Jomson Trek - Highs and Lows

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October 25th 2007
Published: December 25th 2007
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I read somewhere not sure where now that many Westerners turn to Buddhism after trekking in the Himalayas because the vastness of the mountain ranges gives the trekkers some sense of vastness of there own minds. As I had already done the Buddhist Meditation retreat I maybe had an idea of the expanse that is our mind but nothing really prepared me for the landscape that encountered whilst doing the Jomson Trek.

Doing a trek like this really challenges you on both a physical and mental level but let me first start by giving you a better idea of the kind of person I am when it comes to walking. Yes I love the countryside and in England I will go for the odd short walk in the flat landscape around where I live. And I am sure a friend of mine would be quick to remind and tell me of one New Years Day walk of a mere 7 miles where I struggled after 2 miles and mumbled my way around the remaining 5 miles. Funny how this was all forgotten after seeing a book full of glossy pictures of the beautiful Nepal Himalayas and colourful vibrant local people and you book onto a 10 day trek to see some of it first hand.

So as I type this a sit with more than a little pride in myself that I actually managed all 10 days. There were days when I doubted I would especially when I fell ill with a fever and stomach bug but guess these are the times when you really get to know yourself not when you are trundling long on a flat steady path with no problems.

The first couple of days were probably the toughest in physical effort - both because of the terrain and because our bodies were adapting to the 0 to 60 miles acceleration from a normal sedate walk around town to climbing though an incline of 1000m per day!

Day 1 - Pokhara to Naya Pul to Hile

After meeting my fellow trekker Julie and our guide, Saru and porters Renu and Carmel it was time to jump in a car and head off to Nag Pul the starting point for our entry onto the Jomson Trail. As we headed up the the roads we often surrounded by large marauding flocks
Goats off to the Market for DasainGoats off to the Market for DasainGoats off to the Market for Dasain

As a veggie I wanted to buy them all and save them but as you can see that would have cost serious amounts of money
of goats coming in the opposite direction. Turned out these goats were actually walking down to their sacrifice for the festival of Dasain - as a vegetarian I found it very hard watch the thousands of sheep file by to their death and inside I secretly shouted "run goats, escape" but having to respect the culture I was currently been hosted by I just watched with silent sadness. I consoled myself that as a predominately vegetarian culture that this was once a year and that a rare source of protein for many who live daily on Dal Bhat.

From Naya Pul we started the trek and wound our way through narrow pathways between villages. The first day of climbing saw us rise to about 1450m which involved numerous steps. The progress made was slow and steady and felt not so bad but towards the end both Julie and I were glad to see the sign for our first stop, a small guest house overlooking the hills at Hile. The room was small clean if somewhat cold (little did I know what was coming later but I will not rush a head too quickly in the story). We enjoyed a
Going Up!Going Up!Going Up!

Steep climb to Gorepani
hot shower (big smile there) to ease some aches and following an evening meal we retired for an early night at about 8:30pm, exhausted from or endeavours and seeking warmth of down sleeping backs because as night fell the temperature dropped even more.

Day 2 - Hile to Ghorapani

Having been warned this was to be the toughest day of climbing is was slightly tempting to snuggle back down into my sleeping bag when my alarm went off - especially when I felt the twinge of aching calf muscles but then saw that outside a damp mist had descended overnight and was now shielding the mountains from sight and making the walk look a less appealing prospect. Quick reminder this was only day two and I should be brimming with enthusiasm I tumbled out of bed, munched through breakfast and donned a waterproof as during this time a fine and constant drizzle had started. Deep Joy!

So off we headed me in my expensive waterproof jacket and the porters decked out in improvised protection made from opened out plastic bags.

It is funny how the weather plays such a big part in
Who needs expensive raincoats when a plastic bag will doWho needs expensive raincoats when a plastic bag will doWho needs expensive raincoats when a plastic bag will do

Renu with an improvised water jackets as Day 2 dawned cold and wet
your emotions and enthusiasm because we were definitely more subdued group climbing the thousands of steps up to Ghorapani at 2750m. Julie and I both resorted to modern technology of Ipods to lighten our moods but the continued increase in the rain definitely worked to challenge us on this aspect along with our own bodies which towards the end protested with the effort of the climb and the increased altitude.

The increased price of eating and bottled water did little to help. Looking back then I know think maybe I could have approached the day with a better attitude and maybe it would have been easier but I think my mind was just trying to absorb what I had signed up for and was looking for excuses to justify that I may possible fail to do the full 10 days!

