Upper Mustang

Pokhara

Finally we are off to Pokhara and out of Kathmandu and the mayhem! The smog, dust and traffic get a bit too much.

Lucky for us it was a clear day. Pauline’s side of the plane had clear views of the Himalayas all the way😁

Pokhara is the trekking capital of West Nepal. Hundreds of hotels and restaurants. You can go hiking, paragliding, mountain biking, rafting,  zip line etc. Backpacker paradise!

We spent the rest of the day doing a boat cruise across the lake in Pokhara and climbed up to the stupa above the lake.

Tomorrow we fly bright and early to Jomson. Then the trekking finally begins ☺️

Jomson and Trekking

5am start this morning to get the first flight out of Pokhara to Jomson. We flew for about 10 minutes then turned back, the winds were gusting at 20 knots so it wasn’t safe to land. Now we are sitting around the Pokhara airport waiting for the wind to drop.

All flights to Jomson have been cancelled for the day. We will try again tomorrow at 6am. Apparently the wind picks up more as the day goes on.

Jomson at last

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We waited a day till the winds died down then flew to Jomsom. Spectacular views once we got above the clouds☺️ Jomsom is in the valley between the Annapurnas and Daluguri which are both over 8000 meters.

Today we are trekking for a couple of hours up to where the horses and the rest of our caravan awaits.

Jomsom to kagbeni

Easy day today. Only three hours walking. We followed the Kali Gandaki river upstream to the village of Kagbeni. This used to be an old Tibetan fort. It also has an 600 year old monastery that is still in use.

We all wandered around the village and saw the sights. Kim our leader knows a lot of the locals. They all point out that she must be rich because she has lots of silver bangles.

The river here has lots of amonites in it, so Pauline is off in the river now searching for them😅

Kagbeni to Tetang

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Because we had to make up a day for the delayed flight it was decided to get a Jeep to the village of Jhong. Pauline the backseat driver wasn’t too happy with parts of the Jeep trip. Narrow track, huge drop off one side. From Jhong we trekked over Gnyi La (La means pass) at 4070m.

The views from the pass are breathtaking! You can see a lot of the Annapurnas and Daluguri so a lot of over 8000m peaks.

So far we have been OK with the altitude. We are taking Diamox which is a drug that helps you acclimatize faster that seems to work😊. It speeds up your resting breathing rate so you have more oxygen in your system. Of course you still  have to do all the other things to help like drink lots of water and no alcohol.

The village at Tetang is also and old Fort,  this one is mostly intact. Huge mud and rock walls all built towering over the river. The locals were in mourning for a mother who had died recently. They don’t  bathe for 50 days after the death, we arrived at day 49. There was a wake just getting underway that night. Lots of the local brew was about to be drunk. Some of it is like beer, and some is distilled, tastes like lighter fluid😀. We camped well away from the festivities!

Tetang to Syangmochen

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A long climb today. Started at 3000m and slowly climbed to 3780m where we camped for the night. More spectacular scenery! This is the highest altitude we have slept at so far.

We crossed the Kali Gandaki river again on a temporary bridge. A full road bridge had been started, a couple of the concrete piers had been done. Looks like last winter the river just changed course a bit and moved the other bank about 100m further away! It’s a Big river. Everything here is on a much larger scale than Oz.

Syangmochen to Tange

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Downhill today, we’ll that’s what the brochure said. And the first part was, 3800m down to 3000m and the Kali Gandaki river again. We then walked up the river for a lot of hours to the village of Tange at 3320m. I lost count of how many times we forded the river, up to mid thigh and running quite fast.

Pauline wasn’t feeling to well today. A combination of the altitude and other complaints. The guides manged to hitch a ride for her and a couple of them on one of the 4×4 trucks that drive up the river bed to Lo Mantang. She was a happy camper. She is now full of drugs and having a sleep. 😴

The village has a womens group that helps with schooling and other issues. We all donated some cash to them.

Tange to Dhe

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Pauline is much better today, she is back to annoying me for fun again. Just as well as we had a long climb from Tange at 3320m over a pass at 4250m. The views are more expensive than ever. My camera which takes excellent panoramas can’t fit it all in. We can see all of the Northern face of the Annapurnas and the Northern face of Daluguri. We can also see an extensive range of mountains from Daluguri north into Tibet that extend the panorama. Any of these unnamed peaks would tower over Mt Kosciusko at four times the height.

We had lunch at the pass. The usual fare of rice, some coleslaw, home made hummus, sun dried tomatoes and flat bread. All cooked up by Yamaha one of our guides and the head cook and his team. .

