Monday, October 6, 2014

2014 Himlung with Mustang and Saribung - Lo Manthang update

Gheling, Mustang, Nepal | 3 Oct 2014 | 0655 | 3620m
It’s a crisp morning, with ice on the tent fly and the Dhamodhar Himal in its snow-covered contrast to the surrounding brown, orange, and ochre hills. We are in Mustang. Last night we swiftly made a change in our plans, the local office in Kathmandu reporting that it’s next to impossible to collect the requisite 11 mountain porters we’ll need during this Nepali holiday, wholly unrelated to the current spectacular weather.
The team, Brett and Charles, are adjusting nicely to the altitude and new environment. It always requires a “break-in” period of about a week to feel fully “here” after a trans-continental flight; what with the new air, altitude, diet, and daily routine of the trekking life. One has had a headache a few times, and the other has had a short bout of diarrhea, but both seem to now be finding an equilibrium.
Our approach thus far has seen big days, covering two days worth of ground in one, a testament to the teams fitness and endurance. Everyone reports sore legs, but enjoying the 5-7 hour days of walking, some on bits of double track, the other on the traditional trail.
We passed through the Syangboche gorge yesterday, visiting the Chungse cave monastery on the way. It was more lively than times passed, with Tibetan Buddhist locals arriving on their healthy ponies to light butter lamps and perform pujas to ask forgiveness for the widespread slaughter (“mar” in Nepali) of sacrificial animals today by Nepali Hindus.
The two days prior brought us in by flight to Jomsom and Kagbeni that night, and then on to Karma’s village of Samar the following day. The wind kicks up the Kali Gandaki river like clockwork, with a steady breeze coming to gusts by 1030 every morning.
The road from the Tibetan border through Msutang is now completely open, and locals use it get around by jeep. The Rinpoche (chief lama) of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism was arriving in a days time to Jomsom when we arrived, and there was hiatus of monks and locals descending from the dispersed Lopa villages of the region as we climbed up, many of them coming by jeep.
As with anywhere with a passable you can certainly drive through Mustang, but you will certainly miss seeing the numerous cave structures, scores of soaring exotic predatory birds, hearing the wind move through the ancient junipers and golden poplar, and watching locals work their time-honored pastoral existence, and simply Mustang, itself.
Mustang requires time, a knowledgeable local guide (like Karma) and the willingness to trek if you are to truly experience all its fascinating nooks and crannies.
Leaving Kagbeni as the monastery and villagers swept and poished for the Rinpoche's arrival, we walked north for about an hour before leaving the main track (read:road) and descending to the Kali Gandaki river. Off the trail, we began what we had come for on this section of our 45 day expedition, to explore off the beaten track and see what we could find. Jackpot! After about 20 minutes up the river we found a cave site complete with about 50 rooms, char marks and ashes from ancient fires, and also a spring that could have served the inhabitants with fresh clean water.
We continued upriver, inspired by our find and managing to also locate 7 saligrams on the rivers course, Brett finding the best specimen. After our ninth river crossing, with the final one up to our waist, we decided as a group to climb back up to the trail and make some mileage to the next village of Chele. Onwards up the gorge, we arrived in Karma's village in late afternoon with a cool breeze flowing down slope and bringing the sharp and distinct smell of juniper. I caught Charles exclamating silently with fists into the air from around a corner, we were extremely content on our first day in upper Mustang. Day one and we had already spotted blue sheep, found ancient fossils, and located an unmarked cave site.

That's all for now, my apologies for the run on sentences, awkard grammar, and spelling and spacing errors, trying to fire off an update before the power and connection goes. Onwards and upwards... -Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya Alpine Guides
-more tomorrow, and photos and video to be added in Kathmandu after 7 November-