Trekking The Great Annapurna Circuit, Nepal Part IV

We arrived at Thorung Phedi just before dark. An 8 hour day with an elevation gain of over 1000 meters. Long, tiring, and risky before a summit of the Thorung La Pass. But I was fine other then feeling the long day on the trail.

I’m not a huge fan of trekking in the dark. I feel more tired, frustrated, and generally uncomfortable, so sometimes these summit days don’t start out pleasant, but when the first light comes up in the sky my spirits are all of sudden lifted. I feel light, full of energy, and excited to reach our goal, in most cases, the hardest day of the journey.

Yes there is a horse on the trek, some choose a horseback ride up to the top of the pass. For most it’s usually a 4-5 hour walk from Thorung Phedi. Some stay at Thorung high camp, just over 300 meters higher, which will slice an hour off your morning summit.

Whenever you reach the summit of a pass, which inevitably is part of many treks in Nepal, the feeling of accomplishment, relief, elation, is mutual with all of your fellow trekkers.

The Thorung La Pass at 5416 meters, is the widest mountain pass in the world. It’s always a place with dangerously high winds that start as early as 8am, so our time on the pass was limited to less than an hour before we started to descend. Just over a year ago this was the sight of one of the most tragic trekking accidents in the history of the Annapurna Circuit Trail.

On October 14 2014, a snowstorm struck the Annapurna, Manang, and Mustang Districts of Nepal causing severe avalanches. In the end over 400 people were rescued from the area with at least 43 deaths, which included 21 trekkers.

Because the previous few days brought fresh snowfall to the region, descending down to Muktinath and Ranipauwa, our next stop would be treacherous and tiring.

Roughly 4 to 5 hours of carefully trying to keep from sliding on my butt was challenging and on more than a couple of occasions I was defeated by the conditions.

Arriving at Muktinath, the religious site that is both sacred to Buddhists and Hindus and the neighboring Ranipauwa village where we would lodge, felt like Shangri La.

We passed by Muktinath and headed straight for Ranipauwa, sometimes also referred to as Muktinath, to settle into our lodge and get acquainted with the village.

After the long trek of summiting the Thorung La pass and the rough and tumble descent, gazing at Dauligiri, the 7th highest mountain in the world seemed like the perfect way to end the day.

The next morning I had more time to walk through the village and enjoy the views of the Mustang region. This is one of the most wonderful settings in Nepal. The dry region filled with captivating views of Himalayan peaks, Buddhist monasteries, and pilgrims that have journeyed from all over South Asia to visit Muktinath.

For some Hindus, the central shrine of Muktinath is considered one of the 8th most sacred shrines in Asia. This is a Vishnu temple, one of the oldest and most revered in South Asia.

The prakaram or outer courtyard of the temple has 108 bull faces through which sacred water is poured. Many devotees will take baths, even in freezing temperatures in the pools at the complex.

Buddhists revere Muktinath for the fact that the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Guru Rinpoche, meditated here on his way to Tibet.
Their name for the temple complex is Chumig Gyatsa-Tibetan for a hundred waters.

We all took a turn catching some of the holy water. Hari, being a Buddhist, was all in with his hat off and splashing the sacred water on his face.

I took the conservative approach while running my hand through all 108 taps. Some will run under the spouts with nothing more than shorts or a bathing suit on in a total devotional effort to bring good kharma and luck to their life. I just wanted to stay warm while participating in my spiritual quest.

You don’t need to be Hindu to have one of the priests on duty perform a puja or prayer for yo either. Just a donation which can be whatever you think is fair.

Further away from the main temple complex is another holy site, The Goddess of Fire temple, where 3 eternal flames are located. The natural gas spouts are called the holy flame from rock, holy flame from soil, and holy flame from water.

The close proximity of the flames, holy flowing water, and the earth which surrounds it, are the reasons for Muktinath’s prominence as an important pilgrimage site.
As with many holy sites throughout Nepal and India, photography of the flames is not permitted.

Hindus in particular will travel from as far away as South India to visit the site. Some even fly in from Kathmandu by helicopter, but due to the rapid rise in elevation can only stay for a short time.

After crossing the Thorung La Pass many will travel through Muktinath and Ranipauwa only stopping for a short few hours before making their way to Kagbeni. I highly recommend at least staying one night in Ranipauwa. The village is simple, charming and friendly. You will receive attention from the local trinket sellers, but it’s usually just good-hearted.

The views of the surrounding Mustang region are breathtaking and there is an heir of peace here that probably hasn’t changed much since Guru Rinpoche’s meditative stop.

Mustang was once an independent kingdom, only fully coming into the fold of Nepal in 2008. Up until 1992 the Upper Mustang was completely closed off to the rest of the world.

Having visited their myself to view this still preserved Tibetan culture and relatively untouched region I appreciated the similarities the lower Mustang offers. And there is no need for a special permit to trek here, other than a regular Annapurna Circuit trekking permit.

Along with tourism animal husbandry is still one of the main sources of income, along with farming.

Sea buckthorn grows in abundance here. The nutritious pulp from the berries is used to make syrups, tea, other drinks and is also used in cosmetic products.

The most atmospheric of all of the villages is probably Jhong. With it’s ancient crumbling fortress and hilltop temple it feels like the setting of a fairy tale, or a Star Wars or Lord of The Rings shooting locale.

We climbed up to the very top of the hill where the temple was located to enjoy some of the sweeping views of this side of the Himalaya.

What seemed like an apple tree growing out of the roof was really rooted in the little courtyard below, where we met one of the young novices of the monastery.

This region could be it’s own little trekking trip, with wonderful walks through these villages and comfortable stays in Jomsom, Kagbeni, and Ranipauwa Muktinath.

One our way to Kagbeni we stopped to marvel at the peaks in the distance including The Thorung La.

As wonderful a trekking day this can be it’s important for comfort to be done the majority of the walking for the day by the early afternoon, as the winds are quite strong through the Kali Gandaki Gorge.

By the noon hour we reached the wonderful crossroads of the Annapurna Circuit and Upper Mustang regions Kagbeni. A town loaded with layers of Bon and Buddhist culture, Kennies, guardians or protector statues and an old fortressed village.

Next time on Far East Adventure Travel, the ancient village of Kagbeni and the conclusion to Trekking The Great Annapurna Circuit.

About the Author John Saboe

I am a broadcaster, photographer, writer and videographer with a passion for travel throughout Asia. I love making connections and engaging with people. I am spiritual and seek adventure wherever I go.

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