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reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

March 11

March 11th, 2016

March 11 Day 11 Muktinath to Kagbeni

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Even with an altitude drop from 5416m down to 3800m, I still found myself waking up in the middle of the night panting, almost as if I had just run a race. Slept in then spent a pleasant morning drinking coffee and talking with two Aussies and two Italians. Said goodbye to Kyle and Will, my recent hiking companions who are pressing on further, then set off for Kagbeni, a town I was looking forward to seeing as it is in the Mustang province and one of the few towns in that area you can visit without an expensive permit. Mustang is a region close to Tibet and one of the few places open today where you can get a sense of what old Tibet must have been like. I am also curious about the name and whether it relates to the horses we have in the US. This is definitely horse country. They are used for transportation and cartage. Kumar from the Base Camp Hotel rides them up and over the Thorung Pass, and I regularly encountered riders on the trails in Mustang as well as passing many grazing up in the pastures. It is planting time here so the first half of my walk to Kagbeni was accompanied by the strange mixture of yelling and singing that goes will plowing the fields by a yoke of small oxen and a wooden plow. I wish I could capture the sound– a sharp yell followed by a strange song and the team pulls away. Along with annual crops, this area is also full of fruit trees– primarily apple. The older ones have twisted trunks and remind me of the orchards where I grew up in the Shenandoah valley of Virginia. Here they paint the tree trunks light blue, I assume to ward off some pests, though there may be another explanation. The area has beech trees, and the older ones are pollarded (a practice that seems to be continued today). From that, the farmers can get thin branches for weaving and larger ones for what amounts to round dimensional lumber or firewood. Passing through Khinghar, I met a woman selling woolen scarfs who had set up her loom at the edge of the road beside her display. A basket full of brightly dyed yak wool and a very simple but beautiful loom. She wove away masterfully. The last bit of the walk took me across a high plateau and into the powerful winds this area is famous for–the prayers were pouring out of the flags. Dust and desolation accompanied me into Kagbeni, a town with an old gompa I hope to visit tomorrow, some high buildings, winding streets, and a hotel called YakDonalds complete with bright red and yellow decor– how could I resist?

 

T. Hugh Crawford

March 10

March 11th, 2016

March 10 Day 10 High Camp to Muktinath

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A long cold night — the beds had huge blankets stuffed with something lumpy, heavy and hard like kapok, though they were absolutely necessary as it had to be around 15 degrees Fahrenheit in the room. Obviously I didn’t sleep well because of the temperature but also because it is difficult to sleep well at high altitude. We were all up at 5:30 to start the trek over Thorung La which at 17769′ is higher than any peak in the USA’s lower 48. Slow and steady was what was required and as we got higher the steps were almost a shuffle, like the figures in Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I did not have proper gloves, coat, or hat, so I was very cold until the sun got up high. My sense of the Annapurna Circuit is as a circumambulation of the massif, but most the the crowd I find myself among see this particular pass as something to be conquered, more of that bucket list stupidity. It was rigorous, both up and down, and I was pleased to cross, but was more pleased to arrive at a warmer place where the conversation could shift to the rest of the trek. As we crossed in the morning, the wind had not yet picked up, so the only sound was the squeaking of the dry, crystalline snow beneath feet, and a strange creaking that came as the trekking poles shifted position during a stride. It was an eerie yet rhythmic sound that carried me up the steep. A quick moment at the top posing for pictures as if it were Katahdin and I was standing on a sign instead of in front of a huge mass of prayer flags, then a long descent to Muktinath for a warm shower that turned out to be cold, and an afternoon sitting on a warm deck in the sun relaxing and feeling grateful that part of the circuit was now behind me. The streets of Muktinath are lined with people selling woolen hats, slippers, and scarves. The man in the booth just across the street from my decktop perch was praying softly all afternoon: om mani padme hum. High above on a steep hill were three white horses playing games. That evening we went to the famous Bob Marley cafe for an incredible yak steak and “Himalayan Sunrise” cocktails (vodka and local juices). There we saw Kris and her porter (wonderful man who always laughs and embraces me when we meet) along with an Israeli couple we met at Lake Tilicho, and Marty, a Los Angeles native we have encountered most of the trip. A number of us sat by a large open fire talking quietly as the evening descended.

T. Hugh Crawford

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