But a warm shower and an evening of toasting our toes by a log stove and chatting went some way to make sure that even though very cold in my bedroom that the next day I got out of the right side of bed and with enthusiasm for the big challenge of getting up to the top of Poon Hill at 3800m for sunrise.

Day 3 - Poon Hill and Ghorepani to Sikha

4:30am start - woke to find the weather had cleared to make the hours climb up to Poon Hill at 3210m, with one of the best Himalayan viewingt points in Nepal and I have read probably one of the Top 20 Must Sights in the World it is worth the early start and effort.

I was desperate to see the sunrise and seeing the first lightening of the sky I set off at reasonable fast pace having found that fortunately I was suffering little from the effects of altitude. This meant the others were left a behind a bit but with the trail lit by many tiny torches of other trekkers winding there way up to the summit then I had much company.

As we rose the trekkers started to fall by the wayside and stop at various points that had a reasonable good view views of the the snow capped Himalayas which still mainly a dark outline against the deep black purple sky.

Finding enthusiasm and energy that the day before seemed to have deserted me I pushed through the aching muscles and the next disappointment of finding what had appeared to be the mound to the summit was merely a bump and the path continued to wind upwards. After what seemed like more than 1 hour and as the landscape continued to lighten then the submit with its viewing platform finally came into sight and my first 360 degree view of the Himalayas and WOW WOW WOW - so worth the effort.

And though the landscape was already light the sun still had not made its appearance over the peaks. The successful climbers huddled around wrapped in layers of warm clothing - me I had a down jacket, fleece and several clothes layers on!!! - and waited with baited breath (the breath lingering as mist balls in the cold air). Eventually the first ray struck out of the peak and cast a warm golden glow onto the snow caps. As the sun slowly rose the mountains gained a molten golden headress off almost of ceremonial quality and silence fell from the crowd of onlookers. Each witnessing the spectacle in their own silent awareness. No words will ever real convey the feelings or the sight of
So how high are we?So how high are we?So how high are we?

Julie and I at the high point - Poon Hill
that dawn and it is not hard to see why it can profoundly effect peoples life and question there existence in this world - if nothing else then this is witnessing Nature at the most spectacular and amazingly beautiful.

The other thing that was beautiful at this height was the hot cup of tea! Yep someone carries flasks of hot water up and though expensive it was worth every penny as the warm liquid warmed the insidesand revitalised before the climb back down (as said in previous blogs alway worse than going up) to a hearty and well earned breakfast.

(And if you are wondering my fellow trekker Julie did make it and in time for the sunrise even if I had rushed on ahead)

I am not sure if I over did it or whether something I ate was dodgey but during the next part of the trekking that day to Sikha I gradually started to feel unwell, aching increasingly and feeling increasing nauseous I stumbled my way into the guesthouse, shivering and extremely cold all the way through. No hot shower here to warm up with either. Shivering and shaking I layered every piece of clothing and spent the night in thermals, fleece, Down jacket and all within a down sleeping bag and topped off with 2 quilts and still I was cold! A bad night with many trips to the toilet and running a fever the dawn eventually arrived - feeling mildly better and with such a tight schedule because of Julies flight in 7 days I had no choice but to continue trekking though I was not sure how or if I would make it out of the village let alone to Tatopani but with hot springs beckoning I was on my way!

Day 4 - Sikha to Tatopani

Finding strength from somewhere I made it to Tatopani and those hot springs (though there were a few more additional stops than normal). Luckily or unluckily the trail is a steep descent so maybe not as hard work but it was hell on the knees and ankles which already ached from previous days climb and the lovely virus that I seemed to have caught but with those hot springs beckoning at the end of the trail then if you looked hard you may just see a spring in by step.

It was at this point that the trail started to open out and you started to get a real sense of the scale and magnificence of the region we were passing through, already beautiful beyond words I wondered if it could get any better. Nature was all around and its sounds intermingled with the constant accompaniment of the river flowing below.

As we walked we passed through villages and were greeted with friendly "Namaste" and a surprising tolerance to the trekkers wanting to take photos of the people who had made home in this region, a part of the world that many of us were passing through only briefly. And with touching gestures such as the giving of a pretty pink flower by one young girl who came running out to greet with her brother and sisters. I had a pang of guilt for the thought that crossed my mind of "next they will ask for sweets or rupees in return" especially as this never came and it was simply a warm and welcoming gesture on their behalf. They took great delight in the simple act of me taking their photos and having a look at themselves.

