Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Week 3

Our next stops after Muktinath are two of the most beautiful villages on the entire circuit - first up Kagbeni (which is often missed out by trekkers on their way to the dump that is Jomsom) and Marpha. Kagbeni charms with its Animal Farm-esque feel - the animals are seemingly in charge of everything here, running wild throughout the village. Kag also pulses with the sense that this is a living village and not just a settlement to cater for passing trekkers. This is also the case with Marpha, the self-declared 'Apple Capital of the Mustang region'. In Marpha almost everything is made with apple, well in so far as that's possible - you can try cider, brandy, crumble, pie etc etc. I venture into one of the local restaurants and sample the apple pie and, truth be told, it's a soggy mess. Marpha is also memorable for its ancient red and cream coloured brick houses. There's a cantankerous lady who owns one of them and from it runs a souvenir shop and who gets increasingly exasperated at the fact that I'm not here to shop; "Just have one look," she entreaties, her voice rising each time I pass.
Once the Pass is crossed many trekkers overnight in Muktinath and then make their way by jeep to Jomsom, and it's beyond Muktinath that the road and, consequently, vehicles (and the dust) become an issue. Fortunately though, Bhuwan knows his way around and we manage to trek high above the road at all times, only rejoining it at the end of each day's trekking. On one of the days that we trek by the road we peer down upon a village cremation ceremony and watch as the pyre is built, the body stripped and placed upon the pyre. One of the family members lights the fire as the other family members and onlookers wash themselves in the river, beside which the pyre has been lit. It felt a lot more real watching this than sitting for over an hour at Pashupatinath.
Our arrival in Tatopani is a cause for celebration as we get to soak in the village's famous hot springs and it truly feels indulgent coming on the back of two week's trekking. The following day however shatters any sense that the trek is almost over. It is the day that the trail bites back. I'm not quite sure of the distance between Tatopani and Ghorepani but what I do know is that it's a relentless slog - one stone staircase after another - of 1,700m of non-stop ascending. That's the equivalent of a Carrauntoohil, plus another 600m leg loosener at the end of the day. I've never felt worse trekking in my entire life. The first 3 hours are fine but by mid-morning my body is a busted flush and I look at Bhuwan striding ahead with a mixture of envy and resentment. We get to Ghorepani in the early afternoon and I sit downstairs, unable to bring myself to climb the one flight of stairs to my room. The following morning we trek to the summit of Poon Hill and our luck holds out again as we witness the clearest skies for sunrise and see the Annapurnas from a different perspective.
That day's trekking is unpleasant also but only because my body simply hasn't recovered from the previous day's marathon effort but come the following morning I'm back to normal again. On our penultimate day we walk for the last 15 minutes in rain, the only time in our 18 days we've gotten wet.
Our lodgings on our second last night are the grimmest of the trek. We're met by a man with the pinched expression of someone whose wife has been witholding sexual favours. I sleep that night in the common room, a place so damp that if you sit and stare at the damp patches on the walls for long enough, you'll probably see the face of Christ. Or Roy Hodgson. Or both Christ and Roy Hodgson on a cross. Hmmmm. Anyway, once again we awake to a spectacular sunrise and the fish-tailed peak of Machhapuchhre is revealed in all its glory. We trek for 2 hours that morning to Phedi where, with no little regret for yours truly, we rejoin civilisation once more. And so ends the trek to surpass all treks; the villages, the people, the lodges, the weather, the mountains, holy shit yes, the mountains. And not a blister in sight. I'll be back.

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