight up into a dark blue sky, a small herd of horses going by with their bells ringing. Breakfast was early, 6:15. I had two fried eggs and Tibetan bread with honey.  KB had carried two jars of honey all the way from Kathmandu and by the time the trek was over, the honey was gone.  It tasted delicious on the Tibetan bread. Tibetan bread is like Indian fry bread and is tasty and hearty for your morning meal. 

We were soon off from Samar. We have noticed that most animals; goats, horses, cows, have bells around their necks. But I have never seen a chicken with a bell until today in Samar. This was a big rooster and he had a bell bracelet around his leg and his little harem of hens was following him around. He seemed very proud of himself…until Nirajan chased him away.

This part of the trek has one of the most beautiful trails I have ever seen. We did it coming up, right out of the Kali Gandaki river valley.  Now, we went down the same way.  You really see how, at one point, you are high on the Tibetan Plateau, then you go right down the side of a deep gorge and the trail is cut right out of the side of the cliffside.  You have a beautiful view of the entire Annapurna mountain range.  You go down, down, down and in not too long you are at the bottom of the Kali Gandaki, in a totally different environment.  Remember, these trails are hundreds and hundreds of years old and the engineering is pretty remarkable. It's a tough trail for one who suffers from any fear of heights, as one bad trip and you would go down 1500 feet to the river below.   Small villages sparkle in the Himalayan sun below the giant peaks and there many hundreds of prayer flags wave in the morning breeze.  By the afternoon, those prayer flags would be barely hanging onto their strings! 

"It was like a vision of the Grand Canyon, without cactus or water, painted in vivid colors. For miles around, as far as I could see, there was not a single blade of grass, a tree, or a bush. All was one bullied expanse of desolation combining the horrors of desert and high, arid mountains, of barrenness and cold"...Michel Piessel, "Mustang, The Forbidden Kingdom", 1967

Of course, there are many of these small towns along the way that never see a tourist, as like this one, they are on the other side of the gorge from the main trail.  So life goes on in these villages, far removed from the modern world.

"Polyandric marriages are always made with the consent of all involved.  When a man marries, his younger brothers are consulted.  If they like the same woman, and the girl agrees, they make a common marriage - all involved participating in the marriage ceremony.  The elder brother, nevertheless, retains the privileges due to his rank, while in other matters everything is shared.

"In Mustang, pygamas do not exist, and everyone goes to bed naked.  This is an ancient custom, perhaps originating with the Drokpas, nomads of Tibet, who as a rule always live naked in their tents because the heat of their bodies warms the tent.  When a woman has two or three husbands, I was surprised to learn that all three or four sleep together upon the same mattress which is set out before the fire at night.  After this, it is anybody's choice, with no rules.  A startling revelation!"…Michel Peissel, 'Mustang, The Forbidden Kingdom', 1967

Soon we were nearing the bottom of the Kali Gandaki valley, through the little town of Chele, over a bridge and then we were walking along the river. Although we were just passing through, you could observe everyday life in the village…one man was hanging a prayer flag on his roof, another group was making arrows by the trail.  An old woman was walking down the prayer wheel wall, spinning them all.

When we got to the bottom of the Kali Gandaki valley, we crossed the modern, metal bridge (just behind a motorcycle, who had to be pushed up to the bridge) then along the new road.  We all looked for those black rocks, many of which have hidden inside them ammonites, the 150 million year old sea creature fossils that are also sacred to the Hindus.  Trina found one, but we really couldn't tell if the thing inside was a fossil or just a different kind of mineral.  Often, you see groups of people out on the riverbed, which is 90% dry, loaded with millions of rocks, searching for ammonites to sell in the tourist stores.  Back in Pokhara, you see them everywhere and in fact both Ron and I bought some beautiful ones.

An ammonite...

The modern bridge...

By 10:30 we were at our lunch destination of Chhuksang. We got a nice room with a view of the valley and waited for our lunch. By 11:30, no lunch, so KB and Nirajan went to the kitchen and made a great meal of spaghetti and french fries. Yes, spaghetti and french fries for lunch!  Hey, we have been using 4000 to 5000 calories every day, so I think it's okay.  This whole trek has been a carb fest and I'm sure I've eaten more carbs in the last 9 days then I have in the last 9 months!!  Spaghetti, noodle soup, popcorn, Tibetan bread, porridge…you name it.  And it's all sooooooooo good!

By now the wind was up big time, sweeping through the valley as it does every day. Just in case I have not mentioned it, the famous wind of Mustang is caused by an unusual geographic phenomenon.  On the south side of the deep Kali Gandaki valley, you have the low lands of the Himalayan foothills.  As the valley goes north, it suddenly goes up to the Tibetan plateau, many thousands of feet higher in elevation.  The air pressure is much lower on the Tibetan Plateau, so the air just moves up there, at amazing speeds.  It is like clockwork…at around 9:30 am, a slight, very nice breeze starts up and you would normally say, oh, what a nice breeze on a hot day.  But by 1pm, that breeze has turned into a gale of hurricane strength and can reach speeds of 80 mph or more.  That lasts until well after dark, when it settles down and by the time you wake up it's perfectly calm.

We still had over 3 hours walk, with one or two steep uphills. The wind was so strong at times that it almost blew off my hat and if it wasn't for my improvised cashmere scarf hat holder I would have lost my favorite hat long ago.   We all had our hats tied down and had some kind of scarf to cover our faces, because of so much dust.

We had to cross a small stream and then go up a very steep path, maybe 300 feet up. At the top of this was an abandoned tea house, where we were able to hide in its wind shadow and eat some chocolate (a treat I handed out to everyone, as I had brought 20 bars over from the US). Then it was back down to the road, winding up and down, in and out of the wind. I would have loved some kind of a wind speed measuring device, but there must have been gusts of 80 mph plus. All normal, said KB. Wow, how do people live in this?  It's a great place for Buddhist prayer flags, however, as every time they flutter in he wind, a prayer goes out in the universe, carried by the Wind Horse, or Lungta. The breeze makes the prayer flags flutter and there, on one of the many prayer flags, is always Lungta and he carries the prayer out in the universe.

Finally, around 3:30, we reached our destination of Kagbeni. We walked all the way through town and got to our hotel. I had a nice room overlooking the Kali Gandaki with...I couldn't believe it...a private bath with shower and sit down toilet!!  Well, the shower had no hot water, but by now I'm not picky.

The fort -like appearance of Kagbeni spoke of a warlike race, expressing in the majesty of geometrical sturdiness a taste more robust and one less over-richly refined"…Michel Peissel, 'Mustang, The Forbidden Kingdom', 1967

A male "Kheni" greets you as you enter Kagbeni...

Do you want fries with your Big-Yac?

After a little rest, I headed up to the dining room. KB and Nirajan were there and soon Ron joined us. We were able to have some nice little "guy" talk with a few beers and popcorn and crispy Nepali cracker things. Before we knew it, it was dinner time. Sheila, who has been battling intestinal problems since Day 3, and who has somehow through her strength and with the help of KB and Nirajan made this trek with the rest of us, almost looked healed and ate pretty well. 

Tomorrow, our last of the trek, will only be 3 hours to Jomson.  I'm ready to get it all over with, as my toes have blisters, my eyes hurt from the dust and wind and every part of my body is ready for a rest. Plus, in Jomson, I may be able to contact Amy by email for the first time in 5 days and then a couple days after that I will be able to Skype her. I can't wait to hear her voice!

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