Eventually we arrived at Tatopani only to find the best place to stay was already full but Saru our guide negotiated room in their extension. Not as nice as the main building but it did mean we could eat in their restaurant. If you wonder about this comment then let me explain that there is some strange trail rule that you must eat at the Guesthouse that you are staying at - something to do with the rooms are cheap but the food is not so cheap and this way they stop you shopping around for the cheapest and best grub. Luckily we managed to be staying in the best place to eat in town - great if my appetite had been really good but I did managed to eat lunch before becoming too ill again and sadly not able to enjoy the delights from the menu in the evening.

The hot springs though proved most welcome and went some way to easing my aching muscles. Relaxing with fellow trekkers and locals alike in pools by the side of the main river. While some enjoyed a beer I was happy just to enjoy the warm water and spent a long late afternoon just chilling and talking over the days endeavors of that day.

Tatopani is a strategic point as after this you have the option to head off to Beni to catch a bus back to Pokhara and not missing out that it is a gateway point the Maoists have set up a "Donation Point"!. The trekkers were made to pay a compulsory tax or as the receipt we received said "Donation". The donation had a fixed amout of 500 Nepal Rupees but as the Maoist proudly showed off the next book of receipts shows a massive inflation in this Donation or Tax to 1200 Nepal Rupees! Ouch! They failed comprehend the damage that they were doing to a valuable source of income for their country - we were just "Rupees on Legs" to them and of course all Westerners surely are rich and can afford this kind of money!

Though I really did not want to support any political party especially when I did not have a full comprehension of situation other than it is part of a "Peoples War" and there are demands for "nationalism, democracy and livelihood" changes in the country. But with no choice if I wanted to continue the trek we had to pay our Donation/Tax and get our receipt - which meant that we would not be asked to pay again at future checkpoints as long as we remained still had this piece of paper. I can only hope that the conflict gets resolved and this beautiful country and people can find stability.

Day 5 - Tatopani to Ghasa

Day 5 dawned and I woke feeling a little better but still not brilliant but again time to push onwards. The route to Ghasa passes through through the deepest valley possible I think it was said in the world! This deep gorge cuts a sharp cut between the peaks of Annupurna I and Daulagiri though from our vantage point the full scale of the gorge was missed but I could imagine the effect of been at the bottom and looking up at those vertical faces either side.

After a long days trekking we eventually arrived at Ghasa at 2120m - yes after going all the way up to 2000m and back down to 1000m it was time to go back up again!!!

And the going was pretty tough in places courtesy of the building of the new road which is cutting and ugly gash in this beautiful landscape and some of the walking trails have been removed as they cut the road. With a choice if to take the detour with no stopping points and take longer or the short route but more hazardous where the road is being built and the trail disapears - our guide made the choice for the latter. I am not sure whether she realised that the trail was now only a loose rock landslide which make for a precarious scramble for a short stretch of the trail and lead to a stomach in mouth moment for all of us as we negotiated it aware that one false move could cause the rocks to fall away and us along with it. The situation was not helped by some locals insisting on coming in the other direction and trying to pass by at the most difficult point - all done with a total disregard for safety especially as one women carried a small babe in arms. But we made it and safely on the other side we looked back with relief and looked forward to our stop with a dose of tea and cake to calm our nerves - any excuse!!!!

The Nepal people never cease to amaze me with there sheer strength of will and kindness. Several times weencountered and exchanged a Namaste with 4 Elderly Nepal folk who were making a pilgrimage to Muktinath - something all Nepalese seemingly try to do before they die. If felt very humbling and inspiring to watch this small group slowly struggling up the mountain sides carrying their loads in the most basic of clothing when me and Julie had 2 porters and a guide and we wrapped up in the warmest western clothing. But these four intrepid pilgrims never offered any complaint. And their sheer warmth and generosity touched me so profoundly when for the third time we encountered them they insisted that we share some of their food with them - handfuls of a dry grain mix. A gesture that touched me with its warmth and simplicity especially when I come from the materialistic west where ownership is everything and complaints are frequent.

