I gave myself a rest day in Manang (3519m/11,545ft), “sleeping in” till 8 am. After a chili cheese burrito breakfast, I wasn’t sure what to do next and realized that there isn’t much to do in these Nepali towns except continue exactly what one’s been doing the whole time: hike some more. I headed up to a stupa just outside of town where, in a cave dwelling next to the stupa, resides a Buddhist nun who was the daughter of a monk that also resided there for 70 years. She now lived there alone after her father died, from what I understood, about 30 years ago; she steadfastly carries on his practice of bequeathing blessings to trekkers who visit the stupa.
Once I’d reached the stupa, I was startled by the nun, whom I hadn’t noticed. After I was certain I wasn’t in the midst of a heart attack, I followed the tiny, bald woman garbed in monk’s robe inside her cave home: it seemed to have all the necessities, including running stream water that was diverted into her home from the mountain tops above, large bags of rice and a wood stove. I was not certain how
she procured the rice, but surmised that she trekked down to Manang every so often or some locals brought them as a donation - Buddhists monks don’t require much sustenance. She invited me over to a table holding incense, small statues and other Buddhist trinkets; with a motion of her hand, she requested that I kneel before the table, at which point she murmured some Tibetan blessings that I did not understood, touched my head, then tied a string around my neck. Although I don’t have full comprehension of the blessing, it was nevertheless something I’d become accustomed to in Asia, especially India, where I’d had strings tied around my wrists and neck ad nauseam.
Following the blessing, I removed the entire contents of my pocket, which included 50 rupees. I laid the money in a golden bowl with some other donations. The nun laughed jeeringly.
“Ehh… one-hundred,” she gurgled.
“Sorry, that is honestly all I have,” I replied with the utmost truth. She smiled, but the disappointment, and a hint of derision, was evident. I stood up, apologizing again, and left her premises. Ah, money… In Asia, it has the
remarkable quality of cheapening every experience.
I had a couple beers once I returned to my room and took a nap. In the evening I took in a movie at one of the two movie houses in Manang. If you are picturing a cinema, that’s the wrong view to have; instead, picture a small dark square room, with several wooden benches situated in front of and around a stove, behind which is hung a white screen, while a conference-style projector displays the movie. For $2, not only did I get to enjoy “Seven Years in Tibet”, I received popcorn and a cup of hot tea. I’d also run into the Canadian, who, following the end of the movie, regretfully informed me that he wasn’t feeling well and would need to spend another day in Manang. Oh well, I would need to find another hiking buddy for Thorung La.
I set off for Thorung Phedi at 4420m/14,501ft, my last stop before Thorong La pass, early in the morning. It was a wonderful hike with scenery throughout as I walked along various switchbacks providing magnificent views of the Annapurna massif. As I neared Thorung Phedi, it
began to snow; I came to a fork in the trail, with an arrow drawn in the ground pointing to the left - the direction I decided to proceed. I walked about 50 feet, when the trail unexpectedly ended. I backtracked to the fork and went to the right this time, assuming the arrow was an egregious error or prank. The right side headed up a very steep incline; the snow was now coming down vigorously, and my hands were cold again. After about a half hour along this route, I noticed below me a trail that veered off onto a bridge, then to a teahouse advertising the name “Thorung Phedi Teahouse”. I also noticed two girls I’d passed in Letdar moving really quickly. I checked my map and there was indeed a bridge just before Thorung Phedi; I turned around cursing my error in judgment.
As I headed down, I noticed the girls in the distance and again was impressed with their speed. Once I’d reached the fork for the third time, I went left and soon noticed that the trail did travel into some muddy grass, giving me the impression that it ended, but, in
she was disappointed i had no chocolate. i bought some later, but never saw her again.
reality, I would have realized that the trail resumed had I simply taken a couple more steps. I crossed the bridge and reached Thorung Phedi shortly after. Just as I booked my room, the two girls arrived as well.