Lapka the head guide checked us all for blood oxygen saturation with a small monitor that clips on your finger. He wanted to see how well we were adapting to the altitude. I was ok at 90%, Pauline still had some work to do at 85%

From the pass we descended to our camp at the village of Dhe at 3960m. We are now about 15km from the border of Tibet.

The village is really isolated and is way off any normal trekking route or the road to Lo Mathang. We are the first trekking group to go through in a year.

The village only has 11 inhabitants left. They are going to have to move as the springs that are their only permanent water have dried up. The village has been here for hundreds of years. There are lots of caves in the area that date back to the neolithic period. So the water was always here but has dried up due to climate change.

One of the older women in the village was unwell with a chest problem. Allan,  who used to be a paramedic in a past life,  examined her with a stethoscope and the help of the rest of us. We think she has a lung infection. Kim has given her some antibiotics to see if it helps. She is too far from any other medical help and too poor to afford it anyway. I would guess she is in her 70s.

Our mule team in action

Dhe to Yara

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Today was aledgedly downhill for most of the day. We followed a deep gorge down to the unnamed river at the bottom. Then followed the river downstream for a few kilometres. Pauline and others spent a lot of time searching for ammonites. We found some good partial specimens which the mules now have to carry. The downhill ended and we climbed up a few hundred meters to a plateau for lunch. There were lots of goats grazing. The herder made a bee line for us. I guess he wanted some one new to talk to! The cook gave him a huge feed of the coconut rice that was left over from lunch. To spice it up he used about a third of a bottle of Tabasco sauce on a plate of rice. These guys like things spicy 😊. We were all sitting around sweating as it was about 30 deg. The herder had a thermal, a fleece, a down jacket and a wind proof jacket over the top. He didn’t look hot! I don’t understand how.

The rest of the afternoon was a stroll along the plateau for a few km, then down to the village of Yara to camp at 3600m.

The local village ladies and a couple of the men put on some traditional Mustang dances for us. They were really good. They dragged Pauline and Kim up for a couple of sets. Lots of fun☺️

To do this Trek you need a whole caravan of people and animals. For an 18 day trek with 5 paying trekkers we have – 2 leaders, 2 extra Sherpas, 3 cooks, 18 mules and 2 handlers.

Yara to Ghara

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We left Yara and headed up the gorge to look at some neolithic caves. The first set of caves have a bhudist Chorten in it. There was also a resident Griffin which is a huge member of the vulture family. It’s wingspan is over 2m. Really majestic in the air but ugly on the ground. The track up the the chorten is very steep and narrow. Pauline bailed out. We had the local key keeper for the buddist cave with us. He explained the history and significance of the Chorten. The chorten is from the 14th century. Lots of really intricate paintings of deities.

Further up the valley is more caves and a monestary. Two girls from Chara met us there to let us in and supervise. No photos. These caves had a much bigger Chorten and some other buddist shrines. Again they are from the 14th century. The origin of the caves is unknown and subject to a lot of speculation. Most are unreachable as the river has eroded huge amounts of the valley floor away since they were built.

Down from the caves we had lunch. From the lunch spot we could see down the valley to where the locals were ploughing a field with two yaks ready for planting. Behind them we can see all the way to Daluguri at 8120m. Really spectacular!

It was a surprisingly easy 15min stroll down to our camp at the village of Ghara at 3920m.

We finally had some time to do some clothes washing. The local women were very amused to see four males in the village washing fountain hard at it😀.

Pauline has spent a lot of time handing out hats, tennis balls and hair ties to all the kids. She is soooooo popular!

Ghara to Gorge Camp

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Surprise! Another big climb to start the day. Up up up from Ghara at 3900m to the first pass at 4360m. Followed by a traverse at 4410m, then another descent and ascent before lunch.

The views from lunch are the usual spectacular. The Annapurnas to our left and the Daluguri range to the right. We are looking at the north face of these mountains, most people only see the south side.

After lunch we descended the 600m down to our camp site in a remote gorge. The gorge is about 10km as the crow flies east of Lo Mantang.

Gorge Camp to Nomad high camp

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We followed the river gorge down stream for about a km, then went left up a different tributary. Lots of river crossings up to knee deep for a km or so. Then we had to climb up about 250m as the gorge was too narrow. The top of this climb opened out at a huge chorten to views of an ancient valley that used to be a village. Back down we went to the river then up the valley and more river crossings to look at the ruins. Lots of caves and the remains of a gompa.

After all this of course we then had a 1000m climb up to the nomads high camp. Pauline was not happy. She has not been well. So a long slow climb up to 4800m. The camp is about 3km from the Tibetan border.

