Friday, October 28, 2011

Stewart Family Holiday: Lower Mustang

We are now back in Pokhara living the good life of cheap momos and chilli chicken.The last two weeks or so has been a great adventure, so much has happened that I really don't know how to begin with this blog, so I will just select the best photos I have and try to piece together some narrative as I go..

  We set out from Pokhara to explore the wilds of the Annapurna region, one of the most popular trekking routes in the world. What made this area famous was the Annapurna Circuit, a 20 odd day mission circumnavigating the entire Annapurna massif. However new roads, particularly that up the Kali Gandaki river in the western part have changed the dynamics of tourism in the area, perhaps as some say spoiling the classic trek, but also opening up new opportunities that we aimed to make the most of. We headed straight for the dry lands of Mustang, in the rain shadow of the Annapurnas where the hills are big and brown and the people use spring water to create green oases of crops and fruit trees amongst the eroded hills.

A creative route choice saw a family ford of the Kali Gandaki

Mum was starting to stride out up the braided river bed

  We caught the bus from Pokhara to Jomsom, with a one night stop over in Ghasa. Not quite as easy as it sounds as this road as well as being controversial is just a little dodgy. Jomsom is a great little hub with an airport, fresh apples and plenty of places to spend money. We got out of there quickly heading upriver to the amazing old fortified village of Kagbeni on the border of the Upper Mustang restricted area.

The Kagbeni monastery with rock strata behind
The Orchards of Kagbeni and towards Muktinath
 It was amazing to stand in, on and around this fort admiring the light on the rooftops, the crazy strata in the rocks and thinking of the times not so long ago when maurauding Kham pa's hunted and haunted this isolated place.

Nilgiri rose snow capped above layers of brown hills to the south. 

 The next day we rather ambitiously headed cross-country towards our destination of Jhong, an ancient village at the head of the valley. The more famous stop-over in these parts is the pilgrimage mecca of Muktinath, but we were trying to avoid the crowds. It proved an inspired, if not slightly hot and dry choice. We saw some amazing landscapes with autumn colours as we climbed up the valley.

Troglodytes once lived here

Autumn colours - Little monastery on hill

Approaching the walled village of Putak

The Stewart family in Putak
Our destination for the day Jhong threw us up a great little surprise of a guesthouse located between a monastery and an abandoned fort. And in the midst of this very authentic, relic(?), village, we were served the most delicious spring rolls.

View from guesthouse - with mountain we later climbed

View back down to Jhong after evening stroll - looking as much as it has for the last thousand years
The next day, Penny, Sam and I were let loose on an extension adventure, climbing the rocky knob that towers behind Jhong. This hill tops out at about 5300, a big effort for Sam with minimal acclimatisation. We left before the crack of dawn, catching an amazing sunrise and moon set. Dhaulagiri just floated, as it does, down valley and when we gained the ridge the view into the mysterious land of Mustang was just awesome. The day was so clear we could see right over Mustang and into Tibet, strange lonely snowy mountains crept onto the horizon in some far off land beyond our comprehension.

Dhaulagiri on right above gap of the Kali Gandaki

First light hits Jharkot - Jhong in foreground


Nearly time to go down

We also saw a flock of blue sheep, the first since Kanchenjanga, they were still there when we went down and we watched then scuttling around the steep terrain. They always stay close to cliffs so they can escape any snow leopard attacks. I can't really emphasise enough the beauty and photogenicness of this little area. There are so many things going on. Here are a few more photos to perhaps make the point.

A New Monastery near Muktinath

Kids play
Water boils
 After the relaxing days in Jhong we gathered our energy for a wander over to the little village of Lubra several hours away in a smaller side creek of the Kali Gandaki. We had heard there was a new guesthouse there (the first in the village) which provided good digs and kai. Big landscapes is how I would sum up this day.

The Stewart family leaves Jhong

Lubra is near the orchard in the distance

Rock walls that make you feel tiny.

The village was fantastic. It was harvest time and it smelt like rain. The "Super-organism" of the Tibetan village was burning energy. All around the landscape there were massive bundles of grass moving around, supported by little bandy legs. Ladybirds is not perhaps the right analogy, but you can probably understand where I am coming from.


Harvest transporters

Our hosts for the night

From Lubra, we headed back into the main valley of the Kali Gandaki, but stayed on the true left to avoid the metropolis of Jomsom. The track down the bank was interesting, up and over little ridges with great views of Nilgiri and its forested slopes. We even arrived in Marpha in time to watch the World Cup semi-final at a bus stop - but one that sold apple cider and dried fruit...superb. If you go to Martha stay in the old town which is off the main road, we fell for one of the outer places and there wasn't quite the vibe. Marpha is one of the towns that has been hard done by by the road as many trekkers now end their trip in Jomsom, its well worth a nosy though. I had big ambitions to get to 6000metres by heading up Dhamphus peak on our rest day but neither my fitness or the weather were conducive to action. The 6000 metre threshold will have to wait for another time.

Heading down river - Dhampus peak at centre
Watching the rugger

Me, Gem and Sam in Marpha
 I guess Marpha was the end of our arid adventure, after that we headed off downriver on a bus then into the Annapurna base camp. I will cover that in another post. This trip described is highly recommended for those looking to see some amazing sights, avoid the crowds and not do too much hard walking.

1 comment:

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Jamie,
Awesome mate. Keep on truckin.