I had jokingly, though also purposely discussed this scenario with Klaudia before I’d left for the circuit. She insisted that I find a hiking buddy, while I told her that, at the very least, I’d find someone to walk with when crossing the pass; but, I also explained that the quicker I went, the quicker I’d be back in Pokhara, not wanting anyone to slow me down. So I asked her what she wanted me to do if the only people who could keep up with me, or with whom I could keep up, were girls.
“No,” was her answer (disclaimer - she disagrees with this, saying that she was worried that a girl would not be helpful should I fall into a pit or something). In any case, with the speed at which they were walking, I figured the girls were from somewhere mountainous and inquired about their nationalities.
replied, which explained the speed. A few moments later, a couple German guys arrived to the town as well. As we all chatted, one of the Germans serendipitously asked me if I was walking alone, to which I replied that I was and then asked them if we could all walk together as I didn’t want to do the pass myself. They of course agreed – problem solved.
Thorung Phedi is a town of one guesthouse and what seemed to me to be four male inhabitants, maybe eight if each one of them was married. It was cold, but just outside the hotel was a large tent that the hotel kept heated. As I sat inside the tent with several others memorizing the menu – which is a customary practice amongst trekkers while they decide which of the pervasive dishes to order, dishes that each one of us had already eaten 50 times each – I hoped that what I’d read on acclimatization was true when a Norwegian pundit began to uninvitingly voice his opinion on the matter of altitude sickness: from what I had read, one is acclimatized for approximately two weeks following descent; the Norwegian
claimed to have read – and experienced – something else. The more I listened to him, the more nervous I became, so I drowned him out with thoughts of how great the views would be at the pass.
The next morning, the five of us began the steep ascent out of Thorung Phedi, but after several hundred feet, it was obvious I would have to work to keep up with the girls, while the Germans would shortly be completely out of the game. We arrived at Thorung Phedi High Camp fairly quickly and then waited for about a half hour for the Germans. Once they’d arrived, one of them apologetically reported that the state of his health wasn’t at its best and would need to take his time. The two Swiss girls quickly responded that that was alright and then turned around and hastily walked off. The German looked at me: “You should go with them. This is going to take us a while.” Wishing them well, I walked off as well and then sighed both in relief that I was leaving them behind and in intimidation at the work ahead of me in keeping up with
We made it to Thorong La, supposedly the highest pass in the world, at 5416m/17,769ft in three hours, when, on average, it takes about five to six hours (the Nepali time quoted to me was 5.5 hours). Unfortunately, the views were anticlimactic since the clouds had rolled in, bringing with them some more snow. I removed my crudely manufactured gloves to take some pictures, experiencing numbness in the tips of my fingers almost immediately. The three of us quickly snapped our pictures and headed down the steep trail before us down to Muktinath.
We struggled to walk across the pass and then below it on a trail made slick from fresh snow, falling down a few times as well – I rolled down a good few feet one time - but, within a couple hours, we were in the midst of a barren desert landscape, recoiling our heads before the swift and chilly wind. The snow had transformed into rain.
It took another few hours to reach Muktinath, the end of the line for me. I said my farewell to the Swiss girls and headed to a jeep stand,
waiting around a couple hours for the minimum 11 people to show for a jeep transport. It would be an understatement to say it was a “bumpy ride” down to Jomsom: I had to hold my hand on the top of my head lest it pummel a hole through the roof. Though the tops of both my hands hurt – I had to switch hands periodically because an arm would tire – we made it Jomsom in one piece. I took a stroll through the quaint and pretty village, then booked a plane ride back to Pokhara for the next day. Truthfully, I wanted to walk the circuit in its entirety, especially with the scenery again changing so radically, but that would have added another four to six days to the trek – Klaudia had already waited ten days in a city in which there isn’t too much to do. Early the next morning, I flew out from the small airstrip amongst the giant peaks surrounding Jomsom, already nostalgically reminiscing the beauty of the Annapurna Circuit.
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