There are two nomad familys camped up here with hundreds of sheep and a couple of huge guard dogs (Mastiffs)  There was also a Griffin (vulture) cleaning up a sheep carcass. It was huge, they have a 2 m wingspan so you expect them to be big. On the ground it was about the size of Pauline when she crouches down!

It was my 61 birthday today. The cooks managed a chocolate and lemon cake with icing and candles, fantastic! Aparrently you have to change the mix to suit the altitude or it won’t rise properly. They also manage to do it on a gas burner, no oven 😀.

One of the nomads and their daughter came to visit. Lacpa one of our guides asked him for lots of details on the track we were taking. Pauline and Kim gave the girl a pink fleece hat, a toothbrush and some hair ties. It turns out the girl was actually a boy! It was too hard to explain the mix up as they only spoke Tibetan so we left him with the pink hat.

Nomad high camp to Samjung

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As we were packing up this morning the Nomad and his son came back. We had no need to worry about the pink hat, it was well on the way to mission brown in just one night. ☺️ The Nomad wanted us to look at a large wound on his hand where his sisters dog had bitten a large chunk of it about a week back. It looked a bit red and swollen. The amature medical team cleaned it all up and strapped it. Hopefully he will leave the bandage on till it falls off. It took us three goes with soap and water just to get it clean enough to assess the damage. They are not big on washing!

After all the medical drama the procession headed off. We were taking a track that avoided the agro dog when one of the mules slid off the track and did a couple of tumbles before stopping. It appears to be OK. This forced us to go closer to the dog than we would have liked. Everyone was armed with rocks ready to take on the dog with a barrage of rocks if it got too close. Fortunately it headed off to look after the sheep.

The rest of the day we were supposed to be doing a gentle descent to the next camp. This turned out to be a lot of up and down till we found ourselves looking down on our next camp about 900m below. So the day ended with a lot of down, down, down eventually arriving in the village of Samjung at 3960m.

Samjung to Lo Manthang

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There are a lot of neolithic caves around Samjung. A couple of us did the scramble up the cliff face to check some out. There were some Buddhist paintings on the plastered walls but in very poor condition. The whole face of the cliff is eroding so it will all dissappear over time anyway.

The local women’s group came to the rescue again. They had the keys to the local museum. This turned out to be the old school. Inside where bags and bags of human bones. Apparently there had been an archeological dig in some of the caves further down the valley. The dig was sponsored by the Nova TV series. They exhumed the bones and did some DNA analysis, the remains were of Mongol descent. Not much else is known about the caves or the inhabitants.

We headed off downstream for a couple of km. Then climbed over a pass which had great views of the Annapurnas and our destination of Lo Manthang. The weather to our north over the Tibetan plateau looked threatening with possible snow. Way too cold for rain.

Another long descent through the village terraces and we arrived at Lo Manthang.

Lo Manthang is the capital of Mustang. It is an old fortress city that dates back to the 1300s. The king of Mustang normally lives here but he passed away last year. His son is going to replace him but has not been crowned yet. Lots of shops and art galleries and the old city to explore so we will be here for three nights. Sleep in tomorrow ☺️

Lo Manthang Jeep trek and caves

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Today’s gymnastics was a Jeep ride up the Kali Gandaki river towards Tibet. Followed by a 600m climb up to a recently discovered cave complex. To get into the caves you need a ladder about 7m long. We hired two locals who carried a steel ladder each up the 600m climb. Then our guides lashed them together and slung them up the cliff face.

Inside was three small caves joined together. One of them still had a couple of walls where the Buddhist paintings where still intact. They think the paintings were done in the 13th century. Lots of photos! The guides and the ladder team (I called them Jim’s Ladders) were all taking photos as well so I guess it was pretty special.

On the way back we visited a couple of other cave Monasteries. These where still being used but not as interesting. No pictures allowed😞

A group of really rich Americans arrived in town while we were away. They are having a very different trek to us. They are being flown around Nepal in two helicopters. I hate to think what it cost! Our guide Lhakpa thinks each helicopter will be about $8000 a day. Way out of our price range 😊.

Lo Manthang Monasteries and shopping

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After a leisurely breakfast we all went to do the tour of the local Monasteries. There are three inside the walls of the city. They are believed to be some of the oldest in Nepal as Buddhism spread into Nepal from the north. No monks were avaliable for the morning tour so we ran the gauntlet of the shops which had only opened up in the last week. They all go south to Kathmandu and India for winter as it is so cold here. We are the first tourists for the year so they are all pretty eager.