And today was the day that the goats were sacrificed too - so as we walked we
Bloody HandprintsBloody HandprintsBloody Handprints

The goats blood is used to make handprints on the doors and windows following the sacrifice to bless and bring luck to the home
witnessed the rituals either taking place or the lasting mark with pools of blood on the doorstep and bloody handprints on the doors and windows of the homes. Then there were the goats skin and carcuses hanging up outside. A very difficult sight to see as a vegetarian of 20+ years but I was not immune to a morbid fascintation with the ritual to bring good luck to the homes. Many have spent what little money they have on the purchase of a goat. If nothing else it will be a major change from their staple diet of Dal Bhat.

Day 6 - Ghasa to Kalopani

After the long trek the day before today was a really short day today and we made our end point at lunchtime. We could have pushed on but decided to stop here for the night to a give me some time to recover my strength, the guest house was actually a German bakery (need I say more reasons for stopping) and to top it all off you could sit in the garden and have a great mountain view. So just a few hours of walking and then the rest of the afternoon taking it easy and sampling some baking - suddenly got my appetite back though the luminous orange custard nearly made me loose it again!

So it was an afternoon of relishing in that beautiful mountain view and listening to the tinkling, clanging of bells. For still there is not escaping the donkeys. The bells, the bells - if you hear them you are not going mad but just make sure you step aside because they stop for no one with there heavy loads will barge through with not thought about shoving an trekker over the edge of the steep drop offs.

Day 7 - Kalopani to Marpha

Day 7 and almost time for Julie and I to part company with our final stop together being Marpha, a town just 1 hour away from Jomson (where Julie was to fly back to Pokara tomorrow.)

I didn't like the early stretch to Marpha so much as the trail is now accompanied by a road and along with it came the traffic noise of jeeps and motorbikes with tooting horns instead of the sounds of nature.

The landscape dramatically changes from Tukuche onwards where it starts to widen out and gains a desert like quality to it with arid and drier terrain which is whipped up daily into dust clouds by the afternoon winds that strike from 1pm onwards and make walking unpleasant, driving dust into every orifice not covered.

We entered Marpha at 2460m through its gated entrance with the traditional prayer wheels and made our way down narrow streets with a more than a few tourist shops vying for our business - tell we are close to Jomson.

The funniest sight was the shopping complex nothing more than a corner shop by English standards and way short of the Tesco's level of shopping complex of the UK!

Above the town is a Gompa or more correctly a painted rock face roughly Gompa shaped. Crude but effective and maybe lacking the eloquence of Bodnath Stupa or those in Kathmandu but it had a certain natural charm to it but as the light faded the closest look I managed was from the street at the end of Marpha.

Famous for its Apples - Marpha is the place to sample some of the best apples of the region with orchards adorning the mountain sides. They were pretty tasty but as far as I concerned still by far the best when in a crumble!

Day 8 - Marpha to Kagbeni

We set off before dawn to ensure that Julie made here morning flight not that we need have worried because flights were all delayed because of early morning poor weather - no not rain or winds but clouds! Julie was jittery as she had a flight to Bangkok to catch but I later found out that she had made it though at the time I wasn't sure because we had to set off to Kagbeni before the winds came.

The winds in this region start at 11am and can whip up quite a frenzy in this desolate and arid region and by the time we entered into Kagbeni there was a swirling mass of of dust devils traveling along the river bed and buffeting the small town medieval looking town of Kagbeni. Much of the daysvwalk was spend following the river bed and the river that had been a torrent on the early days of our walk was now a mere meandering trickle winding its way through and
Becoming more desolateBecoming more desolateBecoming more desolate

Route to Kagbeni from Jomson along the river bed
expansive bed of ankle turning rocks.

Kagbeni itself borders the Mustang Region and here you enter into the distinctly Tibetan region. Kagbeni has a very different feel to it than other villages we had stayed in to date and had an almost medieval quality especially to the old town area with its narrow maze of streets.

You can not help notice the altitude here having risen to 2810m but that wasn't going to stop a bit of sight seeing to visit the Gompa of this town with spectacular views out towards the Mustang Region which we are not allowed to enter without paying a large entrance fee so I had to make do with views from the roof top and only have a glimpse of the raw and desolate beauty that lay beyond the signs.

The afternoon was spent sheltering from the winds in the narrow streets of old Kagbeni and been greeted by Phallic Gate Guardians and watched over those entering the old city walls and by strange mask setups hanging above doorways. It made a pleasant change from simply walking in open countryside and was nice to absorb the atmosphere of the place.

Day 9 - Kagbeni to Muktinath

The final stretch - in someways the most difficult and most inspiring. The trail from Kagbeni to Muktinath rises steeply through a desolate and arid region with not much to see other than swathes of desert like mountains dotted with low growing shrubs clinging to a precarious living in this windswept landscape.