One old shop keeper managed to get us all to follow him to his shop that was up all lot of alleys. Inside we had to navigate up a couple of sets of stairs and his longe room to get to the shop. He had lots of stuff covered in dust and was cheaper than the main square. We all bought things off him. I’m guessing he did well out of it as he gave us all an amulet carved from yak horn. Which was fitting as his shop was called the Yak Head shop. Yes he does have a yak head hanging above the doorway, complete with fur ☺️. The yak head shop also joins the city walls, so up some suspect ladders we went and onto the top of the walls for great views over the city.

In the afternoon the monks turned up and we did the tour of the Monasteries. The walls all have huge and very detailed paintings of Buddhas and mandellas. A lot of them have sustained damage from the earthquakes so a restoration effort is underway. It will take years to complete.

Lo Manthang to Nomad low camp

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This morning we packed up and made the three hour trek up to the Nomads low camp at 4260m. Pretty cruisey by our standards.

There are 8 families of Nomads still live in the area. They are all of Tibetan ancestory. After camp was set up we went and visited a couple of them. Kim has known some of the ladies for years. We were invited in for Yak Butter tea and some yogurt. The tea isn’t my favourite 😩.  It tastes a bit like half a cup of melted butter mixed with weak black tea. Pauline pulled lots of faces and conspired with Bruce to go out side to ‘finish her cup off’😋.

The third tent we visited is owned by a lady that does fantastic hand weaving. We are now the proud owners of a hand spun Tibetan wool blanket😁

Nomad low camp to Charang

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A very cold night, I guess it was down to – 10 deg C. The Nomads all came down to see us off and to finish off any sales. They are the last of their race. They are all refugees from Tibet and cannot go back. It’s a very hard life. They are mostly illiterate and do not want their children to have the same life. They send all of them off to boarding school. It won’t be too many years before this generation is unable to continue the Nomad life.

We said our goodbyes and headed off over Morang La. Then on to the oldest gompa in Nepal. It was built in the seventh century and is still in good repair.

Charang to Jaite

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From Charang we took the scenic route over a pass while Alan who is unwell walked the road with Bruce. The climb over the pass was a long ascent. By the time we got there the weather was starting to look ugly. The wind had picked right up and had nearly blown both Kim and Pauline to the ground.

The descent was extremely steep and narrow and wound through a very eroded cliff face. We were glad to be down. On the way back to the main road one of the locals shook all our hands. We found out later he was congratulating us on making it down without being blown off.

We met up with Alan and Bruce for lunch in a local tea house. A crew of Swedish guys were also there. They were touring around on trail bikes. The weather had turned even worse by the time we finished lunch. Lhakpa our Sherpa guide who has connections everywhere managed to get us a Jeep. So in we all piled in for the bumpy ride to Jaite. It was begging to snow as we left!

Jaite to Samar

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The snow continued into the night. By morning we had about 4cm of fresh snow. So it was cold but the views were even better. The snow had cleared any haze in the air.

Off we trekked through the snow in bright sunshine to Syangmochen where we left the road and went down, down, down to Runchung cave which houses a small monestary.

The resident monk was Tibetan. He had been all over the world. He learnt English in Australia!

Of course it was up, up, up from here to get to the next camp at Samar.

We were very happy to arrive at the “yellow tent of eternal happiness” 😁.

Samar to Jomsom

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The trek from Samar to Jomsom was mainly downhill😊. We were retracing our route from the way up. A Jeep met us just after the village of Chele and drove us all to Jomsom where we stayed the night.

It was Bruce’s birthday the next day so we had an early party for him. The party raged on into the night, well till 8pm when all the old farts when to bed as we were on the first flight out the next morning at 6.30am

They only fly out of Jomsom early in the morning as the wind picks up by midday and makes it to dangerous to land or take off.

There was no wind at 6.00am. So it all looked good. The plane was on its way from Pokhara. As it came in to land the wind picked up, the pilot landed OK. He left one engine running and unloaded/loaded as fast as they could. We all piled in ready for a bumpy ride. He taxied right up to the end of the bitumen past the end of the runway. Then sat there for a minute while they spun the engines up to full speed. Then off we went. We all expected it to be bumpy, the take off was smooth, as was most of the flight. Lot’s of photos of the Himalayas out the windows! All followed by a really smooth Landing😁.

While we waited for the flight back to Kathmandu the pilot came up for a chat. Nice guy, he was trained in Texas of all places and flies all over Nepal. He was waiting for the wind at Jomsom to drop or no more flights for the day!