But because of its sheer scale and desolateness it is the time when I think most people will be inspired to look inwards at themselves and question their significance on this planet especially where you are a small insignificant dot on the landscape.

Passing a village covered in a landslide only goes to show the precarious nature of life and of this in region. A landscape makes you struggle to carve out an existance with little natural water sources, constant winds whipping up the dust and then even the earth moves to destroy all that you had built. Tough life.

But as we closed in to Muktinath we strangely passed through a landscape with grass and trees and orchards that seemed to have established a place in a region and no doubt explained why villages had sprung up and were making a living out of the area. Maybe helped by the cool moister air from the snow capped mountains that lay above and lead to the Thorong Pass and highest point of the Annupurna Circuit.

It was a much welcomed sight to see the sign and gateway into Muktinath at 3710m and finally make it to the Hindu and Buddhist Pilgrimage town. I hope the old folk made it here after all their efforts as it has a certain majestic beauty to it.

The first important task was to find a room as Muktinath was heaving with trekkers that had just made it through the pass coming in the opposite direction. We finally managed to find a room - actually it was the hotel owners own room which had a slight Yak fur odor to it but was much more welcoming than a night on the cold streets.

After settling in, we headed up to Muktinath temple itself and spent the afternoon looking at the gompas and temples and taking a splash in the 108 Water spouts of Muktinath.

The 108 waterspouts never freeze because the water passes through the Eternal flame under one of the Gompas - a strange mix where an underground natural fire heats the water and prevents it from freezing. Where Fire, Earth and water meet in a natural phenomen then religion is bound to spring up - no pun intended and this is I beleive mainly why Muktinath has become such a pilgrimage sight.

Bathing in the 108 water spouts is meant to wipe clean the slate of bad karma so hey not wishing to miss an opportunity here I joined Saru and Carmel in a ritual cleansing. Refreshing and chilly at this high altitude! And if that didn't purify then there was always spining the 108 prayer wheels and reciting 'Om Mani Padme Hum' before returning wrap up warm in the hotel and to my room shared with both guide and porter but just grateful to have somewhere to rest my weary head that had just a touch of a headache from the altitude.

All those nine days effort just to reach this point. and realised that I was just another pilgrim on the trail, it may be that I set off with the idea just to do the trail to see the scenary but somewhere along the way I started to think of it not just seeing the landscapes but a path of discovery about myself and was determined to get to Muktinath for some deeper reason. I fell asleep that night happy that I had made it.

Day 10 - Muktinath to Jomson

And after all that way up then it was time to head back down to Jomson. We woke early and set off in the cold early morning light. We made it in good time, only 4 hours to reach Jomson and more luxurious accommodation and a welcoming hot shower. Ok still wanting some creature comforts!

A quick museum visit to find out a bit more about the regions I had just spent the last 10 days walking through and the culture of the people then it was time to enjoy the most amazing and spectacular sunset set.

This beautiful ethereal sunset started with a weird pyramid of light striking off the mountain and lighting unusual clouds. I sat and watched it change moment by moment and the light dance. What an amazing end to an amazing trek and the feelings of awe at the sheer majestic and spectacular beauty of this place was maybe summed up in this magical moments at the end of the day between day and night.

Day 11 - Jomson to Pokhara

Day 11 and nearly thought I was going to have another night at Jomson when winds stopped many of the flights for the morning and people already bounced from flights cancelled the day before were getting priority. Flights usually stop around lunchtime because of winds but Ghorka Air brought their best pilot!!!!! in to fly us through the winds. Looking at the turning maneuver he made where the wing tip of his plane almost skimmed the mountain side as he took the short flight path into the airport rather than the longer turning circle of the other air companies it made be wonder if I did not want to walk back down the mountain!!!!! But with a need to get back to Kathmandu to catch a trip to India I buckled in and said a little prayer to which ever "Gods and Deities were watching over this region and held my breath for most of the very bumpy and turbulent ride back into Pokhara. Sadly missing out on the spectacular last glimpses of the mountain ranges which where now hidden under a cloak of clouds.

So as we touched down safely and the adventure came to an end, I look back and will carry with me always what I have learnt about myself, what I am capable of doing and some amazing memories our magnificent planet earth with it raw and majestic beauty.

Additional photos below
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Little StupaLittle Stupa
Little Stupa

Not Bodanath size

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